Mild and I began regularly hanging out with Azen to play games, along with his close childhood friend, Keith or Anden. I recall thinking that Anden had a similar knack for games to Azen, but it wasn’t nearly as pronounced and he was much closer to average. Although Azen and Anden were both good gamers, gaming still wasn’t very much about the competition for me; I still played to mess around and enjoy myself, and unsurprisingly I usually ended in last. Azen, Anden and Mild were all a few years older than me, and at age eleven I often chalked up my losses to an age disadvantage.
Smash 64 was one of our most-played games, but we still played many other games and hadn’t focused on Smash in particular. This all changed when a sequel was announced in early 2001: Super Smash Bros. Melee. When footage of the game began to release that summer, all of us were blown away by the graphics and the speed of the game. It looked to be a huge leap from Smash 64, and the four of us became increasingly excited for the game months before it was scheduled to release. I even claimed Sheik as my initial main due to my love for Ocarina of Time, and she indeed became my main for the first year or so of the game’s release.
After what felt like years, the day finally arrived: Melee’s release in early December 2001. Mild had gone over to Azen’s house the night before to attend a midnight release for the game and buy a copy, so when I woke up the next morning and he was sitting in bed with a game case in his hand, I could hardly contain my excitement. With a sly smile he turned the case toward me: Melee was here.
We had maybe 10 minutes before we had to leave for school, but I had to get a couple of rounds in before I left. If I recall correctly, my first match ever was my Sheik vs Mild’s Ness on Onett. Even though we had seen the game footage already, actually playing it was an incredible experience. The game not only lived up to our expectations but actually exceeded them.
Almost immediately, Melee became byfar our most-played game when we went over to Azen’s house. We fell in love with the game and played religiously for the few months of the game’s release. Although Anden typically won over Mild and I, Azen continued to lead the pack, implementing things like L-cancelling and shieldgrabbing immediately because of his experience using advanced techniques in Smash 64. He also continued to use the entire cast, which was especially impressive since Melee’s roster was over twice as big as 64’s. As Azen continued to progress and dominate us, though, we actually began to get pretty damn good ourselves, even without realizing it at the time. Although we knew Azen was good, I still assumed he was just an above-average player, so there was no reason to believe we were anything special.
One day in early 2002, Azen stumbled across a forum called Smashboards online. He made an account and saw that people were meeting up to play Melee, and he began scouting for competition himself. He got in touch with a player named Jtanic whose friend lived within walking distance of Azen, and met up with him to play. Initially I was extremely skeptical about this; meeting strangers from the Internet was still an uncertain concept at the time, especially at our age, and finding out Jtanic was near age 20 didn’t help. However, after Azen played with Jtanic a few times without incident, and told us Jtanic was actually pretty skilled, Mild and I decided to meet him and play him ourselves at Azen’s house. He had a surprisingly tricky Samus, and actually mostly beat Mild and I at first. We were impressed and he began coming over regularly to train with us, despite the age gap.
The experience with Jtanic made me reconsider my opinion on Smashboards, and I decided to make an account myself. I was immediately pleased with the decision; finally there was a place where people loved Smash just as much as I did. Discussions on the boards sparked my interest in advanced techniques, including a tactic which apparently was very popular in Japan called “wavedashing.” I made a now-infamous post in a thread about wavedashing wherein I implied wavedashing didn’t seem very useful, because at the time the movement in the game was still very slow and no one seemed to be able to wavedash consistently enough to apply it well. Obviously I was later proved wrong, but generally speaking the community was still extremely new to the competitive aspect of the game and very few people consistently implemented advanced techniques. Even things like L-cancelling and short hopping were still fairly rare at the time. Regardless, the discussions made me realize there was a lot of depth to the game, and now I know we were barely even scratching the surface.
Along with the discussion about the game, we began to notice tournament threads popping up on Smashboards as well. This intrigued us; with as much time as we had put into playing the game, we were hungry for more competition. However, with no tournaments anywhere reasonably close to us, we realized there was only one option: host one ourselves. We were determined to put our skills to the test, and so despite being only age 12 I decided to put together a tournament.
Finding a venue seemed like the only real issue, but I managed to get in touch with a veteran organization called American Legion, which has various posts across the country. I reached out to a few and to my surprise one of them seemed responsive to holding a tournament there. The date was set - August 17th, 2002, the first true test of our Smash skills.