Here at Inven Global, we’ve been putting together our Smash Awards for 2021, and it’s fair to say that doing the "best of 2021" was a bit of a treat this year. Melee is a game that always produces a few bangers, but with record-breaking prize pools and the incredible return to LAN we had this year, it’s been exceptional — even by some already exceptional standards.
Of course there are some standouts that will stick in the mind, but a quick trip down memory lane reveals that 2021 was actually pretty stacked, with the end-of-year LAN run producing a fair few classics in a short period of time. Going back to watch the nominees has to be one of the best jobs this writer has had in a while.
2021 pretty much had it all, from enduring rivalries to returning menaces and even big advances in the meta, so sit back and enjoy our list of five absolutely incredible sets, all for different reasons. Going back to watch them again is also very much advised, as we run down the five best sets of 2021.
Mang0 vs. Zain — Smash Summit 11 Grand Finals
The greatest set of Melee ever played? Quite possibly. The greatest Major Grand final of all time? Almost certainly.
Normally, when titans of the game meet, with a lot of money on the line, the game becomes about who can flub the least, and this set is certainly not free of mistakes from either player. Having said that, it was also a moment in history, as well as being the culmination of a storyline that had been building for months.
The love between Zain and Mango is no secret, and the pair had spent countless hours practicing together online in the leadup to this event. As the world’s best player — and favorite coming in — Zain had all the pressure on him, with the largest prize pool in Smash history a not inconsiderable factor too. But when we got to the squeaky bum time it was Melee’s GOAT that made the magic happen. Mango won in two sets, redefining what we thought possible in the Fox/Marth matchup at the same time, and one again proving he is one of a kind.
iBDW vs. Zain — Smash Summit 12 Winners' Finals
Following his win at Summit 11, Mango told the world (including Leffen) that he believes Fox beats Marth on Final Destination — and most of us took that as a dig at his longtime friend and rival. Coming into game two of winners finals, with IBDW one game down, few would have expected the tri-state Fox main to double down on that and take Zain to the aforementioned counterpick, as the commentator’s reaction demonstrated.
What followed, and much of what IBDW so impressive in 2021, was a pure exhibition of why Fox has long been considered the best character in the game. For his part, IBDW has taken the character to a level we’ve only really seen from Leffen in the past, and in many ways is the ying to Zain’s yang. While Mango’s Fox is pure Mango, IBDW exploits the character’s strengths, playing pure Fox in a brilliant, surgical manner, and this set is a perfect demonstration of his talent and work ethic.
Mango vs Leffen — Summit 12 Loser’s Bracket
It’s fair to say neither player was at their best when Summit 12 rolled around, with Mango not playing well and relying on plot armor and smarts, and Leffen having not played at the top level for a long, long period prior to the event. Like a lot of sets between them, this was littered with sloppy play and drops as a result, but like a lot of previous meetings it was also a classic in its own way.
Even with his tech skill rusty and his confidence shot, Leffen’s fundamentals are some of, if not the best Melee has ever seen, and this set showed how dangerous he always is. Going 2-0 up on the GOAT was proof Leffen is still a top-level player, and the reverse 3-0 that followed showed the insane value of high-level practice when it comes to closing out sets under pressure, as well as Mango’s never-say-die attitude.
Smash doesn’t need Leffen to survive. But without him, the scene is a good deal less interesting and far worse off, as Summit 12 showed, and any fan of Melee should be praying for his full-time return in 2022.
Polish vs. Hungrybox — Smash World Tour Championship Loser's Quarters
Peach v Puff was once considered such a bad matchup for Mrs. Mario that Armada developed first a Young Link secondary, and eventually a Fox to counter Hungrybox. While it’s fair to point out that the Puff main was a long way from his best in 2021, the achievement of Polish to take a set off him is still impressive — and a testament to the depth of competition in modern Melee.
Beating the former world number one 3-0 is more impressive still. And aside from a single stitch, it’s hard to say Polish was lucky either. So many players have crumbled when asked to stand before the gods and plead their case, but Polish puffed out his chest and showed the world that the matchup is far from impossible, and that he is a player with a bright future in Melee.
Plup vs IBDW — Riptide Winners Finals
IBDW’s ascension to elite level was a theme of 2021, but Plup’s return to high-level Melee was also a happy story for fans of, well, Melee. The Winners Finals meeting between these two players is one of the fastest, most brutal games of the year, and was played under a level of pressure most players just hadn’t experienced since before COVID shut down the LAN circuit.
Eventually, the pace of the game and the quality of the Fox play saw IBDW claim another win, but both men put on an exhibition here, and the game is well worth rewatching. If 2022 starts with Plup back to his best, we’re in for a treat, as the Sheik main is the best we’ve ever seen on that character — and showed in this set how incredible he can be even without perfect conditions.
The Inven Global Smash Awards panel for Melee
- Alexander Lee
- Austin Watts
- John "Oddball" Popko
- Julian Carney
- Tim Masters
*Note: Nobody can vote for themselves in the Inven Global Smash Awards
What has your vote for best Melee match of 2021?