Previously on The Young Man and the FGC: Our hero discovered the wonders of the fighting game genre and 3 of its most heralded franchises. Tekken, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but unknown to our hero there was a fourth franchise. A franchise he had even played and owned in his youth, lurking in the shadows of the fighting game community. Is it even a fighter? It certainly slipped under the Young Man’s radar. What was the identity of this mysterious fourth franchise? It was none other than… the platform fighter Super Smash Bros.!
Era of Smash
In 2013, during my senior year of high school, Super Smash Bros. Brawl became the go to game among myself and my friends for a little competition. Not to say the game didn’t have excellent single player content with the “Subspace Emissary” adventure mode, which was an expansive, labyrinthine quest to save the Smash Bros. universe, but multi-player brought an extra layer of fun that could always be built further upon. When “Subspace” ended that was it, sure you could replay it, but it would be a similar if not same experience. Playing against another person you could always adapt and try to do something differently than you did last time in hopes of a better outcome. My experience with the game and learning the basic mechanics lead to wanting to be the best out of my friends. Little by little, the more casual aspects of the game grew less interesting as item drops were turned down, then eventually off entirely and certain stages went unused due to promoting “unfun” strategies. Naturally, spending so much time with Brawl led to comparisons between it and previous installments and while Brawl was held in high regard, nostalgia told us that the superior title was the GameCube entry, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Now, at the time of this writing, getting your hands on a hard copy of Melee is a big hassle. They clock in at around $70-80 used, with or without case and manual. Keep in mind this was the best selling game on the entire GameCube system, pushing more than 7 million copies off the shelves. For a game to have been so popular at one point and still so difficult and expensive to obtain 20 years later is a testament to the quality and love surrounding the it. People are simply not willing to part with Melee, myself included. The friendly competition continued and eventually it got to the point where I found myself wondering if there were professional Smash Bros. Melee players, since I knew that there were pro scenes for games like Halo and Call of Duty. This was around fall of 2014 and I stumbled upon the competitive Smash scene simply by searching “professional melee” on YouTube. My search brought directly to a famous set of Melee featuring a player of legendary status in the Smash community, “SephirothKen”, or just “Ken”. Bearing the nickname “The King of Smash” and wielding an unorthodox Marth, whom I had played predominantly in Brawl and Melee, Ken’s “Kings of Cali” grudge match against “Scar” pushed me down the rabbit hole so to speak. I found out that Ken was no longer the best player, that title had been passed down to a Fox/Falco player called “Mango”, I found out that Mango had just won a huge tournament in Romulus, Michigan called “The Big House 4” not too far a drive from where I lived at the time, I discovered a 9 part documentary chronicling the existence of the competitive Smash community and its forefathers. A friend discovered a mod of Brawl called Project M that mixed Brawl’s cast and unique mechanics with that of Melee’s, cultivating a perfect storm of Smash in a 2 month or so period that really did impact my life in a significant fashion. I watched my first live streamed tournament, “Apex 2015”, and I found out there was a local tournament happening for Project M an hour or two north. I had a group of 4, including myself aboard the hype train and ready to make the drive up there. We knew we wouldn’t be the best there but we thought we would perform well nonetheless. What happened there would give me an itch I’m still trying to scratch to this day. That day I became a real, competitive player.
The Shanty, the Shuffle and the Basement
I didn’t do so poorly at my first Project M tournament, I managed to avoid finishing last winning my first set in the losers bracket, then bowing out of the tourney after a narrow 2-1 loss. But in friendlies both prior to and post bracket I got my butt handed to me for about 3 hours straight. It was an eye opening experience and really drove home the desire to improve, although I was still pretty new to competitive gaming, with those Brawl nights with the guys being my first taste of multiplayer gaming. I wanted to get better but I didn’t really know how and I definitely misunderstood what the most important part of being a good player was. I was convinced to be a good player I needed to have perfect combos, performing “touch of deaths” every time I hit an opponent. While having a “TOD” punish game certainly helps, it means nothing if you struggle adapting to and even hitting your opponent, where my skills were woefully underdeveloped for a long time after. It wasn’t until finding a local scene in the area that I lived in that I started to fully appreciate how much work it takes to improve at Smash, along with any other activity. The NWOH Smash scene didn’t even have a local tournament series at the time I was introduced to it by a friend, they only had a weekly get together, known as a “smash-fest”, at a house where several smashers lived, referred to as “The Shanty”. Getting mopped up by more experienced players led to me starting to practice by myself for the first time ever. In competitive Project M and Melee, advanced movement techniques are invaluable to a winning strategy. But as I was already prioritizing the wrong skills I overvalued superfluous, aimless movement. I was moving simply for the sake of it instead of moving with strategy and purpose and I didn’t genuinely learn my lesson about that bad habit for what seemed like an eternity. Definition of a hard headed scrub I was. Nevertheless, the skills that I was cultivating at the time were enough to be a not completely terrible player and keep me interested enough in the game to travel to Columbus for a regional tournament called “Shuffle”. Myself and 5 others traveled to Columbus for the two day, weekend long event featuring Melee, Project M and the still relatively new Super Smash Bros. For Wii U, or Smash 4. Two days straight of platform fighters amid the excellent backdrop of the campus at “The Ohio State University”, where many of the top smash players in the Midwest had gathered to compete. One premier threat did make a surprise appearance to sweep nearly every event at the tournament, a legendary player in the community know as “Mew2King”, whom one of my companions had a humorous run-in with involving a bag of “groceries”. After waffling between Jigglypuff and Sheik as my character of choice in the month prior, “Shuffle” was where I permanently decided on Sheik and never looked back. The atmosphere was really the highlight of the trip for myself: the campus, the city and spending the final day of “Shuffle” walking around with a massive lemonade from “Raising Cane’s Chicken”, which also has the best dipping sauce and garlic bread, and watching the top players finish out their matches. Now that I remember, singles Grand Finals of PM actually had to be played outside after the venue had closed down for the night. All in all “Shuffle” remains my favorite tournament I’ve ever gone too, ranked above even the tournaments I’ve won money at. It furthered the competitive drive but more importantly it furthered my ingratiation into the community as a whole and my local scene, which took an even deeper step after returning from the trip to a brand new local tournament series and a new weekly smashfest. The Shanty was gone but in its place emerged “The Basement”, which had been a hangout spot among friends for years even before I knew about Smash. We used to pack 10, 15, even 20 or more people along with 5-7 crt TVs to play on into a muggy, uncomfortable basement but it was truly the lifeblood of the community for about a year. Running alongside the local tournament, I made friendships through playing a kids party game that I still maintain 5-6 years later.
You never really Quit Smash
In November of that year I took my first break from Smash and it would be far from my last. The break lasted until late spring of 16’, where I played consistently through the summer, making my first top 4 and getting some wins against players I didn’t think I could beat. That fall I took another break from the game to focus on work and the beginning of my transition into adulthood. I picked Melee back up in the spring more than ever driven to compete and for the first time seeing serious, permanent improvements in my play. I finally rose to the top of that first group of practice partners and placing top 3 and “in the money” for the first time ever. After a sporadic summer light on events I was a mainstay in the BGSU scene during the 2017-18 school year, appearing on their power rankings and placing top 2 at several locals. The school year ended and I “quit” smash yet again until the very end of 2018 as life, work and other responsibilities were ever present. I was inconsistent with Melee and the community throughout 2019 and the beginning of 2020 when COVID-19 hit in full force, which pushed me back towards traditional 2-D fighters with netplay. Even though I had an on off presence in the scene since late 2015 and eventually moving on entirely, Smash played a pivotal role in my years post high school and I remember them fondly. Smash in NWOH and for me was really at its it peak that summer and fall in 2015.