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Published August 21, 2023

Throughout last week, I was in Sweden. But on the way back home, I happened to tune into the latest episode of Commentator’s Curse, where two of my favorite people in the scene – Tafokints and The Crimson Blur – dived into a litany of topics. One of them was betting, or more specifically, Blur’s belief in the gambling industry as a potential partner and revenue source for Smash tournaments. It was one of crazier ideas I had heard, so naturally, my ears perked up when I listened to this point in the podcast.

Now, I want to be clear about two things. First of all, the idea of secretly positioning Melee as an opportunity for gamblers is genuinely unhinged. Second of all, gambling is a sensitive topic. I am not encouraging anyone who is reading this to blow money on side bets. Please don’t do that.

But – just out of curiosity – I thought about what types of completely out-there, wack-job, technically possible series of events could happen at Shine 2023. And while we don’t have publicly available projected final brackets yet, we do have a list of entrants. So for this week’s column, I’ve come up with five possibilities and “mock prop bets” for the final installment of Shine. After that, I’ll make my pick for who wins the event.

A New England player makes Top 8

New Englanders are prideful people. But the truth is that we have much in common with our beloved New England Patriots in that our best days are well behind us. That said, the region still has a few Top 100 contenders at the top level, even if it’s a long way from Crush. The possibility of a New Englander making top eight here is especially cool, as it’s never happened in Shine history. When better of a time is there for it to happen than at the last Shine ever?

The first people I’d like to mention as contenders to do it are all borderline Top 100 players or potential ballot names by the end of this year. There’s Bekvin, an ICs/Marth dual main who has taken sets from Jflex and Kalvar this year. After that you have cupofwater, someone who’s been at the top of the Massachusetts scene for quite some time, and yet curiously doesn’t travel. Obviously then comes bonfire10, who made the ballot last year and has shown prowess in the Peach matchup with a win over Bbatts.

There’s two fascinating, if not very different potential top eight long shots here as well. We’ll start with the first one: Kalvar, who was on the ballot for Top 50 but missed the list. He has some strong wins for the year, between Zamu, Skerzo, and mvlvchi. If Kalvar can string a few more of those wins together at the same event, as well as avoid top seeds in losers bracket, it’s not impossible to imagine Kalvar potentially clawing his way to losers side of top eight, though it would still be really difficult.

The last name I want to mention is New England’s ultimate hidden boss: the Connecticut hidden boss by the name of YAMI. His whole MO is basically to pick about two events a year, where he beats top players before disappearing. This year’s edition of that came at CT GamerCon 6, where he beat Younger, Kalvar and Mekk (twice). Last year, he did something similar, beating Jflex at CT GamerCon 5.

It would be magical if a New England player could break through and make history at the final Shine. And because this is just any New England player, and not just one, the “win condition” for this bet is in multiple baskets that all happen to be in flux for the event. With that said, a lot of breaks need to go New England’s way. Whether it’s in the form of top player DQs, the presence of sandbagging, some truly crazy behind-the-scenes collusion, New England players not having to eliminate each other, or Melee turning out to have been scripted by myself, GimmeDatWheat, and Ambisinister, this clearly enters miracle territory. Without knowing anything about what the bracket will look like, I’m giving it 100:1 odds.

Top 8 features no Fox

It is exceedingly difficult to imagine a Melee tournament where its top eight doesn’t have Fox. This vision to me, however, came in a dream. It was such an unusual image that I had to ask myself just how unlikely it was. First, I looked at every single major in the last ten years – or, at the very least, events defined by Liquipedia as majors and with the double elimination open bracket structure. Unbelievably, a Foxless major top eight has never happened in the SSBMRank era.

Looking a little bit before that, you’ll find the first major with no Fox appearance in top eight: Kings of Cali, 126 majors ago, and an event whose status as a major is pretty borderline. Other than that, the closest things within the last decade to a Foxless top eight were Mainstage in 2019 and Smash World Tour Championships in 2021. In each of these respective tournaments, Lucky and Pipsqueak, of all people, kept the torch lit.

One complicating factor for the “no Fox in Shine top eight” timeline is the sheer amount of Fox players here. For this to happen, all of Cody Schwab, Aklo, Zuppy, Joshman, and Chem need to miss top eight, We would also need Mango to miss top eight or, bare minimum, have only his Falco and whomever else he wants to play in top eight. But the other problem is the fact that there’s a high probability of these Foxes having to play each other. As a result, if one Fox falls, chances are that the other one will do well.

Still, I don’t think it’s completely impossible, especially given the large variable of potential player dropouts, controller issues, sandbagging, etc. You could totally see something like Zain/Mango and KoDoRiN/Jmook as a duo of matches in top eight, winners side. In losers bracket, we’d need any combination of Top 10 to 25 players who aren’t Foxes and are good at eliminating Foxes. For the sake of argument, I’m going to give this roughly 50:1 odds.

Top 8 features no Zain

Under these circumstances, the last time Zain missed top eight at a major was all the way back at Genesis 6 in 2019. It was a different time. Sicko Mode ruled the charts and Zain couldn’t clutch a game five vs. Hungrybox if his life depended on it. Since then though, it’s been about 37 majors in a row (offline) that he hasn’t missed a top eight he’s cared about. Factor in online play and that number grows even larger. For reference, Armada never missed a top eight at any event he didn’t DQ or sandbag at, having made top eight at all 48 majors he entered.

At the same time, the world has actually seen a few times when Zain was in relative danger. Take last year, when Wally beat him before Top 64 at Super Smash Con. Zain ended up making a monster loser’s run in that event, but had his opponents been slightly different, it was no guarantee that he would make top eight. For example, what if Hungrybox – who ended up beating Zain at the tournament – played him instead of Ginger? Zain similarly had close calls at Riptide 2022 and Apex 2022, losing in winners quarters at each event.

Who is in the running to defeat Zain before WSF at Shine? In my mind, it has to be Axe again. Other potential attendees who could hypothetically do it are Aklo, Joshman, Zuppy, and Magi, who curiously has four shenanigan-filled sets over Zain in the ranking period. Any of those four beating Zain would be shocking, although I don’t think it would be “biggest upset of all time” territory.

However, there’s two other factors to consider. The first one is the format of the tournament itself. It’s not a coincidence that Wally-Zain happened in a best-of-three, a format that’s innately more upset prone. Shine typically does best-of-five for R2 Pools onward, which basically kills the probability of any non-Top 50 player defeating Zain. In other words, if Zain is sent to losers bracket, it’s probably well into Top 32 when we see him finally play a Top 25 player. If that happens, and Zain loses, that’s not the end of the road, because we need to see him lower to either, most likely, another Top 25 player or another upset top seed. Similar to how Jmook lost to MOF and was then eliminated by aMSa for ninth place, we would not only need Zain to lose to someone like Axe – one of Jmook, aMSa, or Cody Schwab would most likely need to be his opponent for ninth place, and then beat him.

Crazier things have occurred than Zain missing a top eight when he’s been fully present. And all things considered, it’s come close to happening. At the same time, I think it’s still pretty unlikely. I once gave this 25:1 odds, and while I think that was reasonable when I made this bet, I’m going to be a little more favorable to Zain and adjust that to 30:1 odds.

If aMSa plays Cody Schwab or moky, he beats them

We’ll move on from the longshot bets into the more fun ones, which starts with aMSa’s well-documented struggles vs. the two-headed beast of moky and Cody Schwab. He’s a combined 0-13 against them this year, and this number looks even worse heading back into the previous year. In fact, he’s actually on separate nine-set losing streaks vs. each of them. Those two have single-handedly ruined aMSa’s major tournaments this year.

To be clear, these are not the worst top echelon head to heads ever. Many other players have come back from worse. Last year, Jmook infamously went 1-11 vs. Hbox, and so far this year they’ve split sets (1-1). My personal pick for the most painful head-to-head stretch was the 17-1 stretch Hungrybox had vs. Mew2King from CEO 2014 to CEO 2016. It’s worth noting that Mew2King 3-0’d him the next set and went 13-19 for the rest of their time against each other, so clearly even he eventually figured out how to take more sets.

I don’t think aMSa vs. either of moky or Cody has reached Mew2King-Hungrybox levels of hopelessness. It’s probably similar to Jmook/Hungrybox in a sense, but I’m going to mention a third possibility of what this rivalry could be like: Wizzrobe/Mango. This might sound even more horrible, but to be fair, much of the 24-1 lifetime record came before Wizzrobe and Mango could be considered anywhere near equals. If you just counted 2019 sets onward, as well as online, 8-1 isn’t particularly great, but it is somewhat close to what aMSa/moky or aMSa/Cody looks like right now.

All three rivalries share another similar dynamic: they involve a slightly worse ‘overall’ player taking on a slightly better ‘overall’ player in a solidly losing matchups. In my head, 5:1 odds sound fair for aMSa’s next set against either Cody or moky.

Zain wins Shine 2023

Zain’s in a very strange spot as the unambiguous No. 1. He boasts four major tournament wins, which is as many as he won last year, when he also finished No. 1. If he wins Shine, it will basically lock up the spot for 2023, since there’s so few majors to close out this year. What’s been especially interesting about his latest stretch of dominance is the fact that it’s come relatively out of nowhere. It might sound ridiculous to say this for someone who The Crimson Blur dubbed “2 or 3 tiers above the next best player by the eye test,” but the fact of the matter is that he’s never really had a stretch of dominance like this one.

Since June, Zain won four of the five events he’s entered, having only dropped sets to Leffen (two) and Jmook (one) in that timespan, the latter of which happened at an event which Zain won anyway, launching a three-major win streak in the process. I would say that this particular streak across five events is more impressive than any he had over the pandemic, mostly because it’s all come in the format of the game we care about the most.

At the same time, I think his current tournament win-rate is a little deceptive. I will not take credit away from someone who’s literally defeated every single supermajor contender he’s played this year, but this is not a situation like Hungrybox in late 2017-mid 2018 or Armada in late 2016-mid 2017, when you could have argued that there was nobody in the world favored in a head-to-head against either player across ten tournaments. Zain’s about halfway there, so it seems way too early to put those expectations on him as a general expectation for every event. To demonstrate this, I’m going to do some napkin math for calculating Zain’s chances of winning Shine 2023.

Due to Shine’s emphasis on best-of-five from R2 Pools onward, I think it’s safe to assume that Zain is a near-lock for Top 16 from winner’s side, with any chance of it not happening most likely coming as a byproduct of external circumstances (controller issues, sickness, playing Roy, etc), so let’s say something like a 98 percent chance. From there, he’ll need to most likely defeat two players within a tier I’d roughly describe as “top eight contending” players, ranging from KoDoRiN to Krudo, in order to make top eight from winner’s side. Then, to win the tournament, the most likely path to victory involves Zain defeating one of the top seeds (Cody, Jmook, moky, Mango, aMSa), doing it again, and then for a third time to win the tournament.

Without knowing exactly how the projected brackets will turn out, what I’ve done is combined Zain’s records vs. each cumulative “group” of players. In lieu of knowing whom he’s specifically going to play, I’ve calculated his “overall” chances against the Frankenstein’s Monster Blob of Top 8’rs and Major Contenders. In the first group (KoDoRiN, Aklo, Joshman, Zuppy, Magi, Axe, Polish, Spark, Chem, and Krudo), he’s boasted an 8-1 record, with the sole loss coming in the form of a Roy appearance at Wavedash 2023. In the second group, he’s up 15-7 this year. Using this as our basis, I gave Zain a roughly a roughly 67 percent chance of beating the average top seed at this tournament, and, in all likelihood, a 90 percent chance over the typical Top 8’r, accounting for external circumstances.

It’s really difficult to dive into every single possibility of Zain winning the tournament, but I’ve jotted down the four most likely combinations below.

  • Zain wins the tournament without dropping a set, defeating the field, winning two sets over two top eighters, and three sets over fellow major contenders
  • Zain wins the tournament dropping only a grand finals set, defeating the field, winning two sets over top eighters, and three sets in four over fellow major contenders
  • Zain wins the tournament dropping a set in winners finals, defeating the field, winning two sets over two top eighters, and winning three out of four sets vs. fellow major contenders
  • Zain wins the tournament dropping a set in winners semifinals, defeating the field, winning two sets over two top eighters, then, following a loss to a top seed, winning two sets over a mix of a top eighters/major contenders (whom we will give Zain a 77 percent chance of defeating, ranging from an opponent like Cody to an opponent like Krudo), and winning three consecutive sets vs. fellow major contenders

Using some of the numbers I gave above, as well as my projected ones based on set history and adjusting for potential chances, we end up with Zain having a 45.6 percent chance. Now, remember: this is just napkin math. Accounting for player trends, as well as uncertainty with regards to everyone’s specific chances, could furthermore help Zain, as could whatever the final projected bracket looks like. But for now, Zain vs. the field is just around a push, maybe slightly in the field’s direction given that there’s no Hungrybox at this tournament for Zain to beat up, or, conversely, for Zain to watch beat players who could spoil his tournament. If I were to be extremely particular, 4:5 odds would be my guess.

My Pick to win the Event

I previously recalled all my failed predictions for this year. But what you’ll notice is a common regularity in them: in none of my previous predictions did I pick Zain to win a tournament. For whatever reason, I just always perpetually sleep on him. So in spite of just explaining why Zain still might not be favored over the field, to end today’s column, I’m not going to make the same mistake as I’ve continuously done all of this year. I’m keeping it simple – Zain wins his fifth major of the year and effectively the race for No. 1 comes to a screeching halt, as he seals the deal on a second straight year at the top spot.

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