From México: Leo - "[...] most of the money I earn is used to support my family."

#1 Ranked player in México, world renowned child prodigy, and one of the greatest pioneers for Meta Knight in Smash 4; Leo made headlines back in 2015 after beating well-known players Mr. R and Vinnie in Smash Factor 4 and True Combo respectively, and hasn’t stopped since. At only fifteen years of age, his consistency and impeccable play have made him one of the most prominent figures in the scene, and with an entire country already in his pocket, he seems eager to go out into the world and find even stronger contenders to beat.

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Notsuchabadguy: Tell us a bit about your history with Smash. When did you first start playing?

Leo: Oh man. Back when I was six years old, I think? My brother Angel had a Wii and Brawl at the time, and we would play it together with our friends and family. We had fun with it casually for a couple of years, until one day he started talking about going to this one tournament in our city. I think the idea was for him and Serge to participate, but I tagged along anyways.

I didn’t know about competitive Smash at the time, but I still went, and I ended up winning. I picked it up as a hobby, started going to tournaments from time to time - of course, it’s become a huge part of my life since then, but that’s how it started.

Notsuchabadguy: Wait, so you won the first tournament you went to? When you were eight?

Leo: Yeah, pretty much. It was a Pokemex tournament, back when they still did Smash - I’m not sure if they do anymore. I mained Snake at the time.

Notsuchabadguy: What drew you to Smash as a competitive player from that early on?

Leo: It’s mostly about the tournament experience - the people you meet, the competition, the pressure, the salt! I think all of those things not only help shape you up to be a better player, but a more mature, kinder person in everyday life.

Notsuchabadguy: So you like the community?

Leo: That, and the game itself is just kind of a blast? I love the characters and the base mechanics. It’s always fun, and it never feels like work to me… even though, technically, I guess it is.

From left to right: Hyuga, Leo and Wonf. Third, first and second place at Thunderstruck III respectively.

Notsuchabadguy: As of right now you’re considered to be the best player in all of México. I imagine that involves a lot of training. Do you have a routine you follow?

Leo: It depends. During holidays, I’ll usually play for about three hours a day and train with the help of my cousins, Javi and Serge. Having them around is great help, since they’re players of more-or-less my skill level and beating them is always a challenge: it forces me push myself in ways I wouldn’t if I were playing against anyone else.

If I’m still in school, however, that takes priority over everything else. Some days I’ll get to play for maybe thirty minutes, but chances are I won’t have time to play at all.

Notsuchabadguy: Let’s talk about Meta Knight for a bit. He’s never been considered a bad character, but most people presumed him to be mid to low tier when the game first came out, and your performance with him is usually credited as the main reason why people started regarding him as actually tournament-viable. Why did you pick him over all of the other top tiers?

Leo: Meta Knight’s kind of a funny story. I remember, back when he was announced in Brawl, I really wanted to main him; but I ended up picking Snake because playing him felt more natural for me. When Smash 4 rolled around, I started by maining Marth, because he’s one of my favorite characters in…well, one of my favorite characters ever, really. But in my first tournament with him, I got sent to losers really quick.

I remember thinking: “Maybe I should switch characters. Meta Knight was easy back in Brawl, so maybe if I play him exactly like I would there, I could win?” So I switched to him for a round, and I won. Then I stuck with him and won the next one. And the one after that, and the one following. I ended up coming back from losers and taking the tournament, and Meta Knight just sort of became my main after that.

As a child, I remember going to kindergarten and watching that Kirby cartoon they had on TV. “Right Back At Ya”. Do you remember that? Back then I thought he was, like, the coolest thing ever, and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why I’ve stuck to him so much.

Notsuchabadguy: How do you feel about the level of play in México right now?

Leo: It’s pretty good, if I do say so myself. I think many of our players have the chance to really shine in international tournaments, and I think Hyuga, Serge and I could easily be amongst the top eight in the world. I mean, Hyuga has already placed high in international tournaments, and I think he could’ve placed even better if he hadn’t gotten some less-than-ideal bracket placements.

Notsuchabadguy: Leo, you’re a relatively young player. There’s a lot of people in our community that have been with the franchise for longer than you’ve been alive. How does it feel to be your country’s best player at this age?

Leo: Dude, it’s great! I mean, I told you I took my first tournament at eight already, so I think I displayed some competitive instinct from very early on. The first time I won, I remember thinking I was just so lucky, like there was no way I could’ve won that with raw skill. The second time I won I did feel like I had gotten better, but I still attributed it to circumstantial advantage. It wasn’t until the third one that I realized I was actually playing really well, and that if I kept at it, I could really be the best at this thing I absolutely loved doing.

It’s also really helpful, because most of the money I earn is used to support my family. The majority of the money from my last few tournaments has gone towards helping pay for my little sister’s school or buying my mom some necessary household items. It’s not an obligation - they don’t ask me to, I’m just glad to help. I’d rather my winnings go towards something useful than to waste them on mundane stuff.

Notsuchabadguy: Do you think there’s any extra pressure on you, being a champion while so young?

Leo: NAH. I mean, people always ask me “What’s it like being a champion? Don’t you get nervous?”, and my response always is “No, because I like playing!”. I mean, maybe sometimes, when the crowd starts booing or saying mean stuff, it can get to me, you know? I can get nervous and antsy - but in the end it’s a game, and I realize that I lose the most when I’m not having fun with it.

From left to right: Leo and Wonf, preparing for a match at the third Master's Tournament, by Gamers Retro.

Notsuchabadguy: How does your family react to the fact that you have this reputation preceding you? Do they understand professional gaming?

Leo: They’ve been extremely supportive. Like, my mom? She loves that I go to tournaments. My dad’s told me multiple times he’s ready to support me however he can so that I can keep doing it for as long as possible. They actually joke about how I’m “going to my job” whenever I come to compete. They don’t come with me to events, though - that’s my brother Angel’s job. He’s sort of like my caretaker during tournaments, and he handles most of the stressful stuff so that I can focus on playing as well as possible.

Notsuchabadguy: You mentioned going to school earlier. I was wondering, how do you balance a healthy school life with continuously going to tournaments?

Leo: Well, when going to school I usually get up at six, start at seven and get out at two. I try to finish as much homework as I can during recess or in between classes so that I won’t be too busy during the day. Once I get home, I’ll do anything I didn’t get to do earlier in the day, eat, dedicate some time to any other leisure activities I want to do (playing other games, sleeping, listening to music, stuff like that), and after all of that’s done I’ll play for a bit, at about nine or ten, before going to sleep.

Notsuchabadguy: What about your style of play do you think makes you such a strong player?

Leo: Something a lot of people have noted and pointed out to me is that I have a style that’s campy, but really aggressive at the same time. Like, I’ll attack someone, but bide my time in between bursts to optimize how much damage I do.

Serge said something earlier - he compared it to a river: he said it’s really calm when it starts, but then it hits a rocky section and it just goes wild. He says I’ll wait for an opportunity, and once I see it I’ll either try to finish up my opponent in one motion, or back off as soon as I feel I can’t get anything more out of it.

I’d say it’s like a switch - on and off, passive and active, that sort of thing.

Notsuchabadguy: What are your goals for the future? Any plans of traveling to an international, perhaps?

Leo: As much as I’d love to, I’ve tried to get an American visa twice already to no avail. We’re looking to send it in a different way, try some new angles, ask for references - it’s all really bureaucratic, I’d rather not go into it too much.*

In the end, my greater goal is to win a world-class tournament. I think everyone wants me to go to the US so that I can “beat the top players”, but I’m not too worried about that: I consider myself a top player already, so I’m not particularly focused on taking a match from any of them. I think it’s more important to establish myself as a serious contender for “the best in the world”.

Notsuchabadguy: Before we wrap this up, is there anything you’d like to add? Anything you’d like to say to the people reading this interview?

Leo: Heh, what can I say? I mean, you’ve seen the tweets, the polls, the things people say about me - and I just want to thank you all, thank you for supporting me and standing behind me and believing in me. Seriously, it’s that faith and that passion that makes me want to keep playing.

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* As of the writing of this interview, Leo has had his request for a Canadian visa approved and plans to attend GOML 2016 on May 20th; this very Friday.

Thanks to Leo for lending us some of his time so that we could conduct this interview. If any of our readers would like to follow him on twitter, they can do so at @MK_Leosb.

Additionally, we’d like to thank Gamers Retro for making this interview possible. They can be found on their Facebook page, for future tournaments and news regarding the Méxican Smash community.
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Leo isn't the only child who has to support his family with his work at such a young age. Lots of kids around the globe have to do this for their families as well. I'm glad he was fortunate enough to do something he loves to do in order to help look out for his family.

Forget about being good at smash for his age, he's good at interviewing for his age. Quite eloquent in his responses and of course beautiful play as well. The new blood in the community is strong, isn't it?
He's quite possibly one of the most easy-going guys I've met, no joke. Most people are a bit stiff when you first start interviewing them and you have to ease them into it before you can really get started. I was amazed at how well he handled the questions.