There are monumental moments in every sport that serve as defining demarcation points for the game. Once they happen, the reverberations are felt around the competitive field, as everyone realizes: the game has changed.
For Melee, the past few months saw two of these moments, back to back. First, the Floridian multi-game master Wizzrobe took home the gold at Smash and Splash, making him the first Falcon main to win a Major tournament in over a decade. Before the community had time to catch their breath, the game caught fire again when beloved Pikachu main Axe finally surged to a first-place finish at Smash Summit VI. In an era where tier lists seemed cast in stone and the thin list of Major winning players was less and less character-diverse, these two men shattered the preconceived notions of top-level Melee.
Wizzrobe’s win represents the power of a community of players, a group effort chipping away at a massive problem, piece by piece, until the path to victory is finally opened. After famed Midwest Falcon “Darkrain” slowed down his competitive efforts, Aziz “Hax” Al-Yami switched from Falcon to Fox, and S2J hit a plateau, a consensus was forming: Falcon just wasn’t in the running for a top tier character any longer. The once formidable main was relegated to a role of flash, showing up in “10 most hype” compilations, but rarely reaching the podium of major tournaments. In fact, the last time a Falcon had won a Major was nearly 15 years ago!
But down in sunny Florida, a revolution was brewing. A cadre of Falcon mains had set out to fight the prevailing sentiment and shift the paradigm. Though led in theory by Gravy and Gahtzu, the star of the movement quickly came to the front: Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett. While others were coming up with brilliant theoretical punishes and new combos to maximize Falcon’s potential, Wizzrobe was the one who could take the theoretical and put it into practice.
“When I saw his run at GOML and the way he was playing after such a hiatus, it became clear to me that he had acquired a new level of play. To me he always had the highest reaction time of any player, so it was only a matter of time before he figured out how to conquer brackets.”
Wizzrobe would accelerate at a lightning pace through 2018 and 2019, taking wins over every Melee God, and scores of W’s over the next tier of players. Each passing tournament saw labbed techniques refined and applied with regularity. With a sharp wit, rigid practice routine, and the lab developments of the 20GX movement, this Florida Man was on a mission.
At SnS5, Wizzrobe put on a show — here was Falcon at his peak. Wizzrobe showed what a half decade’s worth of concerted group effort could do, walking through every opponent and every viable main in the game. Tech chases, innovative combos, brilliant edgeguards, patient neutral, all came together to show a well-rounded character, viable at this absolute pinnacle of Melee.
Axe’s struggle was more in the vein of a David and Goliath story, one man against the massive forces of the world. While Falcon had his defenders, Pikachu had long since been abandoned by the Melee institution. There was no movement, no dedicated lab group, no glimmer of hope in scattered regional tournaments. All that he had behind him was his own grit, determination, and tens of thousands of hours of analysis and practice.
Though many were bearish on Pikachu, it’s not hard to be bullish on Axe. He showed a consistent openness to adapt his playstyle to include whatever new Pikachu techniques were floating to the top. Several Gods had given him props and said that with his understanding of the game, it was only a matter of time before he had his perfect run.
That run was presented to him at Smash Summit VIII. Axe was up against a bevy of top tier talent, but with a thin slice of characters to face, and a history of player-specific training, young Walgreens Drake saw only opportunity. Each match was a case study in hyper-focused development on minutiae, with Axe identifying weaknesses in his opponent, and embracing different aspects of Pikachu’s potential (varied neutral approaches, combo potential, speedy platform movement) to pick his opponents apart bit by bit.
When placed side-by-side, these seemingly separate events are one. Two wins from what were once considered sup-optimal characters show that the game still has depths that have yet to be explored. Though some will point to the fact that these wins are an outlier, it belies the point. A trend can only form once the first event has occurred.
Already, the speculation is beginning around which character will be the next to crack through the ideological wall of 20XX and the rigid tier list. Already, several players are quick to point out aMSa’s wins over multiple top players. In this way, the Japanese Yoshi bears a strong resemblance to Axe, with a singular effort yielding consistent, steady results, waiting for a miracle run to string it all together.
“I think that it’s only a matter of time before aMSa wins an event with Yoshi. I could also see Duck pushing Samus to new heights.”
Here, we see another example, this one more in the vein of Wizzrobe. Duck is at the forefront of Samus’ development, often bringing lab developments to the main stage. With multiple players pushing forward the meta for their respective mains, the old guard have to stay on their toes. There is no ability to rest on the laurels of good frame data any further.
“A lot of people always ask me if ’X-character’ is viable and even if I think a lot of them are not viable from a point of winning super majors I really do think players like Axe/Wizzrobe & even aMSa to a big degree have showed the world that with enough work & dedication you can make it super far so if you are a player struggling in your local scene, regardless of character you play I hope you can find motivation & hope in these players and their success”
The quest for mid-tier viability is a sign of the rapidly increasing field of competition in Melee. As the pool of viable characters and top contenders grows, the quest for the .1% edge over your opponents gets ever harder. Expanded avenues of information sharing, wider access to technical tools, the removal of the physical barrier with Netplay, and a more robust tournament scene have led to a golden age of training and growth.
“I honestly think the ‘era of the gods’ is very far behind us.”
Fans are in for an amazing new period of Melee, as a new era of opportunity dawns on the game. In 2015, the Summer of Smash had five viable contenders. In 2019, the door is wide open to easily a dozen players to take home a title.