Mike Haze: "All the stuff that happened last year definitely was a motivator for me to distance myself from the community"


It’s been some time since Mike Haze first announced that he was retiring from Smash. Since then, he’s made big steps in the fields he said he would be focusing on after leaving the game — music and poker. Inven Global had the chance to talk with Mike and discuss his life and current thoughts on the scene.

What are your impressions of your post Smash life?


It's pretty fun. I'm spending a lot of time on music and also in poker, but also a lot of personal growth.


I think competing for 15 years and doing it full time for so long just left me with a lot of places that I really need to focus on internally, whether that's personal growth or expression and art. Yeah, so that's what I've been doing. Focusing on myself. Part of that is working on music, and putting myself out there through that. And then also poker to pay the bills.



What I thought was interesting when you left Smash was how you immediately picked up another competitive discipline. Do you see any parallels between Smash and Poker?


Yeah, definitely. In terms of gaming in general, I think once you've figured out a learning mindset, you are able to apply that to other things. So for me, it was gaming—and then I can apply that to other competitive things. In terms of specifics, from Smash to Poker: Yeah, somewhat, I could see the similarities in terms of mixing up your game and doing things at certain times, like mix-ups and options. 


But for the most part, I think, Smash and Melee in particular is just a very, very different game. One that rewards consistency, which is something that poker has been really tough to deal with. The consistency in it is something I don't like as much. Just because sometimes, your opponent can make a horrible play, and ultimately just get lucky. And I'm not used to that luck factor, Melee is really consistent. So it's way different.



I wanted to discuss your music. When I listened to OPAQUE, there definitely was influence I heard from Aesop Rock and a lot of emo-rap. Are we going to see a similar direction on your next project, or what do you want to accomplish there?


It's definitely gonna be a lot more different. And it's gonna be interesting to see how my fans react to it. Just because this last project, I think I really started finding my voice in this dark sound, this dark aggression. But more recently, I've been channeling that anger into sadness a lot more, especially in my music as well.


And yeah, this next project could be a lot more of a sadder project. It's gonna be a lot more, centered around talking about like depression and stuff versus the angry vibe that I had previously.


From how I’ve seen you talk on Twitter, you always discuss how you miss playing Smash, it’s just certain aspects of the community you don’t miss. I want to unpack some of these ideas a bit.


You’ve been very vocal about the many developments in the Zero controversy and the community's reactions to it. As someone that’s been involved in the community for so many years, do you see the community slowly getting better, or is it getting worse in your eyes?


For sure, I think it's definitely moving in a better direction. Of course, right? I think all the stuff that happened last year definitely was a motivator for me to distance myself from the community. Because everything that happened was just so hurtful and just so hard to deal with. A lot of the people that got called out are people that don't hang out with the tournaments and... I don't know, I guess you develop a relationship with people, and then seeing how shitty they can be is just hurtful. Like, that's very hard to deal with.


So, I don't know, it made me want to distance myself a bit. I was already distancing myself anyway. And it was a big motivator to push myself out of it. But in terms of things changing, I think it's definitely moving in a more positive direction. I think a lot of people look at the Smash community, and they see all these stories that are getting called out. And from an outsider's perspective, it might look like, "Wow, this community's really fucking toxic."


But while I do think there are toxic aspects, I do think that we're one of the communities that actually calls all this shit out, and calls everybody out for these behaviors. Instead of what other communities do, which is unfortunately that things get swept under the rug, things don't get talked about and progress doesn't get made. So I think Smash is definitely on the more progressive end of that kind of stuff, which is great.


You also spoke of how you found many of the interactions between you and other tournaments to be fake. I wanted you to elaborate a bit more on this than in your initial Tweet. Because many people I think openly acknowledge that. That being good at the game, people respect you and want to be affiliated with you. Did you have many experiences where you think people had ulterior motives being friends with you?


I think it was just a general feeling. It's something I've been looking at and examining. I'm pretty introspective. So I tried to look at my interactions and stuff and just weigh them out and see how they were. And I think in general, just seeing how transactional a lot of interactions in... At least my own interactions in the Smash community where it was just... "Disheartening" might be a good word for that. It just felt disheartening. 


I just value friendship a lot and value genuine relationships with people. And just thinking about it, a lot of people just treated me well or wanted to be my friend, just because I was a top player. Which I get. I'm gonna be in the community eye, and people might want to talk to me more. But also just seeing how transactional those interactions can be again, disheartening.


In a lot of ways, that's why I like poker a lot. I can make this example: I like Poker because I can just be a random person right now. Being in front of the community and being in the spotlight, it's really cool. I wouldn't have traded my old life for anything. But also, there's something beautiful about going under everybody's eye and doing your own shit.


In the poker community, nobody really knows who I am. I'm basically a nobody. I'm bad at poker, like I'm not necessarily good. You know, I'm not a pro, but I can kind of still hold my own. And people just treat me normal for that. People at the table just treat me like a regular person. The name I go by in poker is Mikey. On the poker table, I'm just Mikey. I'm just a random fish player, not very good. And I just fly under the radar. I really like that. 


A better name would be Mike Lays (his cards on the table).


[laughs] I like that I might steal it. 


With that in mind, how much of a shift did you experience post-doc? Obviously, Melee blew up after The Smash Brothers, but do you think this inauthenticity was a product of that growth?


Yeah, absolutely, there definitely was a shift. It is definitely more business-minded. It's still grassroots, but it's needed to grow and it's needed to have changes in order for it to continue to grow. You know, when I started, we're playing at people's apartments. I'd host 30-man tournaments in my one-bedroom apartment when I was like 16 or 17. We went from that to having convention centers and being able to grow in that way.


So definitely the changes that have happened, needed to happen in terms of us commercializing the scene and making it able to make money or getting some sort of revenue for us to continue to grow. Those things were necessary.


But also, in some ways, things were lost... I'm trying to think of how to phrase it, because things were lost, but also all the changes were good. We used to play in garages and it was 30 degrees outside, and that's hella cold. And that sucked. But that was also its own experience, like we're kids playing at these tournaments. And this is all we had. Go into what we have now—it's super sick. Summit's happening and we have this really hype tournament.


I think that one thing that I didn't appreciate that changed was how important it was to be a personality. I think that's just a big thing that we see a lot now in terms of people creating content and being a brand versus just being players. It's more important than it ever has been to be a personality and a brand in esports. And it's pretty wild to see. When I started playing, it was just all about competing, and that's really cool. And then eventually that grew into, "Okay, well, if you want to monetize yourself, and you want to make this a sustainable thing, instead of just being a competitor, you have to also be a personality. You have to stream, you have to make content, you have to do all sorts of different stuff."


So I definitely enjoyed that part of it. I think I have a personality for that. But at a lot of points, I also got tired of doing content. And I wanted to just compete for a long time, and just compete and be left alone and do my own shit. 


I think a lot of things have changed for the better, of course, but there are also some aspects that I wish would be back to how it was in the old days. I wish I could just compete. And I could wish I could just play without having to worry about all these extra things as well.



Would you ever consider being involved in the Smash community? What about other capacities?


[laughs] Literally today, I was thinking about that. You know, I was watching Beyond The Summit, I was watching the tournament. And I was thinking about it, "Damn, I kind of want to play low key. I kind of want to practice." I was really excited about it. I was like "Damn, I kind of want to compete and go to a tournament or something."


I could go back and I could continue to play. But I recognize that the time it would take—the time investment to just get back to where I was or even better—would just be unreasonable. In terms of how much other stuff I want to accomplish as well. Working on music is very important to me. And poker is very important to me right now, too. So I don't think I'd probably be able to go back to competing. 


I thought about doing commentary. And maybe I will at some point. That's definitely something I've considered and I'm thinking about. But for now, I think I just want to focus on just Poker and music, specifically. Just the things that are bringing me joy right now. But I think at some point, I'll probably return to some capacity.


If you had to choose one, what is your fondest memory of the Smash community?


I have so many wholesome memories with homies and stuff. I think one memory at least that sticks out—I don't know if this is my number one memory—but one of the memories that sticks out is just the last year's GENESIS.


That tournament, and just seeing the day three venue, which is at a concert hall, and it was sold out. It's a room filled with Smash players. And it's loud. And the crowd's roaring for Mang0, or Leffen, or whoever's playing on stage... Just seeing that, and comparing that to where we started. Or where I started in the community. Just making these comparisons is very emotional when I think about it. Just seeing how far we've grown, how far the scene has come.


Like I said, we used to host tournaments in apartments. And that used to be our thing. And we used to do that every week, and we'd hang out. And it was great. I love that. But going from that to something completely different—that's also just as great of an experience is incredible. And it's just really cool to see that. That's one of the memories that sticks out. I remember just looking at the concert hall, and it was beautiful to see. 


When you announced your retirement, many people immediately brought up the Icies yelling incident like 10 years ago. You didn’t talk about this in your original post so I wanted to give you the opportunity. What do you think Mike Haze should be remembered in the Smash community for?


I think at the moment, people being annoying or being the way they are going to be online, in terms of being toxic and being assholes. When you're in the moment, and you're a competitor, at least for me when I was competing, that stuff really bothered me at times. And it definitely made me feel like crap. 


But now I look back on it, I don't know, people are just fucking weird dude. People that harass other players, it's just so weird to me. I feel like online gives people the opportunity to do that since they don't have to face a consequence. And a lot of people who have headass opinions or harass players—they would never do this in person.


In terms of what I want to be remembered as... When I wrote that post, I was feeling kind of bittersweet about it. Like, it wasn't like a, "Yay, I'm excited to retire. And this is a very happy moment for me." I guess it's more on the sadder side, where I don't have a passion for this anymore.


I still love the community, but I'm done. It just felt like I'm done. It wasn't a very happy thing for me. It was just, "This is it."


So that was the vibe it was when I wrote that. And I was kind of nervous about posting it. But I said fuck it, I need to do this. And I didn't think people were gonna care. I thought it was gonna be, "Yo, was cool knowing you man see ya. Bye."


But there was so much support in that thread. And people were really nice, and it made me realize that I had more of a impact on the scene than I had anticipated. I used to organize tournaments a lot. And I used to do all sorts of stuff in terms of community building. And a lot of people remembered those things. It was really nice to read that a lot of the interactions that I read about—I thought there might be some like negative interactions. At tournaments sometimes I get too focused and I don't want to hang out with people. So I was worried people were gonna call me an asshole.


But there was none of that. Everyone was really positive. They were saying how you know how great it was to hang out with me, or how they met me one time and I did this nice thing for them. That was really cool. If I was gonna be remembered in the scene, I think I am remembered as a positive influence around people. And I think that's really sick.


They say give people their flowers while they're still here. And I felt like after my retirement post, people gave me my flowers. It was just really nice. It made me have a bit of closure with the scene.

Photo Source: Nyki Bell

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