(Image: Battle of the Five Gods/SXSW Gaming)
By Daniel “Tafokints” Lee
At the end of 2015, questions lingered for Super Smash Brothers Melee fans.
With such a dominant run to close out the year, who could win against Adam “Armada” Lindgren, who has been nothing short of amazing? Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma managed to steal a tournament from Armada at DreamHack Winter 2015. Could he do it again? After a tremendous slump, could Joseph “Mango” Marquez find a happy medium for his aggressive playstyle? What about William “Leffen” Hjelte, who hasn’t been able to resolve his visa issues?
Now that we’re through the first few months, we’ve got a few answers. Here’s a quick recap of what has happened in 2016 so far…and what’s coming.
The Genesis of 2016
It’s fitting that Genesis 3 kicked off 2016. For the first time in nearly five years, the DBR crew brought back its legendary series.
In 2009, Genesis started the fabled rivalry between Mango and Armada, who played their very first sets against each other with Mango coming out victorious. Genesis 2 brought closure for Armada, who went full circle to defeat Mango and earn his own Genesis victory. With so much excitement, would Genesis 3 finally settle the score between the storied players?
The second largest Melee tournament of all time, Genesis 3 brought in a whopping 1,828 singles entrants with a very talented pool of players, including five of the six members of the Big 6. Leffen struggled to resolve his visa issues and couldn’t join at the last minute. Armada ran through the winner’s bracket effortlessly to make it to the Winner’s Finals. Meanwhile, Mango struggled to hold up his end of the bargain, with an early loss to Jeffrey “Axe” Williamson on Day 2.
The final day told a different story. Armada successfully made it to the grand finals after winning against Hungrybox in the winner’s finals. An invigorated Mango made quick work of the loser’s bracket up until his match with Hungrybox in the loser’s finals, where he defeated him in a close five-game set to give everyone the match they wanted to see: Armada vs. Mango, part 3.
Mango took the first set in convincing fashion and had the early momentum, winning the all-important Fox dittos. At the end, Armada’s switch to Peach proved to be too consistent for Mango to deal with, leaving Armada triumphant - and with another Genesis trophy.
The Melee action continued two weeks later, as Twitch partnered with PAX to run an event. Several prominent players were flown in from across the country to compete at PAX Arena with a $10,000 pot, split between Melee and Smash 4. Rising stars Weston “Westballz” Dennis and Jeffrey “Axe” Williamson put on an impressive display for the Texas crowd, both finishing in the Top 4. But in the end, it was a fight between Mango and Hungrybox for the title.
In winner’s finals and grand finals, Hungrybox managed to take both sets from Mango, leaving him with yet another another silver medal finish. With a first-place finish at DreamHack, third at Genesis 3, and a victory at PAX South, Hungrybox went from a dark-horse candidate to a big favorite to win large Majors.
In late February, it was Europe’s turn to run a large-scale event in BEAST 6. Thanks to the lack of visa restrictions, Leffen was able to attend his first large event of 2016. With trash-talk running rampant with Westballz on Twitter, fans were delighted to see that they would meet up in the winner’s semis.
The high-octane set between Leffen’s Fox and Westballz’ Falco had the crowd on the edge of their seats, with immaculate platform combos from Westballz and solid punishes from Leffen. At the end, Westballz came out with the 3-1 win and a ticket to fight Armada in winner’s finals.
Armada ended up taking the set, but Westballz took a game, showing improvement in the Peach matchup. With the loss, the path was set for Westballz and Leffen to meet in the loser’s finals. Westballz started with Samus instead of his usual Falco, poking fun at Leffen’s poor performances against the character. In a clown fiesta of a set, Leffen defeated Westballz’ Samus and Falco in a 3-0 sweep, setting up a rematch between Leffen and Armada in grand finals. In what seems to be a recurring pattern for grand finals at Majors, Leffen took the first set but fatigued in the second as Armada took his second Major of the year.
Battle of the Five Gods
Taking the community by surprise, South by Southwest hosted the Battle of the Five Gods event for the middle of March, featuring 20 of Melee’s top players in an invite-only event. A deviation from a normal Major, the tournament focused on the top players both in gameplay and narrative. The five gods (Mew2King, Mango, Armada, Hungrybox, and PPMD) have a storied history, dominating the scene as a collective unit since 2009. Over the years, their aura of dominance shrunk as more players took sets against them.
With the narrative of the five gods vs. the world in place, the event did not disappoint. Hard work paid off for lesser known players throughout the event, but some extraneous circumstances made life difficult for some of the gods. Dealing with personal fatigue, PPMD faltered in the second round robin pools and finished in tenth place, his lowest result since 2010. Then Mew2king uncharacteristically lost to Justin “Plup” McGrath in a close 3-2 set. Shortly after, Robert “Wobbles” Wright eliminated a rather-tilted Mew2King in a very lopsided 3-0 set. Mango started slow with a loss to Westballz in the winner’s bracket, while Hungrybox and Armada advanced to the winner’s finals. And to top it off, Hungrybox stole the show with a surprise 3-0 set win over Armada in the finale.
Classic loser’s bracket Mango came to life as his Fox tore through the competition, beating Otto “Silent Wolf” Bisno, Plup, Wobbles, and Armada in exciting sets and advancing to the grand finals. With a slew of second-place finishes, Mango wanted to take the event, but he would need to get through his nemesis Hungrybox first. His first set looked very promising with a clean 3-0, but Hungrybox showed his grit and outlasted Mango in the second set to take Battle of the Five Gods, arguably the most impressive performance of his career.
With two Major wins in 2016, Hungrybox has put himself in the discussion with Armada as the world’s best player. Mango looms not too far behind, finishing second at three consecutive Majors. His desire to win has never been higher. Undoubtedly, Armada wants to redeem himself after a third place finish at Battle of the Five Gods, his worst finish in the past eight months.
Meanwhile Wobbles, Westballz, and Plup started 2016 with strong performances. Can they continue building their momentum and rise up the ranks?
Fortunately, there are several opportunities in the near future. Pound 2016 runs April 2-3 in Virginia, where Hungrybox, Mango, and an army of top caliber players will be competing. Smash Summit 2 makes a return, featuring an all-star cast of 16 players (including four of the gods) that should make for an exciting invitational weekend.
Daniel Lee is on Twitter @tafokints.