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Published August 27, 2018

This series is a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In it, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the Smash community. Consider this a mix of news and mild takes. Featured image from the Scar and Toph Show’s Twitter – will take down, if requested.

Last weekend was alright. Zain conquered Shine 2018, defeating Hungrybox in two sets. I saw it live.

1. Zain Joins Mount Olympus

My former partner-in-crime touched on this when it happened, but Zain’s victory puts him in a pantheon of players to ever win major tournaments.

If it isn’t obvious enough, Zain’s all-time stock has skyrocketed more than any other player across this year. I forget where, but earlier, I wrote that this was going to be a narrative to look out for in 2018: whether Zain can prove he’s the real deal or just another talented Marth player that didn’t quite reach the world class heights of  Mew2King.

All year he’s worked on his neutral game, but Zain’s monster punishes looked unstoppable at Shine – especially against Jigglypuff. In the past, I spoke with PPMD about what Zain could improve on in the matchup, and one of the key points he brought up was comboing Puff at lower percents, not just off grabs, but knowing what aerials could actually connect to each other. PPMD also brought up maintaining a mix of discipline and willingness to keep Puff honest without letting her gain position – or ledge – for free.

Slowly, but surely, Zain has added those aspects to his game, asserting both dominance of stage control and smacking Puff around like a volleyball. It showed in grand finals, where he consistently earned grabs on Hungrybox, always kept him within at least dash forward>fair distance and held his own mistakes to a minimum. In a strange, but far more disciplined way, it reminded me of the 2014 Smash The Record set between Mew2King and Hungrybox, in which Mew2King played Marth and took him to game five. Granted, this set didn’t have the highest competitive stakes behind it, but the similarities, while small, still warrant mention.

It’s often easy to forget that players like Plup and Leffen are not “new.” They’ve been around since the post-Brawl era, showing that even as players collectively considered “new stars,” they’re still ultimately members of the old guard.

Zain is different. He’s the first of the doc kids; the symbol of a thrilling and hungry generation of smashers seeking glory. Regionally, this holds true; for years, MD/VA had the backdrop of H2YL behind its legacy but Zain has joined both Azen and Chu in accomplishing victory, surpassing the quietly storied Chillin as well. If Zain’s success is any indication, we’re not just going to see more major victories from him – we’re in for a new tide of superstars.

2. Top 8 Thoughts from Shine 2018

  1. Sometimes all you need to succeed are hard reads and grit. Hungrybox’s play for most of the weekend wasn’t too hot, both in terms of his decision making and technical sloppiness. As a whole, he oscillated between impatience and passivity, but hit several rests when he needed to, usually off hard reads. I’m not sure if this is a continuation of his recent slump or if this is the new normal, but as of right now, I don’t think you can call him the world’s best player any more.
  2. Mango could have easily won or lost all of his games in top eight. There is quite frankly nothing like watching him play, for all the best and worst reasons.
  3. It feels weird to say Plup has had a disappointing summer; by all standards, he’s been fantastic. Finishing third and fourth at two respective major events is certainly nothing to scoff at. I’m not sure how to parse this in a meaningful way, but I wonder how he feels about it.
  4. Gahtzu has had an interesting career. I talked about his strangely impressive consistency before, and it was great to see him have his best major performance ever at Shine; even when he nearly lost his set against SFAT because of a hilariously bad attempt to hit drop zone knee for the fans.
  5. Ten Puffs in Top 64. Hungrybox, 2Saint, Jerry, Legend, 42nd, E-Tie, Michael, Envy, Dr. Z and Atomsk. The character’s good, y’all.
  6. Speaking of which, let’s pretend this set never happened.
  7. ChuDat, what are you doing in Top 16, slaying two of SoCal’s finest?
  8. Hidden under the radar for nutty runs at Shine 2018: PudgyPanda somehow making his way to Top 64 winners side, defeating MikeHaze and Kaeon, notable mid-tier destroyer and shameless camper.

3. My Review of Shine 2018

Now that I’ve gotten all the “hot takes” out of the way, let’s talk about Shine itself. Where does it stand in the hierarchy of Smash majors?

For starters, it’s the ultimate player experience. There are loads of setups, organized from friendly stations to tournament ready televisions in a massive venue. If you go, you need to spend a huge chunk of your time playing Melee if you want to get your money’s worth. Whether this is through the tournament itself, the lane brackets, money matches or friendlies is entirely up to you.

However, if you’re not the kind of person that can marathon playing, that’s okay too! You can grab some bomb seafood at local restaurants, visit the rest of Boston, check out different panels at the convention (including my own!) and more. Granted, many of those options are expensive, so if you’re not one to shell out money, you might be left with a lot of empty time for yourself.

Speaking of which, if you’re trying to go full degenerate, you’ll end up slightly disappointed. Save for expensive bars, places in Boston don’t sell alcohol very late, a strangely Puritanical standard, but more importantly, something to keep in mind when attending Shine, which also doesn’t allow alcohol in the venue. You’ll need to get started early. Additionally, though marijuana is technically legal in Boston, no places to my knowledge have earned the license to actually sell it as a product, save for medical dispensaries. If this is your kind of thing, I’d set your expectations low.

Though the excellent top eight more than made up for it, Sunday was a particularly rough stretch of downtime. As someone too exhausted from playing all weekend, I essentially had seven hours to do nothing. When news about the shooting at a Madden tournament in Jacksonville hit, it set an especially somber mood throughout the venue. I’d rather not turn the comments section of this piece into a debate on gun control, but I’ve made my thoughts pretty obvious online, so feel free to engage with me there if you want to talk.

I have to give it to the Big Blue eSports and Beyond the Summit team – they dealt with the problem as well as they could, and I didn’t have that expectation. Before grand finals, Rorec, a member of the Five and the man behind Shine, acknowledged the tragedy and asked for a moment of silence across the venue.

It was initially tough. Not everyone could hear Shi, with some in the back drunkenly screaming “Let’s go Mango” early on before being told to shut up by event staff, leading to a few stifled snickers through the audience. However, once those noises died down, volunteers then informed other attendees of what was going on, leading all of them to walk forward to join the crowd of mourning attendees.

After about a minute, it led to one of the most surreal and powerful moments I have ever had in-person, with the entire venue silent. Words, both literally and figuratively, can’t do it justice.

4. My Experience

Despite a few personal issues leading to a mix of extreme emotions throughout Shine, I would generally say that I had a good major experience. However, like many other Smash events, I have to say that interacting with my fellow smashers can lead to a bitter taste, as well as moments of self-introspection.

During my first doubles match with my friend against another team, we narrowly won game one off what was frankly the most bullshit way to end a tight match, with both of us simultaneously gaining cheese kills on our opponents. I half-jokingly popped off to hype up my friend, pumping my fist and saying something along the lines of “let’s fucking go,” as he and I laughed at the absurdity of how we managed to fluke a game at our first tournament ever teaming together, specifically against a team that clearly had better practice and experience in doubles.

This was not met with passive intolerance. The two next to us rolled their eyes – one of them I believe actually told me to “chill the fuck out.” We got destroyed in the following two games, with the two actively mocking my admittedly obnoxious pop off numerous times. I’m not one to get mad at being rightfully made fun of, but this felt particularly malicious and I didn’t really know how to deal with my own feelings about it.

So I decided to do the old-school tactic: after losing the set, I fist bumped and asked both of the two if either would like to money match in singles later, partially out of salt and because it felt like a fair way of dealing with tension. The two quickly dodged my offer, so I offered to play a serious set later in the weekend, but neither seemed comfortable, so I quickly dropped the topic and moved on.

I caught up with a friend who was having lunch with a large group of players, and upon retelling my story to him, one of the people there turned out to be a friend of the two smashers from before. We had a short conversation, with me facetiously calling the two cowards, but admitting some fault in perhaps acting a little socially aggressive, especially due to my own obvious and not-so-hidden annoyance at being the butt of a joke.

In the future, I’ll have to be a lot more careful – especially with players from regions where even popping off ironically can feel disrespectful. As someone who loathes when smashers are socially unaware, the incident did come off badly on my part, not just for the pop off, but also for the fact that I knew it would make the two upset; or even worse, give myself a false sense of agency. That’s not cool, and for that, I do sincerely apologize, not necessarily to either of the two, but for engaging in fuckery that I should have been above.

Then again, it did fill me with shameless glee that one of my best friends actually ended up beating one of the two players later in singles bracket. He even found a few salty tweets in reference to losing, making my initial conception of him as a salty milksop that much more accurate. Call it petty schadenfreude if you want; I found it hilarious.

As far as my singles experience goes, it went about as well as I wanted. My first opponent didn’t show up, but I knew my second one was going to be a tough out. In addition to recognizing his tag as a relatively high-Arcadian tier competitor within Ontario, he even put on the “6GOD” tag against me. It may have been only a reference to Toronto, yet I couldn’t help but operate off the assumption that he recognized me, potentially for my public skepticism surrounding Nightmare’s ability to attend events.

Long story short; we had a sloppy set where I only played well enough in bursts, but as Marth against Fox, that’s sometimes all you need, along with good SDI. Based on what I knew of him before, I thought his play was surprisingly unclean and reeked of nerves, but nonetheless, I knew I had to do it to him – if you cheese a fast spacie player enough times, they will go on tilt, even if they are supposed to be better than you.

Moving onto DrunkSloth, I came in knowing fully well I was going to lose, so I let him pick wherever he wanted. Those of you who know me, you’ll know that I have a long history of playing poorly against Ice Climbers, but against DrunkSloth I came in with a few ideas, and they all worked well, leading me to go up four stocks to two at one point in game one on Final Destination.

The problem: I forgot that he was an actual player and his adaption skills, as well as knowledge of different situations, was that much better than my own. We talked a lot after the set and he gave me strong words of encouragement, but also critical advice against the Ice Climbers, particularly in playing more reactively to their jumps, rather than just spamming down tilt and throwing late aerials on block.

To make it out of pools, I played against another Fox, playing some of my best Melee of the day. It gave me unreal confidence, to the point where upon noticing my potential loser’s bracket of Fox-Fox-Falcon, I felt like I had a chance to make a run. Alas; I had too much downtime between games and played like a moron against a very smart Philadelphia Fox player, who frankly destroyed me. In the future, I’ll need to find a better way to maintain focus and polish across rounds, as well as not be complacent.

5. Monday Morning Mailbag

How would you compare the gap between Mango and his peers to the gap between Wizzrobe and his peers to the gap between them? -RodneyPonk

Well, after last weekend, is there a gap between Wizzrobe and Zain? Is Wizzrobe better than Zain right now? The two seem like the clear cut No. 7 and No. 8, though I’d probably go with Zain at No. 7 due to having a Plup win and three victorious sets against Mango, in addition to a greater victory against Hungrybox. Axe and aMSa, the peers beneath the two, seem clearly defined as within the same punching range for individual sets, but not national dark horses.

Mango can win on any given day, but he needs either the right bracket or has to have his trademark gambles roll the right way, rather than lead to him either actively throwing away stocks or running into shield grabs. In a nutshell, I’d say he’s solidly No. 6, not too quantitatively behind Mew2King, but definitively a spot lower, if that makes sense. In fact, come to think of it, isn’t Mango’s 2018 resume against Zain’s 2018 resume a little more interesting?

I’m hesitant to put Zain above him for one tournament, especially since Zain is susceptible to more losses (although maybe not in as embarrassing fashion as Mango), but it’s closer than you’d think. In fact, Zain’s the one with the head-to-head lead, more Hungrybox wins and has actually beaten Plup’s primary character this year.

How come people always talk about Westballz losses to lower ranked players as if it’s a Westballz problem and not a Falco problem like it really is? Falco just seems like the character that is the most prone to upset variance. -thorSmiles

I’m not sure. I hesitate to say it’s a Falco problem because there’s only two at the top level, and I haven’t seen enough statistical analysis of the current Melee metagame to definitively say. In general for a lot of these kinds of questions, it’s difficult to give a good answer because you have to always account for skill tier of players, what matchups they play, their styles of play and other factors.

That’s a pretty boring answer though, so here’s my opinion: Westballz has always had this image of being the “beats and loses to everyone” player. If you look at his history since his rise, you’ll realize that his lows really haven’t changed that much. The only differences are that the field has improved and he doesn’t have the same consistent godslaying potential as he did before.

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