This weekend marks the fifth iteration of Smash Summit, Super Smash Bros. Melee's most prestigious invitational tournament.
The event's unique invitation system allows fans to vote in six players of their choice to fill out a bracket containing eight pre-invited competitors: the highest-ranked players at the time of the event and two auto-qualifiers. With the game's top-level metagame more unstable than it's been in years, Smash Summit 5 promises to bring an exciting end to Melee's 2017 season.
No. 1 spot in flux
Many would consider Adam "Armada" Lindgren the favorite to win this Smash Summit. After all, the Swede's dominance at past Summits has been so complete that the event's official trailer centers on the other elite players' struggle to defeat him.
However, recent events have challenged this preconception. For the first time, Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma is entering the Summit house as presumptive first seed, fresh off of four consecutive major wins at Shine, Game Tyrant Expo, The Big House 7 and DreamHack Denver. Furthermore, Armada is coming off a relatively low third-place finish at last weekend's Canada Cup, where he dropped sets to William "Leffen" Hjelte and Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman.
If Hungrybox outplaces or defeats Armada at this weekend's event, he will enter the year-end SSBMRank voting period with a very strong case for the top position. Hungrybox himself is confident about his shot at the number one ranking as well.
"If I win Summit 5," he said, "I'll have a basically indisputable argument."
Another threat to Armada is the new "god" who has risen to challenge him: Justin "Plup" McGrath, whose victory over Armada at The Big House 7 was, if not dominant, far from a fluke.
With Hungrybox, Plup, Leffen, Mew2King and Armada's longtime rival Joseph "Mang0" Marquez lurking in the bracket, a fifth visit to the Summit house is starting to look very dangerous for Alliance's champion.
Hungrybox put it simply: "There's a big six again."
Falcon's chance for glory
This season, Beyond the Summit diverged from its usual selection process, pre-inviting only eight players rather than the usual top-10. Instead, two spots were awarded to the non-invited players who placed highest at Game Tyrant Expo and The Big House 7.
Dajuan "Shroomed" McDaniel's fifth place at the former allowed him to ride into the Summit uncontested, but the process wasn't as simple at The Big House. There, Justin "Wizzrobe" Hallett and Johnny "S2J" Kim tied at seventh and were forced to play a qualifying match.
After a five-game thriller, Wizzrobe emerged victorious, giving the Floridian Falcon main a chance to compete at his first-ever Smash Summit. The substantial voting power of S2J's loyal fanbase helped him qualify during the voting period. Both of these players represent the pinnacle of Captain Falcon play; Wizzrobe's resume is unquestionably the strongest of any Captain Falcon, with wins over Hungrybox and Mew2King, while S2J is playing the best Melee of his career, having bagged a Mew2King win of his own while on his way to four consecutive top-eight finishes at majors.
With two godslaying Falcons in the bracket, Smash Summit 5 has the potential to be the character's best tournament ever.
This Summit had the most intense voting period yet. Fans poured in donations to help get their favorite players in, contributing to the tournament's $76,567 prize pool, the largest in Smash history. But the six competitors who survived the process represent perhaps the most diverse group of invited players yet, both in personality and style.
Other than S2J, whose five consecutive qualifications have made him a Summit regular, each of these players will be entering Smash Summit for his first time.
The first to qualify was New England's reluctant champion, Jack "Crush" Hoyt. Before the last two Smash Summits, New England's deep pockets and impressive organization allowed the region to vote in its favorites, much to the chagrin of the broader Melee community. Though his fellow New Englanders were skilled players in their own right, Crush is on a different level, having climbed his way up to 23rd on this summer's edition of SSBMRank.
Crush boasts wins over a multitude of top players, including Daniel "ChuDat" Rodriguez, Sami "Druggedfox" Muhanna, Masaya "aMSa" Chikamoto, and, only a few days ago at Too Hot To Handle, Plup. Beyond his notable wins, Crush's popular Twitter presence has ensured that he has fans across the country, making him easily the most popular player from his region to ever attend Smash Summit. But regardless of his popularity, the self-proclaimed "ledge regrab abolitionist" has made it clear that he's going to Smash Summit 5 strictly for business.
"It all comes down to capitalism and wealth inequality," the Boston resident said regarding his discomfort with the event's format. "The one percent of Summit voters are the ones who are funding the whole tournament, basically."
However, Crush's qualms with the Summit spectacle extend beyond his passion for the common man; he believes that top players are forced to debase themselves for the purpose of generating votes.
"People eating onions and drawing on their faces ... that's not what we want Melee to be about," he said.
Despite these reservations, EndGame TV's premier player knows the Smash Summit is an amazing opportunity for him to up his game even more.
"Right now, I'm at that point where I have a need for the highest echelon of play, he said. "This is pretty much the perfect time for me to be going to Summit and playing these people."
When asked about his thoughts on the Summit voting process, Michael "MikeHaze" Pulido offered a more pragmatic take than Crush.
"Overall, that's not the player's fault. That's something that Summit might want to look into in the future," MikeHaze said. "I don't think they'll change that at all."
Though some members of the Smash community were vocal about their disappointment over his qualification, the SoCal-based streamer doesn't take it personally. Instead of getting distracted by critics, MikeHaze intends to take advantage of the unique opportunity afforded to him by the event, which he sees as a chance to raise his level of play and improve both his technique and his mindset.
"Going to Summit's been a dream of mine ever since they announced the first one," MikeHaze said. "It was always my goal to go there as a competitor and as a player."
After a career marked by injuries, multiple retirements and controversial but career-saving technology, Aziz "Hax" Al-Yami is Melee's prodigal son, and this Summit is his chance to return to the big stage.
The NYC legend was ranked No. 8 on 2014's global rankings, and his star was poised to rise even higher when hand injuries forced him to retire in 2015. In early 2017, Hax returned to the game using a box-style controller that allowed him to play Melee without causing further damage to his arthritis-ridden appendages.
Though the use of these controllers at major events has been a source of spirited debate, Hax has made an impressive return, scoring victories over top-100 players such as Roustane "Kage" Benzeguir and Alex "Captain Smuckers" Cottrell and climbing back to a top-four ranking within his region. And no ruleset will be holding Hax back this weekend: With Beyond the Summit's blessing, the fan favorite and former Falcon main will be wielding his "B0XX" at Smash Summit 5.
Due to his inability to travel often, Michelangelo "Blea Gelo" Greco may be the invitational's least prominent participant. Despite his obscurity, those who have been following Melee for a while know that South Florida's best player is no slouch. He's notched career wins over titans such as Wizzrobe, Druggedfox and Mustafa "Ice" Akcakaya.
Voted in on a wave of support from Luigi mains, Florida's Melee scene and fans from his homeland, Blea is confident in his skills.
"I don't look for the comments on Reddit," the Venezuela native said. "I know how much I've played this game and what I'm capable of, and I know that I have not traveled as much as other players, but I don't care. I'm just going to go do some Melee and change their mind."
Blea's boisterous personality is reflected by his character of choice: Luigi. As the first Luigi player to ever qualify for Smash Summit, he made it clear that he is competing not only for himself but to elevate his character's metagame and aid his Luigi brethren. After all, Blea said, "there's no competition to be the best Luigi right now. ... We are not competing to be the best Luigi, we're competing to be the best in the world."
While it's unusual for a Luigi to be in the Smash Summit 5 bracket, aMSa's Yoshi is an even more uncommon sight.
The Japanese player's popularity was made evident during the voting process: After he failed to qualify during the first two rounds of voting, a massive groundswell of support helped aMSa amass 120,595 votes, thousands more than his closest competition. While aMSa's is highest-ranked player of his nation and character, his recent results have been stellar by any metric. At Game Tyrant Expo, aMSa defeated Plup 2-0 on his way to a ninth-place finish, and at The Big House 7, he achieved a respectable 13th-place finish with victories over Colin "Colbol" Green and Ryan Ford. There's no doubt that the Red Yoshi has everything it takes to make a run at this weekend's event.
Although most players who are voted into Smash Summit have failed to make deep bracket runs, every competitor who will cross the Summit house's threshold this weekend has the skills necessary to pull upsets and make a splash. In 2017, Melee fans have already seen the impossible become possible: Plup has vanquished Armada, S2J has defeated Mew2King and Hungrybox, not Mango or Armada, sits atop the metagame.
And while Armada will do everything he can to continue his dominant streak at this event, the outcome of Smash Summit 5 is very much up in the air. There's only way to know what's going to happen this weekend: sit down, tune in, and see for yourself.