An Insider Look at Competitive Smash 64 – Dark Gentleman

The- journey from a “best in my friend group” player who got 0-2’d at his first tournament to a regular competitor with a winning record.

Stop by Nebulous Gaming NYC’s weekly Smash 64 event and there is a good chance you will be locked on Dreamland with my Jigglypuff at some point. I am one of many players who have joined the fray in what I can only describe as a renaissance of the game. I know from reading online posts that the community has had a surge both in popularity and infrastructure. From my point of view, I joined a fully developed and well supported tournament system and community. Although I have a long way to go as a competitive Smash player, I’ve also improved immeasurably since my first tournament. It can be daunting when you first get involved. Many players will seem unbeatable.  This article is a tribute to the up-and-comers out there; my perspective on joining the Smash 64 scene and rising up the ranks.

The Nebs Crew
The Nebulous crew are a tight knit bunch who love New York City almost as much as they love Smash 64.

I’m a natural-born competitor. The past four years I’ve been primarily committed to combat sports: Boxing, Muay Thai, and especially Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. These offer a very pure type of contest environment. One-on-one. Your skills, knowledge, and training against mine. Smash 64 appeals to me because, from a mental perspective, I actually find it very similar to fighting. Make a defensive error and you will pay for it. Become a bit too predictable and you will pay for it. However, as long as you have a stock left to play, you are still in the match.

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a smaller and weaker competitor can most often beat a larger opponent if he/she has superior knowledge and experience. However, if the larger fighter has equal knowledge, the advantage usually swings back to favor size and strength. This is the Smash equivalent of spacing vs tech skill. My experience has been that with good enough spacing, you can defeat a decent number of solid opponents. However, an adversary with a certain degree of technical superiority will prove a very steep challenge.

For years, it was enough to compete in Smash against my close friends. We battled in 4-stock free-for-alls, all maps permitted except Zebes, all items on except, of course, hammers, hearts, tomatoes, and stars. It seems bizarre to me now, but that style of play is most certainly alive and well in some circles. We were ignorant of the game’s many nuanced technical moves, but we were fiercely competitive with each other none-the-less. I found out how to “tech” on recovery and I magically started winning every game against my buddies. If this sounds like the typical story… that’s because it is. I still have just as much fun playing Smash as I did back in those anarchic free-for-all days on Saffron City. Although I’ll admit that competing, commentating, and improving are a touch more satisfying. You have to travel to a tournament to discover how much you really don’t know about the game you’ve played forever.

Reptar (the NYC version) and I learned a little bit of tech together before attending our first weekly. We were both knocked out of the tournament with a score of 0-2. Q! traveled from PA to NYC to visit Nebulous and he 5 stocked me using Samus. That night my only accolade was winning a single friendly (out of about fifteen) against KoRoBeNiKi. Competing at Nebulous offers an opportunity to face off against a fantastic variety of styles and characters. Firo’s popular all-action low tiers are a constant feature. Jimmy Joe threatens with his spacing and counterattacks. Zeppelin has a high-pressure Falcon while Reptar’s style, with the same character, is more defensive. Kelvinheit’s Pika will sometimes play extremely aggressively and then go on defense the next time you play him. kHz’s smash IQ and skill make him a dangerous and adaptable player in any match.

Every local scene has a multitude of narratives. Mine is that of a player who did more research, played more, and came back. Jimmy Joe invited me to play him 1-on-1 a few hours before he got on a plane to commentate Hitstun 3. I found out Zeppelin and I were neighbors and we started training more. I went to a Nexus tournament where melee players have a Smash 64 night and came in second (thanks for nothing, Smash Jesus). I entered more Nebulous weeklies and won a few sets. I gave a couple of top players on the scene a good challenge, and later starting taking some games. Then, all of a sudden, someone called me their rival. I developed a distinctive style: patient, frustrating, and tough on punishes. Totally awesome!

The next big step for a beginning player is attending a major. Super Smash Con was my first and it opened my eyes to the wider world of Smash. I could write an entire article just my experiences at the event. I met with international players, learned new play styles, and got to witness the game being played on the big stage. Seeing Smash played in front of hundreds of fans for the first time was a thrill. Competing in a major is also vastly different from playing in a local weekly. You will face a player from another region, who you’ve probably never played before. I had the feeling of representing my region as well as myself. Out of the three hundred and fourteen players who registered for the largest SSB tournament of all time, I was one of the sixty-four to make it out of pools. I achieved my personal goal for that event. Nine months ago I didn’t even know how to short hop. If I could do it, you can too.

Jiu Jitsu Pic
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has allowed Dark Gentleman to draw parallels between the two and apply novel ways of thinking to Smash 64.

Those who are familiar with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu know that, like Smash players, grapplers experience a very unforgiving learning curve. To get good you must be prepared to lose a lot. You will probably lose to a fighter you have beaten in the past. There is also a formal tier system that denotes experience. Jiu Jitsu “power rankings” are usually known but rarely discussed. For example, it is pretty rare to hear, “Bob is a better fighter than Steve,” in the gym, even if Bob always beats Steve. With Smash that is not a possibility since results in tournament tend to speak for themselves. What I learned from fighting is this: never let past results hold you back. No one is better than you. They might just be better than you right now.

As a competitor, I think it is most important not to shackle yourself to your ranking. Amazing sets happen at every level.  When two low-ranked players battle down to the last stock in losers’ bracket… that’s hype. Go beat the number one seed at your local. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose when you face a higher seed, so why not give them a run for their money? That’s how I try to play. With Super Smash Con in the books, 2016 really is the year of 64. It’s an awesome game we play. It’s an all-time classic. Let’s keep playing.

Featured Picture: The Dark Gent earned a spot on the top right of Mike “Moonshoes” Paddy’s N64 signed by the top 64 out of 314 at Super Smash Con 2016.

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