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Published September 5, 2023

Having launched in 2021, Riptide’s become one of the Midwest’s biggest tournaments of every year. When it started, it marked the return of open majors after the pandemic. Last year, it took a step back in size, but still remained a major. What I find especially interesting about Riptide 2023, however, is the field of competitors – specifically the “types” of players represented in it. Typically, there’s two kinds of majors – ones where basically everyone is present (where winners semifinals matches of round 1 pools have upset potential), and one that feature regionally hidden talent going up against the big dogs. Neither is really the case for this year’s Riptide. Instead, you’ll find an eerily clean assortment of players in contention for Top 100, Top 50, Top 25, Top 10, and even Top 5 (or No. 1).

Similar to what I’ve done in my other columns, I’m going to break down 32 players you should be looking for at Riptide. I’ll be mostly discussing each player alongside their peers in their respective groups. I also want to clarify that these are not necessarily the 32 best players to look out for at this event – just 32 that I think are interesting. When I get to the people who can win the event, I’ll be breaking their chances down individually. Finally, I’ll make my pick to win the event (and probably curse them in the process).

In Contention For Top 100

The first eight people I wanna talk about have had quiet years. If the Top 100 were to be made today, I think half these players wouldn’t make the ballot based on their current results. Meanwhile, the other half would probably make the list. But they seem close together in skill, so I’m grouping them in the same category.

JCAM only has a Super Smash Con performance where he placed to seed, losing to n0ne and Kevin Maples, a comparable hidden boss to himself. It’s hard to say how good he is overall – I am obviously biased, but I view him in similar light to where Chape was right before his trip last year. After him comes the No. 96 of last year, JustJoe. He hasn’t gone to anything other than one local where he got fourth place this year. Then you have Faust, who just missed the ballot last year but hasn’t been that active or had a standout major in 2023, and Q?, an Illinois Dr. Mario who made the ballot (but missed the list) in 2022. He usually goes to about one regional a month and notably defeated Preeminent earlier this year.

The next four people all have very strong chances of making Top 100 this year. Egg$, the Alberta Yoshi, has beaten KJH, lowercasehero, and Squid this year: three names who will almost certainly make the ballot. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Grab, and in spite of struggling earlier in the year, he seems like he’s trending upward, with wins over Matteo, Zamu, Bbatts, and Enemy of Monday Morning Marth Wevans showcasing a resume worthy of a follow-up appearance on the list. You can never really sleep on Free Palestine either, who doesn’t have big major showings, but has regional sets over Zamu, Drephen, Grab, Sirmeris, and essy. Lastly comes a star of August in Sirmeris, who left last month with sets over Quang, Jah Ridin’, null, and Ben.

In Contention For Top 50

This group of players range from currently “solidly” Top 50 to just within punching range of it. None of them have had the breakouts (this year) to justify placing them higher in my preview, but all of them were either on the ballot for summer rank, would have been on the ballot had they been active, or weren’t on the ballot, but could have been had summer rank been delayed to now.

shabo is a name you’ll often see thrown around in discussions about most underrated players in the scene; he made the ballot for Top 50 and missed the list, but he beat KJH, essy, Smash Papi, Mekk, Preeminent, and Ben at his last three Midwest events, so maybe he’s secretly way better than his overall (small) annual resume indicates. Drephen’s been unusually absent from a lot of bigger tournaments this year, but he’s fresh off a Super Smash Con performance where he defeated Chem and KJH and has done quite well at regionals this year. essy, of course, made it onto the ballot herself, and has been quietly reliable in the Midwest, also having wins over null, Drephen, Moe, and Stango. Then comes a player who absolutely passes the Top 50 vibe-check: Flash. He was not eligible for Top 50, yet seems like a lock to make it there by the end of the year, if sets over Junebug, Professor Pro, KJH, Bbatts, and Salt are any indication.

We’ll now end with two people who just barely missed the Top 50 on 2023 Summer SSBMRank and two people who made the list. I had Preeminent as No. 50 on my ballot, as he’s done excellently vs. Ben all year and has done well across the Midwest. However, he definitely still needs a big major showing to complement his other performances. n0ne obviously has superstar potential, as indicated by his Fiction-defeating run at Genesis, but he’s yet to show it in his results since. Bbatts made the list off his regional accomplishments (including beating Salt and Aklo), and has lately nabbed wins over Khryke and KoopaToropa895 in the last month at majors. Meanwhile, there’s Skerzo, who has ranged from looking like a 1-2’r to looking like the best player in the Midwest on other days. The biggest reason he ended up making the Top 50 can be best expressed in five letters (J-M-O-O-K). Or is it technically four, because one of the letters repeats? I should have workshopped that bit a little more.

In Contention for Top 25

These seven players are either quietly building a case for Top 25, or are trying to maintain their spots there. At most majors, they are the fan favorites or, more interestingly, they slay the fan favorites and become the new fan favorites at their next event. The first three people I’ll mention are not currently Top 25, but could enter the conversation; the last four people are there right now, but could rise higher, maintain their spot, or drop off.

With Khalid, the path to finishing at No. 37 came in large due to his S2J-and-Joshman-slaying GOML supermajor top eight run, as well as a win over Krudo earlier in the year. Above these two are steadier “not currently Top 25 but definitely not NOT Top 25 in skill” guys in Ben and Ginger. Ben’s success has been a bit more pronounced this year since he goes to basically everything, as he boasts sets over Polish, Spark, Zamu, Ginger, and Chem. Ginger’s accomplishments have gone under the radar since he’s taken time away from the game, but it’s worth noting he did slay KoDoRiN and S2J earlier in the year and, pound-for-pound, has performed excellently at larger events.

This brings me to the definitive Top 25 players, some who seem poised to keep their spot, and others who are looking to rebound after some setbacks. Zamu had an exceptional start to the year where he followed up beating Cody Schwab with some amazing near-top-eight major runs, including a recent shine where he beat moky. Spark had a disappointing August where he ran into the Fox-shaped buzzsaw of Panda twice, as well as suffered an early loss to Khryke at Smash Con, but he beat Polish, Salt, S2J, and Chem at subsequent events before August. Speaking of which, Polish is someone to never discount; anyone who beats Cody Schwab and Axe is a player who can make it far. And while Zuppy’s Shine was obviously a big disappointment, his Smash Con top eight run, which came with an additional win over KoDoRiN, handed him yet another win over a Top 10 player this year. As of when this was written, his bracket path includes Wizzrobe, a massive wild card for the event, and  aMSa, whom he’s already beaten before and who’s apparently turned into a big meaty scarecrow for Top 15 Fox players right now.

In Contention for Top 10

All the players above are fun in different ways, but here’s where we get into people with significant, nonzero chances of winning Riptide. While I would not say that everybody within this group of players is necessarily “better” overall than the players beneath them, I would say that if you had to pick underdog odds to win Riptide 2023, these are the player who warrant the most consideration.

Axe is in a strange spot where his actual resume is pretty cleanly beneath some players in the above category, and yet his chances of winning a major are probably still higher than those same players. In fact, he just had a hot Shine where he beat each of n0ne, Polish, Magi, Zamu and KoDoRiN. It feels like for Axe, more than any other player, he has a “path” to winning a major, even if it’s one that’s not likely. Imagine something along the lines of him making winners quarters, where he beats Zain. From that point onward, you can imagine Axe defeating KoDoRiN, and then overcoming one of moky or lloD to make grand finals. All he has to do there is win a set. “All.”

I’ve previously discussed lloD’s chances of winning a major before. While those chances remain small, there’s no one here who qualifies as an “auto-loss.” Him vs. aMSa always feels like a coin flip, he goes back and forth with Axe, and for what it’s worth, I would give him an underdog shot against each of Zain and moky. Wizzrobe and Plup are the only players who feel like significantly tall orders to where I’d consider lloD as needing to dodge them.

We know a lot about KoDoRiN. He usually beats the field, we never sleep on his chances vs Cody Schwab, Mango or Hungrybox, but there’s the five big obstacles that constantly thwart his chances of winning majors: Zain, aMSa, and the three Sheiks at the top level (Leffen, Jmook, and Plup). The good news is that two of the Sheiks are missing here. The bad news is that the other three kryptonites are still present at Riptide. Still; if he can avoid aMSa, maybe recapture some early magic he had vs. moky, and take a step forward in his head-to-heads vs. one of those three obstacles, is it possible that KoDoRiN pulls off the unthinkable?

After his incredible third place run at Shine, Aklo has convinced me that he’s entered the small group of players with nonzero shots at winning a major. Within this current field, the only player who looks to be someone he may need to dodge is Zain. We’ve seen Aklo take a set off moky before, he just defeated aMSa, he won a tournament over KoDoRiN late last year, and he’s pretty reliable against the field. It will be hard for him to immediately replicate his success at Shine, but another top eight run is especially in the cards. I’d like to see him vs. Plup; I think that could be a potentially great draw.

I talked to Wheat a couple weeks ago about Wizzrobe, and what he said completely floored me: that by a pound-for-pound basis, Wizzrobe might have one of the five best chances of winning a major out of any player in the world. This stunned me, but the logic made sense. At a time where Plup and Mango have been mostly absent or faltering, you’d expect Wizzrobe to perform quite well at any event he’s going to. Sadly, Plup happens to be here, but I would cleanly take Wizzrobe over the field. Furthermore, aMSa, moky, and even Zain all being doable matchups speaks volumes to his odds.

In Contention For Top 5

Like the players beneath them – and to a greater degree – these four players are all able to win a major. However, they’re of a different overall caliber of player. All of these people could leave the year with a Top 5 rank, and for the people at the very top, they are locks for that position. There’s one very obvious pick for No. 1 as of right now.

I will not mince words: aMSa’s latest heel turn toward complaining about the rankings has been incredibly annoying. The transformation of one of the most beloved, determined, hard-working players into a big complainer is an especially tough one to watch, and it’s led me to being unusually snarky when talking about him. I have to say though – this year’s Riptide does look like an unusually brutal field. Cody Schwab got replaced with the one guy with a claim (by eye test) to be as difficult as him, and the additional presences of Zuppy, lloD, moky, and Wizzrobe only add to the potential people here who can beat him. But if anyone’s overcome the odds to succeed when people least expect him to do well, it’s aMSa.

I’m not going to bore you with the stats of who Plup can beat or can’t beat: we know Plup is good. But how well does Plup perform after long breaks? Truthfully, it depends. I initially thought of the four-month gap between his 1st place at Smash World Tour Championships and his 13th place flaming out of Genesis 8, but because of the pandemic affecting everyone’s attendance, that didn’t seem like a fair comparison. I then thought about how he won CEO 2022 and ended up finishing within a hair of winning Riptide 2022 anyway. All of this is to say that he can win this tournament and enter contention for Top 5, although moky would be the one player he’d prefer to avoid within this field.

If you were to manufacture a major victory for moky, it would be one in which he just has to defeat people whom we know he’s favored against, and where he either overcomes a large nemesis or avoids them. aMSa and Plup fit that first part to a tee here, and after them, you have Wizzrobe in a matchup that moky excels in. You even have KoDoRiN, Axe, and lloD – all players moky beat this year. The one black spot is Zain, whom moky has taken close numerous times. While I do not think moky’s at all favored over Zain, it may not matter much of one of aMSa, Plup, Axe, or Wizzrobe can eliminate him.

Then comes to boring pick to win the event in Zain. The one thing I’d say about him relative to the field is what challenges exist within the field. I have pretty high confidence he will defeat any of the spacies, but I’m intrigued at how Zain vs. Plup would go, as it’s been so long since their last two sets, which they split. I also want to learn if Zain’s dominant wins over aMSa in their last two sets were flukes or Zain figured out something long-term. Same goes for Zain vs. Wizzrobe, which we haven’t seen since last year. Still. It’s Zain. I’m going with him as my pick to win the event.

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