Just barely old enough to drink, HugS was in grand finals of EVO World 2007, facing the game’s unquestioned greatest player of all-time in Ken. The two couldn’t have been any more different. Ken was a veteran used to the pressure of competing at the top level. HugS was in his first ever grand finals of a major. It was old school vs. new school on the biggest stage Super Smash Bros. Melee had ever seen.
At the time, Ken was coming from losers bracket, ready to put a crown jewel on what would likely be his final year of competitive Melee. HugS had already lost the first set of grand finals, but had a crowd of around a thousand people chanting his name, eager to see the SoCal up-and-comer take the crown from Ken.
A HugS forward smash later, the two were on their last stock, at zero percent each. One of them was about to win Melee’s biggest tournament ever. The man challenging Ken wasn’t Mew2King, PC Chris or anyone who most could have expected. He was a salmon-colored Samus main that often looked like he was playing Street Fighter and not smash. At a tournament that featured traditional fighting games, his success was ironically fitting.
How did he get there?
After finishing top ten in the MLG point system in 2006, HugS continued his solid streak of performances across 2007. Locally, he finished in the top eight of nearly every SoCal tournament he entered, but he could never defeat Ken. On occasion, HugS lost to players beneath him, like Mango, Edrees and EzynJay, but for the most part, he was an unquestioned No. 2 in his region.
It’s important to mention HugS’ rise because he wasn’t part of the old SoCal guard. Players like Ken, Manacloud, Tavo and Arash were unquestionably among the best in his region. To break through those players was an impressive feat – particularly because HugS also played a character who had only one previous top national representative (Wes) in Melee’s short history. HugS was both a representative of the new generation of players and a counterpoint to the commonly held belief that only top tiers could win.
EDITOR’S NOTE: It was also common back then for players to frequently split, sandbag or boast about how little they cared about tournament placings. HugS was remarkably different in his approach to Melee, often talking about how hard he worked or prepared for a tournament instead of making excuses for why he did or didn’t do well. Most of the previous generation of SoCal players were frequently content with their approach to Melee and trash talked newer players for being “tryhards.”
Nationally, HugS was on the cusp of greatness, defeating players like PC Chris, Dope, Chillin and Tink in 2006. Simultaneously, he also lost to players like JBlaze, DSF, Rob$ and Caveman. It was hard to gauge HugS’ potential, outside of him being just outside the the Melee elite. He looked excellent against Fox and Falco, but far more vulnerable against the likes of Marth, Peach and Sheik.
In late July, he finished a strong, but still underwhelming ninth place at Zero Challenge 3, his first major of 2007. Here, he defeated SilentSpectre and Edrees, but lost to Taj and PC Chris, who HugS had defeated a year ago. Just a week later at EVO West, HugS finished fifth, but only beat Mango, while also losing solidly against Mew2King and ChuDat.
No one – outside of maybe HugS himself – could have ever envisioned him getting second place at the biggest Melee tournament of all-time.
It’s also easy to forget another factor working against him: the sheer absurdity of EVO’s ruleset before top eight, in which players selected their character and played one match on a randomly selected stage. Although you could certainly argue that this helped HugS’ placing more than it hurt, keep in mind that he was also playing a mid-tier character in Samus.
When combined with the crazy stagelist used at the time, it’s a miracle that HugS even made it into top eight, let alone grand finals. Think of it this way: he may have been one Green Greens pick away from being sent to a stacked losers bracket. Nevertheless, at an event that featured nearly all of the Melee player elite, HugS managed to make it to top eight.
In winners semis, HugS played PC Chris, someone who had seemingly figured him out at Zero Challenge 3. While HugS seemed to hold an advantage over most Fox and Falco players he faced off against, he tended to lose sets to Peach, who PC Chris started to play against him. Not only was HugS playing a “god” of his era, but he had to overcome a personal weakness of his own.
Their first game was extremely close, lasting over five minutes. In the final closing seconds of the match, HugS whiffed a grab, only for PC Chris to hesitate just long enough for HugS to shield the punish. Seconds later, HugS landed a forward smash to go up 1-0.
On PC Chris’ counterpick in Final Destination, the two played another grueling match of nearly five minutes. Though HugS managed to bring his opponent to last stock, he was too far behind in percent to make a comeback. Game three was on. This time, HugS built an early lead and never let up.
HugS was now in winners finals, ready to play his nemesis Ken. But instead, he had to play another SoCal player who was having a run of his own: Mango. HugS not only had to beat a fellow SoCal rival, but he had to overcome someone who had already taken out Ken and Mew2King.
Like the older generation of players before him, Mango was far more laid back than someone like HugS, often boasting about not practicing but still having moments of brilliance in tournament. Mango also played Jigglypuff, a matchup that HugS, and many others at the time, hated playing against.
Nonetheless, HugS beat Mango 2-0, even defeating him on Dreamland, a stage in which people at the time claimed was extremely good for Mango. In the second game, HugS overcame a large percent deficit to clutch the set out with a final back air. The result was clear: someone outside of the traditional Melee elite was sitting in grand finals of the biggest Melee tournament ever.
Although HugS ended up losing the last game against Ken, think about his success for a moment. Had HugS outplayed Ken for one final stock, he would have became the first and only ever mid-tier player to win a Melee title. To this day, his EVO World 2007 run is still without question the greatest placing ever done at a significant Melee tournament that wasn’t by a top tier. Ten years later, HugS’ second place still doesn’t lose any of its luster.
Unlike other legends of Melee’s past, HugS has continued to write his own story. Still ranked within Melee’s top 30 in 2017, with a chance to be top 20 by the end of the year, one last major run for HugS isn’t out of the question, though he’s coming off 33rd at EVO 2017. But for my readers, I have but one question for you: do you still have faith that he can get back to the big stage?