The Esports Arena in Santa Ana, CA was home to the 2GGC Championship for Super Smash Bros. for Wii U this past weekend. The tournament was the culmination of a 12-month long circuit that awarded over $100,000 in cash prizes through the course of its duration. The $50,000 prize pool offered for the ultimate championship was one of the biggest in Smash 4's history. With the stakes at arguably its highest, Smash Bros. fanatics were treated to some of the game's highest level play ever.
Shacknews was in attendance throughout the weekend and we're here to recap the weekend with our biggest takeaways from the past three days, recalling some of the 2GGC Championship's most memorable moments and what they potentially mean for Smash 4 going forward.
King Leo Gets His Crown
Through pretty much the entirety of Smash 4's existence as any kind of competitive game, the undisputed best player in the world was Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios. But something funny started to happen around this time last year. Even as ZeRo was barreling through everyone that had beaten him, there was a young 15-year-old kid named Leonardo "MkLeo" Perez who knocked him off to win at his own event, 2GG: ZeRo Saga. Over the months that followed, ZeRo started to show more and more mortality, while MkLeo was quickly entrenching himself as one of the game's top players.
Then came this weekend. Almost a full year after Leo had beaten ZeRo at ZeRo Saga, the two met again in a thrilling Grand Finals set. And while ZeRo still showed everything that made him the game's best player to that point, MkLeo didn't crumble under the increasing pressure and ultimately prevailed in four games of a reset bracket to claim the 2GGC Championship.
While MkLeo is widely known for his Cloud and Marth, there was also a secondary character that he had kept in his pocket over the entirety of his Smash 4 run. He had a Meta Knight for selec matchups and Sunday saw him take that Meta Knight out for the first time against ZeRo's Diddy Kong. (Editor's note: ZeRo previously faced Leo's Meta Knight during September's Game Tyrant Expo.) In the Winners Semi-Finals, the pick paid dividends, as Leo crushed ZeRo in three straight games. But ZeRo adjusted to the matchup as the Grand Finals went on, overcoming early losses to eventually reset the bracket.
But Leo stuck to the Meta Knight pick and was ultimately able to polish ZeRo off in a close four games. That's not to say that ZeRo wasn't playing at his best level. In fact, ZeRo came within two critical Up-Smashes of winning that fourth game and the narrative potentially changing completely. But the day belonged to Leo and Leo's body of work over all of 2017 is more than enough to cement him as Smash 4's new top best player.
2018 is going to feel drastically different, because it'll be the first time that ZeRo won't be the one with all of the targets on his back. There's a very real chance that MkLeo comes out in the #1 spot on the Panda Global Rankings, which would make him the undisputed best player in the world. It'll mean Leo would be in an unfamiliar spot as the top dog, ZeRo will be in the very unfamiliar spot as #2, and everyone in the Smash 4 world will have a new top player to chase. All of this means the competitive Smash 4 world is going to become a much more interesting place next year.
For years, Matt "Elegant" Fitzpatrick has been just on the cusp of breaking through to the next tier of top level Smash 4 players. He went from one of the top Luigi players, to the top Luigi player, and then over the weekend, he became one of the best players in the world, period.
The road certainly wasn't easy. Elegant still needed to play through Friday night's Last Chance Qualifier, an off-stream tournament that took place around the opening group stages. Elegant came out on top over some of the game's best players, including Chris "falln" Rugg, Ramin "Mr. R" Delshad, and Brian "Cosmos" Kalu in a close Grand Finals. Even with a hometown crowd rooting him on, Elegant's sets were often close and some of them could have gone either way. The series with Mr. R, in particular, was a game of inches.
Then Elegant moved on to Saturday night and proved he belonged with the best. He beat Larry "LarryLurr" Holland for the first time ever, notched a big win over Evo 2017 champion Saleem "Salem" Young, stunned Griffin "Fatality" Miller with a set-clinching 35-second bulldozing, shocked Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada in a close five game set, and then went toe-to-toe with Elliot "Ally" Carroza-Oyarce in the most exciting series of the weekend before ultimately coming out on top.
Elegant's Sunday started off strong, as he beat Kengo "KEN" Suzuki to keep his momentum going. But the SoCal native ran out of magic shortly afterwards. Salem took the rematch, having fully adapted from their meeting the night before. After that, Dabuz continued his undefeated streak over Elegant, knocking him out in four games. It was the end of Elegant's single best showing as a Smash 4 pro and there's no reason to believe he won't continue improving well into 2018. The SoCal crowd chanted his name as he left the stage, but it won't be the last anyone sees of Elegant in the Smash 4 scene.
Japan's Tough Weekend
A handful of Japan's best Smash 4 players fought their way into the 2GGC Championship. March's Civil War event pointed to a full-blown Japanese invasion, with nearly a dozen players going toe-to-toe with North America's best and coming out on top. There was no such Japanese dominance to be found this weekend, with only KEN and Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura making it out of the round robin stages.
Rei "komorikiri" Furakawa had a disappointing 4th place finish out of Group B, despite it looking like he had found the answer to the long-running Bayonetta question. His Roy turned a lot of heads, actually helping lead him to a win over Zack "CaptainZack" Lauth's Bayo. He had no such luck against Abadango, who ultimately adjusted to the matchup to come out on top in four games. He can, however, hang his hat on the fact that he's rapidly figuring out the Bayonetta matchup, something that confounded even the best Smash 4 players throughout the past two years.
Prospects were looking a little better for Shuto "Shuton" Moriya and Noriyuki Kirihara in Group D. Shuton showed why he's the world's best Olimar, beating MKLeo decisively in a 3-0 sweep. Meanwhile, Kirihara lost two close five-game sets to MKLeo and Salem. So what happened? Well, Kirihara found his groove and beat Shuton 3-0, but by then, Kirihara was already mathematically eliminated and the loss sent Shuton to a 4th place finish, meaning both Japanese natives were left out in the cold.
2017 was a strong year for the Japense Smash 4 scene, but between the round robin stages and Abadango and KEN both exiting early in the Top 8 stage, the 2GGC Championship weekend was a rough one for that region.
The Highs and Lows of the Round Robin
The group stages of the 2GGC Championship were something of a departure for the normal Smash Bros. tournament. These were contested under round robin rules, with players competing in five groups of four. It's a format used for other esports, like League of Legends or Rocket League, but it's something relatively new to the Smash scene. The round robin format proved for some amazingly exciting moments, but with the highlights also came some excruciating lowlights.
There were some hard luck losses throughout the group stages. Isami “T” Ikeda was one of the best players of the weekend, but one could hardly tell from his 0-3 record. That's because nearly all of T's losses were by the thinnest of margins, with his Link proving every bit as fearsome here as he was in March's Civil War tournament. The most memorable of these losses was to Ken, as Ken's Sonic tried to dance around the stage to win the deciding Game 5 via time out. Ken's stage recovery in the final seconds went awry, which left T an opening that would have won him the game. T was equally caught off-guard, though, and wasn't able to take advantage, which led to his most crushing defeat of the weekend.
For as much excitement as the round robin format created, it also led to some issues with how some matches played out. As mentioned earlier, Fatality lost to Elegant in soul-crushing fashion. The entire final game fit in a single Twitch clip.
The loss eliminated Fatality from contention, but he was still scheduled to face ZeRo for the very next match. Fatality was so crushed by his prior loss, he phoned in his match with ZeRo, including an egregiously obvious self-destruct. This brought forward some outrage from viewers and fellow Smash personalities that piled on Fatality for seemingly throwing his last match. And there are certainly merits to both sides of the argument. On the one hand, esports players owe it to themselves, their fanbase, their sponsors, and their fellow competitors to give their best effort every time out. But in Fatality's case, it's entirely understandable that his loss left him emotionally drained. To immediately trot him back out there against the best player in the world at the time with barely any time to process what had just happened to him bordered on cruel.
The round robin format is an exciting format, but it's one that isn't perfect by any means. Maybe it's something that the tournament organizers can figure out going forward. But at the very least, it was a bold experiment that shook up the run-of-the-mill format that fans have grown so accustomed to. There's certainly nothing wrong with thinking outside the box, so let's hope there are some more ideas like this in Smash 4's future.
Let's not forget that at the end of the day, Smash 4 is a grassroots community. Sure, the game has its fans in the Nintendo of America world, like Senior Product Marketing Manager Bill Trinen. But Nintendo of Japan has long been iffy about the esports scene and would be just as content to see this entire side of its games go away. So without Nintendo's official support, the community has taken it upon themselves to build the Smash 4 scene from the ground up. That's why it was so remarkable to see the level of production on display throughout the weekend.
There was the three-man studio, comprised of Brendan "Gunblade" Triano, Jordan "SilentDoom" Campbell, and Stephen "Bam" Bamdiele, who would all act as the go-between for the viewer and the action unfolding on the ground. There was the "Suar at the Bar" segments, where PG Stats Director Luis "Suar" Suarez would break down the action and help provide analysis. There was Victoria "VikkiKitty" Perez providing post-game interviews with each of the competitors, not only getting their immediate reactions to their games, but also giving them a forum to express their personalities. While there was funding from 2GG and the Esports Arena, this was the apex of a community-built esports scene. It was a bunch of people that got together and put forward a high-value, complex production purely for love of this game.
As far as grassroots community efforts, the only other game that can compare is… well… Super Smash Bros. Melee. It remains remarkable that even without Nintendo's official backing, the community can still put together such an accessible, easy-to-watch, and fun product. It's a credit to Esports Arena, 2GGaming, and everyone associated with the Smash 4 community.
BONUS: The WaDi Proposal
Sure, there was $50,000 on the line, but there was one competitor this weekend that had something else on his mind. Chris "WaDi" Boston wasn't so much nervous about competing, he was more nervous about something else he had planned for the tournament. On Saturday morning, WaDi took the stage at the Esports Arena and addressed his girlfriend, Zero Suit Samus main/cosplayer Cinnpie. In front of a crowd of his peers, WaDi proposed.
Shacknews sends its best wishes to WaDi and Cinnpie. May they have a happy life together and best of luck in their impending nuptials.
If you watched the 2GGC Championship, what's your most memorable moment from the weekend? Join the conversation and let us know in the comments.
Photo credits: Javier "Lakitu" Leyvas