By: Matt Demers
However, one genre that seems to avoid this problem is fighting games. As we had the chance to see at the Evolution Championship Series, there are players whose years of mastery have allowed them to stay at the top of their games, continuing to compete and amaze onlookers in a great show of longevity.
Daniel "Chu Dat" Rodriguez is one of those names. As one of Super Smash Bros: Melee's recognizable names, Chu pioneered the character of Ice Climbers during their climb through the tier list and could be found in the top three places during the game's "Golden Age" of 2003-2007. He participated in the game's resurgence through interviews for The Smash Brothers, a nine-part documentary about the community he cares so much about, and today, he competes for Mortality eSports in Smash Melee and Project M, a mod constructed to carry on the game's legacy.
Chu, a 27-year-old Virginia native, was almost on the cusp of leaving competitive gaming in the years leading up to Melee's resurgence. In an interview with EvenMatchup Gaming, he cited instability in his local community and lack of direction for the games he enjoyed.
It's funny how a year can change so much.
"The feeling I have for this new life of Smash is great. To be honest, I forgot what it was like back then," he said, referencing those rougher years.
"The Smash community struggled for so long, but we're back on our feet now and kicking off so rapidly, it's hard to keep up."
Started as an ambitious community project, The Smash Brothers propelled Melee back into the spotlight, as many eSports fanatics from other games had at least a passing experience with the game. Soon, teams like Mortality, Cloud 9 and Evil Geniuses were picking up talent to compete under their banners, and Chu found that this brought advantages to his game moving forward.
"Playing as a sponsored player has so many benefits to it compared to the old days without a sponsorship. At MLG Anaheim, my manager would get me anything I needed so I was able to focus on the tournament. I performed better because of that."
"Watching the scene grow is amazing. I get goose bumps every time Team Curse mentions ChillinDude or Hungrybox," he says with a laugh. "It's a great ride and I'm glad I'm here to experience it all."
As Smashers headed back to Vegas to compete in the last event of the community-dubbed "Summer of Smash", EVO 2014, Chu was right there along with them. Despite being in Vegas in 2006 for the finals of the Major League Gaming pro circuit that year (Chu finished 7th), he notes that coming back nearly eight years later has a different, larger feeling.
"EVO in 2014 got ten times better than it was in 2007. The venue was ten times bigger, ten times cooler looking, ten times more screens, and overall was run better than in 2007," he said.
"EVO is definitely a great example of how to produce tournaments and expanding on what works."
Chu's competitive experience gives him an edge over players that may be new to the game, or to competing in a high-pressure bracket. He still cites learning new things, as there have been additions to his arsenal. For instance, a technique called "Wobbling" - an inescapable chain-grab which all but guarantees a kill - was only recently discovered over the past few years.
As the technique requires certain circumstances to pull off, it can be a bit of a risk to depend on it; Chu explains that despite his Ice Climbers' style changing, he'll still get nervous while trying to get that all-important first grab. In a high-intensity atmosphere like EVO or any other large tournament, a successful wobble can mean a won set or major advantage.
When the dust settled on EVO, Chu finished a respectable 17th out of a field of 970; he finished on the same level as many other popular smashers, including Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios and Masaya "aMSa" Chikamoto, both fan-favorites and participants in Nintendo's E3 Invitational.
Also of note is considering his "era" of Smash on the final results sheet; Chu and long-time friend and doubles partner Kashan "Chillindude" Khan (9th) seem to be leading the charge of Melee's older school. Other players from their generation like Ken "Liquid.Ken" Hoang and Daniel "Liquid.KoreanDJ" Jung struggled, finishing 33rd and 65th, respectively.
EVO also had a surprise in Chu's Mortality team mate Jeffrey "Axe" Williamson, who took 5th place with his Pikachu. Unfortunately, both players actually had to play each other in the bracket stage, where Axe defeated Chu. Chu notes that "playing against Axe was fun because he has an interesting choice of characters that can perform at high level."
Perhaps there's a bit of understanding there, considering both Ice Climbers and Pikachu are unorthodox picks in themselves.
For now, Chu plans to continue playing Melee for Mortality and focus on honing his skills for further competition. His region is home to "[email protected]", a weekly tournament streamed by VG Bootcamp, a noted channel for all things Smash.
Xanadu is unique in that it brings close to 100 people for a weekly tournament, and also commands a consistent 3,000+ viewers for what can be considered a low-stakes competition. This has a side benefit in being an excellent staging ground for people to see him play.
"Xanadu helped a lot with my following. I remember the first time I went to Xanadu, I gained 50 followers in one night," Chu notes.
"There is a lot more excitement when there is a tournament streamed with 3,000 people watching rather than a tournament not being streamed. You want to impress the 3,000 people watching so you play your best. At unstreamed tournaments, things are a little more boring."
With the "Summer of Smash" relatively over and the big events (MLG and EVO) over with, it seems that it's back to business for the Melee community. However, the momentum they've made from the past year has given them an immense amount of respect, and also the potential to keep growing.
If there's one thing we know, it's that every growing community needs veterans to help guide new people and keep putting on amazing performances - if we know Chu (and we do, quite well), the summer has only continued to fuel explosive growth for both him and Mortality eSports.
This article and the photos contained were produced by Guest Writer @MattDemers / http://www.mattdemers.com/
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