Well, that was fun! I just came back from Double Down, and mostly had a blast. I’d like to dedicate this edition of Monday Morning Marth toward the following people:
- Chape, a new Melee Stats sponsored player, and one of my two roommates for the event. I’m so proud of what he was able to accomplish this weekend in his first event back in the United States. I had such a blast hanging out with him.
- s-f, basically my protege and one of the people I’m really glad to become closer to this year.
- Etossed, who, in spite of primarily only being around with approximately fifteen other people, has been earnest and kind toward me, as well as willing to drag me out of my social comfort zone.
- NyxTheShield, another Chilean at the event who made Top 64 and was great to talk about controllers with.
- Chango, whose words of advice were super appreciated in helping out Chape after he was having controller issues.
Anyway, we’re basically at the mid-point of the year. Though everyone is understandably talking about rankings, and how to make sense of this insane period of Melee, I want to do something different. In today’s column, I’ll be talking about the five primary storylines that have defined the community in 2022.
Number 5: Circuits; Circuits Everywhere
Listen to any episode of Waiting for Game. Chances are you’ll hear Wheat say some variant of Melee tourneys currently being a buyer’s market. The reason is simple: we have tons of tournaments. Many of them are on multiple circuits. This is quite unusual. Between Smash World Tour’s return, the official launch of the Panda Cup, and the hybrid Papa Johns circuit, the community has basically split itself into three different spheres. Two of them are in competition with each other, and one of them attempts to bridge the gap.
Is Melee dying????? @edwin_budding dives into the topic sweeping the community and explores a few actual challenges facing the scene in the latest edition of Monday Morning Marth!https://t.co/uTpQS5VYXQ pic.twitter.com/GOIcl8jm1A
— Melee Stats (@MeleeStatsPod) March 14, 2022
At the very least, this has given us more Melee. More Melee isn’t a bad thing. It’s better to have passionate people give it their all than not try anything. So far, it hasn’t been a disaster. In fact, that’s underselling. Per Sullygnome, from April to June, Melee had approximately the following watch time hours (the most important viewership metric) in order: 1.6 million, 1.6 million again, and 0.9 million. The combined 4.1 million watch time hours in three consecutive months is quite good per our standards; about in tune with the last three months of 2021. That stretch had the Smash World Tour’s final events and Smash Summit 12. There is a lot to be excited about nowadays, with more events coming up.
However, there’s also much to be frustrated about with regards to existence of these circuits. To keep it short, formalizing sectarianism in the scene via multiple circuits adds further obstacles to unifying the community. It’s better to have a unified community under one circuit than multiple, due to being easier to handle conduct issues, as well as manage rule set decisions, and build sponsorship pitches to fund events. Though it’s not entirely to blame for my next point, this is something I want you to keep in mind. It contributes to another ongoing issue that every Melee viewer has had in the back of their mind this year.
Number 4: The Top Player DQ Problem
A while ago, I considered doing a whole column on the ‘mysterious’ fad that’s apparently overcome top players: not attending tournaments. The fact of the matter is that we haven’t seen a major this year with every top player in attendance. This sucks for everyone involved.
To make sure that the facts followed my gut instinct, lest I do the Smash equivalent of “nobody wants to work,” I examined every major’s top eight seeds since Genesis 3. Here’s a list of the “top player DQs” at open or hybrid majors I could find, along with their respective reason. This process was quite quick and subjective (due to determining what counts as a major), so I might be missing a few examples. Nonetheless, it’s illuminating.
- EGLX 2016: Armada, who was not feeling well.
- CEO Dreamland 2017: Wizzrobe, whom I couldn’t find a reason for DQing.
- DreamHack Austin 2017: Armada, due to controller issues.
- GOML 2018: Wizzrobe, for reasons I couldn’t find.
- CEO 2018: Leffen, who wanted to focus on DBFZ.
- Super Smash Con 2018: Leffen and Plup were both sick. Wizzrobe wanted to focus on Smash 64. Mango did not feel like playing in loser’s bracket after he lost to Flipsy and saw the other players drop out.
- GT-X 2018: Leffen was attending a European event on the same day.
- Genesis 6: Leffen wanted to prioritize Ultimate.
- Shine 2019: Plup DQ’d due to not feeling well.
- Mainstage 2019: Once again, Leffen chose Ultimate over Melee due to scheduling issues he had with the event, since he was one of the few people to potentially compete deep in bracket in both games.
- Smash World Tour Championships 2021: Zain, iBDW, and Leffen wanted a break after Smash Summit 12.
- Genesis 8: Wizzrobe had medical issues that prevented him from going. Leffen got a puppy.
- Battle of BC 4: Mango’s flight got delayed.
- CEO 2022: Leffen had COVID. iBDW wanted to take a short break before attending a bunch of events.
- GOML 2022: Wizzrobe DQ’d once again due to medical issues.
- Double Down: Wizzrobe couldn’t attend for the same reason. Mango had food poisoning. n0ne had COVID. Plup was burned out from attending three tourneys in three months. Hungrybox DQ’d after nearly killing everyone in the venue (I’m joking).
It would be easy for me to sit here and rant about how top players are babies. I won’t lie – I definitely sometimes feel like they are when I’m really annoyed. On this specific topic though, I can’t be unfair. Between COVID continuing to shape what our scene can feasibly expect from in-person events and medical issues getting in the way of people’s ability to attend events, there are plenty of good reasons to not want to compete at an event.
What I do think, however, is that the current “environment” for tournaments, both due to COVID and reasons I’ve listed above, has created a situation where they are less willing to deal with what they see as unfair obstacles to their results than they were in the past. I’ll put it this way: the reason why you don’t see intentional dropouts at Summit from top eight seeds, barring COVID concerns as we saw at the most recent Summit, is because in spite of anything else, top players see this event as ‘worthy’ of competing at. If you asked them, they would confirm the obvious – attending an invitational without a crowd and with relative comfort is preferable to going to an open major.
There’s merit to what they’re saying. But we have to be honest. Merely calling top player absences disappointing is being generous. The worst case interpretation is that it ruins an event’s competitive legitimacy and prestige. If I were to be as blunt as possible, we’ve reached a situation where top players basically get to decide how much an event ‘counts.’ This has always somewhat been the case, and yet this skewed dynamic between top players and events, which exists due to reasons I’ve explained before, has only become worse. Most tournament organizers are clueless at how to convince top players, let alone most people, to attend as much as they did in, say, 2016 or 2017.
I’m not sure how to overcome this problem. I don’t think it’s fair to penalize players for not attending events for reasons outside of their control. At the same time, it’s unfair to the rest of the competitive field to act like not playing under the most ideal conditions should be uncritically accepted. I’ve talked to Blur about this, and he commonly brings up how placement-based and singular circuit rankings would be the easiest solution. Outside of my own issues moving away from a panel-based rankings (a topic that Ambisinister has covered), that seems unlikely at a time where there are so many circuits; where the problem of “what counts” exists in a new and unfortunately ‘official’ manner than it did before.
Number 3: The GOAT Takes A Step Back
On a related note, it’s worth examining Mango’s publicly admitted lack of motivation for attending tournaments. Though it was not counted in the above list of DQs from events, Mango not being at Mainstage 2021 stands out in mind as one of the more disappointing things of last year, especially right after his magical Smash Summit 11 win. Though I think both of his DQs this year have been to issues partly out of his control, it’s definitely been an element in a year where he’s talked about seeing a psychologist for dealing with motivational issues.
It’s strange isn’t it? Mango ended 2021 probably at higher stock than literally anyone in community history. Not only was he crowned the best player of the entire year, Mango was dubbed the greatest player of all-time. And now, to follow it up, he’s practically guaranteed to finish outside of the Top 10 in the Summer PGR. Melee has continued without its GOAT, his relative absence being one of the most surprising things of this year. Has such a decline ever happened in Melee history?
To be clear, the answer is “yes.” I made the mistake of sleeping on Hungrybox before when he was dropping an entire tournament to Dawson, getting thrashed by Fable, and looking completely hopeless vs. his peers even during his grand offline return. I’m not going to make the same mistake for Mango. For what it’s worth, it does seem like he’s gradually getting his groove back. Along with finally making a major top eight, beating n0ne, S2J, and Lucky on the way there, he still has shown the ability to beat a Top 5 player like Jmook.
Somewhere in Mango is the guy who won The Big House 9 practically right after underwhelming performances at Smash N Splash 5, Smash Summit 8, Low Tier City 7, Super Smash Con 2019, and Mainstage. Five straight disappointments before he won a major in one of the best grand finals ever. Though his last four performances are going to look very bad for his standards on the Summer PGR, in sheer terms of volume for tournament results, Mango has come back from worse. Everybody has been watching him in the first half of the year and we’ll continue to see how he does in the second half. And frankly, Mango not being Top 10 may say more about what I’m going to bring up as my next point.
Number 2: Everyone Can Beat Everyone
“Everyone is so good. You can’t sleep on anyone.” I’ve heard a version of this phrase my whole time in the scene. I often instinctively want to disagree, if only because it’s so annoying to hear all the time. But it’s true. This is, without doubt, the most dangerous era of competitive Melee. Though you can group tournament results for players into discrete tiers, they overlap far more than what we’ve been used to in previous eras of the game. Here’s a list of top players and what I’d roughly consider their respective “worst” losses this PGR season, as well as their worst losses’…worst losses.
- Zain – SluG – JJM
- iBDW – TheSWOOPER – dansdaman
- Hungrybox – KJH – Justus
- Leffen – lloD – n0ne
- aMSa – Polish – Aklo
- Plup – Magi – Voo
- lloD – n0ne – Aklo
- n0ne – Aklo – Zuppy
- KoDoRiN – Khalid – Greg Turbo
Note: I counted locals, not because they’re equal to major or regional sets; it’s just to demonstrate the broader point of results volatility in a vacuum. Please do not take this as me thinking that Khalid defeating KoDoRiN in a set suddenly makes KoDoRiN not a Top 10 player.
I intentionally left out one example. I’m going to note it below and use it as my transition into talking about the No. 1 storyline of the year.
- Jmook – Mang0 – Fizzwiggle
Number 1: The Rise of Jmook
I don’t know if you know this about me – I know a lot about Melee history. In spite of how confidently I talk about this subject, I try my best to not be reactive with big all-time claims. With that mind, take it from me: there has never been anything quite like the rise of Jmook.
When Slippi came out, the natural reaction from people in the scene was to consider how many new players would get into Melee through it. We wondered who out there could be the next Mango or the next Zain. I think the real storyline has been the existence of Slippi giving already present players a reason and resource to grind the game, get better, and build skills needed to shine. More than anything else, it’s ushered in a generation of “late bloomers,” none better than Jmook.
🌴 2ND PLACE!!@jakedirado showed up to GOML and proved he deserves a spot near the top!
More tournaments to come and more time to #ShowcaseGreatness!
You are an up and coming GOD, Jmook! pic.twitter.com/3PxcGqVV6J
— FlyQuest (@FlyQuest) July 3, 2022
For a long time, Jmook was the kind of player who didn’t have the opportunities to succeed on a grand level. People in the community knew he was “good;” and yet we had no way of accurately assessing his skill. Jmook had attended majors before, been playing the game for a while, and even beat top players when they came to his neck of the woods. Despite that, he never had the opportunity to shine like iBDW could.
Then comes 2021. We see a lot more of Jmook. We see him beat Top 20 players. We think to ourselves, okay. We know a little bit more about him. We have more resources than ever before to play the game and make sense of how good other people are in the scene. Jmook? He’s Top 100 for sure. Definitively Top 50 as well, so let’s go with Top 25, that seems fair. Right?
Boom. He comes into Genesis – of all series, the tournament literally defined by the breakout of Armada – and has a run to second place at the 22nd seed. Even Armada was given a top ten seed at the first Genesis. In an era where we’re supposed to know more about the game, its community, and its players than ever before Jmook’s performance showed us that we still don’t know shit. We have way more to learn about the game and everything around it – even everything about ourselves – from this guy. The community is seeing Melee in a completely new light thanks to someone who just needed a chance.
It’s not like Jmook’s run to second at Genesis was a fluke either. He’s attended four big events this year, making top eight at all of them and ending the Summer PGR season with a 3-2 record against the very likely pick for summer No. 1. Jmook’s not a flawless player – Hungrybox seems like a long-term road block, aMSa was challenging, and Mango, all things considered, is his “worst” loss – but his debut on an official national ranking will be in the Top 5. Other than its literal debut, that’s basically never happened in the SSBMRank/MPGR era of the game.
Furthermore, Jmook’s doing it with Sheik, a character who has never won a supermajor by herself. The closest thing you can find to it is CaptainJack’s victory at MLG San Francisco 2004, which I personally count as a major due to prestige (Melissa Blight, my former Smash History partner, does not). In his first year of being a real national competitor, Jmook may eventually bring the ultimate glory to a character that’s basically never had that level of success.
2022’s been an amazing year, with ups and downs. The greatest part of it is Jmook; the coolest player in the scene; the one who embodies the best of modern Melee.