Article by Robin Harn
When you hear Smashers talk about the greatest rivalries of all-time, it’s probably the usual: Mango vs Armada. Ken vs Azen. Mango vs Mew2King. But one matchup that has eluded the discussion far too long is Hax vs Zhu. Despite having flown under the radar for years, these two have played some of the most intense, high-level tournament matches in Melee history, and the narrative remains intriguing to this day. It’s a battle of the coasts: Hax was raised in New York, while Zhu is a NorCal native. It’s a battle of the characters: Hax toughed it out for years as perennial underdog Falcon before switching to Fox, while Zhu maintained dominance as a premiere Falco player and epitomized the reason a Falcon player might switch to Fox. It’s a battle of the highest stakes: the vast majority of their sets have taken place at the biggest tourneys of the year, including storied franchises such as Genesis, Pound, and Apex.
Most importantly, Hax and Zhu are both players that have undeniably been top-10 in the world for extended periods of time in the game’s history, and it’s that level of consistent gameplay that has given us great set after great set between the two. It’s no surprise both players showed they’ve still got it this past weekend at Zenith 2014.
Hax 4 – 7 Zhu
Zhu has won 7 of 8 in the Falco-Falcon matchup.
Hax has won 3 of 3 in the Fox-Falco matchup.
Zhu won their two meetings at the biggest tourneys, Pound 5 and Apex 2012.
Hax proceeded to outplace Zhu both times with solid losers bracket play.
Let’s explore the history of this matchup a bit more.
As with many other Smash rivalries, this story begins with Genesis 1, the international megatourney hosted by DBR which also spawned other age-old rivalries such as Mango vs Armada and Mango vs Hungrybox. This first encounter between Hax and Zhu was about as high-stakes as it gets: deep into bracket with the loser getting 7th place in what was, at this point, the biggest Melee tournament in history (290 entrants). In summer 2009, the Melee community had just been revived for the first time, just months after ROM 1 and in the middle of HomeMadeWaffles’ commentary resurgence that pumped life back into the scene. Zhu took this set convincingly, and even went on to create an upset of huge proportions by toppling Mew2King in his very next match. This was the beginning of Zhu’s prime, as he consistently placed between 5th and 9th at the biggest tournaments for the next two years; while Hax was just an up-and-coming Falcon, still considered below the top tier of Darkrain, SilentSpectre, and Scar, who placed just above Hax at 6th.
Back then, Zhu was known as “the Falcon slayer” to members of the West Coast. Originally from NorCal, he had just moved to SoCal to attend school at UC Irvine, and soon developed a whole new dimension to his gameplay under the tutelage of Mango. Although he could never beat Mango’s Falcon in tourney, Zhu quickly gained the upper hand vs SilentSpectre back home, and even defeated Darkrain at Pound 4 to prevent a Darkrain vs SS dream matchup in losers bracket. After beating Hax once more at Apex 2010, it became clear that Zhu was truly a force to be reckoned with in the Falcon matchup, and he quickly ascended to the top of the Falco stratosphere alongside mainstays DaShizWiz, Lambchops, and the up-and-coming Dr. PeePee. We didn’t have super technical Falcos such as Westballz at the time; before him came players like Zhu, who pioneered the modern-day Falco by efficiently utilizing platforms in his combo game.
In another meeting on the grandest of stages, Hax and Zhu faced off in the first round of the final top-32 bracket at Pound 5 in February 2011. This was their closest set to date, going to a last-stock situation in Game 3. There, Zhu clutched out the victory to send Hax to the losers bracket, again breaking the hearts of Falcon mains everywhere. Despite the loss, Hax had made significant progress gaining ground as a top player; his losers bracket run eventually outplaced Zhu, and he took down notables such as Amsah and Cactuar on his way to a very impressive 5th place. Although Zhu still had a lock on the player matchup vs Hax, their records vs top mutual opponents started to become more even.
But it wasn’t just nationals that played host to the amazing sets played by these two. Zhu worked at an internship during summer 2011 in New Jersey, where his parents also lived at the time. For two straight summers, Zhu attended tourneys in the heart of the Tristate region and often faced Hax in bracket, dismantling him on almost every occasion. The first of these matchups came at a Tunes Monthly in July 2010, where Zhu prevailed. The second and third of these matchups came at a pair of No Johns Monthly events in July and August 2011, which Zhu again commanded with ease, stifling Hax’s Falcon with superb spacies play. Zhu’s continued dominance in this head-to-head series — on Hax’s home turf, no less — led many to question whether the Falcon pro could ever overcome this player and character matchup at future nationals.
The new year rolled around, and Apex 2012 became the second-biggest Melee tourney of all-time. Fittingly, Hax and Zhu met in bracket yet again, this time in the second round of the final top-64 bracket. Zhu came out victorious to improve his head-to-head record vs Hax to 7-1. At this point, it became clear to some observers that Hax couldn’t do this forever; his Falcon, while probably the best in the country by now, had still never cracked top 4 at any tourney of 100+ entrants. In hindsight, although The Big House 3 may have been the beginning of 20XX, the signs of Hax’s turn to the dark side could have been seen as far back as 2012, epitomized by the early years of the Hax vs Zhu matchup.
Zhu graduated from school at UC Irvine and moved back up to NorCal for work. Hax was picked up by CLASH Tournaments and later by VGBootCamp, ascending to the elite class of East Coast players and dropping sets only to Mew2King in the Tristate area. Zhu’s national placings fell off considerably, and he became overshadowed locally by the three incredible players above him on the NorCal Power Rankings: SFAT, Shroomed, and PewPewU. Meanwhile, Hax dropped Falcon and switched to Fox, starting a journey to overcome his plateauing national placings while staying at a very high level of play. In the 2013 national SSBM rankings by Melee It On Me, Zhu came in at 21st in the world and Hax 7th. Times were changing, and these two didn’t meet in tourney for over a year. But that would change soon.
Going into yet another meeting vs Zhu at ROM 7, there was still little reason to believe Hax could swing the tide in his favor. This was just a few months after Hax made the switch to Fox, and his results so far had showed it: he placed a paltry 17th at Apex 2014 and suffered a series of disappointing losses to players such as S0ft and Abate. With his Fox still young and unproven, Hax nonetheless stunned Zhu in a 2-1 victory, securing perhaps his first “breakthrough” as Fox — a win over an opponent he historically lost to as Falcon. New life was finally breathed into this once-lopsided matchup.
Hax and Zhu next played at SKTAR 3. This was perhaps the most intangibly high-stakes meeting between the two; as an upgraded “5000 level” MLG qualifier, SKTAR 3 played host to some of the best Melee players in the country looking to infiltrate the 12-player field of automatic qualifiees at Anaheim. Late in bracket, Zhu was the last potential wild card in contention to sneak into the final MLG round robin, having surpassed many other qualifier hopefuls on his way to the 7th place match. But he was stopped by Hax, who claimed his second win over Zhu in as many months. The rivalry was on.
After dodging each other at MLG and EVO, Zenith 2014 marked the first time Hax and Zhu played a best-of-five set at a non-local tourney; a real shame considering the quality of their sets. Hax was coming off a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Mew2King in Winners Finals, while Zhu was coming off a thrilling five-game victory over Axe in Losers Semis. If there was ever a time for Zhu to leverage momentum in tourney, this was it. The set didn’t disappoint, as Zhu took a commanding two-game lead, but Hax stormed back for an exciting 3-2 win to send Zhu home in 3rd place. With this result, Hax improved his head-to-head record to 4-7 vs Zhu lifetime.
As much as we talk about the “Big Five” and other Melee legends, not enough is said about Hax and Zhu. Both have consistently placed top 8 at the most stacked nationals in our game’s history. Both are pioneers of their characters in multiple eras of the metagame. Both are some of the most upstanding community members today and continue to represent the game well. They are, quite simply, two of the most underrated players of all-time.
So what’s next for these two? Big things promise to be in store, and on a much more frequent basis. In fact, Zhu recently moved across the country to Philadelphia and is now a part of the Tristate scene, seemingly immersing himself in Smash once again in an effort to reclaim his once-top-10 status. Hax is a sponsored player for VGBootCamp and is making strides with Fox faster than anyone could have realistically imagined, pushing the character’s tech skill limits in the process. These guys will be going toe-to-toe for years to come, and I personally can’t wait to watch it all unfold.
Tunes Monthlies – 7/31/10
LS (Top 4) – Zhu wins
Pound 5 – 2/21/11
WB1 (Top 32) – Zhu wins
No Johns – 7/2/11
WB/LB – Hax wins one set / Zhu wins one set
No Johns – 8/6/11
WS (Top 6) – Zhu wins
ROM 7 – 3/9/14
LB6 (Top 12) – Hax wins
SKTAR 3 – 6/1/14
LB11 (Top 8) – Hax wins
Zenith 2014 – 8/3/14
LB8 (Top 3) – Hax wins
Hax 4 – 7 Zhu