It’s four weeks into the International Melee Quarantine; and on Sunday, SFAT took home the gold in the Melee’s largest prize pot Netplay event yet – the ModGod Championship. Hosted by the SoCal streamer and GameCube controller expert N3zModGod, the event had a $1,000+ prize pot. Here are its standings.
5. Fiction / Shroomed
7. Lucky / Westballz
FUCK YESSSSSSSSSSS!!! 1K IN THE BAG! BEST STREAM OF MY LIFE!!! THANK YOU ALL FOR WATCHING! SEE YOU TOMORROW AT 12pm PST! https://t.co/wC6N8KeNvI
— CLG SFAT (@SFAT) April 6, 2020
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Out of boredom last week, I polled members of Smash Twitter on who they think is the best Melee player to never win a major. The results on their own didn’t surprise me, but the disparity did. As of when I last checked, Hax received more than half of the vote, with SFAT far behind in second place at 26 percent, and the other two at practically negligible percents. For alternative choices, both Melee Stats member Ambisinister and Mew2King picked aMSa, though Ambi suggested it and Mew2King said so more assertively.
On the topic of all-time Melee players, who is the best Melee player who has yet to win a major?
(Respond if you have another answer; Twitter only allows four options!)
— oak tree (@edwin_budding) April 1, 2020
If you read my full thread, you can see the shortform version of my thoughts. I couldn’t believe the disparity in which Hax beat his peers. This level of dominance in perception, mind you, comes in spite of Hax’s career being halted for multiple years. I would never be stupid enough to actively hold it against Hax as something of his own volition, but there’s two extremes: cruelly punishing Hax and naively counting those years as “equivalent” to a time period in which SFAT actively improved.
When I made this poll, I did it thinking the field would be divided, but my intuition lead me to think SFAT was the obvious pick. After looking at the numbers and speaking with some of my friends about it, I’m even more confident in my choice. Let’s break down the case for SFAT as Melee’s best player to never win a major.
SFAT’s Prime Was No Joke
Intuitively, SFAT isn’t someone you’d associate with having a “high peak.” He doesn’t have a Hax-Mango, Wobbles-Hungrybox, Shroomed-PPMD, or aMSa-Mew2King level recognizable victory. The closest result SFAT has to that is a 3-0 against Hungrybox at The Big House 6, in which the community simultaneously anointed him as having “solved” the Fox-Jigglypuff matchup and dismissed it as a fluke shortly afterward.
That said, the idea of SFAT not ever showing a significant “peak” is laughable. This is someone who, in the second half of 2016, double eliminated Mango at Clutch City Clash, then in the next big event – Shine 2016 – beat him once again, capping off previous wins over Hungrybox and Plup’s Fox (certainly no slouch) at the same event. A couple of months later, SFAT followed these two performances up with an amazing first two days at The Big House 6, before Ice promptly smacked him back to reality and a red-hot loser’s bracket Mew2King eliminated him from the tournament.
Neither of these two showings were SFAT’s best moment though. The zenith of his career was definitely his performance at CEO Dreamland (2017), where he defeated Axe, Hungrybox and Mew2King to be the last person standing in winner’s bracket. People took this for granted because of three factors: Plup played Luigi during the event, it was SFAT delivering the upsets and Mew2King ended up winning from loser’s. Sure; it’s not as legendary as Wobbles’ Evo 2013 showing, but that’s a near-impossible precedent to top for “nongods.” SFAT’s performance here and at Shine 2016 are on par with or better than any showing from Hax, aMSa or Shroomed.
Ask yourself how you would have remembered this tournament had it come from any of those three players, and if you would have ignored it. I know that when I made my initial Cinderella Run list, I did. I remember thinking to myself too, “I’m not going to count SFAT’s CEO Dreamland run; he doesn’t really count cause he’s good enough for it to not really stand out.” In hindsight, this was ridiculous. If not SFAT, which Melee player has ever been held to such a ridiculous standard of having conflicting expectations?
SFAT’s Incredible Longevity & Consistency
So now that we’ve seen that the above argument is bullshit – or at least that it’s not a relative “weakness” – let’s take a look at SFAT’s longevity. Per Pikachu942’s all-time results database, SFAT has 34 top eight appearances, with a 45.33% top eight rate appearance rate. This is actually far greater than Wobbles (16.67%, with four appearances), solidly above Shroomed (40.63%, with 26 top eight appearances) and a slight lead over aMSa (44.18%, with 13 top eights). Only Hax (45.95%, with 17 top eights) beats him in top eight appearance rate, but he has less overall majors (37) than SFAT (75).
Any reasonable person looking at the data can conclude that, relative to his peers, SFAT has as good of a shot as anyone does of making a deep run at a major, but he has way more certainty in the data because of his volume. SFAT has more top eight performances than any player in Melee history who hasn’t won a major (he’s ninth behind Hungrybox, Mew2King, Mango, Armada, Leffen, ChuDat, Plup and Axe). He also has the most amount of seventh places at majors in Melee history (15).
It’s easy to snort at the latter fact and think to yourself, “yeah, he gets seventh because he gets dunked on by Zain.” Want to know what’s not as easy? Getting top eight at a major. In recent times and among his peers, there are few bets as safe as SFAT, and it’s not particularly close. Even assuming that “losing to a top player” is SFAT’s Achilles heel, it’s not one unique to him.
SFAT’s Biggest Weakness is a Meme (relatively)
While it’s certainly true that SFAT’s inability to compete with the “big boys” has certainly been a roadblock in his career as a Melee player, it’s important to remember the standard we’re evaluating him by. Were it true that this was a weakness, it would then also have to be true that his peers were measurably better against the highest level of competition.
I took a look at SFAT’s career record against major champions (The five gods, Leffen, Plup, Wizzrobe, and Axe) within Liquipedia. He’s 41-128 (24.3%). But though I initially winced at how heavily negative it was, I took a look at everyone else, and it’s not that much better, if at all. Hax is 15-57 (20.8%), while Shroomed is 20-76 (20.8%), Wobbles is 16-26 (38.1%), and aMSa is 13-43 (23.2%).
I’m not sure how complete or adjusted for context Liquipedia sets are (especially with regards to Mango playing Mario at major events last decade), but needless to say, if SFAT’s results show him to be “fodder” for better players, it’s not significantly more or less than any of his peers in the SSBMRank era, sans Wobbles. In other words, the most accurate assessment we can make from his record against better players is that…they are better than him. Incredible discovery.
SFAT’s Metagame Impact is Underrated (or not appreciated enough)
I won’t mince words. SFAT is nowhere near a technical contributor to Fox in the same way that his peers are to their respective characters. Shroomed revolutionized Dr. Mario and continued to compete at a high level with Sheik. Regardless of how you evaluate Yoshi as a character, aMSa is the character’s greatest representative by a mile. Hax, most impressively, managed to change Captain Falcon and Fox forever.
But, without sounding like a stereotypical “Rick and Morty” fan, SFAT does have his own underrated skills. Ambi puts it concisely below.
sfat also tries to find solutions w/ the widest windows to max out chance of success compared to more micro oriented foxes, in my experience studying them; think a lot of players find him “unmemorable” because he’s spending all his points in playing the game, not doing things
— Eryk (@Ambisinister_) September 25, 2018
Fox players have had the last five years to study endless footage of SFAT destroying nearly every Sheik player in his path, putting forth smart gameplans against “bad characters,” and consistently outplaying anyone who isn’t at the top level of play. There is so much metagame value that comes from efficiency and macro-skills. SFAT has written entire guides on how to play the neutral game in Melee and is one of the smartest players in the community. It’s not as “technical” or “revolutionary” as some of his peers, but it’s still important. If you wanted to, you could include SFAT’s doubles success and metagame contributions within this discussion as a factor that puts him ahead of his peers.
When you watch the game tape or look at the results, the picture becomes increasingly clear. As players like Silent Wolf, Colbol, Crush, Druggedfox, KJH, iBDW, Fiction and Javi have peaked, fizzled out (with Hax having the craziest roller coaster of all and clearly at his best right before COVID-19 hit), or come to prominence in their play and popularity, SFAT has always been there, quietly rising in the ranks and maintaining his place in the community as its most underappreciated competitor.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic, so we don’t have much to celebrate in our community. With this column, however, I want to temporarily use it more to delve into cool Melee history topics. We should acknowledge SFAT’s accomplishments over his whole career. He is the greatest player to never win a major.