I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of “hidden bosses.” There’s something innately special to the idea of players who are secretly amazing at Melee, but not necessarily well-known in the public sphere. It’s a phenomenon that’s existed since the dawn of the competitive scene. But I think the way it’s manifested in recent times has changed. In fact, I think the idea of a “hidden boss” has evolved into something new and unique to this era of Melee. Enter the “late bloomer.”
Due to the advent of Slippi, we simply know more about the good players in our community, due to their ability to play with each other practically on command. Also, the overall skill level of Melee is higher than it’s ever been. Rather than only seeing a new generation of players succeed – we’re seeing long-established players actually be scarier than ever in spite of diminished activity. Are these players truly “hidden” Not really. But have many of them gotten “better” peak results; in spite of maybe not being as active as they used to be? Absolutely.
In today’s Monday Morning Marth, I want to talk about the “late bloomer.” I will explore five Melee players who are interesting case studies of this concept, as well as underrated names to follow in 2023. By no means do I think these are the only examples of late bloomers; I just wanted to share some stories that you may have otherwise not been familiar with.
It’s not easy to stand out as a Mario player in a region that has Scorpion Master and A Rookie. But it’s worth noting that KoopaTroopa895 used to be something of a gatekeeper at the SoCal PR level. For years he had been established as an active local player with unremarkable majors, but noted presence as a Mario players. Would you see him getting Top 64 at a supermajor? Probably not, but you could catch him bringing a Top 100 player eerily close every week at SSS. To this day, his SSBWiki page still mentions his set over Nintendude.
Years later, he switched to Marth. The long story short is that it didn’t take long for him to achieve better results. During the pandemic, he was a routine presence late in bracket at larger Netplay events – with his first notable win coming in a shocking 3-2 over PewPewU. He’d continue to be a menace over the online era, at one point hovering in contention for invitation to the SWT NA West Finals. When locals and regionals came back, he remained relatively inactive, but when he did show up, he tended to make a name for himself. One especially strong result I remember from 2022 was his taking of a set over Ringler. Yet he basically received no fanfare for his performances. Just last month, he won a local over Lucky and Kurv. A little under a week ago, he came back to successfully defend his “Melee in Progress” crown over Asashi, Kurv and Casper, this time not dropping a set.
Melee in Progress #19 is up on YouTube!
— Melee in Progress | start.gg/mip (@MeleeInProgress) March 16, 2023
If I were to guess where KoopaTroopa895 lies in “skill” right now, I’d probably put him in the same group of players as Grab. With enough attendance at larger events, Koopa could genuinely break into the Top 50.
Ever recognize the tag Lil Snack? That used to be billybopeep’s tag back in middle school. He had a bit of a gradual rise through the ranks in SoCal, eventually moving to DFW and having a breakout 2019. Though he finished the year at an already impressive No. 51 spot, that undersold how highly he was trending near the end of the year. By its end, he boasted wins over S2J and Shroomed. Come the pandemic, he continued to remain active in delay-based Netplay events.
Around the same time as rollback’s release, billy suddenly decided that competing seriously was overrated. He began experimenting with Pikachu at some Netplay events, with up and down stretches of broader inactivity. He eventually came back with a great showing at the first BEMI, defeating Shroomed and Axe en route to third place before once again fading away from the broader scene. The one big performance he had on LAN was an unfortunate 0-4 showing at the SWT NA West Finals, where Plup, Medz and Tai swept him and Faceroll beat him in a heartbreaker. It did not look good for billy fans – at least until the second BEMI. There, he overcame early losses to put on an absolute clinic, beating mvlvchi, Salt, TheRealThing, Shroomed, and Flash twice in one of the best loser’s runs to win a tournament I can remember. It was so impressive that I guess billy knew it too. Save for the next BEMI, where he once again beat Shroomed, Flash, and Salt in a silver-medal performance, billy didn’t go to anything big again. Actually, that’s a lie. He did go to Genesis 9; he just didn’t compete in the tournament.
I have compared billy in this column before to Crush. The two certainly have some strange similarities as former “prodigy” players of their region who quickly rose up the national ranks as soon as they decided to care about competing. Crush is certainly more of an extreme case, as he still remains totally gone from the community and peaked a bit higher than billy in terms of his national standing, but at the very least, billy has expressed some sort of desire to return. Frankly, it would be a shame to see him not do it. My hard call right now for his skill ceiling is Zuppy. Yes – the guy who just got fourth at a major and, by all accounts, looks Top 25. I’m that sure of billy.
To most people, Flash – literally – appeared in a “flash.” But he had been relatively active in the NEOH scene as one of its more established mid-level players for a few years. Once the pandemic started, he completely disappeared from tournaments. Content with not attending tourneys, Flash just grinded a bunch of Netplay with other top players. Did he have results? Not exactly, but he had a bunch of clips that made him a bit of an urban legend among hardcore Melee nerds. Clips of him three-stocking Wizzrobe (NOTE: I just picked a random name for hyperbolic effect; please do not take this seriously. No I don’t care to look up specific Top 25 player he obliterated out of countless clips) in friendlies are, of course, totally meaningless as far as evaluating his results, but it was still interesting to see this formerly well-known commodity of a “mid-level” player suddenly take a massive jump in his gameplay, and have that not reflected by a series of tournament results.
glad the people are learning about flash, such an amazing player
— Daniel Bernstein | SlyFox (@zamu_ssbm) September 12, 2021
Those in the know about Flash were totally unsurprised by his ninth place Riptide breakout – and those who didn’t know about him were totally caught off guard. Wanna know the real surprise though? Flash not going to any major since. He had a second place showing at BEMI 2022 and this year had a great fourth place showing, but other than that, he’s been off the grid.
How good is Flash right now? If you ask a lot of hardcore Melee nerds, the first name that comes to mind for a Flash comparison is usually Frenzy. I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to say that, given some of their playstyle similarities, but it is worth noting that Flash just dominated the guy who has had Frenzy’s number for all of eternity. I’ll go with null for a player of similar “skill,” but a different character.
On a somewhat similar note to Flash, The artist formerly known as Ricky, was a mid-level player in New England for years. He had even defeated TheRealThing at Shine 2018 – his first Top 100 win out of region and something that I saw, at the time, as a potential stepping stone to future success. I myself have a personal memory of getting totally curbstomped by YAMI in friendlies, so I’ve known his potential for a while. It’s what made approximately three years of sparse activity all the more confusing.
I have to say, this was one of the more interesting cases of a “late bloomer” player. When I look at YAMI’s 2020 to 2022 results at bigger offline events, they honestly look like the type of clear, marked improvement that you’d see from a “grinder” in the span of a few months – but in his situation, it was just elongated across three years. More or less, YAMI was totally gone from offline brackets in 2020, seemed active in the last five months of 2021, then went to a couple regionals in early 2022 before disappearing. To put it as bluntly as I can: YAMI basically went from the “power ranked level” within New England to being at a level where he could semi-consistently take sets over Top 100-caliber players within the Northeast.
This was someone who was clearly still quite strong at the game, but because his activity was all over the place, it was hard to confidently assess how he’d do at a future event .But, for what it’s worth, his latest event was excellent. At last weekend’s CT GamerCon 2023, YAMI defeated Kalvar and Mekk twice to eventually finish in second place. I think if YAMI could attend more nationals, there’s no reason he can’t be considered in the same caliber of player as Mot$.
After much consideration, I decided to include Junebug as a late bloomer. He’s been in the Smash scene forever, and obviously had spend time at the top level of Project M, but I think his Melee career is really interesting because it’s not really one of a “late bloom”. If anything, thr moment he began taking Melee more seriously, he skyrocketed to the top of a pretty tough region. Most notably, he was a bit of a kryptonite for both Rishi and a younger Zain. His peak rank in the world was No. 46, but frankly, Junebug at his peak looked not too far off from Top 25. That was, of course, before his retirement in 2019, something he stayed true to at a national level for three years.
Since then, it seems like June’s MO has been to pick up obscure characters for bits. He brings them impressive results, and then decide to move on. Did the course of Smash history forever change when Junebug’s Doc got 13th at Double Down and brought the character one of his best placings ever? No, of course not. Did it change when he brought DK to 17th place – the highest major placement from a DK since Zenith 2012? Probably not either, but you have to respect it.
I don’t know if Junebug will ever reach a peak “rank” that his Sheik had. But in the back of my mind, he feels like a much more horrifying opponent than he used to be – and his Sheik was no slouch This year alone, he boasts wins over Polish, JJM, Fizzwiggle, JOJI, Khryke, Juicebox, and mvlvchi. That’s a set over a Top 25 player, two Top 100 players, and four names who are either on the ballot or could reasonably be in consideration for the ballot with enough events. “Top 50” is a pretty brutal bar to clear, considering 2022’s No. 50 player was Azel. But honestly, I think Junebug’s “skill” right now is around the same level as Franz. It sounds like such an insane statement, but I kind of buy it.