This series is a tribute to standard “Monday Morning Quarterback” columns in traditional sports. In it, I discuss my quick takeaways from the last week of the Smash community. Consider this a mix of news and mild takes. Featured image from Leffen’s Twitter – will take down, if requested.
Where do we even begin?
1. Leffen Wins Evo
This was a tremendous weekend for the long-haunted Swede, who finally won Evo after years of heartbreak at the annual supermajor. Winning Evo this year is a beautiful moment of triumph for Leffen, who has undergone one of the most fascinating transformations in the Melee community, both in and out of the game.
I don’t feel qualified enough to delve into the specifics on how Leffen’s gameplay has changed, but it’s pretty clear that no top player has suffered as much emotional turmoil directly related to Melee as the Swede. Four years ago, he was banned behind his back before ever having a fair chance to defend himself or show remorse, and a little under two years following his global breakout, he received a career-threatening ban from competing in the United States. Though he won Get On My Level 2016 in Canada during his America-exile, the promise that Leffen showed during his mid-2015 stretch of dominance seemed to have slipped away, even as he eventually returned.
Last year was rough. Leffen finished out of the top five for the first time since 2014 and suffered through numerous dropped sets to players ranked beneath him, including an infamous loss to Lovage at GT-X. While Lovage is an excellent all-time player in his own right, the idea of him defeating a member of Melee’s Big Six years after his prime is Samuel Beckett-esque absurd. It’s so ridiculous that I sometimes forget it ever happened because it completely contradicts everything we know about Melee today.
Perhaps motivated by his disappointing 2017, Leffen has cleaned up his play against his contemporaries in 2018. The thought of him facing Plup, Duck or Zain set may have elicited snickers from his haters in the past, but the Swede has recently beaten all three in convincing fashion. He’s also gone even with Mew2King, a career-long thorn in his side, and is positive on Mango, as well as heavily in the lead against Armada.
Ironically, the only man consistently standing in Leffen’s path all year is a player he used to dominate: Hungrybox. Heading into Evo, Leffen was an ugly 1-9 in his last ten sets against the Florida Jigglypuff. And if there’s anything we’ve learned in 2018, it’s that if you want to win a supermajor, chances are that you’ll need to beat Hungrybox, Smash Summit 6 miracles aside.
In a blurb for this summer’s MPGR, I wrote that Hungrybox was the Supreme Ordeal in Leffen’s hero’s journey. At Evo, Leffen finally overcame his kryptonite. It’s only fitting that the two players he beat afterward, Plup and Armada, were two other symbols of Leffen’s career: his fellow godslayer and his regional nemesis.
As I said before the event on my stream, I will personally be giving part of my prize money to the 5/7th place. 7th got around 130 dollars.
The fact that I won does not change that the way FGC does prize split is not something i will ever agree with.
— leffen (@TSM_Leffen) August 5, 2018
From villain to anti-hero to tragic figure to Melee’s Evo champion, Leffen’s journey is truly a remarkable one. I doubt he’s reading this, but if you are, congratulations, Leffen.
Who knows? If I were to ever hate myself enough to – er, I mean have the courage to redo a Top 100 all-time list (there’s a lot I’d change, both in terms of consistent criteria and moving people up/down), Leffen may just find himself on a higher spot.
2. Other Top 8 Notes
- Armada just cemented himself in a future “Top Ten Losers Runs of All Time” list. After a universe-bending loss to Swedish Delight , Melee’s greatest player of all-time tore through Gahtzu, eked out two nailbiter sets against Mew2King and Zain, overcame another dangerous set with S2J, handily beat Mango, somehow scraped by Hungrybox and vanquished Plup before losing to Leffen. Not too shabby.
- I’m inclined to believe that with time and more sets, Plup will return to playing the Swedes more evenly, but his recent stretch of uncharacteristically sloppy play against them remains a blot in his otherwise solid resume. Though there’s been a lot of public discussion surrounding his mental health, due to reported panic attacks he suffered during top eight, I’d rather not speculate on Plup’s personal health any further, out of respect to him. Regardless of his circumstances, finishing third at Evo is no slouch and should further assert Plup’s place in the meta as a supermajor contender.
- Evo was not a great tournament for its favorite, Hungrybox. Showing early signs of vulnerability against the still-dangerous, but now non-Top 50 ChuDat, the Florida Jigglypuff then made his way to winner’s side of top eight without much difficulty the rest of the way. But on Sunday, I have no clue what happened. Hungrybox beat Leffen through a wall in game one of their set and then started playing much worse, missing crucial edgeguards and messing up punishes he normally hits in his sleep. He managed to escape a scare from Wizzrobe before choking away what should have been a solid 2-0 for him against Armada. Losing to the Swedes in two best-of-threes isn’t exactly proof that Hungrybox is no longer the world’s best player, but maybe it’s a sign that on a late night before top eight of a supermajor, the world’s best Melee player shouldn’t be playing beer pong at the smash.gg mansion? Just saying – but then again, I’m not the one winning major tournaments.
- When are people going to realize that Mango losing sets against strong players doesn’t mean he’s washed up? It could be worse; he could have lost to someone ranked outside the Top 30 and then finished 13th. As far as Wizzrobe goes, yet another top eight major showing solidifies him, in my mind, as the easy No. 7 in the world. Given his close set with Plup, a longtime Captain Falcon slayer, I’m interested to see how many sets it will take for Wizzy to eventually defeat him.
- S2J might have lucked out on avoiding Mew2King, but finishing seventh is still impressive, as the SoCal Falcon gained approximately his 99th consecutive victory over Duck. On the other side of loser’s, what else is there to say about Swedish Delight? He beat Armada in the set of the tournament. Even ignoring that, he’s been arguably Melee’s fastest rising player over the last few months, while still having the audacity to suggest he didn’t feel confident in his Sheik against Wizzrobe, a day after upsetting the greatest player of all-time. Sheik mains – can’t live with them, can’t live without them.
2. The Good, Bad and Ugly of Evo Best-of-Threes
Best-of-three creates higher variance outcomes. When you add in the “Evo factor” of more pressure in bracket than your average major tournament, upsets are inevitable. This year was no different.
Though round one pools saw its fair share of smaller surprises, the result that really baffled me to start day two was FatGoku over Duck, who has a history of destroying Fox players who aren’t KJH or in the elite level of play. This set the tone for the rest of the absolutely wild event.
You could start with Rishi, who made a stunning comeback to shock Mew2King and the rest of the cheering audience during winner’s round of 32. Tristate’s current in-region ruler finally earned the big national set victory he looked destined for, and it’s easy to forget that he was one whiffed forward smash away from making winner’s quarters. It marked a great moment of redemption for Rishi, who now is among a small group of players to ever defeat gods at a supermajor.
Colbol also had arguably his most impressive run since his top eight showing at HTC Throwdown. At Evo, he clutched out a 2-1 victory against aMSa and then eliminated Axe (who suffered an early loss to the resurgent Nintendude) from the tournament at 17th place, eventually finishing a solid 13th.
And how about Duck? After losing to the aforementioned FatGoku, the Michigan Samus had quite the loser’s run, as he racked up wins against aMSa, Overtriforce (fresh off an upset against La Luna), his personal demon Nintendude and Westballz. n0ne too came away from Evo with solid victories, defeating Squid, Rocky, Shroomed, Rishi and Lucky following an early loss to Darkatma.
Sidenote: in trademark passive-aggressive and eyeroll-worthy fashion, n0ne couldn’t be content with just being proud of finishing ninth at Evo, derisively referring to “the ranking panelists.” Can we agree that n0ne, at least from his online persona, is the player who cares most about what others have to think of him? You’d think that being a world class player would at least give him perspective to not complain so much online, but maybe it’s just as much of a joke as his UCF/vanilla Melee-related tweets. He’s free to do what he wants either way, but for someone who so frequently flouts apathy about others, his antics and potshots at panelists are a little old and hypocritical.
There’s too much to go into, guys. Just catch the podcast this week and you’ll hear more about what we have to take away from the unpredictable supermajor. But on the same note of upsets comes a reality we have to accept when it comes to Evo: that most of the Melee we’re watching – and playing – is not going to be good Melee. In fact, it’s going to be really bad Melee, at least in comparison to what we’re used to.
Man there’s just something about evo that makes everyone play unbelievably terrible
— Eryk 🍻 #Evo2018 (@Ambisinister_) August 5, 2018
I don’t want to discredit any of the players who scored big upsets or came close, but best-of-threes in addition to the questionable “marathon” style format of Evo (8 AM matches into longer matches later in the day) inherently increases sloppiness. I don’t have any data to back this up, but seriously – if you saw any of the matches later on Saturday or even through top eight, it’s especially noticeable. If you don’t believe me, watch the first two games of Lucky-Leffen on stream. They are not pretty.
From Evo’s perspective, best-of-three makes sense for most of the tournament. It’s cost-effective and leads to a greater likelihood of upsets happening, which naturally create a spectacle around the event. Is it as competitively legitimate for its players as Genesis and The Big House? Probably not. But the sooner we realize that Evo is aiming for entertainment first, and competition second, we can enjoy it for what it’s worth. Don’t get me started on the dumb “will he or will he not” drama following MrWizard and Melee’s future at Evo.
3. Evo attendee thoughts
Before we get started on the event itself, I have to warn anyone that plans to travel to a supermajor in the future – if you’re booking a flight, make sure it’s a day or two before the actual tournament. Don’t do what I did, which was organize a Friday flight scheduled to land just an hour before my assigned pool. That’s how you end up stuck in North Carolina for three hours, coming to terms with an inevitable double DQ from bracket.
If you’re looking to seriously compete at Evo, I have bad news for you – crazy shit beyond your control is going to happen. You could be on the winning end of it, like avoiding a nationally ranked player in your pool, or worse off, having to play Mew2King for 33rd. If you don’t make it far enough in bracket, the even worse news is that there are barely any setups in the actual venue to get games in.
One of my best friends whom I caught up with at the event told me he intentionally did not show up to his 8:00 a.m. pool, mentioning that it didn’t matter to him as much as the thrill of being in Vegas at a high-stakes event. Another friend of mine didn’t even register for bracket, saying he knew fully well that he wasn’t there to seriously compete. Though I’m still salty that I wasn’t able to play my matches in tournament, I somewhat agree with them, as well as the tweet below.
the nice thing about being a pot filler who just wants to do chill yoshi combos and go 3-2 in melee is that I literally don't care at all if EVO is a "good melee tournament". I'm gonna play five sets and hit a sick dunk and then go drink idgaf if I'm seeded to play my dad.
— Alex @ EVO!✌ (@PartyTimeShffl) July 30, 2018
Then again, the prestige of Evo is enough to fill the average person with wonder. For newcomers to the Melee scene, it’s an unforgettable experience to be in the same venue as legends of the game, knowing fully well that the supermajor is set up in a way that implicitly makes them more vulnerable to upsets against lower ranked competitors. Even for me, seeing notable celebrities in other communities, like Dragon Ball Fighter Z champion SonicFox casually stroll by as if they were just another competitor, is surreal.
You’re also in Las Vegas, which in itself has so many attractions and sights of its own. If you attend Evo with a group of friends, I can guarantee that you will absolutely have a blast, even if most of your time playing Melee will be in cramped hotel rooms shared with other smashers. However, if you have your own setups, it’s a blast.
For me, Evo was my first national attended in a little under a year; and a lot has changed for me, at least as far as my “public image” (yuck) goes. I had around a double-digit amount of people immediately recognize me upon meeting them or playing friendlies. At a party I went to on Saturday night, I was even intimidated by a fan who told me how much he loved my work and Melee Stats. I felt really grateful for the compliments I received, but definitely felt a little awkward and wasn’t used to being recognized. Then again, maybe the former actually came less from his remarks, and more from the ungodly amount of beer I downed that night. That’s a story for another time.
So, would I recommend going to Evo if it hosts another Melee event? My honest answer is, “maybe?” I’d say that you should take the actual results of the tournament and your own performance with a grain of salt. If you’re going to go, enjoy the show, bring a few friends and have a blast.
4. Making Sense of the Big Six
Do I have to answer this question?
Can’t we just appreciate the results of a supermajor without talking about rankings?
Fine. Here’s my best guess.
Except for against Armada, Hungrybox is positive or even on everyone he’s played multiple sets with for the year. Combined with his dominance at smaller regionals, I still think he’s the man to beat at supermajors. Strangely enough, his status as Melee’s current No. 1 actually feels somewhat similar to Mew2King in 2007, in that the two dominated a lot of notable tournaments, but not necessarily the largest ones. Leffen and Armada are polar opposites, but given Leffen looking much better against Hungrybox (going even in their last four sets, in comparison to losing seven straight sets before that) and his massive advantage in the head-to-head against Armada (6-2), I think Leffen has the advantage right now – and in fact, I’d seed him first for the next supermajor.
Plup is on his own island. The Genesis champion is undefeated against the two older gods beneath him and save for a loss to Zain at Smash Summit 6, has been extremely consistent against the field. It’s not as if Plup can’t defeat any of the three above him, but given his recent slump against the Swedes and an inconsistent track record against Hungrybox, I think No. 4 is a fine spot for him. I would not be surprised to see him win a major with the right bracket, especially if he doesn’t have to worry about warming up multiple characters.
The oldest gods of Melee are still exceptional players, but they’re prone to upsets against players ranked beneath them, which hurts their potential deep in bracket. It’s close between the two, but I personally went with Mango, due to him having a victory on Hungrybox for the year and at least looking more likely to remain a somewhat active player. You could point at Mew2King’s Smash Summit 6 victory as proof of his superiority at the moment, but Smash Ultimate is also coming out soon – and with Mew2King publicly mentioning that he wants to dedicate time to writing his biography, I can’t say I’m too confident in his ability to replicate his stunning major victory earlier this year.
5. Next Week: Monday Morning Mailbag
Some of you noticed this last week, but I’m retiring the “What I like” and “What I don’t like” segment of Monday Morning Marth. I could go into detail on way, but the long story short is that it feels formulaic to keep it going, especially during weeks of little to no real news in the Smash world.
However, I’m really excited to announce what will be hopefully a new mainstay for the column: Monday Morning Mailbag. In it, I’d like for you guys to tweet at me or write to me questions that you’d like answered in the following week to of MMM. I can’t guarantee that I’ll publicly answer all of the questions, but I’m excited to see what comes up!
These don’t have to necessarily be limited to questions either – if you guys just want a medium to share your thoughts about Melee, I’d be happy to publish some of the best letters I received on their own, with baseline rules for decency being considered. If any of you strongly disagree with something I wrote, I’d be more than happy to publish responses to my material back and either admit defeat or respond to them myself!
Thanks for reading, everyone. See you next week.