"Sometimes You Go Out Like A Buster"
On the 2nd floor of the Esports Arena, months after my first Funday Tuesday and the night after the Halloween party, Alex took me back to the beginning.
"I started learning Melee in 2007. Somehow I knew some advanced techniques but I just didn't know how to apply it all. I would just read moves and combo with Smashes."
Luckily—or maybe unluckily for Alex—he was able to learn Melee from one of the greatest.
"Mang0 never really taught me anything. He would just beat me up. Whenever I'd fuck up he'd say, 'Stop that or else I'll pillar you.' It was learning the hard way."
All of his mistakes were scrutinized heavily; his strategies were tested against an opponent that will weed out anything that is less than stellar. And on the rare occasions when Alex is able to keep up, or even clutch out a win, he is accomplishing what many could only dream about: going toe-to-toe with a living legend.
Unfortunately, for a man that values authenticity and "staying true to your self", Alex's own "smash identity" is his biggest asset and biggest hurdle.
Because of how he started and who he trained with, other players expectations were not fair and unrealistic. "He plays with Mango he must be amazing." No doubt Alex is good, but his passion for Smash was not always a constant.
"I used to play soccer. I love soccer and I was very good." You could have heard the longing in his voice. "But a really bad leg injury ruined all of that. I picked up Melee and I did other stuff too. I moved away from SoCal for a bit, and even before that I could never really go to tournaments. I was always busy with work or something. I just played with Joey and Mang0."
Whenever Alex enters an event, the pressure to perform would visibly affect his play. Despite displaying moments of sheer brilliance during casual matches with his best friends, his competition nerves and expectations would amplify his mistakes. Someone with more tournament experience would be able to handle some high-stakes pressure; Alex19 would simply choke and he would become known for it.
Battle Arena Melbourne 7
The Internationals at BAM7
In the summer of 2015, Alex traveled to Australia with Mang0, Lucky, S2J, HugS, and a slew of other international smashers to attend Australia's biggest international tournament to date: Battle Arena Melbourne 7, or BAM7.
The running joke going into BAM7 was that the highest placing Oceania player would be one spot below the lowest placing non-Oceania player. Europe and North America are undeniably stronger regions for Smash. That's how it is. But in Oceania, where esports is not quite as large as it is in other regions, the game is also taken less seriously. You could feel the camaraderie among competitors and you know it's all in good fun.
"It was the greatest homie trip of my life." Alex described to me with nostalgic glee in his eyes. "We were getting drunk with [the Aussies] and just having a good time. Every night was just one big party. We played very little Smash."
"How was the tournament?" I asked.
An audible sigh and he shook his head. "Fuck... [laughs] do we have to talk about it?"
I could see why he was hesitant to talk about it. For the casual observer, BAM7 went almost entirely as predicted. All of the "international players" made it out of their pools as the top-seeds. And in winner's bracket, the higher seeded player won every set. Things didn't get interesting until Alex was sent to loser's by William "Leffen" Hjelte and then had to play a young man named "Spud".
Spud's first tournament performance outside of his homeland was an underdog's tale that no one paid attention to. It is easy to dismiss a low-seeded player that drops their first bracket set. Especially if that player has only been playing the game for less than a year. But once Spud entered loser's bracket, he became a shark. His first three sets in loser's were quiet 3-0s. And once he took out Australia's second highest-seeded player, Zxv, Spud's story started to turn heads. Anticipation grew for his bout with Alex.
Despite Alex's early, confident pace and precise decisions, Spud looked in control of the set. The crowd's energy for their champion was suffocating Alex's play. SPUD! SPUD! SPUD! The Norwalk Fox's spacing was off, and Spud would simply walk up and smash his opponent. Alex appeared shook and his simple manuevers were botched and sloppy. Even when the young Kiwi would reach too far off-stage for a hit, or overshoot his recoveries, Alex missed the opportunities to capitalize.
Spud ended the set and secured his unlikely win with a surprising comeback. He jumped in excitement and gave a humbled Alex a huge hug. Spud had accomplished something that no other southern hemisphere Smashers was able to do at that tournament: he defeated his American opponent.
"No internationals have fallen to any Australian or New Zealander in so long!" - Commentator
As a smasher with his pedigree of practice partners and potential skill, Alex19 was expected to win that set. Despite all expectations and projections, the reality was that he was unprepared, mentally and technically. He didn't know that Marth's down-air was a meteor that he could recover from in the PAL version of Melee. He never had so many people cheer against him like that in tournament before. He never became the focus of so much online discussion before.
On Reddit people would chime in with their thoughts on the set. "Nothing against spud, I love the underdog, but Alex played absolutely terrible. Missed a ton of very basic tech, random side-b's on accident and even air dodged a few wavedashes. But again, it's cool to see a lot of really good young talent coming out of other countries as well."
And in Spud's AMA thread, one person asked him: "What was more gratifying: beating SD for the crown of Oceania, or beating Alex19?" Spud responded with: "That's a diffucult one, I think beating Alex19 as he is a much better player than I am."
Despite his unexpected loss, Alex seemed happy with his Australian travel experience. "Dude, that trip was once-in-a-lifetime. Never have all the homies been there. I learned so much and I'll never forget it." And months later, he had accepted the outcome and it seemed to reinforced his dedication to the game and his motivation to perform and grow as a player. Who knows? Maybe it was fate for Alex19 to lose to the 19th-seeded player at an international tournament.
Scaling the First Summit
In November of 2015, Beyond the Summit, a new-media company that creates and broadcasts high-quality esports content, offered Super Smash Bros. Melee enthusiasts an opportunity never before seen in the smash community.
"16 top Smash players will play exhibition matches and have a private tournament over the course of 4 days. People will see real interactions, real situations, pros that want to win and have a good time. It will be good Melee." Alex explained.
There was over $32,000 in the Melee Singles tournament pot—which was the largest in Melee history at the time—and a $12,000 Invitational Prize Pool. There were also exhibition matches that included unique gameplay challenges where players could wage high stakes to play against others. 10 players were invited out directly, and 6 others had to be voted in through a popular, open vote. And all of this took place inside a mansion in Southern California.
"It's extremely exclusive. Some 007, Casino Royale, shit. It's so exclusive I don't know what the fuck is gonna happen. Do they know I eat like a monster? Will they be able to feed me? It's hype. The unknown is exciting."
Many of us in the community were not prepared for the event or the social media circus that would build in the weeks leading up to it. Anyone could buy votes and then use those votes to make sure that their favorite players get one of the 6 coveted open spots. To make things exciting, players with the most amount of votes by certain deadlines would earn a spot, while those with the lowest amount of votes would be cut from the ballots. To get one of the spots, the players would have to campaign as if it were a Presidential election with Survivor-like, cutthroat alliances.
"Let's take [notable Melee player] Kage for instance. Sweetheart in person, but [because of the Summit campaigning] I saw colors of him come out. Colors I've never seen in my life."
Kage, and many other players, would throw around conspiracy allegations, and accuse some of the potential entries of lying and cheating. But despite all the hoopla, or maybe because of it, Alex19 was one of the early guarantees.
His inclusion was controversial because some members of Smash Community argued that only top players should be voted in. Alex is a good Smash player, but his skill-level is quite a few notches below some of the contenders that would attend the event. Many of Alex's detractors felt that he would show up at the mansion and be steam-rolled by the competition.
Alex understood it differently.
"[Smash Summit sounds] like the fucking Real World. Video Game Real World for four days. [People] want to see me over Nintendude, or DruggedFox. You want to see [different] faces. 100% skill based? That's silly. [...] I really [wanted] to go."
I saw the look in his eyes. It was still a few days before the actual event, and he had a rare, appreciative look.
Alex19 is very fortunate to have the fans and friends that he does, and you can see his gratitude in the way he interacts with the people that follow him. He always takes the time to thank his fans. True, he became a popular community figure because he was heavily featured on Mang0's stream, but it's hard to deny that Alex's authenticity is magnetic and he offers something different.
"People love me and my stream. I'm very friendly in person. If you just want to have fun, I'm down to chill. [My stream is controversial] because I say some shit, but I am just unfiltered. It's what sets me apart from HBox. They call me the 'Adult Swim' of [Smash Streams]."
And for the accusations and mudslinging that came his way, he only had this to say: "[I didn't] do weird grimey shit to get there. I advertised, streamed for votes, I reminded people as much as I could. People wanted me there too."
He takes a swig from his a bottle of Bombay. "It's going to be the biggest learning experience in my life for Melee."
You can read Part 1 here
You can follow Alex19 on Twitter here: @mach1alex19
You can catch his Twitch stream here: twitch.tv/mach1alex19