It was about 9 p.m. on a Saturday and all seemed normal and well in the world of Melee.
Avery "Ginger" Wilson and Edgard "n0ne" Sheleby are fighting in some dimly lit east coast regional tournament. There is a player in Winner’s Side Top 8 of a west coast regional who has a completely illegible tag and is connecting from a forbidden forest in the Pacific Northwest. This player is currently down 2-0 to Johnny "S2J" Kim. Bobby Big Ballz is simultaneously in Losers Quarters of both and neither tournament, his Falco a perpetual Schrödingerian illusion.
And then, there is a shift in the energy, a feeling on the wind. There is a tweet from Plup.
He is returned. The fastest Sheik. The fastest Fox. The fastest player.
Queue the celebrations of quote-tweeting and pogging. The "Plup Club is open!" and "the false Falcon god is dead now" chants. "High tier! High tier!" cries of ecstasy are in the air.
For those who do not understand, Justin “Plup” McGrath is one of the best Melee players — or rather, he was. Towards the end of 2020, Plup took a step away from the competition to tend to his mental health. Given 2020, who could blame him, but who wouldn't miss him also?
Simultaneously a voice of the everyman and an absolute weirdo, Plup is a hero to the masses in a time where the masses desperately need a hero.
Plup is not only one of the best, but one of the most entertaining players in Melee. He is as weird as he is fast. Where other streamers take traditional routes to success like “creating sub goals” or “establishing a consistent stream schedule”, or “setting up any kind of stream overlay,” Plup follows his own route.
This route involves deeply unconventional moves, like coaching Hbox while he’s streaming...
...or watching yourself abuse a netplay Falcon in the audience of Pokemon Stadium...
...or just flexing on your chat in front of a green screen shark after you won a tournament...
...or just plain sheeshin it up.
This is the Plup way: to provide a kind of weird, half-ironic humor on no particular schedule, at a random and queer hour of the day. The only time we can be certain Plup isn’t being kind of ironic is when he’s being kind of salty. It’s relatable whether you’re the Falco rage quitting out of the Sheik’s grab, or you’re Captain Faceroll, grabbing that Falco, doing the lord’s work.
Simultaneously a voice of the everyman and an absolute weirdo, Plup is a hero to the masses in a time where the masses desperately need a hero. And Melee can always use another hero, another top player, another dude who is just really fast.
Plup's return isn't exciting just on a fanboy level. It is also about Sheik and about legacy.
But speed has a price, and in Melee speed it's the cost of rust and arthritis, so it was not clear if Plup would return to competition a practiced speed demon or be rusty and SD a bunch.
Though the audience would have understood if he returned slower that was not the case with Plub. He was fast, maybe faster than ever. At LEVO #12, he destroyed the very first bracket he had played in months, dropping only a single game to Joey "Lucky" Aldama along the way.
More than just a Plup
If you are thinking, “This dude is a Plup fan who needs to relax", you might be technically correct, but Plup's return isn't exciting just on a fanboy level. It is also about Sheik and about legacy.
Though modern Melee is booming, the scene has seen the fall of many stars in recent years. Some legends have left the competition entirely, like Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman and Adam "Armada" Lindgren, leaving black holes of absence in the Melee universe.
Then, there are the legends who have stuck around that are kind of just out of it. Jeffrey "Axe" Williamson, Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma, Shephard "Fiction" Lima, Kalindi "KJH" Henderson, and James "SwedishDelight" Liu aren't feeling the netplay era at all. William "Leffen" Hjelte, Masaya "aMSa" Chikamoto, and Alvaro "Trif" Garcia Moral are trapped in ping-jail, unable to play at the highest level of this NA-centric esport.
In a time like this, the return of Plup is more than just “the return of Plup.” It’s the old guard coming back and a retelling of an old legend. He is a top 8 player who doesn't need a five-minute-long introduction from the commentators.
It’s also particularly great for Sheik, with some of its biggest names gone (Mew2King) or not playing nearly as much (SwedishDelight). The empress of frame data has gotten a number of new notables like Ben "Ben" Strandmark, Jake "Jmook" Arvonio, and Griffin "Captain Faceroll" Williams, but Plup’s return is still a big boon for the character.
If you do not yet understand why, all you need to do is watch the man’s LEVO run. The way that he juices the character’s speed and frame data on each win, you look at it can’t help but think, “Man, this character’s platform movement is f****d up.”
There were two really good parts about his LEVO win in particular. The first is that he absolutely destroyed Jason "Gahtzu" Diehl, a strong Florida Falcon who has hit his stride. This is no mark against Falcon, but an important meta development that we’ll return to later.
The second was that he qualifies for Slippi Champions League, earning a chance to enter the exciting and unique weekly event, and he's already cashing checks there, placing 5-6th in week 4.
KoDoRiN — the walking Sheik heat check
I do not know what John "KoDoRiN" Ko does for a living but I do know he has a part-time job of reminding Sheik mains of pain, loss, and struggle.
KoDoRiN has a winning record against nearly every big name Sheik in the last six months or so. He’s absolutely insane in the matchup because one of the few Sheiks he doesn’t have a winning record against is Faceroll. The two fight all the time in locals and through his own painful beatings, KoDoRiN has learned this matchup very, very well.
Regardless which Sheik main he's playing, KoDoRiN is the walking heat check.
Plup played the start of this set very well, taking the first game and leading most of the second through being just too fast by shield dropping, wavedashing, and dash dancing all the time. He is doing it in his sleep, counting down throw-fairs in his dreams.
But then KoDoRiN crashes in and wins a fairly even 3-1. How does KoDoRiN play this matchup so well? He is patient. He knows Plup revels in speed and in pressing buttons all the time. So he waits for the Sheik main to press a button and uses his orbital strike range of grabs and hitboxes to punish. He also has a knack for finding the right timings and as the set goes on, he widens his leads in the games just by deepening his read of Plup’s timings.
Also, he’s just good at edgeguarding and the matchup, to the point where he finds lots of weird holes in the Sheik main’s game that they’re not ready for (see literally the first stock of the set where KoDoRiN jumps right in between Plup refreshing ledge invincibility and snatches away the ledge). Additionally, Plup was struggling to complete some edgeguards and tech due to controller issues (the oldest, holiest, and most legitimate of Johns).
Look at me, I’m the fastest now
KoDoRiN was one of the worst kinds of walls that Plup could run into, a sort of a bad bracket luck to start of his Slippi Champions League run. His next run at Frame Perfect 5 would see him gain Leprechaun-esque fortune as the bracket was filled with the Plup’s natural prey — Captain Falcon.
Captain Falcon thrives off of speed and believes himself to be the fastest being. Falcon races along the ground, grabbing, throwing, neutral airing, and kneeing with fearless abandon. For even if you strike the Falcon one million times, it can take the lead back by striking you just twice.
Plup's return restores balance to the Melee ecosystem. It silences the Marths which cry out in fear of the Falcon.
However, Plup brought Falcon down to earth by being even faster. He ran up to the Falcon and vomited frame data all over his shield, forcing him to desperately roll away. But Plup’s reactions were relentless and he chased the Falcon down again and again. If Falcon dared to go air-to-air with Sheik, Plup would duck and weave all nairs, knees, and stomps and respond with combos of his own.
Normally, it is a shame to see Falcon punished, for the fans and analysts love the way that he yells and erases stocks. However, in the current day, Falcon has grown arrogant and fat from the riches of an all too forgiving meta.
Hungrybox’s Puff, once another natural predator, is no longer in apex form. The Sheik tribe, rebuilding from losses, could not stifle the Falcon as before. The spacies and the Marths are powerful but unreliable against the Falcon.
Plup's return restores balance to the Melee ecosystem and tier list. It silences the Marths which cry out in fear of the Falcon. He has already 3-0’d Gahtzu, the rising star Falcon, at LEVO #12; and 9-0'd n0ne, the ruler of the Falcon domain, winning three 3-0's against him: twice at Frame Perfect 5 and one at Slippi Champions League.
Where is Plup now?
Presumably, Plup is somewhere in Florida, cooking up some kind of Sheik nonsense and thinking about what to do with his green screen. No one can truly know. The mind of a top Melee player is an enigma.
What matters most is that Plup is here. The Plup Club has returned to glory. And it could jack this whole netplay era up.
Of the top 10 caliber players who aren’t slumping, Plup probably has the best record against Zain. He’s also gone increasingly even with Mang0 in his career and has a good track record against spacies in general. With Hungrybox no longer dominating, Plup’s own natural predator isn’t here to stop him anymore either.
Where is Plup now? Lurking in the underbrush around the consistent top 3 of iBDW, Zain, and Mang0, ready to chaingrab his way into that closed-off top echelon of the rollback era. As of writing this, he 3-0’d one of the rollback era’s fastest-rising talents: Avery "Ginger" Wilson.
That win not only put him back into Division 1 of the Slippi Champions League but it also proved he deserved to be there. Or, at least in that area of contenders that Division 1 represents. Folks, the Plup Club is back and on this blessed day, we are all members.