No. 5 Cinderella Run of All-Time: aMSa at Apex 2015

There’s no more beloved player than the Japanese Yoshi legend aMSa. He’s part of a small group of people that can say they’ve heard an entire room root for them against Mango. When discussing his run at Apex 2015, it’s important to understand his career leading up to it.

His rise to prominence came early in 2013, when he posted a video of himself performing Yoshi tech skill faster than anyone else. Becoming Japan’s best player years later, he demonstrated flawless execution with a character who many thought strong in theory, but far too difficult to play at the top level. In an early edition of Melee’s matchup chart, Yoshi held losing or even matchups with everyone except for Kirby.

Despite perceived notions about his character, aMSa saw a modest amount of success. He finished as the 77th best player in the world for the first edition of SSBMRank in 2013. At his first supermajor in Evo 2013, he took a game off Mew2King.

Half a year later, aMSa shocked the world at Apex 2014, his original breakout tournament. Here, he defeated Fly Amanita, ChuDat and Silent Wolf, showing the world that his character could absolutely be good enough to hang with some of the best players. Immediately, he became a stalwart of the scene.

Throughout his heavily active 2014, aMSa performed inconsistently. He often struggled in best-of-five sets, where his opponents had enough time to adjust to his character and begin abusing Yoshi’s lack of good defensive options.

While he boasted a set off Mew2King at Kings of Cali 4, eventually finishing fifth at the super-regional, aMSa also saw a ho-hum 17th showing at MLG Anaheim 2014 and a disastrous 33rd at CEO 2014, where he lost to Porkchops and Wenbo. This led many to be skeptical about Yoshi and aMSa’s skills.

Heading into Apex 2015, predicting aMSa’s performance looked impossible to do with certainty. Could he prove himself – and Yoshi – once again at the world’s biggest smash event?

aMSa breezed by the first round of pools with relative ease. Come Top 128, he then beat rising NorCal Sheik main Laudandus and a Finnish Fox player in Mayhem to make it to Top 48. His next opponent, one who aMSa defeated a year ago at the previous Apex, stood in his path as the world’s then-ranked No. 11 player: Fly Amanita.

Modern players aren’t as familiar with him as post-Brawl veterans, but Fly Amanita used to be the best Ice Climbers player in the world. aMSa defeated him in their last head-to-head at Apex 2014, but Fly came off arguably his most impressive year yet as a Melee player, due to him recently finishing as the No. 1 in SoCal, the world’s best Melee region.

After defeating Fly, 2-0, aMSa had to play Leffen, who not only knew the matchup, but also once played Yoshi himself. Unsurprisingly, aMSa fell into the losers bracket, then obliterating Zhu 2-0 before playing against Lucky, the only person to defeat him in the Apex 2014 Salty Suite.

Their first game went to last stock, with a flubbed air dodge by Lucky leading to aMSa going up 1-0. But in the second game, Lucky picked Dreamland and spent most of the game shooting lasers and forcing aMSa to approach, Yoshi’s relative weakness against a character like Fox. Though the two went to last stock again, Lucky controlled the tempo for most of the game, minimizing any openings aMSa could find and inherently making any dropped conversions by Yoshi that much more devastating.

Once again, Lucky’s ability to hold his ground posted a challenge to aMSa’s style, which was built on using deceptive platform movement to bait whiffs from opponents. Therefore, in order for aMSa to win, he needed to proactively call out Lucky’s decisions ahead of time and preemptively place himself in a position to force favorable mixups. The third game went to last stock, but aMSa eventually prevailed.

Warmed up from playing Lucky, aMSa vanquished SFAT in the following round 2-0 to make it into top eight. In terms of a supermajor on the level of the Apex series, his victory marked the first time a Yoshi main ever made top eight, making this performance already among the greatest low-tier showings in Melee history. For seventh place, aMSa matched up against Sheik player KirbyKaze.

Perception of this matchup has changed over the years, almost entirely due to aMSa. Before him, many considered Sheik to completely invalidate low-tiers like Yoshi. Beating her with a low-tier involved overcoming her guaranteed grab followups, superior hitboxes and her relative ease of use.

After trading the first two games with his opponent, aMSa never looked back. He ruthlessly three-stocked KirbyKaze in the third game and two-stocked him game four, once again adding yet another name to his career resume. Over the course of a national, he took out the No. 11, 12, 20 and 23 ranked players in the world. His next opponent was the current world No. 1 in Mango, aMSa’s toughest test yet.

Years before their epic Full Bloom 4 rematch, Mango and aMSa battled in a barn-burner at Apex 2015. Legendarily, after Mango selected the “USA!” tag in game, aMSa wrote down “JPN!” He didn’t just represent Yoshi on Melee’s biggest stage – he was fighting for his country’s pride.

The set initially looked like aMSa couldn’t hang with Mango’s speed, as his opponent both retained enough discipline to not fall for any of aMSa’s baits, also abusing Yoshi’s lack of strong defensive options against overwhelming pressure. Going down in the set 2-0, all hope looked lost for aMSa, who once again picked Yoshi’s Story for a consecutive runback on the same stage.

aMSa breathed life into his chances against the world’s best Melee player, winning a last-stock game three. In yet another match that came down to both players on their last stock, aMSa clutched out victory, tying the set 2-2.

In the final game, Mango’s composure and experience shined through. Unable to break his wall of defense and earn many openings without taking too much damage himself, aMSa finally fell at fifth place. Walking off the main stage and waving at the crowd, the Japanese earned a standing ovation and chants for his name.

Unlike what many thought would be a short-lived fad, aMSa has stood the test of time. He’s continued to be a presence at national top eights, beating Mew2King once again at EGLX 2018 and taking Mango to the brink as recently as last weekend. Just last year, he finished as the No. 24 player in the world – but this year, he holds a Top 10-worthy resume.

A lot of aMSa’s legacy remains defined by his prowess with a low-tier, but another underrated and lesser-spoken part comes from how he’s brought Japan to a greater stage of competitive Melee in the modern era. This comes from cultural stigmas and laws within Japan, which have prevented people like aMSa (and fellow players within his region) from fully pursuing competitive gaming. Nonetheless, aMSa has somehow endured to chase his dreams of winning a supermajor.

With aMSa rumored to be eyeing a move to Vancouver , the Melee community could be seeing a lot more of him. Furthermore, with a still active Japanese scene, unquestionably inspired by aMSa’s success, more Japanese players could rise to the international scene, both within Melee and other games.

Standing as a hero for his country, innovator for his character and a fan favorite, aMSa remains an immortal part of competitive Melee lore.

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