It’s been an interesting ride since Eric “ESAM” Lew is back to competing. Though he has had difficult runs in some of the majors he’s played in, he was able to win Glitch 8.5 in dominant fashion.
Inven Global had the chance to speak with ESAM about his current thoughts on the game. In the first of two parts, ESAM spoke about his Glitch run, sticking to Pikachu despite the challenges (Maister, Dabuz), and his thoughts on Ultimate doubles.
"I think I won the tournament."
Even you seemed surprised you won Glitch. What was that victory like for you?
Well when I looked at my bracket, a couple days before it came out, I was like, "Oh, this is a really good bracket for me." The person I was the most worried about in my bracket was Jakal, who's a good Wolf player from New Jersey, and he got upset. And the reason I was worried about that is it was two-out-of-three. And then all of my three-out-of-five sets. I was like, "These are fine." Then WaDi ended up getting upset.
The thing I always think about, and I've done this for as long as I've competed and it has led me to success—I always believe I can win. And then if I don't, they're better than me, which is fine. Back in 2013, I did that by beating a top 10 Melee player in the world, Javi, when I was with Samus, because we were like, "Woah, you have Javi in your pool. This is going to be a struggle. What are you gonna do?" I'm like, "I'm gonna win."
"No, you're not."
"I'm gonna win."
And then I won.
So I was confident, because I saw my bracket and the only person I was really scared of in my bracket was Maister or Dabuz — but they would have had to make it to Winners Finals to play me. And I was like, "Okay, I can do this."
And the thing I was worried about is I'm like, "I'm not gonna play super well, because I haven't been to an offline event. I'm not gonna be able to keep up with all these top players that have been to two majors and have been going to more locals."
And then I was playing Friday. And I was like, "Oh, I'm playing really well. I think I can do this." I played for 12 hours on Friday and was like, "Oh, I think I'm back to my standard." Which is high. I have a high standard for myself. And so I was like, "Oh, cool. I'm still not expecting to win. But I can do well." And then I beat Leo and was like, "Okay, that was impressive." I had to play Light next which is hard because he's just so fast and good.
Then I beat him and was like, "I think I won the tournament." Kola is obviously good, but I'm very confident versus his characters— all of them. Then when Leo made it back to me— once Maister lost in Losers Semis I was like, "I think I won the tournament. Or Leo's gonna Leo me and that's fine." And then I won the tournament.
The scariest set for me was definitely the Light set. Which is why I actually popped off during that set. But against Leo I was just calm. Because my standards are met by myself, right? I'm still kind of shocked, but at the same time I'm not because I took my prep seriously.
What do you think the main reasons you feel so strong against Leo?
Pikachu's broken and beats all of his characters. So I know if I'm playing as well as Leo is, which is hard, or even slightly worse than Leo is, I should win by matchups. And obviously, what my ranking is officially and what I think my skill is in the game are not the same. Because I was ranked 14th on the last PGR before the quarantine. But I think I'm like a top 6 player minimum. I have a couple roadblocks or bad matchups, but everyone does. Tweek is inarguably top 2 with Leo, and he's 0-3 with Goblin.
I'm just confident in the matchup. I'm confident in my studying. And the way I break the game down is I understand a lot of situations. So I see something I'm like, "Oh, I already know what to do." It's not like, "What can I do in these situations?" No, I know the frame data, I know the spacings, so I'm just good. And then Pikachu can force characters into really uncomfortable 50/50s. And I'm really good at guessing right. Because of conditioning, habits, and I generally know what the better one to do is, and then I cover the one that the "better players" do, and then I hit them and they die. Like "50/50, but one is technically a little better if I'm wrong" type of situation.
And I'm just calm. When I play I want to win, but I'm not worried about winning. Unless it's if I lose I have to play Maister or Dabuz, that's the only time I feel I have to win. But I care to play my best. And if I play my best, I should win. And also I don't get mad when my opponent does good stuff, because they're really talented and I love playing this game at a high level, it's one of my favorite things to do in the world is playing other top players.
And Leo is obviously the best player. I'm just having fun even if he beats me. I specifically remember Shine 2019—we had to play in Winners Quarters. He ended up closing it out in Game 5 with really good stuff. And I just went to him like, "You're so good! Oh my god!" I'm not saying how Joker's bullshit or anything. I'm not complaining, because I also know that I play probably the best character in the game—at least top three. So I have no room to complain about someone else's character being dumb. At least in a valid way. I'm not gonna get mad when I lose, which means that I don't put pressure on myself to win because all I want to do is play well. And if I play well, then I'm happy if I win or lose.
"I even feel competent against Maister but he's probably going to beat me."
I think everyone acknowledges you as a top player capable of winning major. The one caveat is you can sometimes be inconsistent. Do you see that as true? Why do you think that is?
A lot of my bracket inconsistency—sometimes people play cold. At Big House, I got 13th because in SD'd in like five out of the six games to the people I lost to.
But I think over quarantine, I became more consistent because I don't always just run forward the whole time now. I actually played pretty passive in my bracket at Glitch, which is good. Because that was probably my biggest flaw as a player is "You want to hold forward."
And I'm like, "I will hold backwards so that I can see when I can hold forward now." As opposed to just doing it anyway. Other than that, I have a couple people I don't beat like Dabuz (1-4) or Maister (0-6)—not including locals. So I have some roadblocks. And unfortunately, they are also players that make it very far in bracket.
But also, I don't feel worried against most people. I even feel competent against Maister, but he's just probably going to beat me. So I think I am more consistent now. But obviously, we have to see because I've been to a few events now.
Do you think you’re just going to stick with Pikachu through all of it, or have you considered brushing up some of your secondaries?
I have secondaries. It's just hard because Maister and I are comparable in terms of skill level. He's inarguably top 10 and I think right now I'm probably top 10. So we're around the same skill level. So it's really hard for me to be like, "Hey, I'm gonna play a character that I'm worse with and beat someone that's as good as me." Even if it's a bad matchup.
Especially because G&W is such a heavy advantage-state character where it's like, "I hit you, you might die." So I don't get the chance to learn when I play against him. I think my secondaries are really good, but my Pikachu is the best bet. So I think it's gonna come down to stages. Who I want to go, where I want to go. It's good to have secondaries, it's just hard to beat other top 10 players in general, but especially when you aren't playing your best character.
"Friendship is obviously the biggest one."
What do you enjoy about playing with MVD as a doubles player?
I feel like we match very well. Because doubles you want one a bit more aggressive and one a little more passive. And he's the passive to my aggressive. And obviously, we know how each other play super well, so there's a lot of stuff we don't even need to communicate and we'll know what each other is going to do.
But then also we have no problems being like, "Hey, come here." We have conversations during our sets. If we're winning or it's close, we'll be talking about like, "Hey, I think maybe after 10-15 more seconds, we should swap opponents. Because they're going to be flustered since we don't want them to get patterns and we're just going annoy them." Or, "Let's double team this person and just ignore the other person." Even if we disagree, both of us are good at talking while playing so it doesn't make us do worse. So we're talking while we're playing to map out what we want to do.
Also, Snake is broken in doubles—I think he's probably the best character in doubles, or at least top three. And I trust him because he's really good in a lot of situations. And Pikachu and Snake are a good combination because Snake's flaw is, "Sometimes I get hit and I die or take a bunch of damage." And Pikachu has Quick Attack to get to where I need to go and also has Thunder to make a wall for him to land.
Friendship is obviously the biggest one. We've been teaming consistently since 2009. It's just really fun. We both like doubles. It's just really fun to like do something and perform well with your best friend.
Why, in your mind, are Light and Marss so dominant as a doubles pair?
The reason that they're ridiculous is one, they both play incredibly fast characters. So if one of them needs help, the other one's immediately there. Their decision-making of when to have two separate one-on-ones and when to do team combos is the smoothest and most seamless transition.
There are so many times that either could get bigger combos, and then they end it with just like a back-air, or someone just gets someone' off stage and then they immediately run to the other person and end up dealing 70% to them. They're offstage, the other person came back to try to help, now they 70% them—there's so many times that you can't ever have momentum against them. It feels impossible.
And I'm someone that's really good at edge-guarding and pretty good at both matchups. So I understand it, but then sometimes I just get hit. Or sometimes I'm 2v1'ing them or sometimes have to run after my partner, but then because both of them are really good at burst options, they're like "I see that you're coming, so I'm going to do one more move, and then just turn around and fight you." And then they'll both switch, and the other person's scared because they were getting bodied. So they airdodge offstage or recover low, and that gives them seven seconds to fight just me. And if I run away then me and my teammate are in a bad position. We just lose.
They're just so good. I think they're at least the best static doubles team. Maybe Leo or Dark Wizzy are better in doubles, but I think like Light and Marss are both clearly top five doubles players, and they're playing together consistently.
What are your guys' chances of topping them? Anyone else possibly?
I mean, I would say the second-best static doubles team is me and MVD. But we've never beaten them, we're like 0-5. It's not even like we're almost winning. I don't think we've had a single set that we took them to game five. MVD has beat them with Puppeh once when I didn't go to the tournament, though.
Leo and Wizzy have teamed, but Leo's favoring to team with his Mexican brethren more. If he teamed with like Sparg0 or Maister he'd probably win, but they just don't seem to team very often. And I know Japan loves doubles. But they're not traveling to the states frequently anytime soon due to COVID.
Light and Marss are just so hard. You have to constantly have a slight edge over them in order to beat them. I took a game from them when I teamed with Zomba at Glitch, and I've never teamed with Zomba before. But we won that one game, and then the other three games were not close. You have to keep up with two of the fastest players in the world for four games straight. Both of you. I can keep up most of the time, but Snake is slow. So if I'm getting hit, Snake literally cannot come help me. So you have to both play fast characters, or characters that control so much space that they can't get in. But that doesn't really exist because Light and Marss are both two of the players that will find holes in your gameplay and just hit you and exploit all of your habits.
And also doubles isn't even happening in every major, because of social distancing. Which I think is fair. I think that's super valid. They're just so good. They literally won a major where they were down 0-2 in Grands set one, and then Marss went Snake, and then they won 6 straight. They don't even play that team! But it worked and it was ridiculous.
"Melee is fun to watch but isn't the game for me."
Would you ever consider returning to Melee in any capacity, even casually?
Not really! Melee is fun to watch sometimes but it isn’t the game for me. I like Samus significantly more than any other character and she simply isn’t good enough to compete unless my opponent doesn’t know what they are doing. When that’s the case I’m not having fun because I feel like I’m just gimmicking them, not winning on my own merit.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.