By Daniel “Tafokints” Lee
We’re just a week out from Evo 2016, but trying to pick the Super Smash Bros. Melee favorite heading into the event is difficult at best.
The events at WTFox 2, which wrapped up on July 3, makes it even more confusing. In an odd sequence of events, Joseph “Mango” Marquez won the tournament without dropping a single set, Adam “Armada” Lindgren noticeably struggled in bracket, and Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma finished in fifth, his worst placing this year.
Looking back further into 2016 doesn’t clarify much. Armada ended 2015 with a well-deserved first place on the annual SSBMRank, but the gap between him and everyone else has shrunk considerably. Hungrybox has been dominant with seven majors wins this year, Mango has been incredibly consistent, and Leffen has shown flashes of greatness despite the general lack of practice. Going into Evo 2016, how do the four best players in the world stack up?
If you told me a year ago that Hungrybox would win seven majors by Evo, I would have laughed in your face. Yet, here we are in July, and Hungrybox has been mostly unstoppable. Most players retain good records because of their low sample size and their hesitancy to travel when they feel less than 100%, but Hungrybox has traveled to far more events than anyone else and logs multiple wins over players that once gave him trouble. In fact, prior to WTFox2 , he was undefeated against everyone below the Top 4 on the 2015 SSBMRank.
Table 1: Glicko Ratings (Aug 2015 – Present / Data courtesy @moby_osman)
Quantitative measures also favor Hungrybox as the best of the bunch. Glicko ratings examine a player’s match history and assigns a predictive rating with some degree of variance. His consistency against the field and overall record against elite talent has given him the slight edge over Armada. His stellar record, large sample size, and major wins are all sound arguments for putting him in first even with a poor performance at WTFox 2.
Armada has travelled to fewer events, largely due to the fact that he lives in Europe, but he’s outperformed Hungrybox in three out of five of them and has a better head-to-head record. Sometimes, Armada’s excellence is taken for granted because of how long he’s been a stellar player. While Hungrybox has been amazing in 2016, Armada has performed at that level for years.
Considering how reluctant Smash fans were to remove Mango from the throne last year, it’s also important to consider how much work Armada has done before handing the crown to Hungrybox. From the second half of 2015 to 2016, Armada won Evo 2015, The Big House 5, Genesis 3, and both Smash Summits. While Armada has underperformed (by his standards) in recent tournaments, he has always shown up at the events that matter the most.
Mango has been lurking in the shadows with seven second place finishes in 2016. It’s unusual to describe him as “consistent,” however, especially when looking at his overall career. His 2015 included a 17th place finish at HTC Throwdown, among several other lackluster performances, but his 2016 has been remarkable. It’s interesting to see how quickly people forget that Mango was the heavy favorite at most events just two years ago.
Table 2: The Big 4’s record against the field (Sorted by SSBMRank 2015)
His overall win-loss record is closely aligned with Armada’s and not too far behind Hungrybox’s. His year has slowly been heating up, too (Mango typically enjoys dominant summers). He started the year with a 2-6 set deficit to Hungrybox, but has brought it to a much more respectable 5-8 and he now holds the upper hand against Armada with an impressive 5-2 set record, a drastic turnaround from his abysmal 2-7 set record against Armada in 2015.
The top players often talk about how momentum is important in succeeding at large events and Mango looks scarier than ever, especially after winning WTFox 2, where he didn’t drop a single set. Granted, he did have an easier bracket by not having to play Hungrybox, but he decimated Armada in two quick sets.
People tend to criticize Mango, understandably, for some of his bad habits, but he’s quietly become one of the world’s most well-rounded players. No one can take space and win skirmishes quite as well as Mango, but he’s also learned when to rein in the aggression. Along with noticeable improvements in his gameplans, he added a Marth for situational counterpicks, which effectively destroys Armada’s Final Destination counterpick. With a big win at WTFox 2, Mango carries all of the momentum going into Evo 2016.
Leffen is the biggest mystery because of his small sample size.
He holds an impressive 4-1 record in head-to-head matchups with the top 4 players (Table 2), but that was mainly from one good performance at Get On My Level. However, he still split sets with Armada and Weston “Westballz” Dennis earlier this year at BEAST 6 even though he was out of practice due to his visa issues.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Leffen play Armada again at DreamHack, but the fact still remains: Leffen is undefeated in sets since EGLX. He may have some match issues with Samus, but he can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the top five. If he can remain in winners bracket on day 3, he has a great chance to take Evo 2016.
The race to Evo remains tight. Armada has the most impressive history, winning the most events. Objective rankings put Hungrybox at number one for his impeccable 2016. Mango carries the momentum after WTfox, and Leffen has a terrifying X-factor after GOML. At this point, all four players have a perfectly conceivable chance of winning Evo.
Still, I have to go with Mango. His ability to perform on the biggest stage gives him a distinct advantage over the competition. He already has two Evos under his belt and could have made a run last year had it not been for his critical self-destructs against Hungrybox. Mango has come full circle, and it’s time that he earns his third Evo trophy.
Daniel Lee is on Twitter @tafokints.