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Published April 18, 2022

With thousands of people watching in the San Jose Civic Center, over 60,000 online viewers, and the wildest two-day stretch of upsets in competitive Melee history, a familiar face rose from the chaos of Genesis 8 to restore order. On Sunday, Zain successfully defended his title of Genesis champion, winning the series’ eighth iteration, taking home his fourth LAN major, and becoming the second player after Armada to win multiple Genesis tournaments.

Zain’s victory came in the context of a tournament that no one could have predicted. With Mango’s ninth place exit, Plup and Axe sent home early, no Wizzrobe, and no Leffen, Zain instead had to take on the toughest opponents from mostly his generation of players. First starting Top 64 with winning a set over Suf, Zain then beat Spark, kept it together vs. aMSa, fought off iBDW in the highest level of Marth-Fox ever, and twice held off the surprise second placer Jmook, a longtime hidden boss Sheik main from upstate New York who had a career defining run himself.

Speaking of which, by finishing in second place at this event, Jmook became the lowest seed to ever reach that far at a supermajor. His path involved taking down Wally, Plup, lloD, n0ne, and iBDW. Strictly in terms of outperforming a given seed, this was the greatest high-profile underdog run in Melee history, also undeniably the best Sheik main major performance of all-time. Jmook also walked away with a Smash Summit 13 spot (as did n0ne, Hungrybox, and lloD).

In third place came iBDW, who had a tournament defined by him vanquishing other bracket demons and spectacular Fox play in top eight. While falling short to Zain and admittedly getting trounced by Jmook afterward, iBDW nonetheless won runback sets with many players who had beaten him before, winning over Kalamazhu and Fiction to make top eight winners’ side, as well as eliminating Hungrybox and n0ne from the tournament.

The unusual top three came by virtue of the most ridiculous Day 2 ever. The list of upsets are nearly endless, though a few standouts include Fizzwiggle defeating Mango, Eggy upsetting moky, and n0ne defeating Hungrybox.

In many ways, Genesis 8 represented a shifting of the guard. You can immediately see it in the top eight – where all four of the highest placing players are from the current or post-2013 era of competitors. Per PracticalTAS, it was the first time since Viva La Smashtaclysm that a major grand finals didn’t have one of the five gods of Melee.

My Personal Genesis 8 Journey

A couple years ago, I talked to Zhu about the first Genesis. He told me that there were two reasons this tournament was so magical to him. The first was his own performance. The second was that all the players who got into Melee during the MLG era had suddenly become leaders of the scene, and they were converging in one spot to finally meet each other. As Zhu put it, you could put a real face onto people you already knew online, or envision a human being next to someone’s Smashboards profile picture for the first time.

Above that, however, was the understanding that unlike previous tournaments, Genesis would be the start of Melee not just having one-off tournaments every now and then, but actively hosting nationals in the wake of Brawl’s release. The people who went to Genesis knew that the scene was now their’s for the long run. At the end of our conversation, I wondered if I would ever experience something like that. Even having attended Genesis 6 and 7 before, the idea of ever recapturing that exact type of magic in a tournament seemed implausible. Heading into Genesis 8, I expected to have a great experience for sure – I just didn’t quite understand what I was getting into until I finally entered the venue.

Although it’s easier to put faces to tags now that we have more social media avenues, it’s still amazing to see people in person who you recognize, but either don’t get a chance to meet a lot or have never met. In fact, this is one of my favorite things about attending Smash tournaments. For example, I spent quite a bit of time with Radar, who I met through the pandemic. Upon meeting him in person, it felt like I had known him forever – not an iota of discomfort or awkwardness between us.

There were tons of instances like that throughout the event. I’d often see someone I recognized and privately freak out about it with one of my friends, who’d also be excited. And just as fun as it is to ask your friend if that was really NathanSandwich from across the hall, it’s also cool to meet someone whose tag you recognized but had no idea on what the person looked like. I had a moment like this where I was playing a Captain Falcon player on a setup, happily talking to him and then responding with hype after mid-way through our first game, he introduced himself as SquidTheCat. From that point on, every time he landed a stomp on me I would groan and say “nooooo don’t clip me,” and both of us would laugh. It’s little things like these that you’ll remember fondly from Smash events, just in general.

However, I have to be honest. Even better than those type of moments are the ones where you’re on the passive end of it – in other words, when people immediately recognize you and give you an ego boost. One especially funny, although unfortunately embarrassing, example of this was when Sora recognized me on the street, but I, in a late-night, hazy stroll back to a bar with fellow Melee Stats member s-f, was not in a state of mind to realize that a hand wave meant “hello.” The next day, when I saw Sora, he roasted me for “big-leaguing” him and said “you’re banned from Australia now.” I had a similar experience with Yingling, in which he knew who I was, said hi, and within seconds quickly sniffed out the fact that I didn’t recognize him. That time, I didn’t have the excuse of being lost in the sauce.

Another highlight was when I met Salt. When I told him my tag, his eyes lit up and he told me that while he loved my work, he thought I was a very tall white man. Thankfully, I did end up meeting people who recognized me immediately and who did not think I was a very tall white man, but I have to admit that this specific example had me in stitches. So did an instance of Melee Stats community member Tuesday gushing about me on commentary before confusing me for Ambisinister, a slightly less tall white man than the one I think Salt was referring to.

The best part, however, was knowing that me, my friends, and the little “space” we’ve carved for ourselves in the broader community visibly exists. This tournament gave many of us chances to solidify that in one way or another. By placing Top 64 at Genesis 8 – something he’s dreamed about achieving for basically the last decade – Ambisinister will have his name forever be in the record books. The same goes for Seal, a longtime Melee Stats community member. I talked to them both about what their respective runs felt like, and while both were still in a stupor about it, they understand the tremendous nature of what they accomplished.

To be even remotely associated with people who have achieved these things is beyond humbling; it inspires you. You’ll meet countless individuals in Smash who do these seemingly small things that are actually of exceptional importance; they just might not be on a major top eight stage in front of thousands of people. Or at least not yet.

On that topic, the incredible top eight was one thing. So was the truly unprecedented first two days of results. But nothing was more surreal than after the tournament ended. When I, Ambi, Wheat (informally dubbed as “the most couth man in Melee”), Seal, s-f, and Radar all went to grab food at a nearby restaurant, we run into Toph, Scar, KoDoRiN, Zhu, and the Crimson Blur.

Side-bar: I’ve been in the scene for a really long time, so I usually don’t get phased by being around publicly visible figures. However, Scar is the exception to the rule. His natural charisma is off the charts.

I want you to think about this for a second. Within this group of people, you have – not to brag – the Project Director of the Best Melee Content Piece of 2021, who also wrote The Book of Melee. You also have a major TO who seeds every single big tournament you care about and is the lead data guy for the annual Top 100. Next to these two are two 49th placers at Genesis, one of them being the creative director of one of the biggest competitive Melee YouTube channels in the world. There’s a daily social media content creator for a 7,000+ follower account, but also a major commentator, the premier commentary duo of the last decade, a currently Top 10 player, a Top 30 player of all-time, and the Crimson Blur.

Jokes aside, this group encompasses countless contributions, eras, experiences, and intensely dedicated relationships to Melee. When I say that this moment felt surreal, that’s not because I’m assuming familiarity with everyone I meet. It’s because when you attend these events and when you’re actively part of the scene, not just posting on Twitter, there’s actually stakes behind your actions. Doing things for the scene earns you trust, but there’s nothing as straight forward and trust-building as just showing up to events. Funnily enough, when Radar, Ambi, and turndownforwalt were having breakfast together, this was one of the things Walt mentioned as the most frequent advice he received when he was trying to improve as a commentator.

Anyway – at one point in the real life equivalent of an incredibly dorky crossover sitcom episode, Toph introduced me to Scar as “the reason you’re the 69th best player of all-time.” The conversation went toward the topic of what Melee Stats did for the scene, and in a moment I can only describe as being absurdly high off my own supply, I told him that “we’re basically like the new Melee It On Me.” Ambi looked on in horror, and Wheat, the annoyingly couth and anti-shilling man that he is, told me I needed to chill out.

It was only later that it hit me that I actually went full psycho in that moment. I had no guarantee that Scar or Toph or Blur would respond well; they could have easily asked me if I had raised 90,000 dollars for charity or told me off. What I said was the kind of thing I’d tell my friends in private but usually shy away from in public, let alone tell to the point of comparison. Frankly though, I just felt so confident in it. I still think it’s kind of true, and it was awesome walking around with my friends, knowing what we’ve done for the scene and having people acknowledge it.

Something Yingling once told me was that he always tries to make sure that attendees of his events feel like they can get their own “story” of being at a tournament. During one of the nights of Genesis – probably when I was zoning out in the hotel room – I asked myself in my head, “what is my story for Genesis 8?” I remembered what Zhu told me about the first Genesis. I’ve thought about this every single week for the last year – one in which I’ve dealt with a lot of overwhelming, intense personal challenges. I quit a stable marketing job to commit myself to my writing portfolio and Melee content. I adopted a dog with my spouse after never owning a pet. My investment in Melee was at an all-time high, as was my team’s involvement, but I had no desire to compete any more and hadn’t been to an event in two years because of the pandemic. I wasn’t totally alone – across the community there were so many people in slightly different but familiar positions as smashers who became more notable contributors in the pandemic – but without a true supermajor to bring us all together, it wasn’t always easy to feel a sense of community or purpose in being involved.

Now I realize that Genesis 8 is my Smash generation’s first real tournament where we had something new; something defined by people from the current generation. Boback and Sheridan were still the leaders, but two people from the current era, Nathan and Jayde, were on their A games for running the event too. The players who performed best at the tournament weren’t the ones I grew up watching in top eights – they were the people who, just like many of us, were seeing the beauty of Melee and everything the game and its people are capable of. “My story,” if I’m honest, is just being recognized in-person, meeting other people with similar experiences, and connecting with them over our investment in the game.

I had to speak to Zhu again at the end of Sunday night. When I got a chance to talk to him, one on one, I told him how much I thought about what he said over the last year. I even admitted that I once felt a strange envy that he was part of the beginning of something monumental in the first Genesis. I was trying my hardest not to choke up, and I’m not the kind of person that typically likes doing this stuff in public. In this case though, I just intuitively knew that he would understand, and I was right. It was as if we were part of the same timeline in a book, featured in separate chapters a varying amount of times, but knowing that we were in ultimately the same story, just with different roles to play. Only this time, it felt like my chapter – and my whole generation of smashers’ chapter for that matter – was just beginning.

Genesis 8, bar none, was the most emotionally intense experience of being at a Smash event that I’ve had. It gave me the kind of communal joy, self-validation, and personal growth that only comes from going to tournaments like it. But more than that, it felt like a new beginning for so many wonderful relationships and ways of being involved. Anyone in this scene has an opportunity to see their best self and work their hardest to come close to it, however way it is.

The quality of gameplay is the highest it’s ever been, more people are involved in capacities you might have never thought about before, and practically everybody who enters these events is so committed to making this community special in their own way. It’s not just by finding their own story, but understanding its place in a universal foundation; that we’re all part of it together. At The Big House 9, Scar said that there was so much more Melee to be played. He was right, but I want to add something there. There’s so much more that Melee and the people surrounding this can give to each other.

I can’t wait for what’s coming up next. I’ll forever cherish Genesis 8 as the event that made me feel like that the last two years really were leading toward a better future. When I entered the venue for the first time, it felt like I had returned home. I eagerly await coming back next year, and I implore anyone reading this to remember that the first and most important step is always showing up.

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