When looking at the greatest Super Smash Bros. Melee players, you’ll notice that many of them have defining characteristics. Juan “Hungrybox” Debiema and his nerves of steel. Peter “Leffen” Hjelte and his belligerence. Joseph “Mang0” Marquez and his love of beer. Melee has some of the most interesting personalities in esports and if you had to decide what Masaya "aMSa" Chikamoto’s is, there’s no doubt it’s love.
It’s hard not to love aMSa. One of the most exciting and iconic Super Smash Bros. Melee players, the Japanese Yoshi main is an outlier, universally loved by the community. Why? The “easy” answer is aMSa’s strong results with a very unorthodox character but there’s so much more to it.
aMSa, in many ways, embodies the spirit of Melee — and video games in general. He’s used his affection towards an overlooked character to change the conversation about him. His love of competition has led to some of the most memorable tournament runs in history. And the way he puts his heart in the game is something all can be inspired by. aMSa has accomplished many admirable feats and at the center of them all is a single idea: love.
Love the character
For many of the game’s early years, the loveable dinosaur Yoshi was as dead to Melee as his real-world counterparts. No one wasted their time playing Yoshi. People considered him hopelessly weak, a novelty. Though his interesting toolkit made it so he could be strong in theory, nobody gambled their numbers to make any headway.
His large size and weight made him an easy target for enemy hitboxes, he had very poor defensive options, and lacked recovery when knocked off stage. For a time, he was ranked 22nd of 26 characters on most tier lists. On top of that, nearly all of his matchups were unfavorable for him, with several of them being downright unwinnable.
But aMSa loved Yoshi.
“Ever since Melee came out, the only character I used was Yoshi, like 90% of the time….Whenever I played Nintendo games and Yoshi was a playable character, I just picked Yoshi.”
At the time, committing to such a bad character might’ve seemed foolish, but aMSa did not abandon his Melee love. He not only kept playing Yoshi but transformed him into a formidable force.
In 2013, aMSa introduced himself to the world with“The Red Essence”, a video showing off some absurdly impressive Yoshi tech — faster than anyone before. Still to this day it’s essentially better than everyone else’s.
Throughout that year, aMSa posted decent results, even taking a game off of Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman, ranked 3rd in the world at the time. In 2014, the egg would hatch. His 9th place finish at Apex 2014 saw him take out a string of respected players, showing the power Yoshi wielded when in his hands. At the next Apex a year later, he performed even better, finishing 5th.
It was there that aMSa battled through a swathe of top ranked players, before losing a hard fought five-game set to Mang0, at the time the world’s top ranked player and a favorite to win the tournament. Though a heartbreaking loss, the performance earned the Yoshi-main respect across the Smash community.
aMSa was inconsistent in his early years of play, with many still questioning Yoshi’s viability. Because of his fickle placements and poor showings in best-of-5 matchups, many still viewed Yoshi as a gimmicky character. Many in the Smash community saw aMSa’s occasional success as a fluke, only possible by the lack of experience opposing competitors had playing the unusual character. As soon as they played against him more, Yoshi would be exposed.
The only thing exposed, though, was the real power of the dinosaur. Since his initial breakout performances, aMSa has gone nowhere but up. He boasts multiple wins against elite players, and is currently ranked as the 7th best player in the world. With every victory, his Yoshi looks stronger.
aMSa single-handedly erased the perception that Yoshi is a vulnerable mess with a horrible matchup spread. Even though his defense was poor (though not as poor as thought of before), his swift air movement and strong punish game could make him a dangerous attacker. The majority of his techniques were odd and quite difficult to execute, but he could be really dangerous in the hands of a passionate and skilled player. aMSa was the one and under his fingers, Yoshi went from a bottom-table laughing stock to a solid mid-tier — now considered 12th best.
He lived and excelled due to a childhood love.
“Yes. I love Yoshi, which is why I used him at tournaments, but my hard work paid off”, aMSa said.
Love the fight
Any person who attends tournaments on a regular basis has to enjoy competition. There are few players as overt in their joy as aMSa. With his big smile and excited demeanor, it’s been said that him and Yoshi share a lot in common.
Though aMSa wasn’t competing until 2013, the seed was planted at a young age. Shortly after the games release, aMSa and his older siblings dedicated themselves to minigames like Break the Targets.
“We were able to see videos of other sub-events, and we were really enthusiastic to copy it. That’s how we got to know the competitive scene, which was growing in those days.” His dedication to mini games provided early hints of his defining characteristics: relentless drive and fearsome technical skill.
aMSa is also Japan’s first (and only) professional Melee player. That itself shows his love of competition. The mountains he’s had to climb to even compete are ridiculous. Japan might be a bastion for video game culture but it is a nightmare for a top player. The scene is small compared to even Europe, tiny compared to North America. Strict gambling laws prevent native tournaments from featuring cash prizes. To even compete for money, aMSa had to spend hundreds of dollars out of pocket to travel to an American event on a bone-breaking schedule. 12 hours for Kings of Cali. 13 for EVO. 15 for Apex.
aMSa wasn’t the first elite Japanese Smash player. Old legends like Bombsoldier and Ryota "Captain Jack" Yoshida were some of the best in the world during the game’s Golden Age. However, aMSa competes in a world of team sponsorships, practice regimens, and an ever accelerating meta game. To do so successfully with all those disadvantages, what he has accomplished is far more impressive. And in case the point hasn’t been drilled in enough yet: he did all of this playing Yoshi.
Competing professionally at Smash at the time was unprecedented. Though a popular game, a Smash player didn’t garner the same adulation as similar competitors like Daigo Umehara or Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi. Constant transcontinental travel is no easy task. Japanese work culture also is a huge deterrent from any citizen becoming a professional. Somehow, aMSa has joyfully kept on. Somehow, he keeps getting better.
His tournament resume is very interesting and it’s a common theme in supermajor tournaments to see an aMSa run as one of the stories. He’s had Cinderella moments at most of Smash’s premier competitions. Tournaments that bring in hundreds of skilled participants, in some cases thousands. The man has placed in the top five at Smash Summit, Super Smash Con, and GENESIS - events filled with the best competition in the world. When the crowds are largest and the spotlights are brightest, aMSa somehow is at his strongest.
Competing against the very best is also a thrill for him. While many players dread facing one of the Five Gods, aMSa revels in it, saying “competing against those top level players makes me very excited”. He’s won matches against Justin “Plup” McGrath, Mew2King, and Hungrybox. Even in some of those so-called “impossible matchups”, aMSa does that impossible.
Seeing the happiness radiating off of him in competition is a sight to behold. He loves the fight. In his position — a Yoshi player halfway across the world from any major competition that doesn’t even speak English — a lot would find themselves discouraged. They’d hang in the towel. Not aMSa.
Love the game
This is what really makes aMSa so fun to watch - sticking to his guns and playing the game in his own unique way. He loves Yoshi. He clearly likes the competition. Moreso though, he loves the game. “Without a doubt, my love for the game is my driving force.”
One of the most attractive attributes of esports is its level playing field. How it allows an outlet for competition for those not able to in traditional sports. It’s true. But aMSa isn’t just playing for the sake of competition.
His wild playstyle and tournament runs aren’t guided exclusively by hunger for first, but are an expression of his unique approach to the game. Rather than using the game to compete, aMSa is competing for the game.
“In my mind, the ideal image of a professional gamer is someone who can properly communicate and convey what’s so amazing about the game he plays, and can share that knowledge to improve and energize the game industry. I think a big element of that is going to tournaments, and commentating or analyzing sets, for example.”
By his own definition, aMSa is a model professional gamer. In what we can observe from his life, it’s clear he’s chosen to center a lot of it around making games better. He’s done more than develop the metagame and bring excitement to the competitive scene. Outside of tournaments, he served as a playtester for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Even when he worked a regular job (he’s only been able to recently make Smash his full-time career) aMSa looked to improve the scene. “I work as an IT engineer at my company. I could have tried to make a living solely as a professional Smasher, but I thought that by learning IT stuff, I could use that knowledge to help the growth of the video game industry.”
Many types of players are needed for a thriving competitive scene. You need those standing at the top, using any means necessary to win. People like aMSa also have a role to play. Those that willingly choose less viable options for the sake of passion and singularity are essential. They remind us why we love the games we watch and play. They’re complex. They’re beautiful. They’re fun.
aMSa might not ever be the greatest player in the world. We may never even see him win a major tournament. But considering his goals, he’s already succeeded. “Many people in America have victory as a goal. But for me, victory is only one part of my motivation. It doesn’t really mean that I don’t care about winning or losing. But winning while playing my own way, or winning by making the crowd go wild… those are my biggest goals.”
All you need is love
We should appreciate aMSa. All the incredible achievements we’ve discussed are because of the love and dedication he’s had for the game.
He not only demonstrates a wonderful approach to Melee, but to life itself. All throughout his life, aMSa has had different loves - ones which he fervently dedicated himself to. “In my elementary school days, I concentrated on the abacus for five years. In junior high school, I concentrated on table tennis for five years. During university, I concentrated on jazz music. And now, I am playing Smash Brothers.”
He keeps giving his all, and has found joy in doing so. By giving your all in whatever the discipline may be, many times the complexity and beauty of it will open. Loving your craft can yield great rewards. aMSa stands as one of the best Smash players of all time, and he’s done so with triumphant joy. He’s living proof that all you need is love.
There's nothing you can do that can't be done
Nothing you can sing that can't be sung
Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.