When the largest fighting game tournament in the world comes to town, the best players travel far and wide in order to showcase their A-game — and sometimes, they don’t.
At this year’s Evolution 2014, Cloud 9′s Mango was crowned repeat champion in Evolution Championship Series Super Smash Bros. Melee competition. The road to victory was a treacherous one, as Mango took on the best competition Melee has to offer. In fact, the entirety of the Super Smash Bros. Melee Top 8, the final portion of the bracket played out on Day 3, produced some of the most intense matches of Smash that the Internet has ever seen and peaked at over 138,000 viewers just on Twitch.tv alone.
Grand Finals was a repeat of Winner’s Finals, in which Florida Jigglypuff Curse.Hungrybox forced a Game 5-only to fall to Mango’s Fox on Yoshi’s Story. Then, Hungrybox came back with a vengeance after defeating Armada in Loser’s Finals to bring Mango to a Game 5 again in the first and only set of Grand Finals.
Mango’s preparation for Hungrybox was evident, but the Jigglypuff proved that he was capable of keeping up. After a two-stock loss in Game 1, Hungrybox erupted in Game 2 with back-to-back rest kills on Dreamland. Mango would walk away with the game win, but that wasn’t enough to keep the puff down — Hungrybox would rest for the win in Game 3 while landing back-to-back rests in Game 4 to help secure a second victory in the series. His valiant efforts would land him on Yoshi’s Story for Game 5, unable to reset the bracket against the rampant offense of Mango’s Fox. Hungrybox would lose three of his total nine losses in Top 8 on Yoshi’s Story, two of these losses being in a Game 5 (Loser’s Finals and Grand Finals) and against Mango.
While Mango may have walked away with the grand prize, the few finalists he had to square off against in Top 8 seemed just as poised to take first place as he was. Mango would lead in least amount of game losses (4), first kills (8), game wins while getting the first hit in the game (8), and winning while getting both the first hit and the first kill in the game (6); Hungrybox, however, led in game wins (9) and was second in getting first kills (7). Both Mango and Armada tied in first hits (9), while Armada tied with Hungrybox, PPMD, and Axe for second most wins while getting the first hit (3). Mango also tied in first with Hungrybox in wins while getting the first kill (6). Mango stood out in the first hit department by getting all of his first hits with lasers and nothing more, the only player to get all of his first hits with a projectile.
Hungrybox may have nightmares about Yoshi’s Story, but Mango is certainly sleeping well at night. He netted two wins on Yoshi’s Story in the Top 8, as well as two wins on Dreamland and another two wins on Fountain of Dreams. Mango found further consistency in landing first hits and first kills. While the importance of first hits and first kills in Smash is debatable, Mango gained six wins when getting the first hit, six wins when getting the first kill, and six wins when getting both.
The rest of the bracket did not house slouches, of course. In particular, Axe, the Arizona Pikachu main sponsored by Mortality eSports, wowed audiences with his superb play against GameClucks’ Silentwolf and Armada. Axe’s sub-minute four-stock against Silentwolf on Fountain of Dreams electrified the Internet and the momentum carried him into a tense Game 3 against Armada in Loser’s Quarters. Only one stock separated Axe from a Loser’s Semis match against Evil Genius’s PPMD, but Armada shut down the people’s champion and Arizona hopeful with a devastating up-throw to up-air string. Axe’s Pikachu was a lightning-quick menace out of the gate in every game, posting four first hits and three first kills out of his six total Top 8 games. Further, all three of his wins involved gaining the first hit and he completely obliterated the bar by getting the most out of a first hit before taking any damage (two full stocks!).
Pulling back the foil, we can reveal some similarities and stark differences between the players that advanced into the final depths of the competition. Mango, Hungrybox, PPMD, and Silentwolf were the only players to use space animals (Fox and Falco). Out of these four, Mango gained nine first hits to PPMD’s five, Hungrybox’s four (though Hungrybox only used Falco and Fox in two of his eighteen total games in Top 8), and Silentwolf’s one. PPMD managed three of his first hits with physical attacks and only one by laser (as opposed to Mango’s aforementioned seven by laser).
Hungrybox found consistency elsewhere. He secured the first kill in six of his seven game wins and had the most wins on Dreamland (3). Hungrybox was also the only player to have at least three wins on an individual stage and at least three losses on an individual stage (Yoshi’s Story). He was the only player in the entire Top 8 to play three characters at least once in a set (Jigglypuff, Fox, and Falco), though Armada was the only player to face his space animals.
Using a combination of Sheik and Marth and tying for fifth with Axe, Mew2King fell unusually flat in his Top 8 appearance. He posted zero wins, four losses, zero first hits, and only one first kill. He held his losses to only Fountain of Dreams and Battlefield, refusing to switch characters mid-set — Mango held off M2K’s Marth twice on Fountain of Dreams in Winner’s Semis before PPMD finished off M2K’s Sheik in a quick 2-0 on Battlefield.
In the fast-paced world of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee, a first hit or a first kill could swing the tide of a set or secure you a victory entirely. Again, while the significance of these factors is uncertain, it is still interesting to see how they may or may not play a role in the outcome of a particular game. First hits and first kills go beyond simply who ends up with the win at the end of the game — in many situations, a first hit is often the start of a long string of attacks and a lot of damage before the opponent can get their first hit on the initial player. Axe was able to muster two full stocks on Silentwolf in Game 2 of their set before ever taking damage and would win every game that he got the first hit in; Hungrybox’s first hit in Game 1 of Winner’s Finals against Mango led into a tech chase for an extremely early rest kill; Mango began Game 5 of Grand Finals against Hungrybox with a first hit into a string of 43% in damage. First kills were similarly common, as were game wins off of a first kill. Still, though it is true that many first hit situations result in minimal or negligible benefits, a majority of the Top 8 were able to gain traction in these situations.
With the numbers, the results of the Evo 2014 Super Smash Bros. Melee Top 8 paint an even more intriguing landscape of high level Smash competition. The numbers reveal that, though we can learn a lot from these kinds of observations, there are many more multitudes of factors, complexities, and depth involved in a game of Super Smash Bros. Melee that result in a victory or a loss. For what it’s worth, taking a look at Smash competition from this perspective rather than by simply watching opens up so much more.