There’s something funny about the way that binging Smash content on YouTube brings you down a rabbit hole. You’ll start with watching PPMD vs. Armada at Apex 2015 only to suddenly find yourself watching more sets throughout the rest of top eight. Before you know it, you’re watching The Shape of Melee 5 and wondering where the time went. Are all of these sets equally important? No, but as far as YouTube recommended content goes, you could do worse.
Im not a top player or anything but I thought dreamhack San Diego was pretty fun; I think it’s nice to be reminded that we exist as a subniche embedded within a larger gaming ecosystem even if the actual tourney was maybe a little scuffed
— Eryk (@Ambisinister_) April 9, 2023
In case you haven’t been able to tell, I’ve been spending a ton of my free time watching old Melee sets. I tend to be a sucker for nostalgia. I also like to reflect on things that I once took for granted or stopped thinking about. So in today’s column, I want to talk about five random sets from Melee history that I’ve watched over the last week. Don’t worry though – these are not totally random sets. Okay, they are totally random, but each of them features someone I’d consider in the top five right now.
Consider this a look into five separate “moments of time” featuring earlier versions of current scene giants. By no means are these sets monumental. Most of them are relative blips in the grand scope of the community. Chances are that you won’t even remember that they happened, and in a way, that makes them even more special.
Spud vs. moky at Emerald City 6
Obviously, any Melee fan has to know moky. From when he upset Colbol at The Big House 7 to today, he’s been a fan favorite and among the most beloved players in the scene. Back at Emerald City 6, he was still on the comeback. On 2017’s SSBMRank, moky finished No. 96 in the world, which was a colossal accomplishment for someone who’d only been playing for a few years. I’ve broken down moky’s all-time standing in a prior column, so what you need to know is that he’s on trajectory to establish himself as the greatest Canadian player ever. But, for the purpose of our story, he remains a rising star of Canada.
Funnily enough, back in 2017, I actually thought Spud would be the one with moky’s career trajectory. Countless people from the Oceania region swore to their bones that this dominant New Zealand Marth was the real deal. They saw signs of it when he defeated Alex19 at BAM 7 two and a half years prior, and he continued to destroy the rest of the competition at home. As unbelievable as it sounds, I had heard legends of Spud “farming” Armada’s Peach in friendlies in Melbourne (and subsequently getting owned by the Fox). This was someone who, frankly more than moky, had so much hype behind him.
The set itself is boring. Spud obliterates him in a decisive 3-1. moky’s name is added to a long list of regional talent that Spud takes down en route to third place at the event. The only remotely interesting thing about the gameplay is that moky counterpicks him twice to Pokemon Stadium, which would be unthinkable today for Fox counterpicks vs. Marth. But something you might not know is that moky actually beat him 2-0 in group stages before final bracket. Stranger yet, they had played the day before at the pre-local, with Spud winning that set. In the span of about two days, two players from opposite parts of the world had played three times. They only played one more time after that, eleven months later in at Bridgetown Hyper Blitz. There, Spud took moky out to the woodshed in a brutal 3-0. Once again, moky counterpicked Stadium.
What happened to Spud, in the long-run, was initially disappointing, but now appears to have promise. After years of being hidden away in Oceania, he burst onto the major scene over the next couple years, showing notable prowess vs. fast-fallers and randomly struggling in other matchups as a Top 50 player. When the pandemic started, he retired due to those circumstances and not having a functional controller. He came back in late 2022, boasting peaks as high as defeating Soonsay, but not having enough events to justify a higher spot on the Top 100 than No. 61. At least he played a fun role in the most exciting event of the year, even if it probably hurt to get knocked out.
Rudolph v aMSa at Battle Gateway 11
When you think of the greatest in-region rivalries ever, chances are you’re not thinking of this one. But for a long time, Rudolph and aMSa were actually fairly back and forth. If you were around in 2016, you might have a vague memory of Rudolph delivering an insanely unhinged speech to the audience right before losing grand finals to aMSa. Truth be told, that win from aMSa was actually fairly newsworthy. You see, in spite of aMSa looking like a Top 25 player abroad, he was never quite as dominant in Japan. It was something that always used to confuse me: was it in due to that national scene just being better versus Yoshi? Was it a byproduct of aMSa not always taking these events seriously?
One thing for sure: Rudolph really cared about them. In fact, for a long time, the only thing people knew about Rudolph was that he thoroughly beat the rest of active Japan. He came to a few American tournaments, did alright, and finished No. 88 in the world, but it was nothing particularly extraordinary. The real story was a borderline Top 100 player somehow farming a country with a Top 25 player. What gives?
Now, the craziest thing about this particular set is Rudolph’s Fox. Rudolph’s Fox is disgusting – as in it’s visibly ugly to watch. He misses wavedashes, he spams full hop drill out of shield, he laser camps, and he does random upsmashes. However, it gets the job done better than the Marth would. Meanwhile, though aMSa’s obviously not the same supermajor contender we’ve come to know nowadays, he’s still clearly one of the best players in the world. This set between them looks like a deformed version of when PewPewU’s Fox defeated aMSa at Super Smash Con 2016, which, back then, was a set that many people used to point to as proof that Yoshi couldn’t defeat Fox. It’s crazy. I know. Regardless, Rudolph wins 3-1, aMSa DQ’s from the event, and Rudolph goes on to win the whole tournament. According to Liquipedia, the two only played twice more in the next two years with aMSa winning both times. After 2018, Rudolph completely disappeared from the competitive scene. Legend has it that you can find his Roy terrorizing people on unranked.
Rishi vs. Cody Schwab at Shots Fired 2
It may be hard to wrap your head around thinking of a scene where Rishi and Cody Schwab are not mainstays of top-level play. Hell, this was back when they each had different tags. This made for an intriguing first-time clash between players who have a bit more history together than you might see on the surface. The paths each player took over the rest of decade were incredibly different as well.
From being around back then, I can say that both were rising talents of long-established regions. “Smash G0D” had been around for a decade, but he was a bit of a late bloomer. He had been playing since 2005 and had yet to break through to the top of MD/VA. Meanwhile, “iBDW” had just gotten started with Melee over the last year. If you asked most hardcore Melee followers what they knew about each of them, it probably wouldn’t have had anything to do with what either accomplished on LAN. Most people knew Rishi as the random Netplay Marth who broke Hungrybox’s 500-set win streak on Netplay. On a similar note, Cody was a notorious Smashladder grinder himself. Of course, nobody cared.
Anyway, this match honestly looks like a set you might find in top eight of a stacked regional Arcadian today. The interesting part, however, is what it led to: the two having a short-lived rivalry when both of them were active in Tristate together. Two years after Shots Fired 2, Cody had his revenge over Rishi in winner’s bracket of Apollo, but Rishi ended up coming out on top through losers. That tournament, funnily enough, served as a catalyst for Cody’s “destroy Marth” arc, though it’d take him a bit more time to get to where he is today in the matchup. Regardless, Cody never lost to Rishi again and is now a contender for best player in the world. Rishi, to his credit, remains a threat to make major top eights whenever he’s around. Though he clearly has a different relationship with competing than Cody does, I sometimes look back at the small role Rishi played in frustrating a first-ballot Hall of Fame Melee player.
HugS vs. Zain at Super Smash Con
This set is the classic tale of a future champion of the game running into a very frustrating roadblock at his first major. Back then, Zain had been playing for about a year, was inspired by the Smash documentary, and hadn’t even won the MD/VA Arcadian yet. Meanwhile, HugS was more than a longtime legend of the game: he was practically the standard for being Top 25. Because he was so consistent, it was rare to see HugS drop sets to anyone who wasn’t outright competing for major top eights. If you could defeat him, that was often a sign that you were destined for future greatness.
With that in mind, Game 1 is not close. Zain looks totally lost. There’s nothing to feel too bad about because HugS has made a career of doing this to people. What happens next is pretty incredible though: instead of keeling over and dying, Zain keeps it close. It goes to last stock, and rather than HugS sealing the deal, Zain hits a crucial tipper to tie the set. In so few months of competing, Zain had his first moment to shock the world. A win over HugS this early in his career was honestly the sort of “breakout win” that was unthinkable.
There’s one moment that I love from the final game: Zain standing on the angel platform, down two stocks to four, takes a deep breath and doesn’t move his character. I like to think that he was trying to calm down and believe in himself – trying to believe that he can pull off one of the most incredible comebacks in the history of the game. Even as the match continues to get worse, he is trying so hard to take a single stock, and he ends up with nothing. When he’s hit off stage for a final edge guard, Zain wall techs a downsmash to try to live instead of accepting his fate, because one downsmash is nothing but a flesh wound. They’d play three more times after this set, with HugS beating him at EGLX 2018 and Zain winning at Flatiron 3 and The Big House 8. Today, HugS is retired from competing. Among his several achievements, he can claim to have been Zain’s first real taste of a world class player at a major.
dudutsai vs. Jmook at Ghost Pepper Smash
A specter haunted the Northeast throughout the 2010s: the specter of dudutsai. Long known as the campiest Jigglypuff in the history of New England as well as a gatekeeper in local top eights, dudutsai was also a troll in real life. He used to beat new people with his Ganondorf and then hand them a card that said “You have been slain by the noobslayer.” For someone who wasn’t Top 100 or ever really considered in contention for it, dudutsai had a very outsized reputation, in part due to just how present he was at regional events, as well as his social antics like the noobslayer stunt. Around the same time, Jmook always hovered near the top of upstate New York, and yet he hadn’t boasted a big out-of-region victory yet. Funnily enough, dudutsai had actually achieved that in the form of upsetting 2saint, the four seed at Ghost Pepper Smash, right before running into Jmook.
If you’re watching this set and anticipating a nail-biter, I will tell you straight up that it isn’t. But it’s very entertaining. dudutsai two-stocks him in an anticlimactic 2-0 where he Rests Jmook six times. To be fair to Jmook, he showcases some tricky recoveries and even gets a sweet fully charged roll read tipper upsmash on a platform. At the same time, he’s not anywhere close to being the Jmook of later years. It is technically an upset by seeding, but given how the characters they play and their shared status as regionally respected, nationally unranked players, it didn’t even really feel like one. Literally nobody in 2017 was going crazy over dudutsai defeating some poor upstate Sheik. It was the classic dudutsai experience – a totally niche ‘occurrence’ of sorts brought to someone who’d later go on to have documentaries made about himself.
Honestly, Ghost Pepper Smash feels like an AI-generated event. For some reason, Professor Pro, KirbyKaze, and Squid were here. The uploader of the set above, Pastime Legends, is an old organization that falls into the grey goo of former Mew2King sponsors. Furthermore, from what I can find, it’s the only time Jmook and dudutsai have ever played in tournament. However small and totally insignificant this loss may be, Jmook will have to forever hold the L. Meanwhile, dudutsai can take comfort in knowing that he has one of the best aged set wins of all-time, all while also understanding that it wasn’t even an especially mind-blowing result when it happened.
Each of the sets are stories of humble beginnings for people now seen as larger than life major figures. Not all of them were necessarily historical upsets, and I can’t blame anyone for not remembering them. But in my opinion, that gives them a little more unique of a place in our community. The older I get, the more convinced I am that something special can always be found in the things we tend to memory hole – not just what we actively celebrate.
I don’t expect any of you reading this to have your ideas of competitive Smash change as a result of learning about five silly sets. But maybe it doesn’t have to change. Maybe we can occasionally appreciate these memories as what they are – brief snapshots of neat little stories that we were lucky enough to experience as part of bigger ones.