The year was 2013, and Super Smash Bros. Melee was going through a renaissance. With a community split after the release of its controversial sequel, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the game’s competitive scene found itself in a tight spot: With no major tournaments on the horizon and a great divide between those who had seen potential in Brawl and the diehard Melee loyalists, the game’s future as an esport looked uncertain.
Its community was due for a glimmer of hope, and it came in the form of EVO 2013. When looking for an 8th game to add to its roster, organizers decided to hold a donation drive for breast cancer research in which the community with the highest donations would have their game featured. Melee managed to clutch it out over the indie darling Skullgirls after raising nearly $95,000 for the cause, cementing their spot on the tournament’s main stage.
It was an exciting time for Smash. Another chance for the scene to showcase what they had and revitalize their community, or in the worst case possible, to go out with a bang. Smashboards was booming with hype threads: It seemed like every top player worth their weight was coming. All save one.
It’s hard to overstate Ken’s importance in the Smash community. Back in Melee’s golden age, the aptly nicknamed “King of Smash” ruled the scene with an iron fist and a tippered sword, managing to earn himself no less than forty 1st place finishes from 2003 to 2007. Then, having grown tired of the lack of challenge Melee possed, and disappointed in what Brawl brought to the table, he took a break from the game, dedicating himself to pursuing his art and other business venues along the way.
His departure from Smash ushered what would be known as the era of the Five Gods, where five players would stand above the rest and dominate essentially every tournament of any significance for years to come. However, in the history of Melee, none came anywhere near to matching Ken’s reign.
The Gods might have been immortal, but no one could trounce the King.
It wasn’t all bad, however: Along with the announcement he wasn’t coming to EVO, Ken also informed the community he’d be showing up to one last tournament in Kings of Cali 2. Perhaps a bit of an underwhelming conclusion for such an illustrious career, but still a welcome chance to give the King one final goodbye before he finally hung up his crown.
Cue Bobby “Scar” Scarnewman, a.k.a. The People’s Champ.
Describing Scar is... challenging. Although most would recognize him because of his grandiose, larger-than-life personality (which borrows more than a few hints from wrestling superstar Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), it'd be a grave mistake to understate his achievements as a top level Falcon player: Known because of his explosive, relentless aggression, watching Scar play is an exhilarating, exciting experience. Truly he doesn’t play to win: He plays for the crowd and to make the game he loves look as impressive as possible.
That said, Scar’s prime had long come and passed. With his 5th* place finish at Genesis now four years behind him he’d slowly phased out of tournament play in favor of organizing and commentating. Which made his move to challenge Ken, the King of Smash, to a wager match, a risky one to say the least.
Scar’s proposal was simple: If he won, Ken would agree to be financed by the community to go to EVO. He, in exchange, would put anything Ken wanted on the line in order to make the match happen. Ken agreed under two conditions: That he’d get to retire, completely and finally, if he won the match. Second...
“If I win, I get to be the PEOPLE’S CHAMP.”
Although it might seem like a meaningless platitude to many, Scar’s title of “The People’s Champ” is more than just a cool nickname: It’s his brand and identity within the Smash community. As someone who thrives in being a personality, it means everything to him.
Still, how could Scar even begin to call himself worthy of the title if he weren’t willing to put in on the line? After all, shouldn’t the champion always do what was in the best interest of the community?
Of course, he accepted the challenge.
With the stage set at Jake’s Billards, Pasadena, Scar and Ken took their seats in a room crammed full of Smashers, in front of a big CRT TV. After the stakes were set for the crowd, controllers were plugged in and handshakes were exchanged. Just like that, the match was on.
Things look bad for the people from the very start.. Scar’s movement is explosive and his combos look like money, but he struggles to get anything going against the more patient and fundamentally solid Ken. The first couple of games go by and Ken wins both of them while sitting on a solid lead.
“Scar is all about momentum,” says Arian "CrimsonBlur" Fathieh, one of the people commentating over the set, who incidentally bet 50 dollars on Scar losing. “If he doesn’t start winning early, it’s over for him.”
Right as game three is about to start, Joseph "Mang0" Marquez (the second commentator on the mic that night) gets up to talk to Scar. Mang0 is better known as one of the aforementioned “five gods” of Melee, one of the most dominant players in the game’s history, and as such one of the most knowledgeable. It’s clear from his commentary that he’s slightly intoxicated, but still determined to help Scar succeed.
He gets up from his seat and, through the player camera, we can see a brief exchange of words. Unfortunately, Mang0 doesn’t get to say everything he would’ve wanted to say, but he says something, and that something may just be important.
Game three sees a reinvigorated looking Scar taking his first point over Ken after a dominant victory in Stadium. He keeps that momentum going into the fourth game, where he surprisingly manages to beat Ken on Yoshi’s Story, a stage generally considered to favor Marth in the matchup.
The next couple of games go back and forth. Ken runs back Yoshi’s Story, this time having more success in using Marth’s range to keep Falcon near the edges. Scar responds by picking Dreamland, where the wide space allows Falcon to dance around Marth and close the gap in an instant.
Game seven will determine the winner of the set, and it’s on Ken’s pick. He chooses Fountain of Dreams, which was once quoted by S2J as being a “notoriously bad stage for Falcon”, especially in a pre-shield dropping meta. Still, Scar looks dominant from early on, consistently managing to catch Ken with grabs and explosive combos. Although Ken starts putting up a fight towards the end of the round, the lead Scar builds early on is too significant, and he ends the set with a series of downthrow knees.
The crowd applauds, and Scar shakes Ken’s hand before jumping out of his chair, turning to celebrate with his people.
Ken would go on to participate at EVO later that year and finish in 49th place. Shortly thereafter, he and Korean DJ would both be picked up by Team Liquid as the first players to join their Smash team. Although Ken is still not as active as he once was, he continues to participate in Melee tournaments and is an active member of the community to this day.
Scar would soon after be brought on board to Twitch to work as a project manager. He continues to regularly do commentary and hosts The Read with his coworker Toph every week. He’s still the People’s Champ.
A year later, Scar and Ken would meet again at Kings of Cali 4, this time in bracket. Ken would take the set three games to one.
* * *Thank you all for reading this far. I spent a lot of time on this article, so any type of feedback would mean a lot to me.
Special thanks to Koke for the super cool banner, and to Thirdkoopa for helping with the editing for this article.