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Published March 26, 2018

This is part of a new series that I’m trying to do, as a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In this series, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the smash community. Picture credit: Vish’s Twitter. Will take down, if requested!

The last week gave Melee spectators quite a bit to talk about. From the announcement of yet a “Smash 5” invitational to CT GamerCon 2 and Full Bloom 4, there’s a lot to unpack. Let’s start with the first and easiest bit of news to address.

1. The Invitational Is A Really Big Deal

Think of the largest smash-related events within the community’s history. Chances are that you’ll think of any installment of the Genesis series, Evo 2013 or the previous Apex majors. But terms of sheer exposure, there’s no question which tournament gave the scene its brightest spotlight: the 2014 E3 Nintendo invitational.

Was it the most competitively valid one? Definitely not, but the event garnered over 200,000 views at the time, more than any other Melee or Smash 4 event. Today, videos surrounding this invitational have collected millions of views.

You’d be hard pressed to find any Melee major peak at 100,000, let alone the peak count of Zero vs. Hungrybox four years ago. Unlike last time, those two players are officially the best in their respective fields, with a track record of their “rivalry” already existing. This makes the potential for returning viewers even higher.

The news of an invitational couldn’t have come at a more necessary time for the scene. Melee steadily grew in player/spectator base count for about four years after its revival in 2013, but has somewhat plateaued over the last year.

However, don’t get too excited.

2. …It Will Likely Still Suck

I’m not talking about the spectator experience being bad because the event will likely feature items, free-for-alls, etc. Those factors are practically guaranteed and frankly unworthy of contempt. Nintendo’s a business – it would be against its own interest to not show aspects of a game that appeal to a broader audience.

Whatever Nintendo puts out for the invitational will likely both look and play nothing close to the end product. People forget that the original Smash 4 build at Apex 2015, let alone the E3 invitational, looked and felt unpolished, per most of the players who actually got a chance to play it.

You might remember the Zero vs. Hungrybox timeout, but what about the comical lack of shield stun and how floaty the game felt, even in comparison to what Smash 4 later felt like?

If history gives any indication, Smash 5 could suffer similar issues.  Or at least we could be in for a ChuDat timeout victory en route to a double “yahyuz” pose with Reggie Fils-Aime.

3. A Tale of Two Marths

At last Saturday’s CT GamerCon 2, both of New England’s best Marth players in ZoSo and Kalvar put on a show for viewers, finishing in the top two of a regional that featured Northeast heavy hitters like Captain Smuckers, Slox, lint, Big Kid, a resurgent Vortex and many more. Essentially, this tournament gave players a chance to show Crush who could challenge him.

ZoSo’s victory marked his finest performance in about two years. In it, he beat bonfire10, th0rn, Captain Smuckers, SluG, Vortex and Kalvar to win the tournament without dropping a set. Perhaps most impressively, many of these sets went to last-game. For example, his set with SluG involved a three-stock comeback in game five: a strong feat considering not just the mental composure needed to make a comeback against Ice Climbers, but also against one of Philadelphia’s best players, who has plenty of Marth practice against Stango.

As someone who at least knows ZoSo on a surface level, I have to be fully transparent: he’s been vocal about struggling with personal issues outside of Melee. In mid-2016, he took a long break from competing, occasionally showing up to the occasional local in New England before disappearing again, streaming semi-frequently, but not taking the game as seriously any more. Late last year, he attended a few nationals, but saw mixed results that came nowhere close to his 2014 peak, when he finished at the No. 50 player and stood within New England as its most dominant in-region force. It’s nice to see him perform at a level that’s more indicative of his potential.

For Kalvar, CT GamerCon 2 added even more to his resume for a strong 2018, in which he looks on track to finish within SSBMRank’s Top 100. Within the first quarter of the year, he has sets on Crush, Stango, Slox, Ryobeat, Nintendude, DaShizWiz, Vortex and ZoSo. Though he occasionally drops sets within New England, this partially comes from him attending so many events, as he’s a virtual lock for any top eight at an in-region tournament.

ZoSo and Kalvar are interesting to compare for several other reasons. Where ZoSo has been in the scene for more than a decade and actually used to be the region’s best player, Kalvar is relatively new blood to high-level Melee. They also play vastly different, but similar styles. Both of them prioritize patience, mixups and conservative decision making over playing explosively, but ZoSo’s strengths mostly lie in his core fundamentals, strong dash dance game and veteran intuition. Kalvar’s come from him standing his ground stronger than many other Marth players and boasting well-feared reaction tech chase punishes on a variety of characters.

Will both of them be Top 100 by the end of the year? It’s too early to say for sure and I doubt either of them are or should be worried about it.

4. A Tragedy in Two Axe(s)

Heading into the spring, Axe looked just about ready to ursurp Mew2King for the No. 6 spot. Between Axe outperforming him at DreamHack Denver 2017, Smash Summit 5 and Genesis 5, it felt like the latter’s performance at Canada Cup 2017 barely saved him from being overtaken. Furthermore, were it not for Axe losing to Wizzrobe and aMSa at EGLX 2018, Mew2King may have lost the advantage between the two – especially consider Axe’s latest stretch of dominance against his former albatross.

The Crimson Blur and tafokints have talked about Axe on their show, “The Commentator’s Curse,” usually mentioning the peaks and valleys within his career. Looking at Melee history, it’s pretty clear that Axe is the greatest player in the game’s community to never win a supermajor. Ironically, as a long-time “demi-god” within the scene, he’s consistently…too inconsistent to put it together for one run.

It’s hard to attribute whether Axe’s weaknesses come from playing Pikachu, a commonly seen as limited character, or inherent weaknesses within his trademark high-speed, no-frames-wasted, all-in playstyle.

Then again, maybe Ginger and Swedish Delight are actually just that good. Either way, with a consecutive underwhelming showing at a major, Axe looks amid yet another of the many slumps he has in his career. Most likely, he’ll break out of it, but if Axe ever wants to start looking like a contender to win a national, he’s going to need to find more sustainable solutions for his gameplay.

5. Hungrybox Is Literally Broken

I know it’s a beating a dead horse, but can anyone stop Hungrybox? Let’s take a look at Hungrybox’s last seven months at significant major tournaments to feature fellow members of Melee’s Big Six.

Shine 2017: 1st (beating Mew2King, Mango X 2)
GameTyrant Expo 2017: 1st (beating Plup, Mew2King, Armada X 2, losing to Mew2King)
The Big House 7: 1st (beating Mew2King, Armada, Leffen and Plup, losing to Leffen)
DreamHack Denver 2017: 1st (beating Mango X 2)
Too Hot To Handle: 1st (beating Plup)
Smash Summit 5: 1st (beating Mango, Leffen and Armada)
Genesis 5: 2nd (beating Leffen X 2 and Plup, losing to Plup X 2)
EGLX 2018: 1st (beating Plup X 2)
Full Bloom 4: 1st (beating Leffen and Mango)

  • 8 first places out of 9 attended notable tournaments with fellow Top 6 members.
  • 24-4 against Melee’s “Big Six” at non-local, significant events.
  • 9 consecutive appearances in grand finals.
  • No losses outside of the above.

Out of curiosity, I compared this to Armada’s run of dominance from late 2016 to Evo 2017.

Canada Cup 2016: 1st (beating Mew2King and Hungrybox, losing to Hungrybox)
Smash Summit 3: 1st (beating Plup, Hungrybox X 2 and Mew2King)
DreamHack Winter 2016: 1st (beating Leffen and Hungrybox X 2)
UGC Smash Open: 1st (beating Hungrybox and Mew2King, losing to Mew2King)
Genesis 4: 1st (beating Mango X 2 and Mew2King)
BEAST 7: 1st (beating Leffen X 2)
Smash Summit Spring 2017: 1st (beating Leffen and Hungrybox X 2)
Royal Flush: 2nd (beating Mango and Hungrybox, losing to Mango X 2)
Smash ‘N’ Splash 3: 3rd (lost to Hungrybox and Leffen)
Evo 2017: 1st (beat Mew2King and Mango X 2)

  • 8 first places out of 10 attended notable tournaments with fellow Top 6 members.
  • 7 consecutive first places.
  • 24-6 against Melee’s Big Six.
  • No losses outside of the above.

Here’s Mango’s record from Pound 3 to Pound 4:

Pound 3: 1st (beating Azen, ChuDat, PC Chris, Cort and Mew2King twice, losing to Vist, Plank, Sensei and Silent Wolf, the last in a sandbagged set)
Revival of Melee: 1st (beating PC Chris and Mew2King twice)
SCSA West Coast Circuit 4: 1st (beating Mew2King)
Genesis: 1st (beating Hungrybox and Armada X 2, losing to Armada)
Show Me Your Moves 10: 1st (beating Mew2King twice)
SNES: 1st (beating Mew2King)
Revival of Melee 2: 4th (losing to Kage twice)
Winterfest: 1st (beating Hungrybox twice)
Pound 4: 1st (beating Jman and Hungrybox twice)

  • 8 first places out of 9 attended notable tournaments with fellow Top 6 members.
  • 21-1 against the RetroSSBMRank Top 6 of 2008, 2009 and of early 2010.
  • Two losses outside of the above.

And finally, Ken’s legendary late 2004 to early 2006:

MLG Los Angeles 2004: 1st (beating Isai X 2)
MLG New York 2004: 1st (beating Captain Jack and Isai X 2)
MOAST 3: 2nd (losing to Isai X 2)
MLG DC 2005: 1st (beating NEO, ChuDat and Isai X 2, losing to NEO in a sandbagged set of Roy dittos)
MLG San Francisco 2005: 1st (beating DSF, other results not documented)
Gettin’ Schooled 2: 1st (beating Azen, ChuDat X 2, losing to Chillin)
MELEE-FC3: 1st (beating ChuDat and Sastopher X 2, losing to Sastopher in a sandbagged set as Samus in pools)
MLG Los Angeles 2005: 2nd (beating Isai, losing to Isai X 2)
MLG Atlanta 2005: 1st (beating Isai, ChuDat and Azen X 2, losing to Azen)
MLG New York 2005: 1st (beating ChuDat X 2)

  • 8 first places out of 10 attended notable tournaments where he played fellow
  • Top 6 members (9 out of 11, counting Jack Garden Tournament and the level of hidden talent at the event).
  • 22-5 against the Top 6 of 2004 and 2005, not counting sandbagged sets.

I’ll let others debate on where Hungrybox’s peak ranks among the all-time greats. Personally, I’d say it balances both dominance against the field, tournament win-rate and head-to-head records versus fellow contemporaries about as well as any player can.

What I Like

  • This absolutely killer TAS video.
  • The soothing sound of Webs commentary at a smash event in 2018.
  • Literally every Falco, except for Westballz in 2018.

What I Don’t Like

  • Forced Michael (the Jigglypuff player) number jokes.
  • Hax DQing out of yet another major.
  • Westballz in 2018.

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