Assessing where players are in the Melee totem pole has always been fraught with uncertainty. Unlike other e-sports, the top 25 players might only play each other in a tournament setting once or twice a year. Outside of the big 5, many of these players have very inconsistent placements at nationals, ranging from as high as 5th place to as low as 97th (e.g. s2j at Apex 2014). There are also several cases in recent history where a player’s stock has been elevated over-zealously after one extraordinary tournament performance, only for them to falter at the next major (e.g. aMSa, Leffen, Westballz, etc.).
So it seems we need to be more conservative with our reactions to tournaments, which leads us to ask the more general question: how do we know when one of these players truly deserves to be placed at a higher tier relative to the rest, perhaps a ‘demigod’ tier? As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t think we can elevate players after 1 to 2 solid performances, but, at the same time, how many performances should it take? How should a player perform against other players around the top 25? How consistent should a player be against lower-tier players? Even if we can’t answer these general questions with absolute certainty, perhaps we can see if someone’s performances stand out. Let’s take a look at where we’re at right now:
The “5 gods”
These 5 players rarely lose to players outside of their own tier and have been doing so for years now. Some have questioned whether Hungrybox belonged here, but his stellar Evo performance has quieted the naysayers (including me). Even before Evo, Hungrybox losing to anyone outside of the “big 5” would have been considered an upset, and the only one who could have challenged his spot, Leffen, didn’t do enough over the summer to justify his inclusion in the pantheon.
Beyond the “5 gods” lies a huge cluster-mess of about 30 players that could all arguably make the top 20 cut. As we’ve said, the general perception of players tends to be very fickle, varying dramatically based on the latest major tournament result. In one week, player X can be #6 and, in the following week, be #30 or “grossly overrated”. Simply put, for most of these players, the skill level is too close to definitively say that one person is better than another in the top 30.
In the past few months, players such as Hax and Leffen have made their stand over the rest of the rat race with great performances at nationals and upsets against the “5 gods”. However, the player that benefited the most from the “summer of smash” was definitely Axe.
The Axe Effect
|EVO 2013||July 12th-14th, 2013||13th|
|Kings of Cali 3||December 14th-15th, 2013||4th|
|Apex 2014||January 17th-19th, 2014||9th|
|SoCal Regionals 2014||February 28th-March 2nd, 2014||4th|
|Mayhem 3-8||March 8th, 2014||1st|
|Pat’s House 2||May 24th-25th, 2014||7th|
|Super SWEET||June 7th-8th, 2014||4th|
|MLG Anaheim 2014||June 20th-22nd, 2014||5th|
|EVO 2014||July 11th-13th, 2014||5th|
|Zenith 2014||August 2nd-3rd, 2014||4th|
Axe’s Tournament Placings in the Past Year
The electrifying Pikachu main has some shocking results in his résumé over the past 6 months. He has been very consistent in placing top 8 at almost every regional or national he’s played at. In fact, the only tournaments that Axe hasn’t placed in the top 8 were tournaments in which he played one of the big 5 early in loser’s bracket: Mango at Evo 2013 (which required a 3-stock comeback from Mango) and Hungrybox at Apex 2014.
Comparison to Other Top Players
|Match Records (2014) in Reg/Nats|
|vs. Top 5||6-6||2-8||3-8||1-5||0-6||0-1|
|vs. Top 30||11-3||15-7||15-9||15-9||14-6||16-16|
|# of non-top 30 losses||0||1||3||4||2||1|
Stats of Players in 2014
Comparing Axe with other players in the Top 10-ish range shows some interesting results. It’s been well established that Leffen is the closest to reaching “god” status. He’s not quite there yet, but he’s a shoe-in for Top 6-7 according to most people. When we compare Axe with the Top 7-10 of the SSBMRank25 ( Hax, Westballz, Fly, Shroomed), his stats are quite favorable. His placings have been the most consistent where as the other 4 players struggled to maintain consistent high placings. Axe also has one of the best records against non-gods with a 15-7 record and only 1 questionable loss against Wizzrobe at Zenith 2014. Axe’s W-L records and placements show that his floor is unbelievably high.
Axe upsetting Hungrybox at MLG Anaheim
Against the ‘big 5″, he’s taken sets against Mew2King and Hungrybox and has given scares to PPMD, Mango, and Armada. In fact, he’s one of the few players that can boast taking games against all five of them in the summer. There have been claims that Axe isn’t consistent, but his resume completely says otherwise. Maybe he isn’t quite as consistent as the big 5 members, but he’s getting closer. A recent sponsorship from e-sports team, Mortality, has given Axe newfound motivation and the budget to travel year-round. Over the years, he’s proven to be more than a “gimmick”. Yes, he plays an unusual character in Pikachu, but did we all forget that Pikachu is a mid-tier character in a game with large gaps between tiers?
Sometimes, Axe is a victim of his own success in regards to his character. Whenever there’s a character off-stage, we automatically assume that Axe will finish the stock with a perfectly spaced tail-spike. When Axe is recovering deep on a stage like Battlefield, we just assume that Axe will cleanly sweet spot the ledge or do a fancy ledge cancel. Whenever Axe gets a tough zero-to-death or sets up a nice combo, we subconsciously think that Pikachu is an overpowered character when, in reality, it’s the hard work that Axe has invested in the rat that makes everything work. Don’t believe me? Try playing Pikachu for yourself against a competent player.
In his years, Axe has garnered quite a following. For many, Axe represents much more to a niche of the community: a beacon to players who didn’t want to go the traditional route of a space animal or another top tier character. Yet, he also accumulated several naysayers who have downplayed his wins and performances over the years.
The Early Years
Axe defeating JMAN at Genesis 1
Axe’s first breakout performance was back at Genesis 1. To the shock of many, Axe pulled a massive upset against Jman in round 2 of winner’s bracket. At the time, Jman was arguably in the Top 10 and some even suggested him as a top 5 contender. Axe’s run after that was short lived, losing to Florida players Raistlin (Puff) and Linguini (Ganondorf). Many people wrote off Axe as a result, reciting a list of johns to defend Jman, in particular that he didn’t have his controller, yet Jman still managed to make a tear through loser’s with his “off” controller.
At Pound 4, Axe surprised many, defeating PPMD and achieving a respectable 17th place, the largest Melee tournament ever up to that point in time. Later that year at Apex 2010, Axe had an immaculate performance, defeating top players such as Raynex, Dashizwiz, Cyrain, and Blunted Object. In loser’s, Axe managed to pull an impressive comeback victory to take a game off of Armada before losing the set and finishing 5th overall. Although people were impressed that a Pikachu could play so well, the greater Melee audience was skeptical of Axe’s overall player skill and ability to follow up these results in future tournaments, attributing his victories once again to players not being familiar with the matchup.
It’s easy to see now how wrong the naysayers were, but at the time they had a reasonable amount of evidence to back their claims. Fellow Arizona players Taj, Forward, and Wobbles won the vast majority of sets against Axe at local tournaments. SoCal players such as Lovage would lose decisively in their first encounters with Axe, but would have their revenge at future tournaments. These facts strongly suggested that matchup familiarity was a big factor in his victories at majors. Other critics cited that Axe could only do well against space animals, mainly due to his proficiency at nailing throw combos and low percentage gimps to earn gimmicky wins. Once again, this was a reasonable argument at the time. Axe rarely encountered Sheik players in bracket, a matchup that is widely considered to be in Sheik’s favor, and Axe had routine losses to Jigglypuffs such as Raistlin and Darc.
Making his Mark
But even if those criticisms were accurate at the time, and perhaps they were, Axe’s ascendancy as a player overall has outstripped the pace of other players accommodating to the matchup. Over the years, Axe has showcased massive improvements in every one of his matchups. He’s beaten several of the best Sheik mains in the world, including Mew2King, Tope, KirbyKaze, and Swedish Delight. He’s shown dramatic improvement in the Jigglypuff matchup, beating Hungrybox at MLG 2014. Even Axe’s already stellar punish game against fast-fallers has made big leaps in improvement. From his use of rapid-jabs to amazing aerial combos, Axe has taken a mediocre “gimmick” character to high levels for years now. Matchup knowledge is indeed important and Axe does benefit from playing an unusual character, but it has been over six years for people to learn the matchup. Now it’s 2014 and Axe still places top 8 at almost every national in an era with the best talent pool in Melee history. It’s time to give him credit where it’s due.
Axe telling the Crowd to “Press 1″
With his sponsorship and strong motivation, Axe will continue to perform exceptionally well at every national. He has the decision-making, mindgames, and technical skill to compete with anyone in the world. Axe has been nail-bitingly close in many of his encounters that it’s only a matter of time before variance starts to shift sets more in his favor and place him in the Top 4 at a Mega-National such as Evo or Apex.
Scar’s definition of a “god” is a player that only loses to other “gods”. Based on recent performances, Axe still has a long way to go to don the title, but who knows what will happen in a year? We’ve seen meteoric rises from players such as aMSa and ZeRo. Maybe we’ll revisit these discussions in the 2015 Diamond Era. Even if he never reaches “god” status, he’s still a scary player that not even the “gods” want to play in bracket. Perhaps, “titan”, the destroyer of gods, is the more appropriate title for one of the most electrifying and lovable players of melee.