Melee fans have been in a state of panic in the last few weeks as Joseph "Mango" Marquez drops hint after hint about potential retirement from playing the game competitively. Like his fans, Mango himself seems incredibly conflicted about giving up the game that has made him who he is today and that has defined his life since his days in education — and it’s shredding the nerves of his loyal supporters.
You can fully understand how he’d be burned out after all the years of playing the game at the highest level. While the debate around Mango versus Armada will rage until the end of Melee time, the simple fact is that Mango has been at the top for as long as most people can remember — since he was 16 years old or so. But, we now have to ask ourselves, what happens when he’s not here anymore? What does Melee look like when Mango retires for real?
The biggest retirement in Melee history
Well, to put things in perspective, it will be the biggest moment of this in the game’s history, without a doubt.
While the GOAT debate will rage on for years, there is no denying that Mango is the most important person ever to play Nintendo’s masterpiece. For those who don’t know, his main rival for GOAT status, Adam "Armada" Lindgren, was at least partly motivated in his quest to travel from Sweden to the US by his desire to face off against the best in the world, which at the time was…yep, Mango.
Put simply, Mango is the soul of the game, in the same way Ayrton Senna was to Formula 1, or Roger Federer tennis. The greatness of Zain, Hungrybox, Armada, and others is irrelevant to this title, as it doesn’t relate to how many events you won, or how few games you lost, but how the game is played and what it means to the people involved.
We’ve lost greats before of course, from PPMD’s gradual fade to Armada’s win-and-dash exit from the scene and Mew2King deciding to focus on his stream, but only the Swede can even come close to Mango’s influence — and that is only in results terms. When it comes to the culture of Smash, PPMD and M2K were gods for a bit, while Mango is the face of the game as well as one of the greatest ever players.
It’s hard even to compare it to other games, as most don’t have a Mango to call their own. The names that could compete would be the likes of Faker or Daigo, players that are not just greats in their own right but have risen to the point where they transcend the games they play and become cultural and historical figures in the esports space.
Mango made modern Melee
You might even say that modern Melee is basically just a product of Mango’s own making. His reinvention of himself from a world-class Puff main to the definitive space animal main wasn’t taken because Fox was better, or Mango couldn’t win with Puff, but due to his desire to prove he wasn’t carried by a "lame" character and could win with style too.
To this day, that single decision echoes on, in the edge-canceled dairs Zain became famous for, in the disrespectful lasers Fox mains fire offstage when feeling themselves, and in every moon- and sticky-walk. Melee could have become the most technical game ever, but with Mango’s influence, it became the home of esports jazz, where skill meets style.
The game has gone on long enough that Mango’s retirement won’t kill it now, but there is no successor to what he does, even now. Leffen and IBDW, while great, are very different kinds of Fox to Mango. And Westballz, the only Falco that ever created the same feeling Mango did is no longer competing. Other Falcos did engender our love, like PPMD’s black and green genius, but it wasn’t the same as Mango’s catastrophe curve bird.
There is also another way Mango’s retirement has the potential to be a huge moment for the game, and that "cool" factor his play provides could be missed by TOs too. It’s hard to ever say if one player not attending an event could damage public interest, but if any retirement ever does push fans away from Melee, it will be Mango’s, as he’s pure entertainment, win or lose.
So when he goes, he takes the soul of the game with him, or at least off the CRT, but there is good news for fans too, from the man himself. He has said on stream more than once that he’d love to do commentary when he hangs up his controller and stops attending events as a player, and that’s just great for anyone who loves Melee, as Mango the commentator is like Mango the player, truly amazing when he’s committed to the cause.
While there have been occasions where Mango has been on the mic under the influence, and therefore not as eloquent as he could be, he has commentated before and is just…gifted in some way. A combination of his charisma, knowledge of the game, and love for Melee makes his commentary both compelling and enlightening, and his passion shines through. In some ways, we might go from having the soul of Melee on stream for a few games in top eight to hearing from him the entire time, which would be an amazing thing for newer fans.
This sits in contrast to Armada, his greatest rival, who has banished most Melee talk to the shadow realm and now grinds Super Mario 64, and equally this is another demonstration of why Mango is — and will always be — a very specific sort of GOAT to his fans. He can no more walk away from Melee than he can stop loving America or giggling like a schoolkid, and if age changes him in other ways it won’t make him fall out of love.
Keep in mind this is a player already in his second era, who was once so dominant he got bored of winning and stopped entering seriously. The legend of Mango’s Mario, or Scorp as he is known, is well known. But some may not realize that his Mario phase was a result of winners fatigue from having dominated the US too long. Armada brought that fire back, but it may soon dim again.
As for those left behind, the struggle will continue and in some ways may even be harder than before, with Nintendo trying to take more and more away from their most loyal fans. The kids left behind will have to carry the torch Mango lit, all those years ago, but he’s already taught them all about Melee’s red fire, why it is so special, and when the time comes for them to carry the flame they’ll be ready, thanks to the path he has walked them down a thousand times.