Two unsigned, ambitious competitors shook up the competitive Super Smash Bros. 4 community yesterday after shutting down the game's best player, Gonzalo "Zero" Barrios, in two fun-to-watch upsets.
At the Big House 7, Smash 4's biggest tournament in the midwest, Zero Suit Samus player Tyler "Marss" Martins and Corrin player Brian "Cosmos" Kalu each defeated Zero 3-0 in the tournament's final hours.
Last year's Big House 6 was Cosmos' first major tournament. On the anniversary of that milestone, Cosmos told me, "[he] really wanted to prove to [himself] and others" that he'd made a dramatic improvement. Up to the moment when he plugged in his GameCube controller, Cosmos' friends assured him that he could beat anyone he played against. Despite that, playing Zero, he said, was "nerve-wracking".
By the time it was all over, though, Zero had lost twice and seemed shaken up by events outside of the two battles. On Twitter, the Smash 4 pro made vague references to people who made his time at the tournament "uncomfortable", describing them as "snakes". "This tournament is super depressing to be at. A lot of people have been super shitty to me and it's just sad to be in this venue," he said. We reached out to him to find out more about his remarks, but had not heard back at time of writing.
Whatever the distractions, the two upset games were stirring to watch. In the first contest, Cosmos held onto the lead through his first match against Zero, exploiting his fighter Corrin's comparatively long range whenever Zero went in for a short-ranged attack. That first victory galvanised Cosmos: "When I took the first game from Zero, I took all the hope I could from them and played confident for the rest of the set," he said. Cosmos then earned himself a lead on the second game with this risky, aggressive play:
At the end of the second game, Cosmos went all-in on another risky move that, thankfully for him, ended up working out:
Commentators at this point started singing a different song, less assured of Zero's inevitable victory and more confident in Cosmos' sharpened skills. Zero compensated after the two losses with some hyper-proactive gameplay and brutal edge-guarding in the third game. But neck-and-neck, Zero went into the fray with a confident back-air kick, which Cosmos met with an equally confident Dragon Fang Shot attack, a paralysing water attack that follows up with a powerful bite. Cosmos took the final stock, proving to his friends that he had indeed come far:
Marss is an 18-year-old Smash 4 player who, since he started competing in Smash 4 two years ago, made defeating Zero a career goal. Cool and collected, but internally revved up after previous wins, Marrs launched into the losers' semifinals against Zero with cautious confidence. "I could hardly hold my excitement [at] the thought of potentially beating the best player in the world," Marss told me.
At first, Zero pummelled Marss with several aggressive strings of attacks, appearing to gain the upper hand against the newer player. It was soon apparent that the match wouldn't be so clear-cut after Zero, in the lead and preparing to attack from the stage's edge, was knocked off by Marss' critically well-timed kick:
The greatest proof of a top player is their ability to identify and exploit vulnerabilities the moment before they happen. When possible, Marss inflicted massive damage with aggressive air combos and quick, powerful punishes. Sometimes, Zero couldn't make it back onto the stage afterwards. After winning game one, Marss and Zero were 1-1 before Marss stole Zero's final stock by, again, playing hyper-aggressively:
Marss went above and beyond with proactive plays — especially kicks — throughout the semifinals set. Moments before knocking off Zero's final stock, he showed off his ability to quickly turn a sketchy situation into an opportunity.
After winning game three, Marss says he was "so overwhelmed with emotions that [he] had no idea what to think".
In the end, Marss and Cosmos placed second and third in the 512-entrant tournament, exceeding expectations all around. And although it was their determination and fine play that earned them those spots, it looks like Zero was struggling with some demons that didn't look much like Corrin or Zero Suit Samus. He later said he was reconsidering attending next week's tournament, citing his need to rest.