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Published February 17, 2020

Hungrybox is back. At Smash Summit 9, the current world No. 1 broke his months-long slump to overcome a field of fellow contenders and rising stars, winning the event after holding off a resurgent Plup in its grand finals reset.

Notably, Plup’s run to second place was his best showing at a major since his runner up performance at The Big House 8 in 2018. Starting off the event slow with a loss to Hax in pools, Plup recovered with wins over Axe, Zain, Mango, and over Hungrybox, breaking a year-and-a-half-long losing streak against him.

In other regional news over the weekend, Frenzy, per 10QuidShoes, won his second event ever over Professor Pro in the United Kingdom, taking home the gold at Brighton Stock. Over in Pittsburgh, lloD won The Dark Frames over Michael, and in New Jersey, Chem won LLDL’s Birthday Bash over Fable.

For more weekend and daily local Melee results, check out the Melee Stats Podcast Twitter page.


Leffen busters out

There’s no denying that Leffen got his ass kicked at Smash Summit 9. For most of the weekend, his play oscillated between hot-and-cold, with the latter coming in the final stage of bracket. This was Leffen’s worst performance since he lost to Lovage and Plup at GT-X 2017 for 13th place.

Most seeders and ranking panelists agree that Leffen tends to thrive in conditions where everyone is playing at their best, but that he falls off a lot in “sloppy” conditions. This event cements that, and if there were two sets that especially indicated that, they were his most recent two against Mango and iBDW.

Last week, I said that Leffen doesn’t have a “Fox ditto problem” and I still expect him to trend mostly positive against his Fox peers. But the problem is that they aren’t pushovers any more. Fiction, Hax, iBDW and moky have definitively crossed the skill threshold needed to scare Leffen in a volatile matchup like the Fox ditto. When soley evaluating Leffen’s bracket chances, it’s hard to see this development as anything less than concerning for Leffen. That’s not taking into account the rise of Zain, who now looks near-insurmountable against Fox and represents another roadblock for Leffen.

From the second half of 2018 to the first half of 2019, Leffen had three differentiating strengths from his contemporaries: not losing to “worse” opponents, dominating the Fox ditto (including against pre-retirement Armada) and beating Hungrybox. He still has the latter as a unique strength but relatively falling off in the first two is going to hurt his major chances a lot.

The event wasn’t all bad for Leffen. He convincingly beat Axe and Wizzrobe, two matchups that were question marks for him heading into the event. Had Leffen just played a little better against Mango, he would have had a favorable matchup against Hungrybox and then run into Plup in winner’s finals, who even while playing well for most of Summit, still struggled against Hax. If a few situations happen differently, I’m writing this part of the column about unstoppable “peak Leffen” instead.

He isn’t going to finish ninth at every tournament. Bad performances happen to everyone. I’d be willing to bet that Leffen will likely return with a vengeance at the next major he competes in, if he doesn’t outright finish in first place. We’ll see how he adjusts.

Monday Morning Mailbag

How serious do you think Plup is about his intention to solo main Fox? – V0ltTackle

Clearly, he wasn’t that serious! When I previewed Summit, it was under the assumption that Plup was going to fully commit to Fox. I was wrong.

What’s it going to take for aMSa to win a major? – Mandraxon

aMSa has a lot going against him right now. His losses against Trif and lloD last year show that Peach is a terrifying matchup. He also has lost two sets in a row against Mango, whom he beat three consecutive times before. aMSa additionally has roadblocks in Zain, Leffen and, despite beating him once before, Wizzrobe.

Despite deflating 3-0 losses to Axe and Hungrybox, aMSa should still remain competitive with those two long-term, even if they might be favored. But even if he can take them close, it won’t be enough to overcome how consistently scary some of the players underneath him are. In order to win a supermajor, you can’t just be competitive with the top level. You have to destroy everyone else.

iBDW, Hax, Fiction, n0ne and SFAT have all either beaten aMSa outright or taken him to the brink over the last year. FatGoku also came dangerously close to beating and Spark beat aMSa too. He may or may not not be an overall underdog against some of these players individually, but aMSa isn’t an outright favorite, and it kills his chances of winning in relation to people like Hungrybox, Mango, Zain and, despite looking more vulnerable than before, Leffen.

The path for a major victory requires aMSa to dodge lloD, Trif, Leffen and Wizzrobe. If I were to guess the scenario in which aMSa made it to grand finals, let alone finish in first, it would probably involve beating a lower ranked Top 30 player, cruising to a win over an Ice Climbers player – who inevitably will be considered “Top 15” for wobbling Axe and Plup on their way there – defeating Hungrybox, and then rediscovering his mojo against Mango in winner’s finals.

This has less than a sub 2 percent chance of happening. aMSa is much closer to “worse” players than him in terms of being a longshot than many of his contemporaries above him.

The State of Melee (is very good)

At the top level, we currently have a cute and temporary RPS situation with Hungrybox, Mango and Leffen, as well as a wild card in Zain, who can beat all three, and probably looks more safe to win a major right now than Leffen, but is kept honest by two players beneath him, Plup and Axe.

These two each share having Hungrybox as a personal demon, but they are favorites against Zain, can beat Mango and Leffen, and are wild cards versus the field. An in-practice Wizzrobe would likely join them in this tier – with the added benefit of being able to beat Hungrybox far more consistently – but over the last six months he has fallen off hard against the field. Similarly, aMSa falls into this category.

Then come the rising Fox stars: iBDW, Fiction and Hax. They are still long shots to win majors, but on any given day they can beat the players above them, if they haven’t already passed the lower half of aMSa and Wizzrobe. As shown by their strong, but not flawless regional results, these Foxes can’t sleep on the field, but their trends are positive enough to where even if winning a major is unlikely, it’s at a nonzero chance.

Beneath them is a field of stalwarts steadily improving at their own pace (SFAT, S2J and Swedish Delight), dynamic stars (n0ne and moky), and a motley of local grinders, from lower ranked Summit attendees to the variety of so-called hidden bosses. When it comes to the latter, you can bet that all their friends and fans claim that they totally would be Top 50 if they went to more and gained more experience. In the past, I rolled my eyes at these suggestions. In today’s metagame, it’s a valid claim for so many different players.

From Setchi to Magi to Aklo to KoDoRiN to Ryobeat, the list of rising stars is nearly endless. There exists communities of hard-core Melee enthusiasts who copy paste “BRULT” into channels when a relatively obscure teenage Norweigan Fox is voted into the scene’s premier invitational. Yet they’re totally unsurprised when said player obliterates a longstanding great like Shroomed because they follow the scene enough to know that someone they believe in always had that potential.

Melee competition has rarely been in such an unpredictable and thrilling place. As much as I still selfishly yearn for Armada, Mew2King, PPMD, Crush, AbsentPage, Silent Wolf, Syrox and so many others to return, we can’t ask for much more than what we have now. There really is so much more Melee to be played, and the community is, as Scar would also say, collectively Uncle Punched out of of its goddamn mind.

Speaking of which, the quantity of community grassroots contributions feels uniquely high. Say what you want about the diminishing returns of dedicating any time to Melee – it’s difficult to look at the variety of Melee podcasts, written material, and live “preview” shows before majors without seeing so much potential, even if a lot is hard to realize because of our community’s limited resources. If we want to evaluate contributions to the game itself, Uncle Punch and Fizzi have unquestionably made it so much easier for dedicated competitors to improve and advanced into frontiers that not even 20XX itself could have envisioned.

Two of the scene’s most popular and charismatic personalities in Ludwig and N3Z have cross-community appeal and functionally operate as high-profile cheerleaders for Melee, even if they aren’t dedicated competitors or exclusively Melee enthusiasts. Screw it; I’ll even shill for my book – the fact of the matter is that there now exists a literal book on Melee history. Not many other communities have that. It’s not even going to remain the bar for high-effort Melee writing for much longer; Spoopy is doing amazing work in working on an ethnography of the entire Melee scene. If Samox succeeds in bringing Metagame to Netflix, regardless of how late it appears there, it will undeniably bring the community back into the spotlight.

Two years ago, when I wrote my book’s original ending, I had faith that the community would always persevere but I also feared that it would never ever address its deeper problems. With a lack of centralized authority and so many social issues continuing to exist in our scene and across the broader Smash community, our ceiling still feels limited. In many ways, I still feel those same exact emotions, but there’s so much more hope.

The Era of the Five Gods and the Melee Renaissance of late 2013 to 2016 is over. But in its place, we’re living under a Melee Enlightenment. There are more high-effort ways to contribute to the community and resources to be involved than ever before. I have never been more optimistic about the future of Melee.

If you’re reading this, you should be thrilled at being part of a still-resilient and still-exciting niche. It’s not going anywhere.

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