Europe continues to be shrouded in mystery in Super Smash Bros. Melee’s online era. Without playing in American competition, some of the scene’s biggest staples have been invisible. Mustafa "Ice" Akçakaya is a perfect example.
Once one of the biggest threats from Europe and a top-15 player in the world, the German Fox’s Melee career has been frozen. Even before the pandemic, Ice fell into a deep slump—ending 2019 ranked 51st. From there, he had an infrequent presence in online European tournaments. Inven Global had the chance to catch up with Ice and discuss his recent struggles, the European Smash scene, and his confidence going forward.
One of the weirdest things the pandemic has caused is how it made Europe and America extremely separate. The last time you were ranked was the end of 2019 when you were slumping. COVID happened and you didn’t compete for several months. Since you started up again, you’ve been placing highly in a lot of European competitions. Just from observing competitions like Summit 11 and how people played there, where do you think you currently rank if you had to guess?
I would say I'm top 40. I got way better by practicing a lot with the online kids. But it is still pretty hard, because there's a huge gap between European and American Melee. But from watching the Americans play against each other, I think the Europeans actually have a good shot at taking sets against them, except for like the top 5-10 players. I think we definitely have a better shot now. Time will tell because COVID is still huge.
COVID was a big reason for me having less motivation. I was about to travel a lot. GENESIS was the start of a year where I planned to travel a lot to North America again. But unfortunately, COVID happened. And I always had a hard time adjusting to the online stuff for several reasons. There's the classic reasons: bad internet, bad setup, having no motivation for this different game — because there are differences compared to CRT. So I had a lot of things going against me. But soon I realized I had to play no matter what, because if you wait too long then catching up will just be too hard.
"I had to do some soul searching, because originally the main thing that made it harder for me to improve was an injury I had years ago."
People were writing you off after 2019, but in the beginning of 2020, you were actually doing pretty solid. You placed 17th at GENESIS to start the year. Had COVID not happened, do you think you would’ve made a bit of a comeback?
I'm pretty sure I would have. There are good and bad things about COVID. With COVID canceling all the offline tournaments, it gave me time to take another step back and train in a less pressured way. Because the way that I was about to do things without COVID was traveling as much as possible to America while trying to stay there and practice with the good people. Which would have been really stressful for me. But it's hard for me to say if that would have been for the best. But right now I'm really confident in my play, and I've been doing a lot of improvement stuff over the last month. I can't wait to go to America and compete there.
I was pretty confident in things getting better after GENESIS. It was a really good tournament for me, especially because a lot of people didn't expect me to do that well. Lucky and Rishi were my best wins — I took a game off iBDW, but he was still a lot better. I was really looking forward to that year, but unfortunately COVID happened.
You’ve always been considered probably the third best European player historically, ranked 13th at one point. To go down to 51, what do you think was the cause for that?
There were several reasons. I had a lot of changes in my life situation. I was deciding to move back to the western part of Germany, where I stayed a long time originally when I started playing Smash — I had a lot off friends and stuff going on there. I made the decision to move back there, which proved to be the wrong decision because there was a lot of stressful things for me going on I had to take care of at the same time. I felt disconnected from my family, and it was a lot of things that really made it hard for me to keep my head in the game.
I could have found a way. But if you have a lot of stressful things going on at the same time, it's hard to put them all in order, or maybe solve them so you can just focus on improving in the game. So I had a lot of things going against me.
"People rank me low, but I always prove my worth in the end."
What was it like during the months of competition where you didn’t play even online? How did you use that time?
I paid attention to my mental health. I had to do some soul searching, because originally the main thing that made it harder for me to improve was an injury I had years ago. Which made it hard for me to work out the way I want to do and also play as much Smash as I wanted. I really had to take it slow.
It's similar to UFC fighters when they break a leg — they'll never kick the same way because they (unconsciously at least) will have this thought that it might break again. I had a similar experience playing Smash, because I never had issues with playing as long as I wanted to. At some point, the hands will say no, but I was always good with the stamina aspect. So it was really hard to recover from everything, because I was always a big fan of working out, because it had a lot of good side effects, and helped me get rid of the stress from the game.
But since that wasn't possible anymore, as much as I wanted to, I felt I was on a downward spiral. I needed a couple of years to learn how to solve the issues and also how to live with them. And for quite some time now I feel I'm 100% back with that. But it's always hard to try to reconnect with previous successes, because things change. You can't replicate something, because you have to adjust to the changes.
I've been in the community for so long, especially in Europe. I'm trying to still get as good as I can. I still have a lot of confidence in my ability. I think I proved it in recent tournaments, because a lot of people didn't expect me to do this well. People rank me low, but I always prove my worth in the end. It's fun, but at the same time I'm aware I can't bother too much with ego battles, because I still have high goals competing on a world level.
"Pipsqueak is definitely the most mechanical Fox I know. It looks unnatural at times."
Smash took a step back once COVID hit, but that was really worrying to me because Europe already had many struggles with its scene. Is it something that’s a concern for you? How healthy do you think European Smash will be in say, a year or two?
I think it will be healthy, but what I'm most concerned of is the lack of competitive spirit in Europe. It's still on a healthy level, but if you compare it to Americans and their environment, it is quite different. So even if we're gonna have a lot of tournaments, which I think will happen, because we have amazing TOs in Europe, I think the general approach in handling competition and the motivation connected to it differs highly in Europe. It's much harder to get pushed in Europe, because we have a lot of good players, but not as many as in America. So you are forced to travel to America. But in terms of tournament frequencies, I think Europe will be on a good level.
One of the big question marks in Europe is obviously Pipsqueak. He’s someone that’s won a good number of competitions, and we haven’t really had the chance to see him play against North Americans. What is unique about Pipsqueak’s Fox, compared to yours, Leffen’s, and Armada’s? How would he have done at Summit?
I would say the biggest difference with Pipsqueak's Fox is he is more of a Wizzy-Fox. If you look at Wizzy's Falcon versus other Falcons — he is way more flowchart heavy, and I think Pipsqueak is doing the same. At the same time, he also has a lot straight-flowchart answers in neutral. Which makes his playstyle a little robotic, but at the same time still having the flexibility to adjust to his opponent's style. I would say Pipsqueak is definitely the most mechanical Fox I know. It looks unnatural at times. And I think a huge reason for that is also that it plays on a box (controller). I would say that's the biggest difference. I think he might be the best box player in the world right now — with Fox at least.
For Summit, I could see him win against the Foxes there. Because he is really good in the Fox matchup. But at the same time, he could've gotten the Smash version of a culture shock, because American Foxes do play a lot different. It's kind of sad that he didn't make it. I was looking forward to watching him play—the cool thing with watching people you play against is you get a good feeling for their playstyle a decision-making. And then seeing how this decision-making translates into their matches against other top players is something really interesting to watch. I think he had good chances of beating some people there.
To conclude, I wanted your perspective on this just because you’re someone that’s had a long relationship with Armada. With Summit 11 done and Mang0 winning, a lot of people are proclaiming him the GOAT. Do you think he has an argument over Armada at this point?
You got to give it to Mang0 at some point. I think a GOAT title — even though it means "greatest of all time"—it's not something that is supposed to last forever. There are a lot of things that go into the GOAT debate. And I have always been an Armada supporter and believer, and I always liked the idea of him being the GOAT. But at some point, you have to acknowledge people's continued effort and also their success, no matter if it's up and downs.
Performing at the top of the game for so long is also something that has to be talked about in the GOAT topic. So at this point, I see Mang0 as the greatest of all time. Recency bias is huge, but assuming that Mang0 will keep doing well—or decent for his level going forward this year and the next one—you have to give it to him at some point. Armada's achievements are crazy, but the game changes so much. And it is hard to say how he would do nowadays against people like Zain or even iBDW. I can see him definitely win against them, or even beat them over and over again. But especially against Zain, I think a lot of people would like to see that because Amanda would kind of run out of options against Zain. His Fox kind of getting countered by Zain's Marth and also his Peach having a hard time against Zain going forward. So yeah, I got to give it to Mang0 at this point, and I think he deserves it.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.