The First Tournaments and New Friendships

In Smash by Azen Zagenite

The First Tournaments and New Friendships

It was early 2002, Anden, Chillin, Mild, and I were all smitten by the recently released Super Smash Bros. Melee. The new Smash game was far more fun and better than we expected it to be. We were also getting quite competitive with each other as we played more and improved. I had been checking out the message boards once in a while for anything interesting about Smash when I happened to come across a topic on GameFAQs about someone wanting to play other people in his area.

Looking for Smash

The topic creator was someone named JTanic and by sheer coincidence he lived in the same city as me. Because of how good my friends were getting at the game, that made playing Smash even more fun at the same time, so my interest in finding other skilled people to play also grew in order to get more of that same kind of fun. I responded to him with my interest in meeting up to Smash and we agreed to meet in front of the Food-Lion so he could pick me up to go to his friend’s place nearby. This would be the first time I ever meet anyone through the internet. I was still just 15 at the time and while he was 20 I didn’t think much of it. To me, age doesn’t matter when it comes to video games. I was just very excited to finally get a chance to meet another fan of Melee outside of my group of friends.

Mike’s place conveniently ended up being just down the street from where I lived so we were able to start playing Smash immediately. JTanic and Mike mained Samus and Link which was cool since my friends didn’t use those characters. We played for many hours and had a great time learning from each other’s experience. I could tell JTanic had a lot of potential since that first day. He had many tricks and smart spacing with Samus that I’ve never seen before.

At the end of the day we decided to meet up regularly to play more fighting games. Mike’s place was just walking distance away from me so it worked out nicely. Aside from Smash, they also played Soul Calibur 2. It was really fun to try out a new style of fighting game that I never experienced before and they were really good at it too. I wanted H2YL to meet JTanic so eventually I set up a Smashfest at my place. My friends also really enjoyed his fresh skills as he put up quite the challenge with everyone. After that we started inviting JTanic over for Smashfests or to hang out. We made a new friend thanks to an online message board.

Our first tournament

Summer came along and the competition within H2YL had been heating up. With the school year at a close we had a lot more time to play games together, specifically Super Smash Bros. Melee. Even though the game had been out for several months already, we were playing it more than ever. It was a testament to the game’s depth and limitless potential at all levels of skill that even without modern technical mastery it still captured the competitive spirits of its players.

Without having to deal with classes we had a lot more free time to browse through community boards such as GameFAQs and Smashboards. We noticed that Smashers from more popular locations in the US were hosting their own tournaments. That knowledge immediately piqued our interest. There were Smashers out there setting up events to see who was the best in their regions instead of merely competing against a small circle of friends. Our relatively quiet area of Virginia wasn’t so lucky however, but we didn’t let that hold us back.

We toyed around with the idea of hosting our own tournament for a while, but it was Chillin who stepped up to the plate to actually put things into motion. Even though he was a few years younger than the rest of us he had the most aspirations for competitive gaming. Chillin found a locale that was a small veteran center, but it was spacious inside and they kindly let us use it for free which was very convenient for us broke kids. We then advertised on message boards about our event which was soon to be the first Smash tournament in Virginia.

When the day came, we were excited and anxious for what would happen. Competitive gaming or esports were still radical ideas that weren’t taken seriously at the time so we were still unsure how things would turn out. To our delight over a dozen people actually came and one of them was able to bring a setup too which helped since we only had two ourselves. After all the fierce training sessions we had together it was time to finally test our strength against other Smashers. Unfortunately Mild and JTanic weren’t able to come duke it out, but Chillin, Anden, and I were there to represent.

I was very interested in experiencing the way people other than my friends played Smash so I tried to play others whenever I could, but I needed to help draw up a bracket before I could get many games in. We didn’t really understand the way brackets worked back then, but we made a crude double-elimination bracket. We also separated people by friend circles to ensure no one would have to play their own friend immediately. Since we were a little late in arriving, we began the tournament right after finalizing the bracket.

We weren’t sure what kind of ruleset to allow so we just enabled all stages and items. It was also just a best-of-1 on a random stage, a single 5-stock match which would determine who would go on. We also made it so you could only choose one character, whatever you picked would be who you’d have to use for all of your matches. Without any clear precedent to examine, we made the ruleset very simple to see how it fared as well as what people thought of it afterwards. With everything set, Chillin started the tournament.

It was my first time ever playing a video game in a tournament setting and it was a thrill. However, it left me longing to play more whenever each match ended. I wanted to just keep playing with everyone, but the tournament had to continue. In one of my matches I played against a Smasher named Eric who used Yoshi with my Link. It was an intense battle on Fourside which he came out on top in the end. It was really cool to play against someone besides my friends who were around the same level. I was wondering if there were others out there that also enjoyed taking the game to higher levels and he proved that H2YL weren’t the only ones.

Another close match was with a Donkey Kong player on Icicle Mountain. With the craziness of the stage and the myriad of items strewn about, I had just barely survived the bout. I then had to unfortunately face Chillin. It was another close match that happened on Corneria, Chillin had the advantage for most of the match until a random crate I threw ended up being an explosive which turned the tides to my favor. Waiting for me was Eric again who had just lost to Anden moments before. I was very proud of Anden being able to beat the Yoshi, seeing my friends prove their mettle against others always made me happy. Once again I had to face Eric, it was another exciting battle which I was somehow able to overcome that time around.

The first victory

In the end remained Anden and I. We were ecstatic about our performance. Our first Smash tournament and the three of us made it to the top 4 with two of us in the finals. Now no matter who won, we won. But we still had one more match to play. Anden and I played our grand finals on Green Greens. It was an epic showdown which I happened to narrowly clutch out in the end. Fortunately I had the foresight to bring a VCR tape for one of our TV+VCR combo setups to record with. This match between Anden and I showcases one of the earliest tournament finals for Melee ever recorded.

After that was over, we also held a quick teams tournament just for fun. Anden and I usually teamed at Smashfests so we teamed together for this too. When setting up the bracket, we contemplated on a team name for the first time. It just so happened this was when Anden suggested “Ha Ha You Lose”. I found it hilarious and accepted the name immediately. That name would later become our official Smash crew name which was then abbreviated to H2YL. We also ended up winning teams which made the name even more fitting. Thus the tournament concluded. It was well orchestrated by Chillin who did most of the work and planning. Everyone who came was friendly and expressed interest in coming to more tournaments in the future, even since the beginning the Smash community have always been very supportive of each other.

Although we came out on top, we knew this was only the beginning. Now that we’ve seen what other dedicated Smashers were capable of, we couldn’t slow down since if they’re anything like us they’ll fight to bounce back even stronger than before. Eric and his friend mentioned to us they were in a crew named DYCER and that they were excited to Smash with us in the next tournament along with the others that couldn’t make it. That was when we officially decided to make H2YL the name of our Smash crew and it was the beginning of the heated crew rivalries of our region.

The second battle

Our tournament quickly promoted competitive growth for Smash in our region and even inspired others to host their own tournaments as well. Our second tournament experience was one a few months later that someone else hosted in fact, a Samus main from Maryland named Kengo hosted one in a small hotel. We immediately noticed Smash’s growth as there were well over 20 entrants, a significant increase compared to the previous event. It was very crowded and with just a few setups it was hard to get in any friendlies, but luckily I was able to play with some people before it started and even some afterwards. H2YL and DYCER would also face off again, this time with more of both of our crews joining the fray with JTanic from our side and Derrick from the other.

I managed to make it far into the tournament with Link, but fell to DYCER’s juggernauts: Eric and Derrick. The rest of H2YL met a similar fate. This time it was DYCER that emerged victorious, but it didn’t discourage us one bit. I was very happy to see that it instead motivated us more than ever to keep training up in Smash. I really enjoyed getting to play many skilled players and the uniqueness of everyone’s playstyles was becoming even more apparent. I eagerly awaited the next chance to play with all the cool people who also loved Smash.

Our next tournament

Chillin was fired up to host another H2YL tournament and since JTanic enjoyed his first tournament experience a lot, he offered to let us use his house as the next venue. We continued to train fiercely until near the end of 2002 when our next tournament would start. The Smash community was growing bit by bit and the message boards were becoming more active. Our second H2YL tournament had over 40 entrants this time, a number we didn’t expect to reach. Once again I was very excited to play as much Smash as I could with everyone, I played a lot of friendlies before the tournament started, many with new people I haven’t seen from the previous two I went to.

This time the tournament ended up being single-elimination. Due to the overwhelming support of Smashers by coming and entering, our timing was a little off. The ruleset was also changed dramatically: there were no longer any items, the only stage available was Final Destination, and the stock count was upped to six. Our character lock rule was still in effect and this time I decided to go Falco who I was recently having a lot of fun with.

I progressed through the bracket pretty handily. One random strategy that seemed to work often back then was full jump spike to down smash. Even with low time constraints, Chillin was swiftly conducting the tournament with the help of his brother Mild calling out matches. Semi-finals came around soon and I was matched to play against Daniel, a.k.a. Chu Dat, who used Fox. It was a back and forth slobberknocker which Chu came out ahead in the end.

I was elated to find yet another highly skilled player that entered the Smash scene. Our region was experiencing a rapid growth in just half a year time. Both the increase of Smashers at tournaments and the increase of the overall skill level of everyone were proof of the upward trend. As for the rest of the tournament, due to an oversight in the bracket it ended up in a three-way-tie among DYCER and Chu. After that we did some research on how to really make brackets to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

The newcomer

Chu went by “spanish d00d” on Smashboards at the time. He didn’t actually change his tag to Chu Dat until some time later though. I noticed that he had been becoming more active in the local community by posting on Smashboards a little more frequently so I hit him up about having a Smashfest together. Like with JTanic, I was excited to play new highly skilled players and Chu certainly proved that at the last tournament. He agreed and I came over to his place to play some more Melee. We had many intense battles and even played a 26 character ditto. He played similar to me in some aspects such as using short hops into cancelled aerials. He was also experienced with many of the characters like me. It was a super fun night full of high level Smash.

Chu told me he played a lot with his cousins and he usually beat them 1v2 as well. I can imagine how much that kind of practice can develop one’s skills and it shows with his understanding of the game’s physics and strategies. After that I invited him to play Smash with H2YL anytime, he was a relatively quiet dude back then but he fiercely showed his skills in whatever games he played. My friends were greatly impressed with his abilities and that made us more excited to train even harder.

Friends and Smash

H2YL was not only a Smash crew, but a group of treasured friends for life. We often chilled and played games with each other whenever our schedules would allow or help each other out in times of need. It is interesting how Smash helped to bring us together and solidify our friendships. A simple video game had the power to affect our lives in major ways. The Smash community draws in many amazing people of all kinds and tournaments help to gather all those people to have fun together in one place. And with tournaments on the rise, the Smash community was only going to get bigger and bigger.

In just over a year of time H2YL has grown in experience and in number. Our Smash circle first started with Anden, Chillin, Mild, and me. Then grew to add JTanic and Chu to make the final members of the team. The competition within H2YL was now at an all-time high with the six of us training to get better and better. Our goals to win tournaments and become the best Smash crew was making promising progress as we constantly tested our skills against one another. Soon we aimed to take back future tournaments in our name over our rivals in DYCER.