The following is an excerpt from “The Book of Melee,” my upcoming 2019 release chronicling the history of competitive “Super Smash Bros. Melee.”
From as early as 2002, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman played Melee. Frequently, he’d test out different properties of characters against each other – usually at his house in Cinnaminson, New Jersey.
The teenager’s methods of calculation were often by hand and through counting individual frames of each move. Online, he’d detail his studies in great length, from memorizing frame data of individual character moves to detailing exactly how many frames each character’s item throw animation took. He was only 14 years old when he released his first ever “SSBM Statistics List.”
Melee was just one out of many games that Mew2King spent countless hours trying to figure out. Obsessed with gaming from a young age, he also played old NES titles, “Halo” and “Super Mario 64,” among others. He never had natural aptitude for them, but instead showed persistence and curiosity, traits that made him fall in love with Melee.
When he grew old enough to attend tournaments, he often sat alone at setups, opting to play against a computer instead of interacting with fellow smashers. Outside of the game, his mannerisms were sometimes unbearable, with several players experiencing their own “Mew2King stories.” These were tales in which the storyteller often recounted examples of his social awkwardness.
The stories range from showcasing innocuous examples of his obliviousness, like asking others to buy food for him, to more egregious instances of misunderstanding personal boundaries, such as stealing other people’s controllers. According to Mew2King, many of these stories are unverified and often exaggerated, but they nonetheless showcase his social weaknesses.
Mew2King struggled to fit in. Both his behavior and the reputation that followed caused him additional anxiety when it came to dealing with crowds of people rooting against him at tournaments. For many years, he oscillated between loving Melee and wondering if the community hated him, later concluding himself that he had to be somewhere on the autism spectrum.
Starting from a 23rd at Gettin’ Schooled 2, Mew2King eventually became a force to be reckoned with deep in brackets, soon taking sets over players like Azen and Ken at big events. The once heavily derided nerdy teenager was beginning to look like a threat to win majors.
“I’ve always had a huge passion for video games in general.” Zimmerman said in a 2016 interview with ESPN.
“To be completely honest, my goal was simple: to be the best.”
Mew2King would eventually win his first big tourney at Cataclysm 3, the first major of 2007. Here, he debuted his newest character, Marth, to complement his already deadly Fox.
In winner’s semifinals, Mew2King’s Marth dominated PC Chris in a way that even Ken hadn’t. After never having beaten PC in bracket before, Mew2King finished their set resoundingly, 3-0. He would go on to defeat ChuDat and KoreanDJ, finishing first.
Ken and Azen had shown the power of Marth, but Mew2King figuratively wrote the textbook on Marth’s combos. He effortlessly closed out stocks when his opponents were offstage, in ways that made Marth look majestic. Give Mew2King an inch and he would take it a mile.
In most fighting games, the corner is a disadvantageous position. Yet because of Mew2King’s mastery of edgeguards, his contemporaries often backed off when they had him cornered, due to the threat of him reversing a situation at any given time.
His conversions were frequently done in ways that were brutal, humiliating and frustrating. Mew2King could both relentlessly juggle his opponents in the air and fly offstage to automatically deplete stocks in a matter of seconds. It garnered him a nickname that followed him for years, “The Robot.”
Marth, a character who oscillated between being perceived as defensive or aggressive, now had a player who seemed to balance both traits. Mew2King’s remarkable prowess with comboing other characters and understanding Marth’s options at any given time made him look unbeatable, when he was playing on point.
Despite looking far above everyone else, Mew2King did not go entirely unchallenged. Take KoreanDJ, who beat him to win MLG Long Island 2007 two months afterward. Moreover, in mid-June, ChuDat won the 201-entrant Pound 2 over him.
Yet just as often as he’d come short, Mew2King would win, often in more memorable fashion. He won Connecticut’s Evo East in late May without dropping a set, over a field that included PC Chris, ChuDat and Chillin. Mew2King was beginning to separate himself from the pack, both in his attendance at tournaments and his play.
From July 12 to 14 came one of his greatest victories ever at FC Diamond, the next of the Ship of Fools’ esteemed series. Although Ken wasn’t there, with 256 entrants, this event was the most attended Smash tournament ever. Like many predicted, its winner’s finals was PC against Mew2King, with the latter finally dropping his first set to PC in the year, even losing 3-0. But then, Mew2King came back.
Defeating ChuDat in the Pound 2 runback, Mew2King swept PC in both sets of grand finals. The videos of these games are lost to history, but to this day, Mew2King said that these sets were among the best he ever played in his life.
At the West Coast’s Zero Challenge 3 about a week later, the Melee scene saw another legendary performance from Mew2King. Though he ended up finishing second in the tournament to PC, who impressively won the event through losers, Mew2King had what is now remembered as the greatest high-level crew battle performance of all time.
In grand finals of the crew battle tournament, Mew2King took on nearly everyone in the entire “Craazy Return” crew. After PC defeated Bombsoldier and lost his last stock to Ken, Mew2King entered the fray, ready to prove himself as the new holder of the Marth throne.
Mew2King didn’t just win. He eviscerated Ken and the rest of his crew, ruthlessly seizing 16 stocks from Ken, Isai, the Japanese Marth Disk and Manacloud, with one stock to spare.
Melee officially had a new king.
Following OC3 came ugly controversy surrounding the event itself. In addition to it running hours later than the proposed schedule, there were rumors that Manacloud, one of the event organizers, had not paid any of the highest placing entrants. Eventually, Arash, a fellow member of SoCal’s Elite Five, Ken’s crew who helped him run the event, explained what happened.
Between dealing with housing for out-of-region competitors, food, venue and other aspects of running the event, the Elite Five were paying over $16,000 to ensure that it ran at all. Its members didn’t have enough money from the tournament’s entry fees to cover the costs.
Manacloud took money out of the prize pot to ensure that the expenses of the tournament could be paid. Naturally, this made many furious. The ensuing fallout between the Elite Five and the Melee community tarred their reputations as a tournament organizers, effectively killing the Zero Challenge series.
Ken looked well on his way out of Melee, having attended only one major event of the year. Though he traveled to Australia to win the small tournament Comrades 2, he otherwise stayed mostly within SoCal, quietly winning local events.
Already suffering displacement as the world’s top Marth and having his Zero Challenge series blacklisted, Ken entered as an underdog at Evo World 2007: the 270-entrant Melee world championship.
Evo was different from every other Smash major, in particularly controversial ways. For starters, it didn’t have the same ruleset as other events. Best-of-three only came into use for the tournament’s top twelve. Before that, each set was a best-of-one match where competitors played on a randomly selected stage, rather than striking to an agreed one.
These bizarre rules, along with the innate variance of a best-of-one set created the perfect storm for a teenager named Mango: a promising Jigglypuff player who had never even made a supermajor top eight in his life.
Hailing from the streets of Norwalk, California, Mango sat down, selecting a seemingly harmless character to face off against Mew2King, who had just thrashed PC at Evo West.
Only a few minutes into the match, Mew2King realized he had a big problem on his hands.
He couldn’t figure out how to beat Jigglypuff.