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Published June 7, 2016

WEST DENNIS, MA – It’s a loser’s bracket match at the New England Invitational – and Captain Falcon main Pedro “Klap$” Otero had just blown a three to one stock lead against Jigglypuff main dudutsai. With both players on their last respective stock, Otero dashed back and quickly threw out a seemingly random knee. Somehow, the move successfully hit.

After the match, while nearly everyone else at the beach house kept chatting with each other, just quietly enough to avoid disrupting the players in the other room, Otero sat down on a chair near the game room entrance, silently watching a set between two fellow competitors, Mr. Lemon and Squible.

“Pedro, have you played like more than ten minutes of friendlies this weekend? I’m pretty sure you’ve just been straight chilling here,” joked David “ZoSo” Hughes, one of the invited players competing at the beach house. Everyone in the room, including Otero, who was sent into losers by Maine Fox main Captain Crunch, laughed.

The view from the back of the New England Invitational beach house’s venue.

With the backdrop of the calm beach waves behind the porch of the house, Otero quipped back: “Yeah, man – I’m just here to chill.” He went back to quietly watching the set in the competitor’s room.

Otero is New England’s hidden boss: a top player mostly unknown outside of his regional scene. The No. 9 Super Smash Bros. Melee player in New England, Otero has beaten Mafia, Infinite Numbers and Swiftbass in tournament, along with many first-place finishes at Amesbury Melee tournaments.

If you’re not from New England, chances are you’ve never heard of him.

Otero started casually playing Melee around January 2011, when his cousin Josh “Bugatti” Guerrero introduced him to the game after the two played its sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. They learned how to wavedash and L-Cancel, but didn’t regularly go to tournaments.

“Pedro and I always played together, but most of our sets were initially just us goofing around,” said Guerrero. “I still knew he loved to compete though.”

At the time, Otero was a Falco main named “SlimFast,” whose first tournament came two years later at Seven Years 2, when he got double four-stocked by Sora, a Massachusetts Marth player. After frequently getting comboed and not knowing how to avoid losing stocks at early percents, Otero quickly realized he didn’t like playing Falco against better opponents.

However, after briefly toying around with Luigi’s fast wavedash speed and pokes, Otero decided to become a Falcon player, changing his tag eventually to “Klap$.”

“I always thought Falcon was fifth best,” said Otero, mentioning that he was drawn to the character’s ability to hypothetically kill any character on touch, as well as his innate speed allowing players to react to more opportunities than if they played other characters.

Even with Falcon’s limited defensive options and bad recovery, the character’s ground speed gave Otero more of an opportunity to express himself within Melee’s dynamic engine.

“I love Melee because I feel like it’s one of the only games where I can play how I want to play and be remotely successful or happy with how I can do with my playstyle,” said Otero. “I like a challenge; and as a problem solver, I think there’s so many different pieces of Melee to learn.”

For Otero, the first problem was learning how to get good while not having an interest playing in tournaments. But a year after Seven Years 2, Guerrero endlessly irritated Otero with news of a supposedly better Falcon player in Boston: someone by the name of Relax. That was when Otero’s competitive drive kicked in.

“My goal was to prove I was a better player that tournament,” said Otero. “It didn’t happen immediately, but I think I eventually proved my worth.”

After winning an amateur bracket at Mass Madness, Boston’s most famous monthly series, Otero rapidly rose through the ranks, eventually taking a set off of Mr. Lemon, Boston’s best Dr. Mario player.

“I’d say that was probably my first big victory at the time,” Otero said, citing Lemon’s well-known reputation across New England as its “gatekeeper” for the upper echelon of players.

What started off as an impressive tournament win ended up being a sign of future improvement for the Boston Falcon, as he soon started placing in weekly top eights. Otero also became a member of the vaunted University of Massachusetts Boston crew within The Melee Games, who were consecutive winners from the New England division in both Season 2 and 3.

Because of his young age, quick rise to prominence and dedication to grinding hours each week to improve mostly on his own, Otero became a hometown hero. And word about him spread outside of Boston.

Tim “Swiftbass” Tilley, a Connecticut Marth player, remembered what it was like to hear news about Otero’s rise to prominence.

“I remember hearing about an up and coming Boston Captain Falcon main,” said Tilley. “I was pretty excited and surprised when I got to see him play in person – the kid’s good.”

Unlike what you might expect from a player with such a huge local support network, Otero improved from playing and thinking on his own about Melee, rather than necessarily getting consistent high-level practice or studying high-level Captain Falcon players like Wizzrobe or S2J.

“I don’t really have an idol or anyone I’ve tried to emulate, but I think being unique and learning how to play my own style made me what I am today,” said Otero.

James “Flambo” Philiossaint, one of Otero’s best friends since they went to high school, said one of Otero’s biggest strengths was his ability to dedicate himself to practice anything he wanted to pursue, as well as thinking of in-game questions and answering them himself.

“Pedro’s so good because he really takes the time to think about himself and apply himself to anything he wants to do,” said Philiossaint. “He’s always thinking about something, even if he might not openly say it.”

Around the same time as Otero’s rapid improvement came the rise of another college player from the same region: a then-Jigglypuff main named Squible who was known for his troll-esque, campy and patient playstyle.

“I remember Squible as this little white kid that played Jiggs,” said Otero, mentioning that Squible’s strategy was frequently psychologically frustrating to play against. “He beat me a month after I deemed him terrible and it came to bite me in the ass.”

Squible began beating Otero in tournament and taking sets off players like MattDotZeb, Mafia and even Animal at Apex 2015, becoming a consistent top eight-presence at weekly Boston tournaments. Now playing Fox, Squible is Northeastern University’s No. 1 Melee player and is ranked the No. 11 player in New England. Otero currently has a 14-13 lead in their head to head.

“I think rivalries like me and Squible are really healthy because you’re going to need motivation somewhere, like a way to channel the kind of bumping heads into something productive,” said Otero. “With someone like that, you get to test yourself in tough situations and have someone challenge you.”

Otero paused for a moment after being asked which player in New England he liked beating most. “Mafia,” Otero eventually answered before chuckling to himself.

“To be honest, most of it is because I like when he goes on Twitter to complain about Falcon, especially because I personally know him,” Otero added, mentioning that playing against Peach was his favorite matchup.

Though Otero is still down (18-42) in sets against Mafia, he currently holds a combined 20-0 record over local Peach players Rime and Mr. Tuesday since 2015, along with a convincing 13-1 lead over Boston’s two best Marth mains (Sora and Makari) combined. Otero also has a 13-5 record against Infinite Numbers, a 8-1 lead against Ice Climbers frame data nerd BVB, an 8-5 record over dudutsai and a 22-set winning streak against Mr. Lemon, since beating him in April last year at Game Over 12.

Part of Otero’s success in his region comes from his unique read-heavy approach to Melee.

“When I started to going to tourneys, my idea was that I had to beat everyone that attended, so I studied playstyles of all people from Massachusetts and created direct counterplay in my own head to their habits and decision-making,” said Otero.

Otero acknowledged getting familiar with several character matchups as an important factor in his improvement, citing floaty characters’ lack of defensive options against safe pressure and in “RPS situations.” Yet most of his success comes from his deliberate attention to detail on the other players’ habits, along with recognizing and punishing mistakes.

“I look like I play risk averse, but when I go for hits on my opponent, it’s actually very dependent on my reading their movement,” Otero said. “It looks safe, but gets me hurt a lot.”

Otero still struggles against top-level competition. After losing an early 3-1 set to a Maine Fox player Captain Crunch and getting dominantly swept by The Moon at Mega Mass Madness for a ninth-place finish, Otero had his most disappointing tournament in a year at New Game Plus 54, Boston’s premier weekly tournament series.

At NGP 54, he breezed through his first opponent before losing to a New York Marth named Young, who was underseeded at 29th during the tournament.  Otero made his way through two more players before falling 2-1 to the Southern California power-ranked EastCoastJeff, hastily shaking his hand and leaving the venue, with a relatively disastrous 17th-place conclusion to his night.

It was the first time Otero finished outside of top eight in a New Game Plus since June 2015’s New Game Plus 10, when he lost to Delaware’s current No. 1 R2Dliu and dudutsai.

Even though Otero came back the next week to beat Mafia and finish second to Crush at NGP 55, results like NGP 54 and MMM are a frustrating bump in his development as a player. More morbidly, they’re a reminder that despite the last three years of improvement, he’s so close, yet so far from reaching the next level of play.

“Right now, I have little to no shot at beating players like The Moon,” said Otero, adding that he could tell when opponents were far more deliberate, technically sound and superior to himself.

“It’s not the most inspiring answer, but I know that when it comes down to it, I’m still a small fish in a large pond.”

At Apex 2015, Otero’s only attended national, he finished third behind only Dev and Bladewise in his pool, beating tri-state players Chuuper and Zodiac to a 145th place finish at what was then the largest Melee tournament ever.

“It’s tough to determine if I want to spend most of my money and time in Melee,” said Otero, adding how his lack of travel obscures his out-of-region reputation. “It feels like I’m at a crossroads – I can’t keep doing what I’m doing if I want to improve, but I also don’t know what my priorities are.”

Otero playing friendlies with Jason “Infinite Numbers” Gauthier at the New England Invitational early in the first day.

In addition to having never won a set against Slox and th0rn, Otero has never beaten ZoSo’s Marth in tournament, holds a losing 1-9 record against Crush since 2015 and is 2-13 against MattDotZeb in that same timespan. He’s also lost the last three sets he played against Captain Crunch.

Otero acknowledged a real weakness in his play: his tendency to nervously “make things happen when they’re not there.” This, he admitted, was a habit coming partially from his reliance on familiarity with his opposition and lack of confidence playing different play styles.

“For example, if I’m playing against a strong Marth and both of us are dash dancing, I like after two iterations of full dashing, I’ll full analog forward jump and aerial to try to force them into the corner,” said Otero, mentioning that this got him heavily punished in recent sets against The Moon.

The same weakness has also, admittedly from him, slowed his ability to understand how to play the stage positioning game against fast characters like Fox and Falco, to whom he still “has no idea how to play neutral against.”

“I talked to Smuckers about this a while ago and he told me that I throw out moves hoping they’ll hit because I know how to punish afterwards,” said Otero. “It’s one of those things, like a cheap band-aid that works only temporarily.”

When asked if he ever felt jealous or underappreciated for not getting the same kind of national exposure as other New England contemporaries, Otero immediately refuted the idea.

“Not at all – they’ve put in the time and effort and I can’t be mad at them for that,” Otero responded, mentioning that he loved watching any New England player do well at nationals. “I know I can’t do what a few other players can do, but what really matters to me is my own growth and what I take from each match I play.”

Otero still struggles with balancing Melee with both his time in school and his personal life, but he added that it was important for him to figure out a balance between life and his hobbies that worked for himself – even if it meant maybe not improving at the same rate as the players that usually beat him.

Instead of comparing himself to his competition, Otero tries to focus on his own improvement as a person and competitor, with separate goals in and out of the game.

“I definitely want to defend the home turf,” Otero said in reference to preparing for Boston’s upcoming national, Shine 2016, and still competing in Boston. “But I don’t have specific goals in mind – I just want to put everything to the test and keep challenging myself as long as I can.”

Otero getting ready to play Tilley for a spot in the top-eight stage of the New England Invitational.

Otero is on his tournament stock again, but his character somehow lands on the right cloud in Yoshi’s Story after getting spiked by Tilley, surprising every gasping spectator in the other room. There’s a brief moment of hope for the Boston Falcon, but seconds later, Otero gets sent off stage by a forward smash, cementing his ninth-place finish at the New England Invitational.

After his loss, Otero left the venue, along with two other eliminated competitors from the invitational. It’s an abrupt close to his tourney, though understandable given the hour and a half trek from Boston to Cape Cod.

In Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” the narrator woefully regrets the path he’s chosen out of two, bemoaning the missed opportunities he might have gained on the other one. Otero is at a point in his Melee playing career where he’ll have to decide which road he’ll take: the one as a full-time Melee competitor and hometown hero, or the one where he continues playing a game he loves, but doesn’t pursue it further than as a hobby.

The people who want to be the best in the world at Melee dedicate weeks of their lives to playing, often practicing for hours each day and treating Melee like a job. They are the ones with the most to lose, with their emotional well-being and sometimes even financial situation at stake in each tournament match.

Maybe Otero will become one of those people. Maybe he won’t – and that’s okay too. Either way, he’ll have no regrets.

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