The midpoint of any year always gives Smash fans something to talk about. As of right now, we have roughly six months worth of data to analyze and yet we still struggle to make sense of the scene. It’s hard to tell what’s for real and what’s a flash in the plan. Nonetheless, we make mid-year rankings as a report card of sorts. But it’s important to remember that a ranking is very different from a prediction.
The best melee players right now:
and it's not up for debate
— Pipsqueak (@Pipsqueak_TV) December 5, 2022
Today, I want to combine the two in an unusual way. I am going to create a Top 10…for 2025. Now, I have no illusions about the process I’m taking. This is, by no means, a ‘scientific’ prediction. There are countless elements that go into predicting the future of Smash players. But it is fun to do, so I’m going to proceed anyway.
The first thing I’m going to do is sketch out what the Top 10 would roughly look like right now, were the current ranking period to end and have lenient eligibility criteria. After that, we’re going back in time in increments of two years: looking at the 2021 Blur Rank – the closest thing we had to an ordered global list that year – and the 2019 MPGR. I’ll talk about a few trends that stand out and then ‘reveal’ the 2025 Top 10.
What Would A 2023 Ranking Look Like Right Now?
If the ranking period were to end at this moment, we’d start off with all the people who won majors: Jmook, Cody Schwab and Zain. I’m inclined to give moky the fourth spot, due to his victory over aMSa at the Come Up, as well as superior major performances to aMSa. On that note, aMSa won a couple other regionals himself, earning himself the fifth spot.
After those five, I will not act like I have a definitive opinion on ordering the next four positions. Nevertheless, I know that it’s some combination of Hungrybox, Leffen, Plup and Mango. There’s a few contenders for the tenth spot, so there’s no real “wrong” answer there either. For me though, Aklo’s earned it through his strong head-to-heads and a standout tournament win at Redemption Rumble. While it happened last year – and was admittedly filled with shenanigans for some of its players – I still think it’s a legitimately good victory.
— NYCMelee @ The Nightclub S7 (@nycmelee) January 1, 2023
It is worth looking at notable players who missed the cut. KoDoRiN has hovered in this range for a few years now. Magi had a quicker rise to Top 100 overall, with bigger breakout wins and has roughly been in the Top 25 for the 2020s as a hole. Salt showed signs of growth during the rollback era, but honestly, she was well outside the premier class of “online stars,” and instead had her competitive glow-up come with the return of LAN events last year. Finally, there’s Krudo, who’s been a late bloomer of sorts. I do not think all these people hold the “11 to 14” spots right now, but they each have interesting paths to where they are.
The 2021 “Rankings”
In some ways, the Top 10 of 2021 isn’t much different than it is now, like the presence of Cody Schwab and Zain in the top three. In other ways, it’s pretty wild, like no Jmook there at all. But there’s also elements that strike me as both. For instance, Mango’s ranking. Although No. 1 is a drastic jump from where his current results are, let’s be real. Nobody with an opinion that matters will ever consider Mango outside of contention to win any tournament he decides to care about.
The No. 4 to No. 8 spots are fascinating, even if they are filled with familiar names: Plup, Wizzrobe, Leffen, aMSa and Hungrybox. With the exception of Wizzrobe, whose health issues have sidelined him for most of the last two years, these players have, bare minimum, stayed in the Top 10. aMSa’s rise to the highest echelon obviously makes him a little different. SFAT and Polish follow the aforementioned five to close out the top ten.
Barely missing the top ten are five players with fairly different trajectories. There’s KoDoRiN, who I just recapped. Then you have S2J, a perpetual Top 25 player who’s still fairly good, but not quite as active as he was back then. Trif had a bit of a setback in 2022, but seems to already be back in that contention in 2023. moky, as we all know, now looks top five. The final spot, is n0ne, who had a mostly strong 2022, yet as of late doesn’t have results to prove it.
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There are many reasons as to why you might have issues with me treating this ranking as totally legitimate. It is not an official ranking; the closest thing to that honor would be the PGR contenders list. With that said, I chose it because its scope as a global ranking was the closest thing we had to SSBMRank.
The 2019 Rankings
2019 is a real doozy. Hungrybox was on top of the world, but it wasn’t necessarily a cakewalk. Though the start of the year was fairly dominant, the rest of it was filled with ho-hum performances and brief moments where it seemed like he was surpassed. Obviously, we now realize that we were coping. Leffen and Mango, of course, make up the next two spots on the list. Their positions are interesting to analyze in hindsight.
Sidenote: For those of you interested in a brief detour, this was a controversial decision at the time. Mango had won more big events, but his slump from the summer to early fall period left his resume with glaringly inconsistent head-to-heads, while Leffen won and attended far fewer events, but was far more reliable in his results. To be fully transparent, back then, I thought Leffen was the clear choice for No. 2, and voted as such. But in hindsight, I regret it. I hate to concede anything to my fellow Mango fans, who, like their hero, have a tendency to be extremely annoying and play up their frustrations as a bit. However, in this case, I think they were not necessarily upset without reason.
The rest of the Top 10 holds up pretty well for the time. Axe and Wizzrobe, two major winners of that year, fill out the top five. Zain, who had amazing consistency, but was held back by atrocious head-to-heads vs. the rest of the top five, finished at No. 6. Following him are four people with drastically different futures: aMSa, Plup, Cody Schwab, and Mew2King. Barely missing the cut are the long-time recognizable top eight contenders: S2J, Fiction, n0ne, and moky.
Alright, I know that was a lot. To be honest: it is extremely difficult to break into the Top 10. Once someone gets there for multiple years, chances are, they’re probably going to stay there for the next couple of years, even if their position within the overall group may change. Broadly speaking, the ‘modern era’ has been defined by the following ten players.
- Cody Schwab
Axe and Wizzrobe are the only former Top 5 players who seem like their stocks as “future Top 10” players aren’t safe. It is quite difficult to imagine the other eight ever being surpassed by more than two or three players at most. However, when it comes to predicting the future, we can’t only look at the present – or past – and assume that everything will stay the same. You can’t have “2023 moky without someone else losing their spot or falling off. That’s the beauty and tragedy of competition.
No one could confidently build a model for what will happen. There are countless factors, such as real-life circumstances, metagame developments, and other unpredictable variables that we won’t be able to adequately address. What we can do, however, is try to discover patterns that we think could repeat themselves in a different context. Moving forward, we’ll be asking ourselves some or all of the following questions:
- Who, in 2023, is “2019 Mew2King” – a soon-to-be-retired or heavily inactive all-time great?
- Who, in 2023, is “2021 Wizzrobe” – a Top 5 player sidelined by circumstances outside of the game?
- Who, in 2023, is potentially “2023 SluG” – a Top 10 player who retires from the game in favor of other pursuits?
- Who, in 2023, is “2019 Axe” – a Top 5 player who slightly returns to Earth following their rise to top five?
- Who in 2023, is “2021 moky” – a long-time Top 25 player who finally bursts into the top five or ten?
- Who, in 2023, is “2021 Aklo” – a Top 11-25 player who, after a rapid rise, breaks into the Top 10?
- Who, in 2023, is “2021 SFAT” – a Top 10 player whose resume isn’t replicated in the following two years as out-of-game obligations necessitate a shift away from competing?
Answering some of these questions will be difficult. Much of anyone’s successes or failures depends on luck. But we should be clear on one thing: the lack of a “Top 10” spot for someone does not necessarily mean that they aren’t that good at the game any more. It could just indicate major inactivity or different circumstances within their career. One other thing: just because a player isn’t within the Top 10 doesn’t mean they aren’t in the same echelon of play.
With all this build up out of the way, I am going to reveal my Top 10 (and honorable mentions) for 2025. Warning: this list is made with a bit of irony and sincerity.
2025 Honorable Mentions
What do all these five players have in common? Multi-character prowess. Polish’s Peach and Fox give them a complete matchup spread. So do Pipsqueak’s Fox and Captain Falcon. Meanwhile, even though he hasn’t spent as much time seriously preparing them for majors, Joshman does actually have quite a nasty Falco, Sheik and Marth. At a time when the counterpick war is starting to re-develop in the game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these three players make the Top 10 – it was honestly a coin flip between them and some of the people I chose above for most successful ‘newcomers.’
As for Leffen and Plup, it is admittedly strange to think of a world in which neither of them are in the Top 10. However, the way things are trending for their activity in 2023, I’m not necessarily optimistic for how this continues to develop. I would love to be proven wrong, and honestly, I truly believe these two would be threats at any Melee tournament they cared about. It’s really just a question of these players deciding their priorities. After a decade of being giants for Melee, Leffen and Plup, in our timeline, eventually decide they’ve had enough.
There’s no point ignoring the elephant in the room any more: Hungrybox’s absence. Want to know why? Because, in our timeline, Hungrybox retires. Given the increasing scale in which he’s been involved in the community as a streamer, salesman and representative of sorts, Hungrybox will naturally have less time to dedicate toward competing. My prediction here is that one of two things happen: he has one final ride into the sunset when he wins a major or his major top eight streak finally ends. In either case, I predict that Hungrybox follows it up with admitting to the world that it was the last thing he cared about, before having an emotional, dramatic departure from the game.
No. 10: Salt
After solidifying her place in the Top 10 in the previous years, Salt remained there, effectively gatekeeping the top level. Future Salt simply does not lose to anyone who isn’t Fox, Falco, Marth, or Sheik. It’s tempting to call her the new “Wizzrobe” at this point in time, but because she’s started to develop her Falco even more, Salt ends ups occupying a unique spot in the metagame. In spite of a few rough matchups at the top echelon, she attends enough and has great draws vs. everyone else to enter major darkhorse territory.
No. 9: KoDoRiN
Although I don’t think KoDoRiN wins a major by 2025, my guess is that Future KoDoRiN takes a big step toward eventually reaching major contention, even if it’s not necessarily shown in a massive jump across the rankings. One thing I’ll say about KoDoRiN: he tends to implement new techniques and strategies immediately when he encounters roadblocks, even if it’s not always successful. I think the combination of spacies at the top level, and his own gradual improvements as a player continue slowly inching him upward.
No. 8: Mango
Mango is still in the game. While his future success may have been surprising to many in 2023, certainly nobody in 2025 is caught off-guard. Future Mango continues trouncing all the fast-fallers, because that’s the most ageless part of his game, and it turns out that will never change. The only thing which has changed is his non-Melee commitments. He’s started to attend, at most, three tournaments a year – maybe one he tries his hardest at. I’m going to predict that Mango continues flirting with retirement from tournaments and talking about it to his fans, but I’m not buying a future in which he fully follows through with it. I think Melee’s too ingrained in his blood for him to not attend Genesis or Big House each year. That, or it’s too connected to his brand for him to risk losing.
No. 7: aMSa
After sitting on it for a while, I could not bring myself to imagine a world where aMSa isn’t in the Top 10. Although I think aMSa will continue to take a bit of a return to Earth, as well as potentially be hurt by a top level that continues to improve vs. Yoshi, we’ve also heard this said about him so many times (and I myself have said it). It’s not like he has ever suffered in the long-term. I don’t know if he’ll ever reach “potential best player in the world for half a year” again, if only because that’s such a tough position to get to, but the point is, aMSa stays elite.
No. 6: Cody Schwab
In our alternate world, Cody Schwab has taken a slight step back. It’s not because of potential though; it’s that he finished 2023 at No. 1 and decided he had enough. Future Cody feels no need to continue going as hard as he did for the first half of the decade and is now content to pick and choose what events he attends, making top eight at them as well. What else is he doing now, you ask? Cody’s in business school. He is currently working toward becoming the Jerry Maguire of Smash, helping all the mini-Codys in the scene accomplish their dreams. On a more sincere note, I think the absence of Hungrybox and potential ‘devaluing’ of being able to defeat aMSa – due to the rest of the field catching up – may play a strange role in shaping Cody’s future success as a competitor.
No. 5: Krudo
In 2022, it may have been tempting to view Krudo as a “Top 25 Sheik player” and nothing else, but something extraordinary you’ll find when following his broader trajectory is the fact that he tends to make big adjustments to his problem matchups. The same way a younger version of himself went from losing to Panda every week to shocking Cody Schwab – or going from losing to Khalid to defeating him in the rematch and beating Dawson – Future Krudo has completely turned his previous Peach problem around. I think his potential for developing a complete matchup spread neatly parallels how another mysterious Sheik player rose to the top. Krudo may not be as vocal about what his future or time in the game looks like; he lets his results and high activity do the talking, even when it may not be instantly recognizable.
No. 4: Aklo
Aklo doesn’t cleanly make for a Jmook parallel in the same way as some other Fox players, but we shouldn’t forget that he too was a hidden boss of Tristate for a long time. I was initially worried about Aklo going to med-school, but at the same time, we’ve seen lloD actually improve and enter contention for Top 10. I could see something like happening at a bigger extreme for Aklo, where he enters major contention. His matchup spread is extremely well-balanced and I can only see it getting better from here on out – especially if the future metagame involved more Fox and Sheik players, as well as if he began taking sets from Zain. And before you ask, yes. The Link is still around.
No. 3: moky
moky’s natural strengths as a player neatly translate with the matchup spreads inherent within the Top 10 that I’ve predicted so far. By this time, with less of Mango in the picture and moky’s path to evening out his rivalry with Zain and Jmook, I don’t expect anything else to consistently get in the way. With amazing accomplishments of increasing magnitude over the 2020s, as well as a total commitment to staying active in Melee and investment in a coach, moky’s on track to become the best player in the world. But I don’t think 2025 moky hits it yet.
No. 2: Zain
I cannot imagine what the scene in the 2020s would look like without Zain, who has completely revitalized Marth as a character. My prediction is that he stays committed to the Ice Climbers as a Sheik counterpick and develops it in a similar fashion to how Leffen developed a Sheik for Marth. At the same time, even Armada needed a couple years to return to No. 1, where, all things considered, he quickly lost the juice to defend after two other years. For that matter, Mango needed seven years to return to No. 1. It is so hard to stay atop a throne you’ve more or less been on for one official year and a whole unofficial time period.
No. 1: Jmook
I’ve found out quite a bit has gone haywire in our timeline, but the one thing that’s remained constant is Jmook at the top level. For our hypothetical, Future Jmook has just come off a year at No. 1 in 2024. He also additionally benefited from Hungrybox’s dropoff in activity and caliber of results. Now, to be clear, I don’t think Jmook will be a very ‘dominant’ No. 1. But in an era that’s becoming increasingly difficult to dominate, the question of best player in the world may end up being defined by who was most present and who had the fewest unique roadblocks.
I could see Zain’s Ice Climbers, a new and improved Krudo, the rising tide of better Fox players and perhaps even aMSa still challenging him. Yet it’s worth considering that Future Jmook could be, at the very least, as much of an obstacle for some of these players as they may be for him. Pound for pound, I really don’t think Jmook has many glaringly unique matchup problems relative to the field. So after Zain dominated the start of the decade, and one year of Cody Schwab ruling the world, my final call is that it’s Jmook who takes over in the middle.