NOTE: I was at Shine 2022 all weekend and had a brutal post-major hangover yesterday. That’s why this week’s column is coming late.
Who is going to end the year as the best player in the world? The Summer PGR would seem to indicate that it’s Zain, and by the results of the last tournament, it’s Zain. But if you looked through all the events that have happened this year, the answer isn’t so clear. At one point, I was convinced Leffen wasn’t Top 5 by results, only to immediately change my opinion and think he was No. 1 after Battle of BC 4. If you ask me right now who the best player in the world is, I might honestly say it’s iBDW.
But today we’re going to be talking about something a little different. It’s not who the best player is as of right now – it’s predicting who will end the year at No. 1 on the PGR. Though today’s era of Melee is certainly wild; you can still find order in the chaos if you look hard enough.
There’s five clear people who I think have a chance at ending the year number 1. Unsurprisingly, they are Zain, iBDW, Jmook, Hungrybox, and Leffen: the current top five of the Summer PGR. This is complicated, however, by the fact that there’s more than five potential people who can win majors. If we expand our outlook a little bit, we can add an additional three. Based on 2022 results, I think that Mango, Plup, and aMSa are in the conversation as players who have functionally zero shot at ending the whole year No. 1, but could play spoiler for the contenders.
To assess each of the Top 5’s chances of becoming No. 1, we need to look at three things. First, how they perform vs. the field; everyone outside of the “Top 8.” Then, we have to evaluate their chances against each other (the Top 8) and measure their likelihood of entering a bunch of tournaments. Once we examine these and see how each member of our top five fares, we can gradually figure out who has the best shot at being No. 1.
When we look at consistency vs. the field, two players stand out: Jmook and Zain. They are both unusually difficult to upset, each having lost once before winner’s semifinals (Zain to Wally at Super Smash Con and Jmook to Axe at Shine). Because Zain also has a loss to SluG, I would give the slight advantage to Jmook, though it’s worth noting that SluG’s the one opponent who I think remains one of the scariest players for Jmook in tournament.
After these two, Hungrybox has to be considered in the next group of consistency. Though Hungrybox has three significant upset losses to KJH, n0ne, and S2J, he enters a high amount of tournaments to where these kinds of things are just more likely to happen. Leffen is kind of a weird case to evaluate. In reality, he hasn’t really lost to a bunch of players as much as he’s attended so few events to where his “lows” stand out. Historically speaking, Leffen tends to follow up amazing performances with stinkers, like he did at Shine 2019 after he dominated everyone at that year’s Smash Con, but that also feels kind of irrelevant for Leffen today.
iBDW’s consistency vs. the field – results-wise – is the one thing that could stop him from ending No. 1. The iBDW we saw from Smash Summit 13 to Phantom 2022 looked mostly unstoppable, but it is worth remembering that an annual rank covers (though weighs differently) every event of the year. The fact of the matter is that iBDW had losses to the likes of Aklo, moky, Joshman, Krudo, KoDoRiN, and TheSWOOPER. The iBDW of today might obliterate these players, but, importantly, we’re measuring iBDW’s year, not how he is right now.
On that note, there’s not a single doubt in my mind that iBDW’s matchup spread has been phenomenal at the top level. Not only has he come out on top vs. Zain twice, he’s beaten each of Mango and Plup in their only sets, splitting sets with Jmook and aMSa as well. There’s basically no matchup in which I look at iBDW and think “he’s in danger,” other than bad venue food.
After that, I think that Leffen and Zain are the clear next two people for matchup spreads. Leffen I have to be a little bit creative about because, again, he hasn’t been to much, but if you told me to predict how a Leffen-Zain set would go, I’d definitely still lean toward Leffen. I similarly think he beats Hungrybox quite badly and would likely be favored over Plup, given that he’s won four of their last five sets, even if they were far back. For Zain, he’s dominated both Hungrybox and Mango. Though Leffen and Plup have looked pretty hard, so did Jmook, and those two are still tied 3-3 for the year.
Speaking of which, I’m not sure what to make of Jmook in this category. In the summer, it felt like he was going to be a long-term problem for Zain, but looking at the numbers, that still hasn’t quite come to fruition yet. If it isn’t Zain, other than Mango, and maybe Leffen if he does it again, Jmook doesn’t really have a ‘clean’ advantage against anyone, and he’s frequently gate-kept by Hungrybox, which has robbed him of two majors this year. On Hungrybox’s part, his path to winning big events is clearly through Jmook and Mango. Although there isn’t anyone he “can’t” beat, I still think his wins over iBDW and Zain are exceptions rather than the rule, given his long-term losing records vs. them over the last year.
In the past, we often took attendance at major tournaments for granted. Nowadays, with a higher prevalence of top players not going to events because they stepped on a twig, we can’t do that. So I have to give credit where credit’s due: with ten events entered, Hungrybox is very dedicated. In terms of tournaments featuring at least two of the top five, he’s won both of them, landing just behind Zain and iBDW (who each have three). It’s quite feasible that he could attend enough to where his title count, by sheer volume, exceeds them.
At the same time, it’s not like Zain doesn’t attend anything either. Zain has nine tournaments he’s gone to. Right behind him is Jmook at six events, which becomes seven if you include Quit Your Friendlies 4. iBDW actually has eight tournaments, so you might be surprised that I’m mentioning him after Jmook, but based on what we know about iBDW’s current health issues, which involves a potential upcoming surgery, he’s going to be out of commission likely until The Big House.
i got an unhealthy amount of dopamine from doing a 90 ping falcon ditto money match…
god i miss competing so much i feel so empty……
— Panda | iBDW (Cody Schwab) (@iBDWSSBM) August 29, 2022
After those three, you have Leffen. He has only three events in 2022. By virtue of living in Europe, he’s unfortunately at a disadvantage when it comes to standing out vs. his peers in North America. Leffen plans to prioritize Melee in the fall and winter, if his public statements offer any hints at where we should expect to see him, so it’s possible that his final resume will look much better than it does right now. But nonetheless, even the biggest Leffen fan in the world would tell you that his lack of events holds him back.
It feels so unbelievable to say this after the slump he had from Smash Summit 13 to Super Smash Con, but Zain has the best chance of finishing No. 1 this year. Even though he doesn’t have the best pound-for-pound head-to-heads, and isn’t invincible vs. the field, he’s still consistent, he attends a lot, has beaten nearly everybody, and is fresh off a tournament victory where his bracket felt crafted to lead to heartbreak. If Zain can even it up vs. Leffen and Plup – not impossible given he did just that vs. Jmook – continue dominating Hungrybox and Mango, and regain some momentum against iBDW, the sky’s the limit for him.
— Golden Guardians (@GoldenGuardians) August 29, 2022
After that, it has to be iBDW. Though I did previously mention his volatility vs. the field as a factor that could limit his annual resume, I can’t get over how incredible his pound-for-pound chances are vs. his peers. For whatever it’s worth, he’s still tied with Zain for the lead in “major” (Mickey Mouse included) victories. His time away from competing in the fall before Big House could hurt him, but honestly, even if iBDW did terribly there, we could still see him just as easily nab one or two other majors.
I feel conflicted about Hungrybox and Jmook. If you asked me who I think is a “better” player, my heart would say Jmook, but Hungrybox is the one with a higher title count, volume of attendance, and the dominant head-to-head lead over him. Even with so many events coming up, it’s going to be really difficult for Jmook’s year to have more accomplishments than Hungrybox’s year. That counts for a ton in how you rank player’s seasons.
As far as Leffen’s concerned, his path to being No. 1 requires him to be as spotless as he looked at Battle of BC. This is such a tall order for anyone, let alone someone who just hasn’t shown the ability to win multiple majors since his magical summer seven years ago. But if he did this – if it turned out the Sheik was truly the last thing he needed to come back and officially accomplish his lifelong goal of becoming the best Melee player in the world – it would be one of the greatest stories in Melee history.