Over the last week, I made Melee ‘headlines’ through doing something so stupid that it rocks: throwing a $1,000 bounty on the world’s best Melee team. The reason? I wanted to shake things up. I was inspired by the thrilling doubles top eight at Major Upset and I think the community is better when one of its formats isn’t dead.
I've had enough of watching Hbox/Plup sleepwalk their way through doubles. I'm putting a $1,000 bounty on them. The first team that takes a set will win the bounty. This is a limited offer for the next three majors.
If nobody does it, we should just cut doubles entirely tbh pic.twitter.com/tTyTtEeuhp
— Edwin (@edwin_budding) April 3, 2023
Now, I know many of you are doubles haters. Trust me, I get it. In spite of the amount of time I’ve spent discussing doubles – including getting appropriately roasted for a shamelessly clickbaity headline on a glorified, rushed survey – I actually empathize with people who hate doubles. It is, after all, a very silly version of the game that’s probably a bit closer to what the developer intended it to be: four people sitting around a TV and laughing (or getting enraged) at the ridiculous stuff on screen.
That’s why in today’s Monday Morning Marth, I’m going to give doubles aficionados and haters something delicious: an unfiltered, no-bullshit, brief history of Melee doubles. I’ll be doing this by splitting up the history of doubles into different eras, and analyzing each era through the lens of its best team. Today is part one, where we’ll look at the first ten years or so.
Era 1: Shameless Money Grabbing
Much like everything else in the MLG era, smashers didn’t know very much about the game. There were no training resources like Uncle Punch or Slippi, and the most you could learn about Melee usually came from the equivalent of “Melee bro science.” Most people held strong opinions about the game which came from sheer vibes and personal experience. You know how when you first get into doubles, you and your teammate intuitively “pick” your respective opponent on the other team? That’s kind of like how doubles used to be at the top level.
It’s to no one’s surprise that I am going to bring up the most dominant – read: not necessarily the “greatest” – team in the history of Melee doubles: Ken/Isai, also known as El Chocolate Diablo. Not only was Ken the best player in the world, Isai was considered Top 5 for much of his time competing. Together, they won every single tournament they entered from Tournament Go 5 to MLG Chicago 2006. Some of you reading this may already know that, as this was kind of their whole calling card back then: winning 21 tournaments in a row. Many of them were smaller tournaments, granted, but they won the majors also.
If you’re wondering why the other Top 5 players – like Azen/ChuDat or PC Chris/KoreanDJ at another – didn’t try to stop them, there’s a few factors to consider. First of all, the top competitors were young (high school to college age), so it was difficult to get all of them in the same room. Second of all, the “team with the other best player” approach was socially discouraged. All the dedicated teams were mostly players under the top echelon, and the few people at the top who were interested in doubles liked playing with their friends or teaming with others outside their level. Not Ken and Isai though. They just wanted to win.
There is, however, one extra thing that I’m willing to bet that most of you did not know: doubles used to be seen as an entry point for newer players into competitive Melee. At bigger tournaments, it was common for totally casual players, or people from other competitive communities, to enter doubles. There, they’d either team with another new player or they’d team with a top player and treat doubles as a training experience. In fact, at MLG Los Angeles 2005, there were more doubles entrants than singles entrants. This is what made Ken and Isai stand out as especially grimy. Their approach was remarkably different from how most of the scene treated doubles.
Eventually, the field gave up on any semblance of winning “the honorable way.” They eventually tried creating superteams, usually ones that involved Azen. He and Wes tried taking them down at Tournament Go 6 and MLG New York 2004, to no avail. Then Azen and Chu tried at MLG Los Angeles 2005, but that didn’t work either. Eventually, he and Chillin were able to do it. All things considered, those two were probably the best team El Chocolate Diablo faced off against. At the same time, their time together didn’t quite coincide with Ken’s or Isai’s peak doubles years, so it’s hard to consider them a rival.
Because of the lack of properly archived data and publicly available brackets, it’s difficult to pinpoint how many consecutive sets Ken/Isai won together. However, I can do my best to offer an educated estimate. By most accounts, their first ever loss in tournament was a bracket reset to Taj/Forward at Champ Combo: NorCal Edition (which Ken/Isai won anyway). El Chocolate Diablo had played at least 16 tournaments up until that point, most tournaments in which they played anywhere from four to six sets, depending on the number of entrants. Using a bit of “napkin math” and splitting the difference to five, this would make for a mind-boggling eighty sets in a row won before that aforementioned Champ Combo, where they won additional sets. Realistically, this number is probably even higher than that. Moreover, that’s only consecutive sets before they finally lost. Out of more than a hundred career sets, I only found eight losses, which I’ve listed below:
- A bracket reset to Taj/Forward at Champ Combo: NorCal Edition
- A bracket reset to PC Chris/Wes at MLG NY Opener 2006
- A dropped set in winner’s semifinals to Mew2King/KoreanDJ at MLG Chicago 2006
- Being eliminated by Azen/Chillin at MLG Chicago 2006
- A double elimination at the hands of Mew2King/The King at MLG NY Playoffs 2006
- A dropped set in winner’s bracket to SilentSpectre/Tang at Super Champ Combo
- Being eliminated by Mango/Lucky at Super Champ Combo
Mew2King/The King make for a very funny “kryptonite” for Ken/Isai. Those two hold the honorable distinction of being the only duo to ever double eliminate El Chocolate Diablo, and yet they only teamed at three events and never actually won them. All the other strong and present teams of the MLG era – ChuDat/Manacloud, PC Chris/Cort, Team Ben (Wife/Husband), Caveman/Rob$ – were mincemeat for El Chocolate Diablo.
We will never see a team dominate like that ever again. Was it mostly because those two had the shamelessness to commit to winning money together and had no real rival? Somewhat. Yet in fairness to them, they were great Melee players and their dominance inspired other teams to challenge them. And their relative absence in 2007 made the year somewhat underwhelming from a doubles standpoint. Mew2King/Isai and other similar teams would pop up, win, and then quickly dissolve. Azen/Chillin came through at the end of the year to win two majors, but come Pound 3, a tournament planned to be the final Melee major, they didn’t even team together. Around this time, the only semi-consistent teams at the top level were PC Chris/Cort and ChuDat/Chillin. Neither of them won the event; that honor would go to Mew2King/Azen, a duo that only teamed at Pound 3 and nowhere else.
On a grander scale, there’s two points of irony that are worth bringing up. First of all, there is something fascinating about the most viral moment in Melee history being a doubles clip from a local tournament. More than the Revival of Melee, as the Smash documentary positioned it, and even more than Genesis, this clip got more new people into Melee than basically anything else. But the second thing that I’d like to bring up is the last team that ever beat Ken/Isai. This team, more than anyone else, picked up the mantle of doubles champions, and similarly became “too good” for everyone else.
Era 2: Four Leaf Mango
From 2008 to 2010, Mango had one of the most dominant stretches of play ever. That includes doubles, where Mango/Lucky quickly became a force to be reckoned with. Four Leaf Mango initially started teaming more seriously at the end of 2007, and they’d easily become the West Coast’s best team. After winning Mango Juice, they went to Genesis and had a slight setback where, from what I can tell based on public information, they lost to Scar/Darc and Jman/Mew2King – the top two teams at that tournament. Not bad for their first major, right?
For the next two years, they won everything they entered together. Revival of Melee 2, Pound 4, Apex 2010, Revival of Melee 3, Don’t Go Down There Jeff, and Genesis 2 – all these tournaments ended up with Four Leaf Mango on top. It was so dominant within the West Coast that people would refuse to enter doubles tourneys when Mango/Lucky wanted to team. When they did lose, as they did to Hax/Linguini at RoM 2 and Armada/Aniolas at Apex, it was treated as an anomaly because they would typically go through loser’s bracket and thrash everyone else in their path. In the rare occasion where they’d play someone who previously beat them, like Jman/Mew2King, it was totally expected that Four Leaf Mango would wash them. Worse yet, the answer wasn’t as simple as “get the other best players to team.” Even Mew2King/PPMD couldn’t stop them at Genesis 2.
One element to their doubles success was their unpredictable character combination diversity. Mango could pull out the Jigglypuff, Fox, and Falco at different points in the same set, and they were all deadly. Furthermore, they were extraordinarily fast and aggressive players, so in a format as chaotic and hectic as doubles, their natural strengths made them a formidable duo. Often, they’d just bulldoze opponents, especially with double Fox. Reportedly, the initial reason Mango/Lucky stopped teaming as much at the start of the 2010s was because they thought it would be too unfair. This is partly why Lucky began teaming with other people like S2J and Reno, as well as why Mango tried it out with DoH, G$, and Scar.
There is one simultaneously great and aggravating story that I have to share with you readers. At Rule 6: A NorCal Regional, Mango/Lucky had won 30 sets in a row, and they’d lose their streak at this tournament not to a team of all-stars and not even to a duo of top regional players – they’d lose to Tafokints and Gishnak, a player whom I didn’t even know about. The reason they lost was because Mango chose to go Mario game 1, and when he tried the Puff in game 2, he and Lucky happened to lose. This may be simultaneously the biggest and most dumb upset in the history of Melee. Funnier yet, Mango/Lucky didn’t even win the tourney; they lost to SFAT/Shroomed.
I do want to take a brief aside here: on April 21, 2014, Wife wrote a now-infamous article about the need for doubles tournaments to be abolished. His argument was essentially that it was too messy for spectators to follow, that there were so few dedicated teams at the top level, that the most successful teams were merely the two best players at the tournament, and that it was less popular than singles.
I still do believe (esp now) that certain events have to be cancelled.
Smash 4 Doubles and Brawl AT LEAST
— hungrybox (@LiquidHbox) January 30, 2015
It’s funny revisiting this article now. Prog had written a whole response, Wes made a video in response, and from personal memory, there was even a contingent of people who interpreted Wife’s call to end doubles as his last-ditch attempt to revive doubles via trolling. I won’t dive into whether Wife was “right” or “wrong” on the details, but I will put my cards on the table and say that if you look at the top four of each major’s doubles tournaments, you’ll usually find that many top player duos from the Brawl era, sans Mango/Lucky, usually only lasted about a couple or a few years. Save for exceptions like Mango/Lucky, people would constantly swap teammates even as their own doubles attendance would remain present. Wife’s suggestion was not necessarily correct and his reasoning was somewhat poor, but he brought up real symptoms related to the struggles that doubles faced.
Back to Four Leaf Mango, as dominant as their time at the top was, it quickly petered out once they began teaming fewer times. For most of the mid-to-late-2010s, Mango and Lucky would remain a wild card in doubles events. Usually one of three things would happen: they’d DQ, they’d buster out of top eight because they showed up drunk, or they’d randomly make a deep run to top four. One interesting fact is that they were always a nuisance for SFAT/PewPewU. To date, they boast a 7-3 record against them and have a pretty strong claim to be their hardest opponent. Four Leaf Mango also defeated Hungrybox/Plup in the only two sets they ever played together, as well as finished 3-0 lifetime vs. S2J/Shroomed.
The last event Four Leaf Mango won was Smash Rivalries, where they beat SFAT/PewPewU, and snapped a three-set losing streak to Hungrybox/Mew2King, defeating them twice in loser’s to take the tournament. We have a lot more to talk about with doubles, and I’ll save this portion for next week, when I’ll explore the “Arm2King” era, as well as the rise and fall of the FUSE circuit. For now, I’ll leave you with Mango’s immortal closing words.