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Published July 19, 2021

Following a year and a half of his dominance over Melee’s online scene, Zain was naturally the heavy favorite to take the Smash Summit 11 trophy home. Instead, what we got was magic. To cap off a loser’s run comprised of moky, n0ne, iBDW, Plup, and Hungrybox, Mango – unveiling the return of his Fox – beat the all-but-in-name Melee’s current No. 1 player twice in a 10-game grand finals that was perhaps even more electrifying than their set from The Big House 9.

For Mango, this event was his first LAN victory since Mango’s Birthday Bash in December 2019, and his fourth notable victory since the rollback era started along with two individual weeks of Summit Champions League, CLG Mixup and LACS 3. According to Pikachu942’s All-Time Major Data spreadsheet, this was the 25th major victory of his career.

Before Smash Summit 11, Zain’s last loss to Fox came at the hands of Leffen at Smash ‘N’ Splash 5. Since then, he was a combined 19-0 in sets against Leffen, iBDW, SFAT, and moky, the four best Fox players of the last two years. Even more incredibly, this was Mango’s first time playing Fox vs. Zain in tournament, and he won it by defeating Zain twice on Final Destination: a stage and character matchup that Zain hadn’t lost since SFAT beat him there at Flatiron 3, three years ago.

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Lessons Learned from Smash Summit 11

Usually when I talk about majors, I write a preview of the players attending or I do a brief dive into which players I find the most interesting to follow. However, the stakes of Summit made me want to do something different. Because it’s the first LAN event, what I’m going to do is roughly summarize how each player performed. I will then make a brief assessment about how I see their trajectory moving forward.

Last Place Finishers

  • Yingling
  • 2saint
  • Aklo
  • LSD

It was never going to be easy for Yingling to come out of this event with a victory. At a tournament with 15 of the world’s best players in attendance, someone was going to finish in last place. With that said, it was a blast to see him play basketball, star in one of my favorite Summit sketches, and by the eye test, he looked really competitive vs. n0ne. I look forward to seeing Yingling continue to compete after this event. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Yingling go from being Top 50 in the rollback field to taking steps toward making Top 100 in 2022.

2saint had a great spring for rollback events, so it was not fun to be the stick in the mud about his chances before Summit. Sadly, my prediction came to fruition. In addition to losing not-close sets against iBDW and Plup, he lost the runback from the Black Empowerment Invitational against Axe, lost the rematch against Hungrybox and then got smacked around by moky. While 2saint beat n0ne for a second consecutive time, this was just a brutal draw of competitors for him, and it showed. 2saint is probably Top 25 in the world, but he hasn’t yet stole Hungrybox’s crown as the best Jigglypuff – at least in the format of Melee that counts the most.

Pools were ugly for Aklo. He got swept by SFAT, couldn’t keep it together vs. Wizzrobe, and lost to LSD, marking Aklo’s third straight loss to him in a row after a previously dominant history against him. Aklo made up for his initial shaky performance by beating Axe, but aMSa proceeded to knock him back into reality before he lost a heart-breaker of a set to n0ne. However, this was Aklo’s first out-of-region tournament ever, so all things considered, we may have learned a lot more about his opponents than we learned about him from this performance.

After losing to SFAT and Wizzrobe early, LSD won a thrilling five-game set over Aklo and sent moky to the shadow realm. It was looking great for LSD, but, despite putting up a valiant fight, they eventually ran into two tough outs via iBDW and Axe. I know I’m not exactly the most objective source of LSD-takes, but I was really impressed with their performance this weekend. While they still have very little experience competing at events with these kinds of stakes, there’s no reason why it can’t be a turning point for someone who could very well be a future supermajor champion.

Ninth Placers

  • moky
  • SFAT
  • KoDoRiN
  • aMSa

Looking at how moky’s bracket turned out, it really seemed tailor-made to put him on tilt. Even if he didn’t have to play Zain, KoDoRiN and LSD are two terrifying Marth players for any top Fox to deal with, and moky had to play Mango twice. The only “disappointing” result is that moky lost a functional coin flip against Hungrybox, the biggest wild card of the entire tournament. I expect the Top 15 Fox to bounce back at his next big tournament.

SFAT started the event strong with finishing No. 2 in his pool. He convincingly beat LSD and Aklo, losing only to Wizzrobe. I don’t know what happened the rest of the weekend. After losing his only Day 3 match against KoDoRiN, he had to play Wizzrobe again and lost. Like moky, I think it was just an unfortunate draw, although SFAT seemed a bit steadier in how he got to ninth place. He’s the same guy we’ve always known.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for this Summit was KoDoRiN’s inclusion, which came in part due to unfortunate circumstances because of travel-related issues popping up for Pipsqueak. Nonetheless, KoDoRiN made the most of his sudden opportunity. He beat moky and SFAT, losing only to Zain, n0ne, Hungrybox, Mango, and Plup. Finishing in ninth place may not sound like a lot, but it firmly cements KoDoRiN as a Top 15 player.

I think this Ambisinister tweet just about tells the story. I will never act like aMSa isn’t one of the ten best players in the world ever again. aMSa’s wins over n0ne, Aklo, and Mango should absolutely be considered a reminder that all of us doubters are just totally full of shit.

Seventh to Fifth Place

  • n0ne
  • Axe
  • Wizzrobe
  • iBDW

n0ne was one of the rising stars of rollback, and he showed us that it transferred over to LAN. He overcame losses to aMSa, Zain and 2saint early to then show up on Day 4 in a big way, where he beat Aklo and got his revenge on KoDoRiN before falling to Mango. This just about checks out where his 2021 had him so far.

Although it’s somewhat disappointing that we never got to see the Axe vs. Zain runback on LAN, what we did see from Axe was underwhelming by the results. He had an expected victory against LSD, but he lost pretty handily to iBDW, Plup, Aklo and Wizzrobe. A possible silver lining is that he defeated 2saint, who had previously beaten him, and another could be that he nabbed an additional victory over aMSa. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that the former Summit champion is still slumping.

Wizzrobe blew by LSD, Aklo, and SFAT alike before beating Hungrybox in yet another barn-burner. He then threw away his last stock on an edgeguard vs. iBDW, destroyed SFAT again and dismantled Axe before running into Plup, one of two people he absolutely did not want to see that deep into bracket. In spite of his placing being technically underwhelming for his seed, this performance didn’t change anything about how I see Wizzrobe. He’s Top 5, but a dark horse for winning majors.

In terms of making a deep bracket run, this was not a good weekend for iBDW. Although he beat Wizzrobe again, not only did he see his long winning streak against Plup come to an end, iBDW also dropped his first set in ten to Hungrybox – in maybe the most unsatisfying end to an otherwise dynamic set ever – right before getting eliminated by Mango. The once solidified No. 3 in NA needs to figure something out. Right now, he’s running into a brick wall and is fresh off losses to people he normally beat on rollback.

3 of the Top 4

  • Plup
  • Hungrybox
  • Zain

Plup has to be thrilled about his Summit showing, because the fourth place doesn’t tell the full story. Along with getting his revenge on KoDoRiN – strangely, with his Fox – Plup split sets with Mango, broke a long losing streak against iBDW, and convincingly beat 2saint and Axe. Although the Plup of early 2020 might have been disappointed by a loss to Zain, the Plup of 2021 seems like he’s back in form.

On the last episode of “Waiting for Game,” I predicted that the most likely outcome for Hungrybox would be the least satisfying. After a weekend in which he beat iBDW, moky, 2saint, KoDoRiN, and aMSa, it does seem like the old Hungrybox is back. The idea of him beating any of these players online individually wasn’t too ridiculous, but at the same event? He may as well be a completely different player. I spent most of the rollback era rolling my eyes at every new loss he accumulated and wishing that he would get his shit together – only to start rabidly rooting against him once I realized he was in winners’ side of top eight.

In last week’s column, I wrote that I wasn’t sure how Zain would handle having multiple potential matchups thrown at him. I said that he was practically a lock against every Fox player he went up against, but that it might be difficult having to balance facing Axe, Wizzrobe, and Mango in the same bracket path. On the “Waiting for Game” episode, I added that Plup could have also been scary. It turned out that the first two weren’t anywhere in Zain’s path to grands, the third was sent to loser’s early, and Zain basically beat Plup through a wall. When Zain finished dismantling Hungrybox in winners’ finals, I prepared to write up something ahead of time about him for the part below, because the truth seemed so obvious – Zain, like he has been for the last 16 months, was the best player in the world and this was going to be the cherry on top. That’s, of course, when everything changed.

The Winner (And Maybe The GOAT?)

  • Mango

Amid all the bullshit and existential despair that existed in the world over the last year and a half, you could discover glimmers of hope in the Melee community. Three months into a pandemic halting our in-person infrastructure, the advent of rollback netcode completely changed the fate of a scene that might have died without it. In spite of Nintendo shutting down one of our premier supermajors for a bullshit reason, we continued hosting tournaments. At one point, we had all our top content creators get together to run events that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity – not to mention, it happened with two weeks worth of planning.

When you look at Melee history, it’s so clear that what makes this community different is the resilience of its players and their willingness to actively discover and maintain something beautiful out of the chaos of the game and everything surrounding it. Keep this in mind when I say that there’s no player who embodies the spirit of Melee like Mango, someone who’s basically been around longer than anyone else at his level. I’m not going to pretend like any analysis I have of his gameplay would avoid cliches, but what I can confidently talk about is the historical trajectory of Mango’s career and how it makes this particular major victory so compelling.

Think about how long Mango’s been playing this game for. He’s been around basically since MLG had just barely moved on from items. Within a few years of playing, he beats Mew2King for the first time at Evo, and half a year later, he beats the East Coast through a wall at Pound 3, where he wins his first supermajor. Ironically, it was an event that was supposed to be the last big Melee tournament ever, but instead, it marked the beginning of a new era.

The scene returns back in full force and wow – Mango is still whooping everyone’s asses. It becomes clear just how much better he is at this game than everyone else. When he loses, he either comes back to win the event, it’s laughed off as him not trying, or, in a rare case where he gives it his all and loses, it’s so monumental that an entire movie trailer is made of it. Mango, in Mayweather-esque fashion, retires atop of the scene, because it was that boring. He fools around with Mario and secondaries for about a year and a half before returning full force as a Fox and Falco player, but by that point, he runs into the brick wall of Armada. Even players he once used to thrash, like PPMD and Hungrybox, started to take sets every now and then, if not outright go close with him.

By 2013, the scene is on the verge of finally making it back to the big stage, and so is Mango. Following a disappointing Apex 2013 and a viral beatdown at the hands of his then-retired greatest rival, Mango starts winning smaller American majors before regaining his throne by winning the biggest event of the era. Over the next year and a half, Mango doesn’t cleanly dominate everyone, but what separates him from the pack is his ability to perform on the big stage. Sure, he doesn’t win Apex and there’s moments where Mango looks mortal, but come the summer or the fall – typically when Evo and Big House were starting to solidify themselves as annual majors – he was the person you could bet on to win the event.

But good stories have obstacles and challenges. Over the next four years, Armada turns a corner on the entire competitive field. Even more crazy, Hungrybox, who Mango used to beat in his sleep, suddenly becomes another big thorn in his side, and the entire player base becomes that much more stacked. Mango still has moments of glory every now and then, but a return to No. 1 looks more unthinkable each day. The low point is when Mango goes an entire year without winning a major, even as his greatest rival Armada retires from the scene. Around this time, many start wondering if Hungrybox had passed Mango as an all-time great Melee player, let alone Armada. What keeps the conversation going is that Mango isn’t ever fully down and out against them; he just hasn’t put it together consistently.

Mango then excels for most of 2019, finishing as the No. 3 in the world and winning The Big House 9 over Zain, the best player of a new and far more terrifying generation of competitors. It’s a set that happens ten years after the crowning accomplishment of Mango’s career at Genesis, and maybe it would have been a great set to retire on. Instead, Mango wins his own birthday major and sticks around in 2020, the most insane year of Melee possibly ever. He has to adjust to a new online format of Melee he could have never even dreamed of caring about when he was younger. Now playing mostly Falco, and with the two hardest opponents of his generation either retired or focusing their efforts elsewhere, Mango has to deal with the new version of Zain, someone whose dominance over the opposition is eerily like Mango’s own from when he was younger. Some were willing to say that this new player was even scarier than Armada.

These two would define the next year and a half of Melee, but for what it’s worth, Zain has the advantage. While Mango takes sets every now and then, the long-term head-to-head is undeniably in Zain’s favor. What makes this even more difficult is that Zain is a unstoppable behemoth against Fox. It gets to a point where the best Fox player in the world outright gives up and starts practicing another character. For most of their time playing against each other, Mango opts to dedicate himself to Falco, and it becomes increasingly clear that this is a losing fight. By the time Smash Summit returns to break the dry spell of LAN majors in the community, Mango makes a decision. If he wants to win the first returning LAN major, his Falco can’t do it alone. He needs to go against the grain and bring back his Fox.

At the end of a long, twisting roller coaster of a tournament – in a career that’s basically been a long, twisting roller coaster itself – Mango’s finally put to the test against Zain. And frankly? It looks brutal. He goes down 2-0 in the set but then somehow accomplishes the impossible. Mango beats Zain, not only in Game 3, but on Final Destination twice. The next set is just as exciting as the first one and it similarly goes down to the wire. This time, Mango doesn’t steal a game from Final Destination, but he survives a last-stock situation on Yoshi’s Game 4, withstands an early deficit in game 5 and barely holds on to cap off what might be the greatest loser’s run he’s had in a decade. Hell, it might the most impressive tournament victory that he’s had in a decade. When it’s all said and done, those grand finals might be the sets of the century.

I know I’m basking in recency bias here, but I’m also going to go out on a limb and make a wild claim that I’m sure I’ll regret a year from now. Beating Zain with Fox on his first try and reverse 3-0’ing him might be the most impressive singular set accomplishment in Mango’s career, if not Melee history.

I know the above was a lot to process. It’s also admittedly put in dry, rambly terms. I’ve done this to make you hopefully notice something truly incredible within the details. Most people who have been around for that long typically peter out, follow a predictable trajectory and fundamentally stay the same player.

I don’t think that’s the case with Mango. Like Melee itself, the most incredible thing about his career is that it defies clean narratives. You could take any stretch of three years from Mango and act like it’s a separate player, but it doesn’t come to telling the full, complex, beautiful picture. The only thing we know for sure is that it that speaks volumes to his ability to not just persevere, but to actually evolve alongside the game in the most inspirational ways.

I can’t think of any other player who is so worthy to be the returning LAN champion, the winner of Smash Summit 11 and the recipient of the largest prize pot in Melee history than Mango, the most “Melee” Melee player of all-time. And you know what? Maybe he is the greatest ever. But that’s a column for another time.  For now, I just have one more thing.

Don’t forget who fucking called it!

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