The Book of Melee: Apex 2015, Smash’s Most Beautiful Disaster

The following is a rough excerpt of “The Book of Melee,” my upcoming 150+ page account of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee’s history.

Apex 2015 was originally scheduled for a ballroom at the Clarion Hotel Empire Meadowlands in Secaucus, New Jersey. When several smashers showed up to the venue on Thursday night,  they immediately noticed the yellow tape blocking many of its areas.

To start the three-day event, the venue’s fire alarm went off, already showing signs of distress. It was only the beginning of what would be a series of devastating news for the Smash community.

Police and fire marshals in the area realized that the venue was not only unsafe, but lacked the proper zoning permits. The weather at the time, which involved heavy snowstorms and freezing cold temperatures, only made the situation worse.

The chief concern that authorities had was that the roof was going to eventually fall on the venue, due to the hotel having structural damage from the heavy snow and poor conditions. Furthermore, the parking garage adjoining the ballroom and hotel had already suffered structural collapse.  As a result, the venue was shut down.

It was unquestionably the right move, but the news left Apex 2015 in danger. What was supposed to be one of the best days in Smash history was arguably going to be its worst – especially on a public scale, with Nintendo watching as a tournament sponsor.

If Apex was cancelled, the Smash community would be humiliated on a level it had never endured before.

Many of the thousands of attendees suggested that the tournament be run directly through hotel rooms, as several smashers still had CRTs, GameCubes, copies of Melee and memory cards. This had been done before in the past at smaller tournaments. However, the logistics of being able to manage thousands of peoples’ brackets across multiple games made this an unlikely proposition.

At this point, it was pretty clear that the entire first day went to waste. But more importantly than running the tournament, smashers needed to find a venue.

Apex staff, Melee It On Me members and several of the country’s biggest and most prominent tournament organizers gathered in a room on that fateful day to discuss a potential solution. The group included Nintendude, a longtime Ice Climbers player and tournament organizer, Dr. Z, the Crimson Blur, Juggleguy, Tafokints and Scar. The fate of Apex, and arguably Smash, depended on these leaders to come up with a solution.

Eventually, Scar had a plan. What if he contacted people he worked with at Twitch – where he worked as a product manager – to help organizers find a temporary venue that his community could use to run the major?

With the help of Twitch, the collective of Smash leaders found a new available venue, the Garden State Convention Center in Somerset, New Jersey. Keep in mind how lucky this was for the Smash scene. In mere hours, it had found a venue that could host thousands of smashers.

Apex wasn’t going to be the dream three-day major that everyone signed up for. In fact, no matter what would happen, everybody knew that it was, logistically, a colossal failure. Irresponsible venue booking, shoddy organizing and questionable scheduling from former Apex head Alex Strife had already led to hundreds of furious attendees leaving.

But with a little bit of luck, the tournament could be salvaged. The first day was lost, making running the event a daunting task for its staff – but there was no other choice. It was do or die.

Several players began the great migration of televisions, setups and equipment into rented vans. Those at the venue eventually began updating people online about what was going on, directing the logistics and coordinating the move, with the help of Twitch and Red Bull Esports contacts.

Against all odds, with the tournament now projected to only finish in the late Sunday night to early Monday morning hours, Smash survived, with its best minds reviving the once-dead national.

Much like the year before, Apex had its own Salty Suite on Saturday night, with a plethora of exhibition matches between different players, including even returning greats PC Chris and Ken. However, the most awaited match was the first-to-five set between Leffen and Chillin, a Fox forefather who was now an active competitor and ranked the No. 26 player in the world.

Months prior to their bout, Leffen made a joke about Team Liquid signing washed up players. Insulted by Leffen’s arrogance, and a Team Liquid player himself, Chillin then challenged the pesky godslayer to a set in which the loser had to give up playing neutral Fox – both of their trademark colors – forever.

To add to the hype before the event, Chillin released a diss track music video called “Respect Your Elders.” Combined with Leffen boasting after Paragon Orlando about how he was going to 5-0 Chillin, viewers knew they were in for a treat, if not for the sheer entertainment about the two’s bad blood.

However, when it came to their set, Leffen utterly dominated Chillin. The games were relatively close, but Chillin looked visibly shaken in them. In contrast, Leffen frequently laughed during their games and noticeably went for suboptimal options, including using Fox’s up-B, an offstage recovery move, on stage to combo into an up-air: a blatant sign of disrespect.

The end was just as Leffen predicted, a 5-0 to break the hearts of a crowded, overwhelmingly pro-Chillin venue.

As if to answer an implicit call for hope, Mango walked up onto the main stage and took the microphone from Scar. He then challenged Leffen to a $1,000 money match the next time they played in bracket, in order to defend Chillin’s honor, as well as America.

Leffen agreed, with their bet being met by thunderous approval and roars. It was only the beginning of what would become a magical Melee tournament.

Before facing Mango on the next day, Leffen had to overcome his greatest demon in bracket, Mew2King. He was the last person between Leffen and not just a projected match in winner’s semifinals with Mango, but also his own claim to “godhood.” It was only fitting that the last person to there was Mew2King, a man long heralded for being the gatekeeper to greatness.

Having learned from his previous losses to him, Leffen won 2-1, becoming the first ever player outside of the gods to defeat all five of them in bracket. He and Mango were now set up for their $1,000 money match in winner’s semifinals. Parallel to the two on one side of winner’s bracket were the returning PPMD and Armada, each with their own different paths at Apex.

Where Armada coasted to his spot without dropping a game, PPMD barely eked there, still rusty from his time away from nationals. Playing a mix of both Falco and Marth through bracket, he had dropped games to players like PewPewU, who beat Hungrybox earlier in bracket, and SoCal Captain Falcon S2J, having to switch between the two characters semi-frequently.

His struggles with depression and fatigue over the last year had clearly carried over into his performance at the rushed event, now scheduled for two days instead of three. Unlike 2014,  in which his polished play led to convincing victories, PPMD looked sloppy, but good enough to stay in winner’s bracket.

With only a few hours to rest up before top eight, PPMD was anything but confirmed for success. But as a venue of smashers delirious from the unpredictable weekend cheered at every phase of Apex, the tournament’s final phase began around the same time as the Super Bowl.

Now playing against the iron-willed Armada, the North Carolina Falco looked out of energy and too slow to keep up in game one. After losing, he took some time to readjust, picking Marth, a character that innately emphasized patience and discipline over technical refinement, for the rest of the set.

The two went back and forth, showing shades of their thrilling Apex grand finals of 2013. Ultimately, PPMD prevailed, 3-2, outlasting Armada’s Peach in their heavily anticipated contest.

Despite having not competed at a national level for half a year and his exhaustion from the energy-depleting weekend, PPMD had overcome not just the world class players in his path to a guaranteed top three finish, but his own physical limitations.

On the other side of winners came Leffen vs. Mango, both playing for $1,000 and winner’s finals. Perhaps in anticlimactic fashion, the Swedish godslayer won, 3-1, not only taking in more money from Apex, but also now with one god in his way, PPMD.

PPMD and Leffen don’t have as well-known of a rivalry as other players, but the two both seeked redemption  – the former from his long national break and the latter to finally end the era of the five gods. Originally a Falco main, Leffen even looked up to PPMD when starting his career. With Leffen now playing Fox, with PPMD choosing Marth, the two clashed.

Before their set came a pair of notable loser’s matches. Having just seen his Peach lose to PPMD and matched up against a character counter in Hungrybox, Armada opted to go Fox for the first time for a full set against him, winning 3-1 in loser’s quarters. Mango then beat aMSa 3-2 in a thrilling set, to finish the Japanese Yoshi’s own exceptional underdog run, one of the underlying stories of the tournament.   

After they traded two games to start the set, Leffen went up in game three, ready to gain stage counterpick advantage. But PPMD made a two-stock comeback, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat yet again. The Swede managed to win a closely battled game four, but in the final game of their set, the pressure of the big stage began to sink in.

Leffen looked more and more overwhelmed by the moment, desperate to prove his haters wrong and show himself that he was worthy of becoming the game’s ultimate champion. Winning was his greatest chance at vindication, not just to his doubters, but to himself.

The two once again went to their last stock, but Leffen committed an untimely input error while recovering, ending the historic set in tame fashion. Following its conclusion, PPMD leaped from his seat in a manic burst of energy. It was a remarkable change from earlier in the event, when PPMD looked on the verge of collapsing.

Like Pound V and Apex 2013, Armada and PPMD eventually clashed in grand finals. They were two familiar, but completely different players at this stage of their careers.

Armada looked amid a character and career crisis. Apex proved that even with a new character, he could still compete at the top level, defeating Hungrybox, Mango and Leffen in loser’s bracket on his way to grand finals.  Nobody knew if he was going to play Peach again after seeing the potential of his Fox.

Meanwhile, PPMD was not the same cocky and resentful star player of before. Now playing Marth, older and wearier from his years of competition, PPMD had become a sage of Melee, one that didn’t care about what others had to think of his play, but merely wanted to show himself that he could succeed.

The two battled in grand finals of Melee’s ultimate championship, each carrying their own conflicts. Armada quickly went up 2-0 in games of Fox vs. Marth, before PPMD switched to Falco to take the next two games. Curiously, PPMD elected to swap to Marth for the final game of the set, with Armada winning in a last-stock game five to reset bracket.

Years later, PPMD was asked by fans on stream why he elected to pick Marth instead of Falco for the fifth game. He explained that playing Falco required a lot of effort and focus for short explosive bursts, while Marth by virtue of being a more grounded character allowed him to play at a natural pace. In a tournament with final hours moving far beyond midnight, PPMD’s concerns made sense, given that he had an additional set to work with.

But if there’s anything about playing Fox that stands out for competitive players, it’s his technical threshold. Despite his great matchups against the rest of the cast, at the top level, one mistake by a Fox player can lead to death. Where PPMD managed to somehow conserve what was his energy throughout the late night, Armada began to play worse in the second set, perhaps not used to the natural fatigue that came from Fox’s naturally execution-heavy traits.

PPMD adapted, picking his openings more deliberately and once again using his threatening dash dance to force desperate commitments from Armada. With the Swede feeling the languor of playing his new character at a supermajor across numerous sets for the first time, the end result was a tournament-ending, championship winning 3-0 victory for PPMD.

Upon shaking Armada’s hand, PPMD was met by a crowd of smashers who barreled their way to the stage, greeting him with hugs. He lay back in his chair, then motioned for some space to himself as he leaned forward and put his hands in his face, “PP” chants echoing in the back from an adrenaline-fueled crowd.

It was only fitting that at Melee’s simultaneously best and worst tournament ever, its least likely member of the game’s elite would prevail, once again conquering his self-doubt, emotional lows and barriers to rise to the top. PPMD’s success, above all else, reflected the Smash community’s resolve.

Regaining enough energy to compose himself, even clutching his heart,  PPMD slowly rose from his chair and raised his hands, facing a sea of smashers,  standing as a champion and the final symbol of their resilience.

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