There has been a change in the winds in the competitive world of Super Smash Bros. Melee since Evo 2017. Sure, it’s still usually the same top players that win or place high consistently during the year, and there has been little change in the character tiers and overall meta. However, certain players that have long stood in the shadow of the “gods” of Melee for for years have risen up to the challenge of trying to dethrone these seemingly unbeatable players and becoming… demi-gods? God-slayers? Or maybe even new “gods” of Melee themselves. Since the current Melee gods are well-established already, lets instead take a look at the new blood, as well as seasoned top players who I feel have shaken up the old Melee guard and how they will fare going into Evo 2018 this weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Plup Club President: Justin “Plup” McGrath
Sponsor/Team: Panda Global Gaming
Characters: Sheik/Zelda, Fox, Samus
Shortly after Evo 2017, something significant happened. PG|Plup — who placed fourth at Evo 2015, third at Evo 2016, fifth at Evo 2017, and ranked fifth on SSBMRank in 2017 — took home his first major tournament win at DreamHack Atlanta 2017, where he overcame stiff competition which included momentous victories over two of the Melee “gods,” Team Liquid’s Juan “Hungrybox” DeBeidma and Echo Fox’s Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman with his dynamic Sheik and Fox play. Needless to say, this was a huge moment in the Melee community seeing as how this was an accomplishment that hadn’t been done in years during the game’s competitive lifespan.
At The Big House 7 in Detroit, Michigan, Plup ascended to “god-slayer” status with his biggest win yet over arguably the best Melee player in the world at the time and one of his tournament demons — Alliance’s two-time Evo champion Adam “Armada” Lindgren from Sweden — besting him 3-1 in winners semis, marking this occasion for Plup as one of the few players who has defeated every Melee god. He would then go on to defeat Armada’s fellow countryman and “god killer,” Team SoloMid’s William “Leffen” Hjelte in an intense winners finals set 3-2 to advance to grand finals. Sadly, that’s where his insane run would end at the hands of his fellow Floridian and one of the Melee gods, Liquid|Hungrybox coming from the losers bracket being sent there by Leffen earlier in top eight winners semis. Plup would fall convincingly 3-1 in both sets to Hungrybox which to the dismay of many in the audience at The Big House 7, felt like he had stolen Plup’s first super major win where all the Melee gods were present.
Then at the next big super major Genesis 5 in Oakland, California earlier this year, the unthinkable happened. For the first time ever in the history of the event, grand finals was not between Cloud 9’s Joseph “Mango” Marquez and Alliance’s Armada and instead saw a different outcome with Plup and Hungrybox facing each other in grand finals once again — eliminating both of the usual suspects along the way. This time, Plup would barely emerge victorious over Hungrybox after losing the first set 3-0 very quickly and then barely squeaked by with a 3-2 win that came down to the last stock!
With his first super major win under his belt, Plup had cemented himself as possibly one of the new Melee gods and the rest of 2018 has been the year of the “Plup Club” as they say in the Melee community. He has either won, placed second, or stayed within the top five at every event so far this year. While being consistent is a good sign for him going into Evo 2018, the events where he has placed second he has lost to the same opponent every time: Hungrybox. At some of these tournaments, Plup would send his fellow Florida player to losers only for Hungrybox to comeback against him in grand finals in quick and decisive fashion out of seemingly nowhere. During these grand finals sets, Plup who is usually calm and collected, starts to crack and his emotions get the best of him due to the frustrating nature of Hungrybox’s defensive playstyle with Jigglypuff. As a result, Plup starts to become impatient and overextends himself when he shouldn’t.
Plup is extremely capable of winning Evo 2018 with his meticulous balance of both offense and defense with Sheik and Fox — and busting out his amazing Samus when he needs to as a surprise pick. He has proven that he can beat everyone in the world at the highest level of competitive Melee. Plup just needs to overcome not only Hungrybox and his Jigglypuff, but also himself if he wants to win Evo 2018 and erase any doubts of him being one of the new Melee gods.
The Premier Fox Specialist: William “Leffen” Hjelte
Sponsor/Team: Red Bull, Team SoloMid
Characters: Fox, Mewtwo
One of the best, if not, the best Fox main in the world and the original “god-slayer,” TSM|Leffen has come a long way since he started competing in Melee in 2011 and worked hard for it despite being labeled a “villain” in the community for quite some time before cleaning up his act in the last few years. Leffen has since learned to embrace his villainous role and even though his behavior is nowhere near as toxic as it once was (look up evidence.zip), he is not afraid to speak his mind and talk trash once in a while to rile up the competition before attending his next big major.
It shows a lot of confidence in his skill and Leffen has been backing it up for years taking sets from various top players as well as the Melee gods themselves and winning tournaments when they’re all in attendance — establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with his optimal Fox play. If it weren’t for his visa issues from late 2015 to early 2016 that stopped him from traveling to the United States to compete, Leffen would be in contention for top three Melee players in the world right now.
Due to that huge setback, Leffen has struggled to place consistently at every major and super major he has attended from 2016-2017. For every dominant first place or top three finish Leffen would earn, he would then tie for fifth or only get top 16 at the next event. When Leffen is laser-focused, he seems unstoppable. However, if he is not on point due to outside factors, Leffen can lose to just about anyone in the SSBMRanked top 16 or lower.
Thankfully, 2018 has been good for Leffen so far. He has been placing top five or higher consistently in every major tournament he has attended this year — taking first place at Valhalla and Flatiron 3, strong third place finishes at Genesis 5 and Smash ‘N’ Splash 6, and tying for 5th at Smash Summit 6 along the way.
Just like Plup though, Leffen has been consistently losing to Hungrybox when they meet up in top eight finals of every tournament they attend. Each of their sets has been back and forth throughout 2018, but Hungrybox seems to edge him out at the end. Their rivalry with each encounter has only intensified with both players talking trash and hurling insults at each on social media and at the events themselves.
Leffen is one of the hardest-working players in Melee and has the intelligence and skill with Fox to beat anyone when he’s fully in the zone. Hwoever, he has lost to the other gods such as Mango, Mew2King, and Armada — as well as other players ranked below him on a bad day, so he’ll have to focus on getting through those opponents first before even thinking about taking out Hungrybox, who is by far his biggest obstacle this year. He did sent his rival to losers at Low Tier City 6 this past weekend only to fall to him again in grand finals 3-1 and 3-0. Hopefully Leffen can take his experience from last weekend and apply what he learned this weekend.
I can see Leffen winning Melee at Evo 2018, or at least placing in the top three if he can get past Hungrybox somehow. He is also competing in Dragon Ball FighterZ and even though he has stated on Twitter that he will be more focused on Melee, his strength in being adept at multiple games might undoubtedly divide his attention which can bite him when playing Melee. In any case, I predict Leffen doing extremely well in both games this weekend in Las Vegas. [Editor’s note: Due to conflicts in pool schedules, it seems that Leffen may actually bow out of Dragon Ball FighterZ completely.]
The Florida Falcon: Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett
Characters: Captain Falcon
A relatively new, but seasoned player from Florida in the Smash community since 2012, Wizzrobe is not only arguably the best Captain Falcon player in the world, but he is also an extremely consistent player — usually placing top eight and top 16 in every tournament he competes in. He was ranked eighth overall in SSBMRank for 2017 and has beaten many notable players including two of the Melee gods who also are from the same home state, Hungrybox and Mew2King.
So far in 2018, Wizzy is still continuing to be consistent, and has had some good placings since last month heading into Evo this weekend. He got fourth place at CEO 2018, first place at Smashadelphia 2018, and most notably taking first place beating fellow Floridian Hungrybox in two sets coming the losers bracket at Optic Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. An impressive feat for anyone not ranked in the top six.
Wizzrobe has a lot of momentum heading into Evo 2018, but his character choice of Captain Falcon, despite being one of the best players with him, holds him back in a lot of character matchups such as Fox, Falco, and Sheik. He also tends to lose to the same top players who are ranked higher than him such as Hungrybox, Mew2King, Leffen, Plup, Mango, and Armada more than he beats them — with the last two players being the ones he’s never beaten before in tournament. I can see Wizzy placing top 16, and maybe even top eight as he has been doing for the last couple of years — but if he really wants to win, he needs to dig deep to conquer his demons and maybe make some more risky plays since he usually plays too safe with Captain Falcon at times.
I would advise to maybe have a secondary character — but I’ve only seen Wizzy play Captain Falcon, so he’s just going to have to rough it out with him in the meantime. If he wins, Wizzy would be the first Captain Falcon in years to win a super major, and that’s something to definitely be excited about this weekend.
The Diamond in the Rough: Zain Naghmi
Sponsor/Team: Panda Global Gaming
To say PG|Zain is a new player on the rise is a huge understatement. First appearing on the scene only three years ago in 2015, he went from being ranked 66th in 2016 and then rose to almost cracking the top 20 in 2017 in a short amount of time on SSBMRank. He has had some multiple upset victories against some of the best pros in Melee who are ranked higher and more experienced than him such as his teammate Plup, CLG|SFAT, TSM|Leffen, Shroomed, PewPewU, La Luna, HugS, EMG|nOne, Lucky, and most recently and notably, C9|Mango, whom he has defeated twice now as of this writing with his insanely mobile and punishing Marth play.
His best performance so far was at Smash Summit 6 this past May, where he defeated some of those players I just mentioned including Plup and Mango — losing only to Mew2King and Armada, to finish respectively at third place to the surprise of everyone. Since then, Zain has consistently placed within the top six or top eight with his lowest placings being only top 12 or top 16.
Zain is coming in red hot to Evo 2018 this weekend, where he is probably expected to do well. Taking into consideration how he was invited to Smash Summit this early in his career to practice with a handful of the best players in Melee, Zain was able to learn and absorb a lot of things from these pros in a short amount of time in that house. That being said, he’s still too green, and he might run into other players who are up-and-coming and they could in turn score an upset victory over him. Zain is still not that experienced after all, and he has lot more room to grow with each tournament he attends beyond Evo. I can see him making top 32 or top 16, but he’ll really need to push himself and remain focused if hes want to crack top eight and possibly win the whole tournament which would be one of the biggest surprises in Melee history.
These are only a few players who have been making their mark in 2018 in Super Smash Bros. Melee. There are so many other amazing players that have been stepping their game up to shake up the status quo. Will the old “gods” maintain the old guard, or will the fresh new blood usher in a new era of Melee? Be sure to tune in this weekend to watch some of the best Melee players in the world compete for the title of Evo 2018 Champion.