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Published April 17, 2023

Part 2 of A Brief History of Melee Doubles

Armada/Mew2King have a special place in Melee history together. When it’s all said and done, most people would consider them to be the longest reigning doubles champions in Melee history. It’s a bit of a strange doubles team to assess, as the two kind of split apart near the end. However, they didn’t do that because they couldn’t win together. As you’ll learn, they had no problem with that part of the game.

The first time they teamed together was at Pound V where they won the whole tournament without dropping a set. They showed up again at Apex 2012 and Apex 2013 where the two, unsurprisingly, won yet again with no losses, beating Hungrybox/Plup both times without breaking too much of a set. Then, Armada retired, and before you knew it, he was back, and when Armada/Mew2King teamed yet again at SKTAR 3 for Armada’s grand return, Mango and PPMD made the ungodly alliance to stop them. Did it work? Sort of, but not really. They took a set in winner’s before getting downloaded in grand finals and losing.

It’s easy to tell via the eye test how Armada/Mew2King were so dominant. They were both players at the highest echelon and they had complementary strengths. Even by modern standards, I would easily call Mew2King the best doubles support player ever. In the inherent chaos of doubles, his edgeguarding and stock-hoarding skills (which include ledge camping) are uniquely valuable, even if somewhat frustrating to watch.  Meanwhile, Armada was, well, Armada. He could 1v1 anyone in the world, hold his own in a 1v2, and his own edgeguard/combo game was as much to fear as Mew2King’s. In my opinion, the two had more clearly defined “roles” to their team play together than any other team.

These two, more or less, were the definitive team in the world for about five and a half years. They obliterated everyone they played, boasting lifetime head-to-head leads over Hungrybox/Plup (7-0), Mango/Lucky (4-0), S2J/Shroomed (4-0), and SFAT/PewPewU (4-2). Leffen/Ice (2-1), SFAT/Shroomed (2-1), and Mango/PPMD (2-1) managed to take sets, but they still ended up with a negative lifetime record.

The only team in the history of the game who ever came out on top in a career head-to-head vs. Armada/Mew2King was Leffen/MacD (1-3), a team that strangely seemed to have their number in the short span of its existence. Though they won a few majors together, Leffen/MacD disappeared for a variety of reasons. Leffen wanted a regular practice partner in Europe, which became an issue when he couldn’t travel to America during his visa ban. MacD had personal conduct issues that go beyond the scope of this column to adequately explain. Even outside of that, however, I would not go as far as to call this team a “what if” – they were more so a temporary product of the time.

If only one team kept beating them before leaving, and if they were so consistently dominant, why did Armada/Mew2King stop teaming? I won’t pretend like my answer is anything other than speculation but my guess is boredom.”As early as 2015, Armada often tried his best to prioritize playing with Android (his brother). On Mew2King’s end, he split time with Plup, Hungrybox, and other random top Fox players when Armada wasn’t in the States. It was a bit of conundrum. They couldn’t practice as much as they did in 2014, when Armada spent more time in America. At the same time, they were absolutely rolling everyone else anyhow.

This makes their 31 consecutive set victories from Genesis 3 to Smash Summit Spring 2017 all the more stupefying. That was a time in which there was a serious push to market doubles as a leading competitive format. In spite of that, the most dominant team of this period was an old duo that had lost their passion to play together. After winning a little too much, they simply stopped, fading away right when the “peak” of doubles started.

Era 4: The FUSE Circuit & Beyond (2017 to 2020)

This is where we get into the fun part. You’ll be hard pressed to find a duo that spent more time competing at doubles tournaments in-region and around the world than SFAT/PewPewU, a team so strong and committed to each other that an entire esports team signed the two together. If you ask most people in the Smash scene to name a top Melee duo in Melee history, PewFat will almost certainly be the first that comes to mind.

What makes this team especially interesting is that they were really the first “modern” team to put a lot of deliberate thought into how it could “properly” play doubles. Rather than simply “out-talenting” opponents, overwhelming them with speed, or defaulting to static roles, PewFat played fluidly, with a focus on prioritizing and optimizing doubles-specific situations like 2v1s. Unlike past players, who would recognize a 2v1 at the end of a stock or game, SFAT/PewPewU could see potential 2v1s in the moment, convert off it, and build a gameplan around maximizing the amount of 2v1s they could play, as well as convert off them. When I think of these two at their best and how differently they played vs. everyone else, I think of their Smash Summit grand finals win over Armada/Mew2King.

This isn’t to say that they were the “only” teams to do that, but before they won Evo 2015 together, PewFat had been teaming for years with this approach to doubles. It took them a really long time – and they initially had thorns in their side like Four Leaf Mango – but they had faith in the format and constantly spoke volumes about how they didn’t want doubles to merely be a place where the best singles players could team up and win at will. Eventually it started paying dividends for them in results.

The irony, of course, is that PewFat spent most of its existence trying to break away from the pack. At the peak of FUSE, it was basically a three-way race between themselves, Team Alliance (Armada/Android) and “Muffen” (Leffen/Ice) as leading contenders. The other teams were strong, to be sure, but in retrospect, these three were at a unique level of committed and consistent at the top level. Eventually, PewFat came out on top.

To go on a brief detour for a bit, it’s a shame that FUSE Season 2 fizzled out. In another timeline, we could have seen these rivalries evolved. I will not pretend like I have the full insight on what happened behind-the-scenes to kill FUSE, but I can do my best to explain what I remember from the time. What immediately comes to mind are four things: relative burnout from the top teams duos, where many of them wanted to switch partners, eventual retirements of notable players, and mediocre feedback from the community, myself included. If you weren’t a doubles aficionado, there was just no reason to really care. Melee’s peak viewership around the time of the FUSE grand finals stood at a paltry number: 3,402, per SullyGnome.

I mentioned before how Muffen was in contention for winning FUSE, so just to be clear, it’s worth mentioning that the FUSE finals were held a day after Evo – and in part due to burnout from that event, Muffen sandbagged in loser’s to finish in seventh place. If you couldn’t even get one of the most active teams duos to prepare in advance for taking the event seriously, what did that say about the event? That’s not going into the can of worms that is Smash 4; remember: FUSE was a multi-Smash circuit, so the health of a game featuring the most broken character in doubles history and the most reviled character in singles history may have been a factor.

Regardless, Pewfat came out of the FUSE era as its biggest winner. And if you talk to a lot of doubles advocates today, they’ll often hark back to the age of “Prime PewFat” after FUSE – their period of dominance in which they won 12 tournaments in a row. There’s a lot to like about this stretch: within it, PewFat won 38 consecutive sets, the most since El Chocolate Diablo from the MLG era. However, this somewhat overstates the level of dominance they had. Many of these tournaments were regionals or smaller events.

I previously mentioned Four Leaf Mango (3-7) as a recurring obstacle for them. But at least they mostly scored their wins back when PewFat were new to the top level, as did Hungrybox/Plup (2-3). Mew2King/Hungrybox (6-5) were similarly tough opponents and even I would consider PewFat’s rivalry with Team Alliance (13-9) the greatest in doubles history. That’s just scratching the surface. Other worthy rivals in their heyday included Plup/Mew2King (7-9) and Leffen/Ice (3-6), though it’s worth noting that Plup/Mew2King curiously teamed only before and after the FUSE circuit.

NOTE: I do not have evidence of Team Alliance taking a set in the Evo 2017 side bracket – just that PewFat won over them.

None of this is meant to take away from their success, but it does highlight a more important element of PewFat’s success than their prime: their longevity. From back when people thought teams was destined for Mango/Lucky to win forever, to when Armada/Mew2King actually won “forever,” to when the FUSE Circuit inspired the toughest field of top-level doubles competition in the history of the game, to afterward when there was no bigger incentive to take doubles seriously, PewFat was always there. They were routinely present and always contributing to the metagame even when their toughest opponents weren’t around. The end result is they won more bonafide doubles majors than everyone else.

Personally, I would love to see the two return to competing at majors together. Although it wouldn’t be under the CLG Banner, somebody has to collect the $1,000 I have out for Hungrybox/Plup. Speaking of which…

Era 5: Post-Pandemic Doubles (2021 to now)

Let’s be honest: doubles died during the pandemic. The scene’s infrastructure had totally shifted toward singles, due to the broader community-wide switch to online, so outside of a few rollback events for the remaining doubles enthusiasts and scuffed online 5-0 exhibition win that rusty SFAT/PewPewU had over Tempo/xRunRiot, there was no real development in doubles. Then, offline events returned, and after one “return to form” showing from Hungrybox/Plup they teamed together again in 2022. To date, they have won 34 sets in a row – second only to PewFat’s 38 in the modern, recorded era.

Why does this feel less monumental this it should? In my opinion, it’s the lack of buy-in from top players. During the “era of five gods,” pretty much all of them played doubles. When FUSE came up, it was only Mango and Wizzrobe who sat out within the Top 10. Meanwhile, Zain and Leffen don’t even pretend to care about doubles today. Mango’s a little more active than you’d think, but in addition to not having a consistent teammate, he’s taking a break from Melee, so he’s not in the picture. Sure there’s Cody Schwab and Jmook, but those two got smacked around at Genesis. In spite of them winning three majors last year, it’s hard to not weigh that with a grain of salt when they’re still a work in progress compared to PlupBox.

To continue this, aMSa and Axe were a strong duo of the past, if not a heartbreaking one that always came up barely short at the larger doubles events. Yet with aMSa going back to Japan soon, it’s hard to say how present he or Axe will be in the doubles metagame. The other top teams are very good – Krudo/Panda, Darkatma/Ralph, and Ginger/FatGoku – but they haven’t shown the starpower to realistically compete with PlupBox yet.

On the surface, you might think I’m being a bit of a hater. After all, those two were a strong team from 2012 to 2016, so it isn’t like they are a cynical cash grab. But they were never on the same level as Armada/Mew2King (0-7) or Mango/Lucky (0-2). By the time the “FUSE era” had started, Plup and Hungrybox weren’t even teaming together. Plup was bouncing between Westballz, Axe, and Mew2King, while Hungrybox had his own period of time unsuccessfully trying to rekindling the flame with Mew2King, experimenting with Crunch and then having a period where he and ChuDat were routinely in contention for winning majors.

He and Plup are, however, an undeniably strong team. Plup is the most dangerous 1v2’r in the world, and Hungrybox’s support skills are as good as it gets. What they lack in “optimized” doubles play, they have in, to put it bluntly, game awareness, being better than their opponents, and playing their roles very well. In a rare case where they’ve run into an elite team, like Cody Schwab and Jmook, they’ve run them over. I view PlupBox somewhat similarly to Armada and Mew2King in that they can mostly win by beating their opponents as they are, but it’s not like they lack chemistry or doubles experience.

In spite of their success and my attempts to explain why I want them to lose, I genuinely am happy to see the two compete together. They’ve been part of the scene for as long as I can remember, and it’s sincerely great to see an old duo make their way to the top. In a sense, them winning as often as they’ve won was a necessary catalyst to motivating everyone else to dethrone them. Both Plup and Hungrybox are far stronger players than they were a decade ago too. But the undeniable context to their recent stretch of victories has to be said: doubles isn’t the same as it used to be, and it’s okay to feel a little disappointed by it.

A few months ago, I asked a top player – who shall not be named for the sake of this column – about doubles. The person told me “Not only has the meta for doubles basically died, it actually has gone backwards.” I obviously will not claim to be an expert on doubles metagame analysis, but I trust this player quite a bit and was depressed to hear these words. I went to another top player to hear a second opinion. Though this person didn’t go as far to say that doubles had regressed, there was an agreement that a lack of buy-in at the very top had contributed to a general malaise and complacency with doubles.

The way the player explained it, “even good teams nowadays do random stuff until they get a 2v1 and decide that this is the only part they care about.” Though strong regional teams could try to innovate the doubles neutral game a little more, according to the player I talked to, there was especially more room for doubles to grow when it came to applying some of these concepts to the top level – or at the very least, forcing top players to take them seriously.

If there’s a silver lining to the current era of doubles, it’s that it looks like people care about it again. Along with Major Upset’s doubles top eight being great on its own, it did well in viewership, contributing to 22,871 live viewers the Saturday night it ran. Furthermore, with Genesis running doubles top four on Sunday afternoon before top eight, Melee gaining over 40,000 viewers then, and the event having the most teams seen in doubles since Genesis 7, it’s clear that the format may even be experiencing a renaissance (at least per SullyGnome).

Moving forward, I hope to see this continue. Maybe we won’t need $1,000 to keep it going either.

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