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Published December 6, 2022

Everything That Happened

Thanks to Nintendo and a new front-runner for the most hated figure in the Smash community, in the span of about four days, the scene went from having two circuit finales to zero. Following the shutdown of the largest Smash circuit, financial jeopardy facing the longest running Smash production company, controversy around the professional conduct of Panda Global CEO Alan Bunney, qualifying players refusing to attend the Panda Cup Finale, and a massive exodus of its own employees, Panda announced the postponement of its circuit finale. Bunney, who remains an owner of Panda, also officially stepped down as CEO.

Contextually, the vast majority of Smash majors throughout the history of the competitive scene have been run as unlicensed events, typically with independent, entirely separate operations from Nintendo. Though Nintendo has a couple instances of successfully and unsuccessfully trying to pressure events to shut down, bare minimum, there’s an unofficial understanding among tournament organizers of what they can and can’t do at different levels of scale. For example, major tournaments don’t typically run official Project M tournaments. However, the Smash World Tour claimed that Nintendo had said the times of it operating large events without a license were over. If true, this could represent a drastic shift in the corporation’s relationship with the entire Smash scene, given that Smash World Tour was made up of several grassroots events.  Many tournament organizers see this potential future as a threat to their livelihood.

To be clear, the Smash scene has always had to deal with this possibility, as well as how it’s stifled professional opportunities for events. But what’s made Nintendo especially dangerous in recent times has been the presence of its community representative in Panda, an officially licensed partner that now has a history of alienating key organizations within the scene with how its operated. Initially a media organization that sponsored FGC and Smash players, Panda’s entrance into the major events space was controversial from the start, due to its relationship with Nintendo and its former CEO’s relationships with tournament organizers. The list of allegations against Bunney involve him misleading them about Smash World Tour’s plans for 2022, bullying events to exclusively join Panda Cup, telling Beyond the Summit leadership that Summit’s Smash operations would be shut down if it didn’t give up broadcasting rights, and asking Golden Guardians for $50,000 to run a live PGR show at Genesis 8.

In the only response he’s given so far, Bunney, claims that Smash World Tour lied in its initial statement and that Beyond the Summit put the Smash scene in danger. Nintendo released its own statement claiming that it didn’t formally ask Smash World Tour to cancel events – only that it declined to give an official license – and re-affirming its commitment to Panda. Yet given massive legal precedent for organizations and individuals who have lost drastic amounts of money as a result of copyright and IP-related lawsuits from Nintendo, risking bankruptcy and immediately bracing for financial impact may have, unbelievably, been preferable for Smash World Tour compared to either running its championships anyway or waiting until it was too late to re-compensate traveling players from across the world.

Despite the dire times, I am trying to be hopeful. It is impossible for Nintendo to stop people from playing Smash with their friends. Simultaneously, I am devastated and cannot yet bring myself to fully act like everything will be okay. I had initially written over 3,000 words previewing the Smash World Tour Championships. I want to share some of those words with you so that we remember what we could have had.

Who Will Make It Through The Last Chance Qualifier?

Just like last year, the Smash World Tour will begin with an open Last Chance Qualifier tournament on Friday. These are typically run so that the people who haven’t qualified for the groups stage of the event will get a chance to do it at the cost of having to make their way through an open bracket. In 2021, an entire eight spots among 40 in the group stages were determined by who made it through the LCQ. However, this year, it’s only two – one through loser’s and one through winner’s – that will join the invited 30 players. The threshold for entry is brutal.

Spread-out interest within the competitive field, top player burnout, and the fact that this year’s edition of the championships are happening in San Antonio – a relatively obscure location for most North American players – does make me think that it will probably be less stacked than last year. I fully expect there to be more notable entrants than is currently listed at the time of me writing this. For now, I’m noting who is currently active and mentioning one other potential sign-up who could shake things up.

First off, we have one of the comeback stories of this year’s second half in Axe. He finished the Summer PGR at No. 29 in part due to a hiatus he took from the game and his struggles with COVID-19, and it’s been great to see him return with a bang in recent times, when he’s taken sets from Zain, Jmook, lloD, Wizzrobe, and Pipsqueak. Among the registered LCQ entrants, he is the clear favorite to qualify. After him, I’d say the next leading candidate would be Ginger. Now, relative to the standards of winning an event like The Function 2, Ginger hasn’t done too hot, and yet this is still a Top 25 player who’s consistently defeated players around his level and taken sets from people like Plup. Every now and then, Ginger will suffer an upset. Then again, when you look at a lot of his brackets; he typically loses to the same demons, most of which are not present in this current field.

Notice how I said most – not all. I honestly think that SDJ, who finished in the Area 51 range for the Summer PGR, is within the safe range for Top 50 this year and a good hometown pick for making it through the LCQ In addition to him defeating Ginger during the competitively legitimate part of The Off-Season, he also has sets over SFAT, Skerzo, and Salt. Similarly, I wouldn’t sleep on Palpa, a Top 75ish player with sets over Magi and bobby big ballz, as well as someone who’s miraculously qualified for the MPGR in spite of never leaving Texas. Behind him, you have DrLobster, the dominant former No. 1 of New England who has also beaten Jflex, Ben, and Chem, and the enigmatic Kata, the top Puerto Rico Samus player who came to prominence during the pandemic as especially strong and especially laggy.

There’s another potential wild card that I have to acknowledge for the LCQ: Mew2King. In the two Melee tournaments he’s attended this year, he beat Far! pretty convincingly, double eliminated Panda and broke the heart of Grab. For his losses, he has two dropped sets to similarly hard-to-parse players: Colbol, a fellow legend of the game, and SFOP, who’s had the results of a Top 25 player in what little he’s attended. While Mew2King’s not exactly in major-contending shape, he is still clearly good enough to pay attention to and looks well ahead of Top 50, though I can’t confidently put a number on where he is right now.

Hidden International Talent

Regardless of who makes it out of the LCQ, they will be sorted into split groups with 30 guaranteed invitees. In this section, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about the more obscure members of the invitees. I may as well start with Sala, the player you likely know least about. He’s a Falco from South Korea who qualified by being the points leader for the designated “Wild Card” region, leading the circuit in points for players who are not from any of the North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Japan, or Oceania regions. Judging by how he usually beats the rest of East Asia in Netplay events and loses to the power-ranked part of Japan, I’m going to guess that he’s probably around 3-2’r level in most American regions. Not that it’s particularly relevant, but I enjoy his YouTube channel also.

After that, you have Sock, who took Joshman’s spot as the Oceania representative. Sock’s always been a bit of a personal favorite of mine; in addition to being from a relatively hidden Smash country like Australia, where players like Joshman and Spud have historically had the spotlight, I think he’s pretty underrated. When he came to the Smash World Tour Championships last year, he took sets from Nicki and Ka-Master and looked like someone who would be on the border of a Top 100 ballot with more activity. Within SoCal, when he traveled to America with Joshman, Sock was typically within the range of SoCal’s upper mid-level, competing for top eights at locals.

Some of you might remember Excel Zero as the Puerto Rico Peach player who beat PewPewU at Apex 2014 and made Top 100 back then. Although he hasn’t competed much against the American field, no one in Puerto Rico has consistently caught up to him yet, so he’s still the best in his country. The last event I could find for him in the United States was a local after the last Smash World Tour Championships where he beat Komodo and Kata, only getting double eliminated by Panda. Regardless, he’s here as the Central America representative and probably around the same level as most notable power ranked Peach players in the United States. Someone like Blues Clues would be a good comparison point.

These three are fun entrants, but another player I’m curious to see make his way here is Raikin, the representative from South America and Chile’s best Sheik. Raikin’s been excellent at big events in the United States, beating essy at Mainstage last year, only to follow that up with beating KJH at Wavedash 2022. A big showing here where Raikin gets one of his strong matchups, like the Sheik ditto or Sheik-Falco, could potentially sneak him onto the MPGR ballot for 2022. Of course, I cannot mention Raikin without also bringing up a player very close to my heart and dear friend Chape, who qualified by total points, is the dominant No. 1 of South America, and has taken sets over players like Eddy Mexico, Mekk, max, Fizzwiggle, and Morsecode762 this year. He seems like a safe pick for Top 100.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that the remaining international talent here goes beyond either of the two regional representatives outside of North America (aMSa for Japan and Professor Pro for Europe). Obviously, you have Frenzy, who’s had results in North America that make him look Top 50, as well as solidly top five within active Europe. But then there’s Inngenn, the young Japanese Marth player who got into Melee during the pandemic through Slippi play and now obliterates the rest Japan, as well as Hutuka (also written out as Futsuka), a Fox player who arose to prominence and similar status around the same time. I’m especially excited to see how these two do against a field of established players – last year, Inngenn came heart-breakingly close to defeating Magi. Can he finish what he started? Can Hutuka be yet another player to Japan on the map alongside aMSa and Inngenn?

Established Invitees

One of the coolest things in Melee is thinking that you’ve figured out someone’s ‘trajectory’ and general ‘place’ in the scene – and then realizing you were totally wrong and seeing them exceed the already high expectations you had for them. Yes; I’m speaking from experience here. There’s many players here whom you might initially just read as “Top 50,” but their journeys here are pretty fascinating to follow, as well as journeys that show glimpses of potential growth.

For starters, we’ll get to watch Bbatts, a Top 50 New Jersey Peach player who basically ascended into the heavens to destroy 2saint twice and win Creed, as well as took a set from Spark in Europe. Then, you have Mekk, someone who has an insane resume of top wins over Axe, Ginger, SluG, and Polish. After that are classic perennial wild cards like Medz, who owned S2J and Wizzrobe earlier this year, and Lucky, who had a strong summer to fall return to form where he beat many top players from the new generation of Melee, like SluG and Mekk.

Speaking of which, there’s the active Top 20 to 40ish grinders like Pipsqueak, Spark, null, Jflex, and Skerzo, some of whom have outright beaten Top 10 players this year and could easily repeat those feats. That’s not getting into the obvious mainstays of supermajors who I haven’t mentioned yet – Zain, MangoiBDW, Hungrybox, Jmook, Leffen – or the people just underneath them like lloD, KoDoRiN, S2J, Wizzrobe, and moky. Hopefully, you don’t need a refresher on their years to know why you should care about any of these players.

For this next section, however, I want to do something a little different. In the past, I’d count down players that I think are interesting to follow at a tournament, give a lowdown on their years and analyze how they could potentially perform at a major. But that’s boring. Instead of putting on my “analyst” cap, I’m going to put on my “fan fiction writer” cap – one that will help me tell you a story about what potential results could come from this tournament. I do not want you to take this seriously – it is not meant to reflect my desires; it’s merely me being silly and telling an entertaining story.

My Totally Serious Definitely Not Having Fun Prediction

During the week of Smash World Tour Championships, Mew2King realizes that he is still 700 subscribers away from meeting his 2,000 subscriber goal. He is going to disappoint so many people, himself included, if he does not attend the LCQ, but not enough people to where they’re willing to meet his ludicrous demands. After some public pouting about it and complaints about how Mango sub-goals and nobody cares about it, Mew2King goes to the LCQ. He beats everyone there that he runs into – a strangely high amount of Jigglypuff players – and loses a very embarrassing set to Axe in winner’s finals before beating Palpa in an incredibly tight loser’s finals to make the groups stages with Axe.

In the group stages, Mew2King starts off by accomplishing something incredible and demoralizing: a reverse 3-0 on moky. He’s so excited to do this that he pops off on him, and moky leaves the stage dejected. But Mew2King runs into a problem: he used all his remaining clutch energy on moky. He drops every other set in his pool and doesn’t even qualify for final bracket, while moky somehow exits pools with a winner’s bracket spot, getting the top seed over someone like Leffen by both head-to-head and game count. The winner’s top eight matches are as follows: aMSa vs. Wizzrobe (who beat Hungrybox in pools), Zain vs. Axe, Mango vs. Jmook, and iBDW vs. moky.

moky defeats iBDW for the second time this year in what gets remembered as the greatest Fox ditto ever; an instant classic. Jmook steamrolls a rusty Mango, Axe handily beats Zain with yet another massive pop-off, and Wizzrobe barely defeats aMSa in a grueling, suspense-packed five game set. Our top eight matchups in winner’s side are Wizzrobe vs. moky and Axe vs. Jmook. Hungrybox claws his way through loser’s to make top eight there, Mango does the same, and so does aMSa. Not Zain though. He is out of Smash World Tour Championships at ninth place, because Leffen has eliminated him to make top eight. It is the most insane top eight we’ve had since Press Start, with the presumptive No. 1 already gone and four of the remaining top five members in loser’s; arguably five of the remaining top six considering Leffen’s presence.

So what happens then? Wizzrobe shocks the world yet again by putting an end to the moky miracle run in another game five barnburner. Game 5 is a huge comeback where Wizzrobe goes down one stock to three and wins off literally three grabs. Jmook fends off Axe in 3-1 victory where Jmook bodies him on Final Destination for the last game. In loser’s bracket, Mango defeats Hungrybox to take the lead in their 2022 head-to-head, while Leffen gets his revenge on aMSa. Following that are the winner’s matches, which I already discussed and in turn lead to relatively boring loser’s quarters results: a 3-1 victory for Mango over moky and a Leffen 3-0 over Axe.

Top 4 begins with a Wizzrobe-Jmook winner’s finals that’s just like their set at the Ludwig Smash Invitational. This time, Wizzrobe holds on for a wild 3-2 win, his fourth of the event over a notable player. He doesn’t even pop off; Wizzrobe leans back in this chair, looking like he’s going to collapse and barely fist bumps Jmook, who awaits the winner of Mango-Leffen in loser’s finals. Everyone’s very excited for it, even when Mango totally trounces Leffen, 3-0, in six minutes. Apparently, he used all his energy on it because the same thing happens to him later in reverse: Jmook sweeps him in similar fashion to how he snuffed out iBDW at Genesis 8.

The end result? A Jmook-Wizzrobe rematch in grand finals. And it’s a fitting one. Zain, Mango, iBDW, aMSa, Hungrybox, and Leffen have won premier events this year. Other than financial stakes, the most that’s on the line for them is a number on a rankings list. These two, however, are incredible players that desperately want this tournament. For Jmook, it is the closest he’s ever been to outright winning a major, the final piece of the puzzle that he’s missed the whole year. For Wizzrobe, it’s redemption after he spent most of 2022 struggling with health and personal issues, with many wondering if he could ever get back to looking like his old self.

Jmook absolutely trounces Wizzrobe in the first set. It is a full on clinic of Sheik vs. Captain Falcon, the way this matchup is supposed to be played from the Sheik’s end. He’s hitting every reaction tech chase, nailing every edgeguard, and whatever problems Wizzrobe’s defensive game poses for any other Sheik, Jmook’s got the answer. There’s a moment in grand finals where Wizzrobe tries to wall tech and fast fall Jmook’s repeated downtilt edgeguards, and Jmook isn’t fooled. He hits Wizzrobe with some disgusting follow-up shortly after to finish off Set 1 with a definitive 3-0; the modern day Bible that Sheik players will study for the next four years for how to play this matchup. Jmook is now one set away from both winning his first supermajor and ending the Sheik drought for good.

Wizzrobe closes his eyes and thinks to himself. After four game-five wins, he had a break between sets and looked completely out of his element. Nobody would ever say that Wizzrobe is outright “bad” vs. Sheik, but the position of having his heart broken by Sheik is a relatively common one in his career. At Tipped Off 11, which happened around when Wizzrobe was Top 25, he had lost grand finals from winner’s side to Druggedfox, who notoriously tech chased him to death seemingly every stock. One of Wizzrobe’s first roadblocks in tournament was Mew2King, though he eventually figured him out; another was Plup, perhaps more than anyone else, had been the bane of his entire career, someone who he’d only beaten in a serious set only once. And now, Jmook looked like he was going to do the same thing.

It’s here where we see the light of God or whatever divine entity you feel like picking come through in Wizzrobe’s play in set two of grands. Jmook stays nearly as sharp as he looked in the last set, but Wizzrobe starts hitting him just as hard back. It’s a back and forth where Wizzrobe wins game one by a razor thin margin, Jmook does the same in games two and three, and Wizzrobe staves off the jaws of defeat game four. Jmook takes him to Fountain of Dreams game five for all the marbles, and Wizzrobe looks dominant to start the set. Jmook makes a huge comeback – even taking the lead near the end – but like he’s done all tournament, Wizzrobe gets two openings and converts off them. He wins the 2022 Smash World Tour Championships to cement the comeback story of the year and his spot in Melee’s top ten.

Everything you just read in the above section was the potential outcome of some of the hardest working people in the scene. Some of them you may already know; and some of them work behind-the-scenes for the love of the game. While I’m confident that Smash still has a bright future ahead, I wanted to dedicate today’s column to both what’s recently happened and what we lost. It’s only by acknowledging this that we can move forward and continue to fight for what matters.

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