The Melee scene is amid a bit of a sponsorship renaissance. We have three circuits, large prize pots for online weeklies, and small teams helping prospective players go to tournaments. Naturally, there’s a lot of talk about “free agents” these days.
In this column, I’m breaking down four things that sponsors consider when it comes to signing someone. Though this topic can get incredibly specific, I’m attempting to keep it as broad as possible so that it retains universal appeal to a general audience. I will then offer my pick at the end of this column for which player is the best free agent.
One last note before I move on – similar to my commentary breakdown, this is not a strict ranking of free agents. If you are a free agent and you don’t see your name mentioned, it’s not because you aren’t “good” for sponsors. I’ve just chosen to focus my efforts on talking about another player instead.
POST-PUBLISH NOTE: I wrote this column on August 2, so some of the numbers you see here may not be entirely accurate by the time of publishing. Also, I’m not counting players who were temporarily sponsored by Melee Stats, due to a conflict of interest.
I must admit that I hate the phrase “content is king,” even as I use it. If content is truly king, most people just buy the same shitty plastic crown as everyone else. Outside of sponsored players, it’s rare to find free agents who successfully deliver on good content. You’ll notice, however, that I said rare – not impossible. The free agent who truly abides by the “content is king” mantra is bobby big ballz.
In the last 180 days since I wrote this, bobby has streamed 144 hours, regularly bringing in an average of 183 viewers and peaking at 1,313. He typically hovers around 900 subscribers, and in the most important relevant-to-sponsorships metric of all, he boasts 196,181 watch time hours on Twitch. Just to give that last number a little more meat, that actually puts him above iBDW for watch time hours on Twitch, and only below Mango, Hungrybox, and Plup for individual Melee streamers.
We should remember – getting a sponsor goes beyond grabbing the public’s attention. In fact, it’s detrimental when you frequently get people’s attention in a negative way. No matter how many apologies you may sincerely make to the public, a “dangerous” brand will turn off sponsors faster than you can say “I’ve changed.” Now, in the greatest transition of all-time, I’m taking a wild left turn and talking about something that’s a little different.
It’s often hard to tell all these Fox and Falco players apart from each other. Yeah, I know Zamu and Zealot are different people, but if I’m a sponsor, I’m seeing them as two top Fox players from the Midwest. They may as well be Lays and Ruffles. Want to know who doesn’t have to deal with this problem? SluG.
4th at double down 😈
Beat Zain, Kodorin, Jflex and KJH (also hbox)
— SluG (@SluG_ICs) July 11, 2022
He is the only top-level representative for the Ice Climbers, a character we all heard the doomsday bells ring for when wobbling was banned. Think about what an easy sell that is to someone. I previously called Double Down the most Reddit top eight of all-time – admittedly a bit of a back-handed compliment to the tournament, but there’s truth to it. There’s instant mass appeal of seeing a Melee top eight where a character like Ice Climbers is a wild card, let alone one with a player who beat the best player in the world.
Anyone who casually follows Melee or is trying to get invested in the game will naturally be drawn to people who stand out. The easiest way to stand out is to play a different character at the top level. Speaking about the top level…
Being Good At The Game
If you talk to a lot of top players, they’ll often take their own tournament results for granted and mention how they need to pick up other skills. That’s true – and it’s nonetheless worth mentioning that you first have to get there. Sponsors are naturally drawn to winners, as that’s the best way to get people’s attention in any competitive sphere. We may as well start off with Wizzrobe, the most obvious “winning” free agent in Melee.
2022’s been a little tough for Wizzrobe. From my understanding, health issues have kept him from attending offline tournaments before Smash Factor, and it unfortunately left him in a position where he’s currently unsponsored and not going to be ranked on the Summer PGR. At the same time, it’s Wizzrobe, the 14th greatest player of all-time. He was just Top 5 three years ago and won a major less than a year ago.
Though he dropped a set to Medz in grand finals, Wizzrobe still won Smash Factor 9, which also neatly promises his higher activity in the future. This is clearly as sure-fire of a competitive “stock” as you can find for a free agent. Between his established nature as a perennial top player, former major champion, his success in multiple Smash releases, and as someone who’s still arguably in the highest echelon of play, Wizzrobe seems like an easy slam dunk for prospective sponsors.
I’m starting this section talking about something that has nothing to do with Melee: American football. I know a ton of you are rolling your eyes while reading this, so too bad. You’ll have to trust me on this one.
The most important position in football is quarterback. It’s not even close. Every single GM knows it; every coach knows it; and every player knows it. Although it’s not impossible to win without a good quarterback, typically speaking, having one boosts your chances of long-term success. Franchises waste years trying to find the best quarterback they can – or worse, they delude themselves into thinking that who they have is enough. The problem? Good quarterbacks, let alone elite ones, become expensive, and as a result more difficult to build a strong team around. I always joke to my friends that the best way to win in football isn’t actually getting an elite quarterback; it’s getting a good quarterback on a rookie deal and milking it for the four years you have with them on that contract. After that, you have to hope they become elite or you need a lot of luck.
Getting back to Melee, you want strong players to help yourself build an audience that you can sell to advertisers and other sponsors, but you don’t want to overpay for them. I’m going to put it this way: a competent organization will sign a player they think is “great.” A smart one will sign a player they think is “great” and “likely to be Top 10” in a year. A player who fits this criteria is Salt.
This may come as a surprise to you. Salt is not even a Top 25 player. Yet the way people talk about them in the scene, you’d think they were the equivalent of LeBron James straight out of Vincent-St. Mary High School. When I brought Salt’s name up once in iBDW’s stream as a “2023 Top 20 player,” iBDW lightly disagreed. He told me I was being “very conservative” and more or less said that Salt was going to be “Top 10, easy.” KoDoRiN was even more convinced. He said he expects to see Salt become “Top 3.”
Though they haven’t made a major top eight, Salt is a Top 50 player who has nearly taken sets from Plup, Zain and Leffen. They also came dangerously close to winning an online tournament over iBDW. I am not joking when I say they might literally be the most hyped up rising player I’ve seen in the last five years. Now, will they live up to it? Who knows?
The Best Free Agent In Melee
As we’ve discussed above, having good content, standing out, being good at the game, and having long-term potential are factors that go into being appealing for sponsors. Most free agents in the scene right now have one or two of them. Rarely do you get someone who combines all of them; rarely do you find someone like Joshman.
NOTE: I asked Joshman if he qualified as a free agent because I saw his Mindfreak sponsorship. He told me it was more of a “for homies” thing rather than an official signing and mentioned that he would be looking for something more long-term and official. As a result, he qualifies for the column.
For starters, Joshman has hundreds of Twitch and thousands of YouTube subscribers, which is solid for someone who took this more seriously a couple months ago. In addition to his content being good, his brand also stands out, as he incorporates healthy – not unhealthy – Australian stereotypes and phrases into his persona for a general audience. Furthermore, he’s very likely going to finish the Summer PGR in the Top 15. He’s also not nearly as established as some of the players around that level, which elevates his perceived potential.
There’s two more things to mention here. Firstly, his career journey is objectively incredible. I’ve mentioned before how the best stories in Melee often involve players with limited opportunities to succeed finally getting a chance to live their dream. You’d be delusional to not think Joshman fits into this specific paradigm. He’s from Australia. Every tournament he attends in America is valuable – a make or break for someone whose dream is to do what he’s already doing for a living in the States. Anyone with a heart would find his story inspirational.
Finally heading home (no take backs this time).
Just a lil emotional at the airport rn, but I wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s supported me throughout this journey, I couldn’t have done any of this without all the people who love me.❤️
Till next time 🍻 pic.twitter.com/yWYbewdYjg
— Joshman (@LilTrickshot) July 8, 2022
The second thing, just frankly speaking, is that Joshman has maintained connections to successful people within the Smash sphere and beyond. That’s not a knock against him either. If Joshman’s skill and following were the only strengths he had going for him, Ludwig wouldn’t be flying to Australia to commentate and stream one of their tournaments. If “having successful friends” was so easy, everyone would have them.
To be clear, Joshman isn’t free of risk. He’s an Australian player, which means the costs of bringing him to notable tournaments are naturally going to be higher. But even taking this into account, the last time we had a Top 15 free agent with this much personality, brand power, competitive success, and value was moky, who also once struggled with travel availability. Eventually, he was signed by Moist, a sponsor who, at least from what moky has told me, seems pretty good to him.
I fully expect Joshman to get signed in the next few months – either by The Yard or another legitimate sponsor who can pay him a salary. He’s worth every penny – by far the best free agent in Melee.