(Disclaimer: Heavy and shameless bias towards my favorite player.)
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This blog is usually about fiction analysis and writing methodology, but leading up to my upcoming novel about women in e-sports, I decided to branch out with my content.  And, considering Evo 2015 is just around the corner, I’m just too damn excited to write about anything else.

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The Evolution Championship Series, for those who don’t know, is the largest and longest-running fighting game tournament in the world, with well over 5,000 unique entrants this year alone a live broadcast to be watched by hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide.

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This story concerns the Super Smash Brothers Melee champion of both Evo 2013 and Evo 2014, a pro smasher called Mango who is one of the most unique personalities in the game.  Mango is a character–charismatic, comically egotistical, way too patriotic for his own good, at times so immature that it somehow comes off as endearing and genuine.

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He is a man of the people, and was the undisputed best player in the world by a wide margin until a tournament called Genesis.

The Moment

Many would call the grand finals of Genesis between Mango and Armada the greatest match the game has ever seen.

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Armada was a European player who came out of nowhere to challenge Mango at a point in his career when he hadn’t lost a set in over a year and a half.

Despite all this, Mango was struggling.  He lost the first best-of-five set, and was already down 1-2 in the second.  Armada only needed to win one more game to take the entire tournament.  The whole crowd was bracing themselves for the possibility that their hometown hero might lose.

At the end of game four of the second set, everything changed.

Here’s the match.  I recommend watching the entire thing to hear the commentators talk about the experience of watching it all.  But, if you just want to see THE moment, skip to 3:54.

(Note: pic is a link, not the actual video.)

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In the last moment before it was all over, Mango made an impossible read.

At 4:11, you can see Mango’s Jigglypuff and Armada’s Peach landing next to each other.  At that moment, Armada could have done any number of moves.  There was no reason at all to expect that he’d roll to the right.  To top it all off, Mango went for the read using Jigglypuff’s riskiest move, the Rest, which would have left him completely vulnerable if he had missed. No one else could have made that play.  No one else would have been brave enough to go for it so brazenly.  But in that moment, Mango just knew.

At the climax of the entire tournament, just when Mango seemed on the verge of losing, he reversed all of Armada’s momentum and utterly shattered his mental game.

The tournament was over at that point.

In the matches that followed, you could see that Armada was shaken.  Mango had gotten inside his head.  Moving forward, he had all the momentum he needed.  The next game started with Mango looking like a whole new competitor.  He then 3-0’ed Armada easily in the set that followed, winning the entire tournament.

It was the greatest comeback that could possibly have happened between two smash players at the time, and it all came down to that one Rest.

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What it Meant

That moment cut to the core of why we care about competition at all.  At the end of the day, does it really matter how well someone can put a basketball in a hoop or who can run an oddly shaped ball across a hundred-yard field?

Of course not.

What matters is what those abilities say about the players who possess them.

Mango and Armada’s matches in Genesis grand finals weren’t just mindless brawls, but a series of brutal tests to see who could out-adapt his opponent.  They were adapting to each other’s playstyles so fast that even the audience was at a loss to fully comprehend the crazy mental games going on in each and every skirmish.

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At a time when Mango was thought to have no competition at all, Armada not only had the slight upper hand for both this set and the one before it, but he had, until then, brutally suppressed any openings for Mango to land a Rest on him.  It was almost like a symbol of how hard he had countered Mango’s normally unstoppable mental game.

When the Rest happened it wasn’t just Mango finally landing that particular move, or him winning a game everyone thought he was about to lose.  In a single moment, Mango broke through Armada’s hold on him and won the mental battle.  It was the knockout punch that came out of nowhere, ending the round before the timer was even up.  Mango’s dominance in the their final best-of-five set was clear and decisive with the 3-0 victory that won the tournament for him.

At that split second of when Mango made the hardest of reads, he had given Armada a clear message:

“I’m stronger than you.”

Mango didn’t wreck him like everyone thought he would, but in a sense, he did more than that.  It doesn’t take much for a stronger player to beat a weaker player, but for a strong player to face his equal, or perhaps even someone slightly stronger than him, and surpass him midmatch–that shows something deeper.

Situationally it doesn’t matter who has the higher quantity of skill coming in, the one whose sheer grit pushes him so hard he goes Super Saiyan midmatch is, in the mind of the people, the real champion and will always be the real champion.

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The match abruptly ceased being about who had more skill as a player and became about who had more heart.

In terms of skill, there wasn’t anything more to see, we just hoped it would end how we wanted it to end.  In terms of skill, maybe Armada was the better player up until that moment.  In terms of skill, it really was on the brink of there being no hope at all.

But once it became about heart, there was hope again.  Armada may have been the player with more skill, we couldn’t say, but we knew that Mango was the player with more heart.  Once that became the issue, we cared–because deep down we all believe that the player with the most heart is the one who most deserves to win.

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Skill is just a shadow for us–a barometer for us to guess who has more heart.  But once that level is eliminated entirely, once the threshold of what we’re watching reaches such an intense extreme that it cuts to the core of what we believe this is all about–then we care more than we’ve ever cared before.

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The other aspect of all of this, of course, was the crowd hype.

The Rest was, indisputably, the pinnacle of the suspense and excitement that had been building throughout the entire match and the entire tourney.  But what made it so moving and so invigorating for us is that we were the ones screaming for it all to happen.

We spectate sports because, on some level, we feel like we can partake of a player’s greatness by living through that player.  We cheer for our favorite player because we identify with him or her.  We really wish it was us up there accomplishing all those feats we so passionately admire.  In this case, though, it was us.

We weren’t dealing with any ordinary player, we were dealing with a competitor who feeds off his audience.  Mango is the people’s hero, and his power only grows when he hears the “Mango Chant” thundering through the crowd.  When it’s all on the line and his people are behind him, Mango uses that energy in a way that no other player does.  Our energy becomes his excitement, his motivation, his determination.

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It’s not just us living through him–it’s him living through us.

The Rest meant so much to us because it was the closest we’ve ever come–and, for most of us, the closest we ever will come–to being on that stage and taking the victory ourselves.

It really was our moment.

Mango couldn’t have done it without us.  We couldn’t have done it without him.  We did it together.

—–

The Mango vs Armada rivalry continues to this day.

Two years after Genesis, Mango and Armada met again in grand finals of the tourney’s sequel, Genesis 2.  That time, Armada took home the victory.  These players, often considered the best of America and the best of Europe, seem destined to meet over and over for as long as the competitive scene exists.

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Recently Armada has had the upper hand, but even in the last few months, Mango continues to pull out impossible feats that only his ultimate rival can bring out of him.

At a Norcal tournament called I’m Not Yelling (yes, that was the actual name of the tournament), the grand finals once again saw America vs Europe.  Armada switched from Fox to Peach mid-set and Mango seemed unable to adapt.  Once again, he was one game away from losing the tournament.  And once again, he made an impossible play completely out of nowhere:

(The match starts at 5:34, for just the moment, start watching at 7:48.  Once again, pic is a link, not a video.)

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Mango turned the set around like literally no one else in the world could have.  Even though Armada managed to clutch out the next match and won the tournament, the way it ended must have undoubtedly been terrifying for Armada.  Mango’s loss had only been due to inpatience, but by that time, he had figured Armada out.  It was as if Mango’s last words before being knocked out were a quiet and decisive:

“Don’t forget, I’m stronger than you.”

The fact that it proved false in the following months didn’t matter.  It was a bold statement, it was cocky, it was Mango being Mango.

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Despite being the Evo 2013 and Evo 2014 champion, Mango is definitely the underdog going into Evo 2015.  This year, Mango is 2-6 in his sets against his rival.  But everyone, even Armada’s fans, know that no player is scarier than Mango when he’s playing from behind.  It’s even a meme in the Smash Community.  Using one of Mango’s many monikers, the same phrase is repeated again and again to every naysayer:

“Thou shalt not sleep on the Kid.”

However it turns out, it will be a story for the ages!

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Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this post, give the Facebook page a like and follow me on Twitter.  As I get closer to finishing my novel on women in e-sports (which you can read about here), I’ll be posting more content about competitive gaming and Smash in general.

See you in two weeks for another post!

(In the meantime, let’s go 3VO!)

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