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The Most Interesting Trio of Unofficial World No. 1’s
In Melee history, only five players boast bragging rights to finishing a year as their game’s undisputed No. 1: Armada, Mango, Hungrybox, Ken, and Mew2King. If your “Top 5” all-time Melee players doesn’t have these in some order – preferably mine – it’s a bad Top 5.
Beneath them is some order of Leffen, PPMD, and Azen. I believe that these three players have fascinating legacies with a good amount of similarities. I’ve dedicated today’s Monday Morning Marth to briefly overview them.
Their Game Impact
It’s a little bit overstated, but Azen was the first notable player to consistently L-Cancel his aerials. It’s easy to take this for granted now, but back in the early 00s, people didn’t have the same resources to practice or learn about the game. The only ways to improve were playing with other people in-person or to train on your own at home.
The Smash documentary mentions Azen’s reputation as “The Master of Diversity,” but it only scratches the surface of its significance. Legend has it that when Azen played members of Deadly Alliance for the first time – the East Coast’s premier Melee crew, which prioritized character main diversity within its ranks – they were astonished at how handily he beat them with numerous characters, sometimes even their own. His intuition what characters “could” and “couldn’t” do was near unparalleled.
Years later, before his eventual major breakout at Revival of Melee 3, PPMD – then known as Dr. PeePee – quickly became the best player in North Carolina and grew a reputation as a Falco guru. However, it’s more accurate to state that PPMD’s knowledge of Falco came less from technical details and more of situational mastery. Specifically with PPMD, his excellent ground game, non-committal discipline and brilliant use of lasers set him apart. He grew a similar reputation with Marth, this time emphasizing his dash dance and preemptive use of grounded, safe hitboxes rather than the all-out swings or devastating combos associated with Ken or Mew2King.
Years ago, I asked PPMD who his favorite Marth influence was and I expected him to pick Ken. In hindsight, I should have known that he’d pick Azen. They both share the same observation-heavy approach.
Broadly speaking, top Fox mains before Leffen’s rise were typically in two camps: technical wizards who actively pushed the boundaries of their character and elite competitors that could consistently execute. Save for Mango, who transcends any kind of binary even to the average Smash viewer, or Javi, who only became more well known after his Apex 2012 breakout, there wasn’t a dedicated Fox main who embodied the best of both worlds like Leffen did.
Painting in extremely simple strokes, I’d say that Leffen’s metagame impact primarily came from how he “optimized” Fox’s tools in practical, repeatable ways. Almost every top Fox player does today what used to be identifiable for Leffen back in 2014 or 2015. The combo game flowcharts in the Fox ditto, his neutral game plan against Peach and Jigglypuff, his knowledge of different confirms across a variety of percents against different characters, basic edgeguards – so much of Fox’s development in these areas is attributable what Leffen implemented throughout so much of his career
What The Data Says
In terms of volume, Leffen leads the pack in first place major finishes (8 for him, 7 for PPMD and 5 for Azen), and is far ahead of them in top eight appearances, with 29 (PPMD has 18 and Azen has 13). Interestingly enough, PPMD actually has the least amount of overall majors attended, with 25. Azen edges him out slightly at 30, with Leffen in a different class at 55.
Were it as simple as measuring number of accomplishments, Leffen would easily be the standout of the three. But when you adjust for consistency, it’s actually PPMD who comes out ahead of the pack. Out of all the majors he attended, PPMD made top eight at 92 percent of them, with a 72 percent chance of finishing top four and a 44 percent of making grand finals. For reference, Leffen’s respective split here is 76/53/22, while Azen’s is 63/43/30.
Let’s make this more complicated, because why not? If we adjust the weight of each major, Azen is the one with the most impressive “championship” victories. Four of them come at events that featured all of the best active players of the time: Tournament Go 6, MLG Orlando 2006, MLG New York 2006, and Viva La Smashtaclysm. Comparatively, Leffen has two victories that carry this kind of competitive prestige, GOML 2016 and Evo 2018, while PPMD has Pound V, Apex 2014 and Apex 2015 as his “top-level” accomplishments.
Their Narrative as Players
When you look at them together, it’s hard to dispute that Leffen, PPMD and Azen each had out-of-game factors that limited their growth. In Azen and PPMD’s cases, each were constrained by their academic pursuits – after graduating high school in 2005, Azen had to prioritize college over Melee, while PPMD attempting to balance both caused him to not enter as much, as well as contributed to his later struggles with depression. With Leffen, his Visa ban put his competitive career in the United States on halt.
All three also struggled, in some way or another, to escape another player’s shadow. Azen is to Ken for Marth what PPMD is to Mango for Falco. For Leffen, his rivalry with Armada reflected not a battle of character pride, but of both national (Sweden) and continental pride (Europe).
But when you look at them individually, each of them have fascinating career arcs. Azen’s legacy is a strange synthesis of multiple themes: a reserved gaming “natural” who was the No. 2 of his era but also had a penchant for showing up when it counted the most. PPMD’s is a case study of how to rapidly improve in the “pre-Netplay” era without anyone knowing who you are. Leffen’s is one of a ruthless and unabashed drive for competition that temporarily was so unrestrained that it got him banned from his region.
They each also had dominant primes. In 2006, Azen not only beat Ken for the first time, but finished a stunning 11-2 against the Top 5 of that year. Had he entered more, he almost certainly could have been argued as the best player of 2006 – and even then, Azen came back a year later at VLS to randomly win the tournament over KoreanDJ and ChuDat, out of seemingly nowhere.
PPMD has two stretches of time you could argue as his prime. There’s his ascent to “godhood” from Revival of Melee 3 to Winter Gamefest VI to Pound V – a stretch in which he beat every other “god” in the span of three tournaments. Three years later, when PPMD won Apex 2014 and SKTAR 3, he beat Mango, Mew2King and Armada without dropping a single set.
The man who ended his undefeated record at MLG Anaheim 2014, Leffen, had his own stretch of dominance in the summer of 2015. It doesn’t need to be fully rehashed, but in June of that year, Leffen won CEO 2015, FC Return and WTFox while beating down Mew2King, Hungrybox, Armada and Mango, often in dominant fashion. The rest of Leffen’s 2015 is fairly volatile, but in this three-week stretch, he looked so far ahead of the pack.
I don’t have a great way of tying this column all together, so consider this just a brief compare-and-contrast among three players in the same “all-time” tier. If I were to pick an order among these three, it’d be Leffen, PPMD and then Azen.