Part X - A Legend is Born
Sitting down to play against supposedly the best player in the country can be intimidating. I however was not intimidated; just really nervous. The crowd of 30-40 smashers eagerly awaiting the match only added to this, and by the time I plugged my controller in, I had to take a deep breath before sitting down. I felt like everyone in the room was looking at me, even though it was less than half and most of them just figured it was the beginnings of another dominant performance by Ken.
Jtanic sat down next to me at the start of the match. Mild was also watching; as the match progressed, H2YL members started to watch and by the end, all five other members were rooting for me.
We picked our characters: my Fox vs Ken’s Marth – no suprises there. The match started and we randomed to FD, byfar my favorite stage as well as the rest of H2YL’s. I was pleased by this, but spent little time thinking about the stage as the match began. It was happening – I was facing Ken, perhaps the best Melee player in the country or even the world, and defending the honor of EC on our home turf.
The feeling was indescribable. While many times tourney pressure can have a negative effect on my gameplay, this time I thrived under the pressure. It was like everything I’d learned in every Smash match I had played came together for this one match. I remember specifically that Ken had no answer for my up throw, up-airs – now a staple strategy for Fox, but one that I had only recently developed against Azen’s Marth. In fact, I really think I didn’t notice how effective up throw up-air was until during that match with Ken. The damage just racked up, and especially with the lack of platforms, the strategy devastated Ken’s Marth.
Before I knew it, the match was over – I 3 stocked Ken’s Marth out of 5. I made certain to not get excited; it was a best of 3, and the fact that I had just 3 stocked the best player in the country meant nothing if I didn’t win the set. Fortunately for me, I was the only one who didn’t get excited as the venue was buzzing with eagerness – Ken just got dominated by some guy from H2YL who wasn’t Azen. The number of people watching went from 30-40 to at least 60.
To my surprise, Ken’s stage counterpick was to return to FD. I remember thinking this was great news for me, but I still didn’t get too anxious about winning. Ken started off the 2nd match and I could immediately tell he wasn’t f*cking around. His chaingrabs were on point as well as his edgeguards and he jumped out to an early lead. It took me almost 2 stocks just to kill his first one, but he never led by more than a stock. This pattern continued for most of the match – Ken would take a stock, then get me to a high percentage before I could even the count.
Throughout the match I had Jtanic encouraging me and other members of H2YL as well. I can’t remember specific things they said; everything was a blur while the match was happening, but knowing my crew members were watching my every move was definitely helpful. Ken’s lead was holding up until we were both at 2 stocks – he tried to edgeguard me, but ate a Firefox and took a ton of damage because of it. I predicted a roll off the edge and upsmashed him – out of nowhere, I was in the lead. The crowd went wild – this 14-year old kid was 1 stock away from handing Ken his first loss ever.
I failed to damage Ken before he took my 2nd to last stock, and suddenly it was down to 1 stock to 1, 0% each. If there was ever a time where tourney pressure made me bring out my A-game, this was it. Grab, up-air, up-air, and suddenly Ken was halfway to death. I dropped the combo however and he grabbed me – bad news for Fox on FD, even in early 2004. He combo’d me to over 100% and almost killed me with a forward smash, but I managed to sweet spot with a side+B and keep hope alive.
I up threw Ken and traded moves with him, knocking us to opposite sides of FD. I’ll never forget the lasers I shot as he got back on the edge – I still think I would’ve lost without those lasers. Ken approached, and I hit him with a neutral air, knocking him slightly off the stage, and in my mind that was it. I won. A second or two later, I wavedashed back to bait his double jump forward-air, then upsmashed him at 94% - game over.
The venue erupted, and at the time it was the most hype seen for a Smash match ever. I remember getting up and getting high fives and handshakes first from everyone in the crowd, especially H2YL, then others who couldn’t watch the match but had heard what happened. I was in disbelief, and I think it took me a little while to realize I had just beaten maybe the best player in the country in a tourney set. A 14-year-old who didn’t even consider himself good at videogames and could barely short hop with his main had taken out a champion of multiple tournaments, including Melee’s only national thus far.
This was a major turning point for myself as a Smasher, obviously. I was legitimized not only in the Smash community’s eyes, but my own eyes as well: I had what it took to win an important tournament set against a big-name player. It showed me I wasn’t just an average player playing with greats, which was huge for me.
I was ecstatic afterward, as were H2YL. I had made it into the top 10 guaranteed, but more important than that was the fact that Ken was in loser’s. We assumed Isai was WC’s only chance at that point, and none of us could have predicted what ended up happening later.
My 4th round match was against Chu; Azen fought Samitude, Isai fought Dave and there was one other quarterfinal match I can’t remember but it definitely involved Wes. I beat Chu (who used Jiggly the first two matches before switching to ICs) 2-1. Azen beat Samitude with ease, setting up me vs Azen and Isai vs Wes in the semifinals.
Jtanic and Anden were the first members of H2YL eliminated, ending up in 13th place. I didn’t realize this immediately but this meant that all 6 members of H2YL placed in the top 16, a pretty impressive feat for the time. Chu and Mild were next, with Mild being eliminated by Ken in a close match and Chu being eliminated by DA Dave in another close match. Mild and Chu ended in 9th, along with Mike G. and Kamaal, two members of DA.
The bracket continued and I basically forfeited my winner’s match to Azen. I knew he had a vastly better chance of beating Isai, but we played my Falcon vs Azen’s Bowser for fun and he beat me anyway. Isai massacred Wes, a trend which would continue forever as far as I know – Isai may now be known for sandbagging, but he always gave it his full effort against Wes.
The tourney was progressing very well, but unfortunately it was nearing midnight. I didn’t have very good discussion going with the owners of the venue so I decided we’d just keep playing until I got some kind of ultimatum. With about 10 players left, it happened – a guy who was associated with the venue told me if everyone wasn’t out by 1 am, he’d cut the power.
We played one more match before we left – winner’s finals, Isai vs Azen. This match was almost as hyped as me vs Ken, and both Isai and Azen played extremely careful and hesitant, especially at first. No doubt they were well aware what was on the line: East Coast vs West Coast, part 2. The winner of the match would win the tournament, or at least that’s what pretty much everyone in the venue assumed.
Azen ended up winning 3-1, and while the match wasn’t extremely exciting it was probably the most impressive display of skill in Melee thus far. Both players were on point technically, making smart play the key, and Azen’s ability to adapt gave him the edge against Isai. As we packed up and prepared to go to Azen’s house and finish the tourney, H2YL was riding high. We still had myself and Azen in the tourney, and Azen was guaranteed top 2, while I was guaranteed top 5. The rest of H2YL was disappointed they weren’t still in the tourney, but they were still excited for Azen and I; EC winning was the main goal regardless.
We got back to Azen’s and Ken beat Jason from DA relatively easily to set up a rematch with me. Since this match was in Azen’s small house and it was close to 2 am, this rematch wasn’t nearly as hyped, although everyone there was still intently watching. Ken decided to try Sheik first round; obviously he was unaware that Mild was my brother and I trained with him frequently, because I 3 stocked his Sheik without much effort.
He then went Yoshi’s Story for a counterpick and went Marth; at the time this counterpick was extremely good for Marth. He decimated me even worse than I had decimated his Sheik, setting up a final match.
I went FD and the matchup was the same as it had been in winner’s: Marth vs Fox. However, Ken was on point for the whole match this time around: chaingrabs, edgeguards, and forward smashes galore. I was confident coming into the match, but clearly Ken was on a mission as he 2 stocked me and knocked me out of the tournament.
DA Dave beat his crewmate Wes on the other side of losers and then Ken beat Dave. Ken had to fight Isai next; we were all wondering what would happen, and to us it seemed like Isai gave Ken the win. Despite Ken’s tear through losers, we were still under the impression that Isai was noticeably better than him… until Grand Finals.
Azen vs Ken: the Finals of Game Over, EC’s first major melee tourney. This set up a rivalry that would be seen in countless tourney finals and semifinals, and one that became legendary despite being a bit one-sided. EC’s best player as Marth against WC’s best player as Marth was a tantalizing prospect; unfortunately for us, Azen used various characters to see what worked best.
Ken’s momentum he had gained while plowing through losers was unaffected: he won the first set 4-1. Azen gave great displays with various characters, but in the end Ken came out victorious, winning the second set 4-2. The match was much less hyped than it should have been because of the circumstances (it was 4 am and half the room was asleep), but to our relief the tourney was finally over.
The next day I had a chance to reflect. West Coast won again, but this time it was barely and we showed that we can definitely contend. H2YL’s confidence was at an all-time high; out of 6 members, 4 of us placed top 10 and all 6 of us placed top 16. The WC-EC rivalry was heated up by the fact that Azen managed to at least beat Isai if not Ken, and the H2YL-DA rivalry was also intense because we each had 4-5 members in the top 10 – while neither crew was superior, we were clearly the best two crews on the East Coast.
Most importantly for me, I gave Ken his first ever taste of loser’s bracket, and even though he ended up winning it was a legendary match for me. I was no longer just a random Fox: for the rest of my time in the Smash Community, I was Chillin, the Fox that beat Ken.