There was a time when competitive Smash at Evo was essentially taboo. After the 2008 fiasco regarding the Evo Brawl ruleset, wherein certain items were allowed, the rift between the Smash community and the general FGC was apparent, and rarely the two met thereafter.
All of that changed when Super Smash Bros. Melee smashed its way through the community voting for Evo 2013. Since then, the 16-year-old game has remained one of the largest draws at the event, with Melee being the fourth in attendance out of nine games this year. While the game continues to divide the FGC in whether it belongs or not—and surely the debates will continue onward in the comments section of this article—the game continues to astound players and spectators alike with the tense matches and amazing execution of its top competitors.
Last year alone featured Team Liquid’s Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma finally capturing an Evo title in the storied battle between himself and rival Alliance|Adam “Armada” Lindgren in a match that had played itself out in grand finals of three straight Evos. However, this tournament season has seen a changing of the guard so to speak in tournament results. Will this year see these two forces who have seemingly been unbeatable in Vegas out of the limelight?
The Returning Champ
Last year saw Hungrybox come into Evo very hot. He had a string of wins at majors since the start of 2016—accounting for eight of his thirteen placings up to Evo. It was nearly a foregone conclusion that he would at least make grand finals at Evo as well. However, he faced truly overwhelming odds to take the whole thing down, given his bump into Loser’s bracket during Top 8. With more grit than anyone had witnessed from him up until that point, he managed to fight tooth and nail to reach the top, and the look on his face after the event showed exactly how much he had given for the win.
His amazing Jigglypuff play continued to show solid placings, but he was only able to capture one more tournament win in eight more attempts in 2016. A lot of it could’ve been attributed to his frame of mind in the latter half of the year—having been transferred by his company to an area without a competitive scene and an overall lack of job satisfaction, it was apparent that work-related stress was carrying over into every aspect of his life. Despite quitting his job around Canada Cup, his only win was at Kickstart in London, England.
If we were to look at his latter 2016 results alone, it would suggest that repeating was not a possibility for Hungrybox. However, the key to determining who would be likely to make Top 8 and ultimately win is to look at who’s hot right now. And if you look at recent tournament results for Melee, it feels entirely like a rerun of 2016. Hungrybox has won eight of his last eleven events, including CEO most recently. While you can argue that his closest competition in that event was PG|Plup and Tempo|Axe, Smash ‘N Splash saw him defeating both Armada and TSM|Leffen in a tournament that also featured perennial powerhouse and Evo 2013 champion C9|Mango.
Given his recent success and the trends we saw last year, it’s hard to count Hungrybox out from repeating as champion again this year.
What’s Up With Armada?
Is there a changing of the guard in Europe? At the beginning of 2017, Armada was able to beat Leffen to a title at BEAST. If you look back at results, Armada has historically bested the fellow Swedish Fox main. However, Loser’s Finals at Smash ‘N Splash saw Leffen beat Armada with a decisive 3-1 finish. He did ultimately return the favor at Dreamhack Summer, beating Leffen 3-0 but the thing is, has this ever been Armada heading into Evo? The last time he was not clinching everything, he was beaten by Hungrybox.
Betting against Armada making Top 8 would be folly. However, given everything that has transpired this year, betting on him winning the whole event may equally be folly. However, he is always there to wreck brackets, and should his road to Top 8 find Leffen in his way, this could make for great entertainment as the two Swedes continue their rivalry.
Will New Deities Emerge?
This is the second Evo in a row that has seen only four of the five gods in attendance, with Kevin “PPMD” Nanney still not active due to the illness that kept him sidelined last year. While it is entirely arguable that Leffen has supplanted Nanney’s role in the heavenly realm of Melee, this still leaves a gaping hole open for someone to at the very least, find themselves on equal footing with him and Mango, Hungrybox, Mew2King and Armada. This is something that Hungrybox himself postulated as beginning to occur within the Melee scene, and Evo could very well see a changing in the guard.
One of the most likely names in this mix would be Plup, who has consistently made Top 8 after Top 8 recently, not missing one since The Big House 6. But probably the biggest indicator that he is ready to surpass his current status is his third-place finish at both Evo 2016 and CEO 2017. He has two solid characters in Samus and Sheik—not to mention a now-pocket Fox—and he has continually shown why Panda Global has put confidence in him.
Axe has also shown great potential, including his fourth-place finish at CEO last month. The Pikachu main would also be a shock to the system of the gods, who generally play top tier characters. However, his streaky performances where he waxes and wanes between Top 8 and Top 24 generally makes his road much more difficult at Evo.
Will Mew2King Finally Take the Throne?
Echo Fox’s Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman always seems to end up the bridesmaid and never the bride in these events. Everyone knows he’s capable of winning every event he enters. He also has all the tools in his arsenal to do so. The battlefield has always been within his own mind and heart.
The largest amount of criticism levied against his play has been his mental fortitude, with people often commenting that he is a different and lesser player when he is thrust into Losers’ bracket. It is certainly a valid concern, given the severe dearth of major victories compared to his fellow gods. However, one thing that he has going for him is a win at CEO Dreamland against SFAT, with him coming out of loser’s bracket.
There are still concerns however, even with that considered. The only time he was in loser’s bracket was within loser’s finals. The earlier Mew2King enters Losers’ bracket, the more likely he is to implode. Further, it took him two years from the last time he won a tournament on the Losers’ side to do it again, with the other one being at Revelation 2 in 2015. Literally every other event he won within the span of two years was done on the Winners’ Side only.
If he can seriously make it through the event untainted with a loss, then I would seriously look at him as a threat to Hungrybox’s chance to repeat. This will take some seriously good luck with the brackets for Mew2King, so it’s much less likely given the minefield that Evo presents itself as.
While anything is possible given the amount of players showing up, we can certainly expect some of the usual suspects to make their appearances at the main stage of Mandalay Bay on Saturday. Mew2King, Hungrybox, Armada, and Mango will likely see themselves in the Top 8. Some of the promising players right now, including Plup and Leffen, will likely find their ways there too with serious chances to take the event. Some of the dark horses we may see could be Axe, Ice, or even Duck with his trademark Samus in the finale.
Regardless, this event should certainly offer some fireworks that may be worth watching after your Street Fighter V pools. Melee Top 8 is always hype to watch at Evo, and this year shouldn’t be any different, regardless of the makeup of the eventual Top 8.