At the end of an intense weekend in Vegas, we have a new crop of champions. There are new American champions, some gods from Japan, and even a master of the craft who happens to be covered in blue fur most of the time. Yes, this is the fighting game community (FGC), and that was Evo, arguably one of the greatest weekends in the esports calendar.
The focus for a lot of outlets was on SonicFox, or Dominique McLean as he’s known to him mom. The American is a gay person of colour who identifies as a furry, which means he likes to dress up as a blue fox, and may or may not also feel like he is a fox in some way. To be honest, we aren’t sure, but we know a bonafide superstar when we see one and that is exactly why ESPN and co want Sonicfox. Well, mostly exactly.
There is of course a second element to his popularity, and it will be interesting to see if over time Sonicfox becomes tired of being the poster boy for diversity in the FGC, but for us here at Luckbox the real story unfolded some time before Fox McClean took the stage, and was about Fox McCloud instead. The grand finals of Super Smash Bros Melee was an all-Swedish affair between two of the greatest ever to touch the game, Adam ‘Armada’ Lindgren and William ‘Leffen’ Hjelte, as well as being an exhibition in clinical execution and yomi.
The last word in that par - "yomi" - may not be familiar to all of you, but it essentially boils down to being able to read what your opponent wants to do in game, and react to it. As a concept, it has long been a part of the slower, more traditional fighting games, and interestingly, Leffen is a player who has taken up Dragon Ball Z as a competitive title in the last year or so, and risen into the top twenty in the world for that game.
That break from intensive Smash Bros seems to have done him the world of good, as he was not only in control of his emotions for the duration of top eight, but also in control of his opponents. By the time he was facing Panda Gaming’s Justin ‘plup’ McGrath, it was obvious to everyone that we had a clear favourite for the title, even the commentators in the venue…
In grand finals, Leffen faced Armada, the greatest player in the history of Melee, and by some considerable distance. The past year has been tough for the ‘Swedish sniper’, but he demonstrated the strength of character that has made him the GOAT in his loser’s bracket run, time and again snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. However, even the best we’ve ever seen couldn’t get close to the level of his countryman in a best-of-five set, and was duly sent packing.
The title represents one of the most fascinating rises esports has ever seen, from a player that was banned from his local scene for falling out with the wrong people to one who uses that pain as motivation, and finally takes the biggest title in the game. Sure, there are huge problems with the Evo format, and it’s clear Melee is only welcome for the money it brings, but Evo is still a prize, and Leffen has wanted to win it for years.
Win it he did, and with a level of dominance nobody else has shown. There are other finals, including a stonker in Street Fighter and some real drama from the Smash 4 scene, but the story of a kid who played the heel, then was forced to live it before turning things around and becoming the best in the world is what sports, esports and life should all be about, and is no doubt our highlight of the event.
PS: there is one other thing we wanted to point out, and it’s not really a story for those who already play Smash. For those who don’t, though, there is a man called Jason Zimmerman, otherwise known as Mew2King, who is a stalwart of the scene. Never out of the world’s top five, M2K has defined sections of the game as we know it for over a decade, and is loved for that, but when he entered the scene he was a quiet, possibly autistic kid with no social skills and nothing more than a love for Nintendo games to keep him safe.
Last night, he tweeted about his experience at the afterparty and how much fun he’d had talking to many people, which for most people would be a normal thing, and is for Mew2King now as well. The road hasn’t been easy for M2K to where he is now, but without Smash he would most likely be a very different person than he is today, and that is a massive part of the magic of the FGC. You can be a blue fox, and awkward kid or anything else you want, as long as you can throw hands in game, and you’ll be loved for it. That’s the magic of esports.
Image credit: Red Bull