No. 7 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Westballz at MVG Sandstorm

Chances are that if you follow competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee, you already know Westballz. He’s the red, technical flashy Southern Californian Falco known for being one of the game’s most unpredictable players.

For instance, if there was ever a tournament that summarized what to expect from Westballz , it was Low Tier City 2. Here, Westballz lost to Jake13 in winners quarters (attempting to play Donkey Kong in the set) before blasting through Ripple, Hamyojo, Laudandus, Mojo and Wobbles to place second to Mew2King, even taking a game off the feared Marth on Final Destination.

Since his rise to prominence, there’s been a running joke about Westballz – that he could beat anyone on a given day, including himself. In 2015, this appeared to be the case when Westballz once again had a roller coaster’s worth of performances at Paragon Orlando (4th), Apex 2015 (33rd) and I’m Not Yelling (5th).

When MVG Sandstorm came around, Westballz looked like he was once again on a downswing, losing to MacD in the winners round of 16. Losing so early at a tournament like Sandstorm was dangerous, as the tournament boasted players like Armada, Leffen, Hungrybox and Mango. Little did anyone know that this set inadvertently launched the run of Westballz’s life.

Though it seems unrelated,  note all the flaws of MVG Sandstorm. Along with its stream frequently crashing because of inconsistent internet at the venue, there was a lack of seating, space and by most accounts, terrible scheduling at MVG Sandstorm. As you learn more about Westballz’s performance at this tournament, keep this in mind.

Beating Forward 2-1 for 17th in losers bracket, Westballz then had to play Tai for 13th. Though Tai was ranked several spots below Westballz on SSBMRank, their disparity in rank doesn’t reflect how dangerous of a matchup this was for the SoCal Falco.

Throughout Melee history, Arizona players have a reputation for beating Falco. Players like Wobbles, Axe, Taj and Tai in particular boast quite a bit of experience against Falco and at various points have beaten some of the world’s best Falco players at tournaments.

To this day many smash players in Arizona call the act of edgeguarding Falco, “flappy bird,” which refers to how easy it is to kill him off-stage. Yet with arguably the most dangerous crowd in Melee (Arizona) rooting against him in a tightly packed venue, Westballz solidly 2-0’d Tai to face Gahtzu for a chance at top eight.

Westballz couldn’t have started the set much worse, but he somehow recovered. After getting JV3’d in the opening game on Battlefield, Westballz three-stocked Gahtzu in game two on the same stage and strongly took game three to make it to losers top eight. Here, he had to play a familiar opponent in his SoCal rival S2J. Warmed up from his set against Gahtzu and especially familiar in the matchup against Captain Falcon, Westballz won 3-0.

But in losers for fifth, Westballz had to play Mango, who was angry and straight off a loss to Axe in winners semifinals. He had beaten Mango before, 3-0’ing him in pools at MLG Anaheim 2014, but defeating Mango in losers bracket, as Melee history has shown numerous times, was a whole different beast than beating him in winners bracket, let alone pools. There was reason to take their last major set with a heavy grain of salt.

Mango took their first game with a convincing two-stock. Westballz then picked Final Destination, where Westballz showed his one-of-a-kind punish game on Fox. After looking lost for moments of game one, Westballz had tied the set.

A game later, Westballz clutched out a last stock victory on Dreamland, causing a stubborn Mango to bring him back there for game four. Staying ahead for practically the whole game, Westballz beat Mango so badly that the latter side-B’d off the left side of Dreamland mid-combo to end the set with a three-stock victory for Westballz.

His next opponent? Hungrybox, fresh off a 3-1 victory over Leffen. For viewers at the time, this was surely where Westballz’s run would end, given how solidly he had lost his last two sets to Hungrybox, someone who is still thought of today as the Falco-slayer.

Before we get into the set itself, keep in mind a few external factors. For its first half, neither player set the timer on. Moreover, Westballz and Hungrybox still technically had to play their Project M sets (along with Axe, who was in winners bracket of Melee), but had to cancel them due to MVG Sandstorm running out of time to use its venue. As a result, the Project M tournament could not be completed, due to needing to finish Melee bracket.

To give further context, losers semifinals in melee wasn’t the only set being streamed.
Throughout top eight, both sides of bracket were being concurrently shown by both MVG League and azprojectmelee to speed up the tournament. Although these seem like insignificant details, keep this in mind for what’s to come later, as it reflects a greater story than just Westballz’s run.

Hungrybox and Westballz started on Final Destination, with Westballz keeping it close after going down early, but still losing. Opting to stay Falco rather than switching to Fox, Westballz then counterpicked Hungrybox to Pokemon Stadium. In an extremely favorable last-stock situation off a grab, Hungrybox somehow missed up-throw rest and quit out, being at what looked like death percent. Rather than going down 0-2 in the set, Westballz now tied it thanks to Hungrybox’s unusual mistake.

Game three on Dreamland looked similar to the first game, where Westballz fell behind early and clawed his way back for another last-stock situation. But as Hungrybox clutched another victory, the unexpected happened: he and Westballz were asked to move setups mid-set, from the side stream to the main stream. The other set, winners finals between Armada and Axe, had finished and MVG wanted to keep its primary viewers engaged rather than let Hungrybox and Westballz finish the set on their initial setup.

If you watch the end of the video above, you can hear commentator Wobbles refer to this move as “super wack” and “disappointing.” You can even see an incredulous Hungrybox shake his head and a confused Westballz smile. To date, this is a perfect example of how not to run a tournament.

Although I’m hesitant in attributing the rest of the set toward the setup change, it’s inarguable that it played a role in delaying the set. Whether through changing his own gameplay, playing better or any other factor, Westballz ended up taking the last two games of the set, both in last-stock games. It’s interesting to note that this is the only time in his career that Westballz has beaten Hungrybox, making this one of the biggest outlier sets in a career head-to-head ever.

In losers finals, Westballz had to play Axe, the local crowd favorite who had just defeated Mango earlier in bracket. Similar to Tai, but on an even grander scale, Westballz once again found himself at odds against loud “AZ” chants and wild cheers off every hit Axe got. Eventually, Westballz 3-1’d him, now facing Armada in grand finals. This was the last result anyone could have reasonably expected.

Though Westballz was 3-0’d to close his all-time great losers bracket run, MVG Sandstorm had one more surprise, to the hilarity of spectators. In the middle of a tight game three, the television cut out, ending the game with no winner. As Armada and Westballz leaned back in disbelief, the crowd behind them began jeering “MVG” before the two replayed the entirety of the game, ending with an anticlimactic Armada three-stock.

MVG Sandstorm deserves to be remembered as a cautionary tale for overambitious TOs looking to make a splash on the national scene. But it should also be known for Westballz’s exceptional losers run, which led to his highest placing at a major performance ever. For a player known for both impressing and disappointing when least expected, maybe it’s no surprise that his greatest moment came after losing to a lower seed than him at a complete circus of a tournament.

Though Westballz hasn’t been able to capture the magic of his run at MVG Sandstorm and still struggles with consistency to this day (65th at The Big House 7), he’s still one of the world’s premier competitors. No matter his ups and lows, he’s someone who carved his way into the Melee history books – and what’s even more exciting is that he’s still writing his story today.

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