“No one can hide on rollback.”
This was Zane “Epengu” Bhansali’s commentary during Hax’s Nightclub Season 2 Episode 2 — the first large online Melee tournament of 2021. In the idle moment between sets, he and Aziz “Hax$” Al-Yami mused about how the rollback era of Melee was an all-new one for hidden bosses.
Hax$ likened Slippi to the tech-skill IRS coming to audit your region’s favorite up and comer to see if they were really all that. Prior to Slippi implementing rollback netcode, Melee’s online play wasn’t robust enough for top players to take it seriously. In turn, online results didn’t prove much.
However, traveling to a major Melee event is costly, walling unsponsored regional bosses off of the big stage. With rollback implemented and the competition at least “close enough” to what it once was, the travel “john” is now gone. In this bold new world of Melee, everyone (except Europeans) have a chance to tweet about beating top 10 players.
In truth, the bold new world probably favors the usurpers. Mang0, Zain, Hungrybox — they’re all used to the cadence of offline competition, the hum of CRT setups, the rhythm of crowd noise, the many irritants of travel, all that jazz. Regional bosses are normally used to none of that jazz.
But this article isn’t about overcoming cold hands, early morning pools, and venue food. It’s about the usurpers. Specifically, it’s about four players you should watch, not only because they’re on the rise but because they’re entertaining and interesting.
I’ve tried to highlight players that haven’t been on Melee’s player rankings and don’t have too large a following. I’ve also tried to break down specifically what makes the player potent and unique.
4. Solobattle, Finland — Puff
The data doesn’t exist yet, but the Nordic countries have to be up there when it comes to top esports players per capita. In Melee, Sweden obviously comes to mind first, but right now Finland not only has a strong community but also Europe’s strongest Puff.
Solobattle currently tops Finland’s PR and has a strong case to make for being a top 100 player in the rollback era. While some think of Solobattle as an aggressive Puff, he’s more scrappy. Like most Puffs, Solobattle will circle and ledge camp some, especially with a lead. However, he actively seeks trades, stray hits, and bizarre scramble scenarios where his opponent falls off guard and into a tech chase scenario.
That tech chase is where Solobattle thrives. Playing much more off reaction, Solobattle seems to have a flowchart worked out based on what scramble option hit, where his opponent landed, and what tech option they chose. Given that Puff dies early on stages not named Dreamland, this is a high-risk style to run. Even if the rest lands, enough trades can put Puff in a vulnerable position/
However, Solobattle’s style makes it so he can easily equalize the game, steal the momentum, and fluster the opponent. To top it all of, Solobattle loves Yoshi’s Island, sometimes opting to go there instead of Dreamland. Though odd at first glance, the close quarters on Yoshi’s Island increase both his openings and his rewards.
In the rollback era, Solobattle became one of Europe’s top competitors. He has a great record against Trif (though he has a big matchup advantage). He’s increasingly matching his bracket demon Professor Pro and he’s consistently beating in-region threats like Levingy. And his record with up-and-comers like Pipsqueak is pretty even too.
Though he’s yet to crack Leffen, it’s clear his style has even more room for optimization. There are moments where the flowchart isn’t fully built out or where his execution is just that tiny bit off. A scenario that looks fantastic in one second turns into a disaster the next. Such is the nature of Puff.
Solobattle leans into that nature so much that he often exemplifies it. Take his Summit set against Professor Pro, where he attempted a waveland, falling up air, rest at 0 percent. Fox had slightly too little damage to be knocked down and the whiff turned the momentum back into Professor Pro’s favor.
Some people struggle to see the “spirit of Melee” in the floaties, but Solobattle shows it well in the high risk, high reward battles he creates. He’s a player to look for if you’re tuning into an EU event and feel lost outside of EU’s big names. Disregard any region or character bias you may have, and he’s a player to watch for his talent alone.
3. Android 0, SoCal — Falcon
No list of hype players is complete without a Falcon player.
When I watch Puff upthrow-rest a Marth after eating 17 straight fairs in neutral, I am irate. When I watch a Falcon down throw-knee a Marth after eating 21 straight fairs in neutral, I am elated. I watch “I Killed Mufasa” on repeat until I pass out of fatigue.
All jokes aside, Falcon embodies the constant give-and-take that germinates from Melee’s high octane engine. Most things combo Falcon, Falcon combos most things, and combos are exciting to most people. Especially if those combos come from Sufyan “Android 0” Hassan.
You might guess Android 0’s region just from his play. He carries the creative and stylish legacy of SoCal players like S2J and has landed plenty of impressive hard-read combos in bracket. However, these combos are only the entry point into Android 0’s game.
The core is movement.
According to Jeremy “Squid” Deutsch, one of the first techniques Android 0 mastered was the Hax dash, which allows Falcon to get up and then refresh ledge invincibility before it runs out. In his earlier sets, Android 0 would spam this option along with ledge cancels.
Android 0’s weird, frenetic style answers a question which few ever thought to ask: What if Captain Falcon was a bit more like Luigi? This is especially true in the earlier sets I’ve watched, including my personal favorite: Android 0 vs Niconics.
This set pays homage to the idea that Melee always has more to show you. In it, Niconics plays a more orthodox Falcon. He just wants to hit Android 0 with some cool combos and tech chase. Meanwhile, Android 0 plays a Falcon that is coated in vegetable oil and he really wants to kill Niconico using a hard read, a special move, or both.
Android 0 slips around the stage getting weird combos and conversions while Scar and Toph question why he “didn’t just use knee there” every thirty seconds. The set is close but for some reason, it never felt like Android 0 was in danger of losing.
Fast forward almost a year after that match and Android 0 has seriously improved! In November he had a number of strong placings and wins over players like Azel, Bones, Kodorin, KJH, bobby big ballz, Kalamazhu, and Ginger.
Because his movement is so clean, he’s somewhat a reaction-based Falcon in the school of Wizzrobe. He tech chases very efficiently and gets a lot of percent off a single grab. Unlike Wizzrobe and more like most Falcons, he wants to style on his opponents.
He’ll opt for reads more often and he’ll add difficult extra steps to a kill to make it look cooler. Where Wizzrobe will crouch and stare at his opponent like a computer waiting for input, Android 0 will dance around in advantage as though a forbidden Gamecube controller cursed his hands and he has to move his joystick every 10 frames.
This style makes Android 0 a blast to watch. Melee’s movement is one of its core tenets and Android 0 clearly has a love for it. To top it off, he’s pretty new to the scene and fastly improving, so it feels like there’s much more movement to come.
2. Bones, MD/VA — Falco
Bones represents another kind of rising star that doesn’t get the attention they deserve: the veteran who hits a breakthrough.
Bones has been around for a while but 2020 is easily his best year. He has wins over Golden, Ben, LSD, bobby big ballz, Ryobeat, Aklo, Gahtzu, Rishi, Llod, Magi, Ginger, and more. These wins came throughout the year as well, offline, on less legitimate delay, and on more legitimate rollback.
As a veteran, Bones' style is knowledgeable, patient, and balanced. He doesn’t struggle playing aggressively or defensively as Falco. His conversions can vary wildly from using odd hitboxes or rare glitches to literally just five lasers and an f-smash.
In the way that change is exciting, Bones is too. It feels hard to know exactly what to expect going into his matches. Perhaps because he often takes a risk on an early getup shine — or maybe out of raw luck — his sets often go back and forth with both sides getting highlights.
Few sets show it better than his 3-2 win over Ginger at LACS 2. These 5 games fly by in under 12 minutes, both Falcos maintaining a relentless pace coupled with fantastic punishes and creative conversions. However, the real star of the set is the laser.
Arguably the best projectile in the game, Falco’s laser isn’t only potent for controlling space but for creating follow-ups. Very few Falcos have the laser down as well as Ginger and Bones, so the set is an absolute shootout where many other Bones sets are just a shooting gallery. His laser usage is very lethal and very smart, leading to sharpshooter edgeguards and surprising punishes.
Bones is a player you can expect to see around and a player you’ll want to watch. His Falco has its own unique cadence and only seems to be improving.
1. Jmook, Upstate New York — Sheik
Unless you were tuned into upstate New York’s Melee scene, you probably didn’t know about Jake “Jmook” DiRado Arvonio until he made his huge run at Hax’s Nightclub earlier this month. He earned 5th place by beating Zain’s surprisingly solid Fox, Aklo, Magi, bobby big ballz, and Bones.
If you are a part of Melee’s New York scene, then this boss probably wasn’t hidden. You could see him coming in the locals upstate, where Jmook quietly became king. As far back as 2016, he was notable, beating iBDW as the future top Fox player was leveling up.
In 2018, you had to fear the name if you were a pro going to upstate New York. He took Alvaro “Trif” Garcia Moral to game 5 and clean sweeped La Luna.
Jmook made all of these upsets using a very technical, fast, and creative Sheik, which is especially great right now. In the rollback era, Sheik has entered a mini-dark age, with Mew2king retiring and Plup taking a mental health break. While players like Shroomed, Captain Faceroll, and Ben still showing up, the character is far from abandoned but also isn’t breaking into a ton of top 8’s.
Jmook understands the ins-and-outs of his character very well and seems to know how much extra space Melee’s tech can afford him. Many of his creative extensions come from simply applying a tech where you wouldn’t expect it. In that 2018 3-0, you can see it when he slips from the platform, nairs La Luna, then boost grabs to give Sheik a Marth-esque grab range.
Initially, it feels like Jmook simply materializes these creative combos and openers. However, he often intentionally creates them by gradually peeling off new yomi layers as the set goes on. This is really exciting to watch because it feels as though the ceiling of the game increases with the set.
Jmook is a down-smash-heavy Sheik, but in a way that makes you wonder if he’s onto something. He uses the move well to cover a lot of ledge options and to extend a punish and gain more stage control and edgeguard opportunities. More broadly, his extensions with Sheik are slightly unorthodox and very precise. This simple but clean stock off a max-range down tilt being one of my favorites.
What you’re seeing up to this point is all 2018. In 2020, Jmook’s style is the same — just better. He isn’t missing as many wavedashes. He isn’t dropping as many boost grabs. His shield drops look very clean. His situational awareness and understanding of Sheik’s toolkit is bonkers. And his platform game as a whole is all the more monstrous.
In 2018, he showed inklings of a simple but effective strategy: downthrow the opponent onto the platform. Jump onto platform. Wait for the tech option. React, then grab, then get one of Sheik’s myriad confirms of down throw. In 2020 — or at least at Hax’s Nightclub — he was dedicated to this approach and it’s not hard to see why, given the consistency it brings to his punish game.
The result is an early but pleasant surprise to 2021. If someone told you Jmook vs. Zain’s Fox might be the most exciting set of what’s probably an A-tier tournament, you’d think one of the two of you was having a stroke. But there it is.
I end with Jmook in particular not because he’s the most exciting or skilled of these competitors; it’s hard to say who is. I close with Jmook because may be the one to watch for clues as to how Melee’s intricate character meta further develops. Due to Zain’s optimizations, Marth is 2020’s meta leading character.
It’s early to tell, but Jmook’s Sheik might do more than look cool; it might give us insight into 2021’s oncoming meta.