At E/AZ 4, I was able to meet up with Axe after he took 5th place. Axe is famous for his incredible Pikachu play and is currently ranked 7th in the world. We opened our dialogue with an exploration of dealing with tournament loss, shared memories of the Arizona Smash scene, talked about his gamer tags, his thoughts on other Smash titles, the upcoming "Doc Kids", and who he thinks is the most underrated in Melee.
How do you feel about your performance this tournament?
I did not do too hot this tournament. You can't win them all. I learned a lot and recently there's been a lot of things that have been hard mentally in my life. It's been kind of a struggle lately, but I think I needed this loss. It's something that's a big eye-opener for me, I really need to buckle down and just be on top of it.
You're known for being a positive person, but perhaps that's part of it. Sometimes it's hard for a positive person to show sadness.
I don't really have an excuse to be sad when I think about it. I'm a sponsored pro player and I have a lot of fans. I'm just a really lucky person and it's kind of crazy. With any life struggle I have, I just think that I can't be complaining. When I look at it from an outsider perspective, my life is just so good; why am I complaining, why am I sad whatsoever? I just need to get over those small things and focus on the positives and really take this seriously. I need to practice more and be on the grind.
You've been playing Melee for quite some time; do you have a connection with any of the older players like Forward, Taj, or Wobbles?
Yeah, I met those guys a long time ago. I didn't really get close to Taj until around 2010-2011, maybe. That's when I moved to Phoenix from Sierra Vista.
Did you always go by Axe?
I have my secret gamer tag from before then, but I abandoned all that and now it's just Axe.
Are you willing to disclose any of your previous gamer tags?
My very first one was because my sister made an account on Graal. She named herself DarkAngel but then I took over the account. So I became DarkAngel. After a while, that changed to darkriku. I'm a big fan of Kingdom Hearts.
My friend Brian and I were coming from Sierra Vista and we were trying to find good gamer tags for AZ 1, a tournament before AZ 1-2 Step. We were trying to come up with something cool, so we thought: what about our characters? I play Pikachu, so I was gonna be Shock and he was gonna be Shine. But then we thought maybe people already have these gamer tags. Funny enough, we later found that no one was using these names.
So it was early in the morning and we're ready to go to our first tournament. We were both trying to smell nice for the ladies, all of like one them, and I was using Axe and he was using Tag. So we just thought... wait a minute, we should do this! We should be Axe and Tag. And we came up with our team name, The B.O. Busters. And our plan was- we were gonna take our deodorant sprays and whenever we beat people, we would spray them down. We never ended up doing it, but I always wanted to. People would probably get mad.
Does Tag still play?
Here and there, he fell out for a few years. Every now and then I'll see him come out to a Phoenix tournament. He goes by Tag$ now.
Did you ever get into Smash 4?
Every new game I always try out for a while. For Smash 4, I entered a few tournaments and I'd do pretty well, but not win the tournament-well. Like maybe make Top 8s, but not move any further. I would do alright, but I stopped playing after a couple tournaments. I didn't think the game was for me, I just wanted to play Melee.
"If you like Smash 4, you're gonna love Ultimate. It's just really fun."
Did you play Pikachu in Smash 4?
I played Link. I like Link. With Smash 4 Pikachu, you can't move the same. He doesn't have the same movement, although his hitboxes are amazing. So you have to do different things and use a lot of spacing tools. You have to play Pikachu in a different way that doesn't really suit me.
Smash Ultimate was at E3. You were there, can I get your thoughts on it?
Of course. Long story short, I think Smash Ultimate is basically a better version of Smash 4. Mechanics felt pretty similar and it's a little bit faster. There's more movement technique. They added a directional air dodge and that's really cool, but you can't wavedash with it. If you like Smash 4, you're gonna love Ultimate. It's just really fun. I talked with ESAM, Keitaro, and Mew2King and all of them basically told me the same thing: it's a better Smash 4.
For the people that play Melee that have not moved on to Smash 4, I don't believe they'll move on to Smash Ultimate. It's still a fun game, but I don't believe the Melee community will move over unless they add a few things.
Does Smash Ultimate still have the makings of being competitive?
Yeah, just like Smash 4. Except even more so. It will most likely replace Smash 4. The community seems excited to move on. They just want something fresh.
Is there still a Brawl community?
A tiny one. it's pretty much gone. Smash 4 killed it. I can't see anyone going back after Ultimate comes out.
Project M was killed by Nintendo, but what are your thoughts on the game?
I didn't like it as much as Melee but I still liked it. It's very close to Melee, but a part of the game never felt as smooth. It didn't feel as satisfying, but it was still really fun. It's just difficult for me to keep playing Project M because it's very similar to Melee. It throws off my Melee game at times.
Project M Pikachu's forward air is much better. There's more stun so you can combo into up smash. So I'd start using forward air in Melee but it's just nowhere near as good. Or I'd start using Pikachu's back air where it's the same as Smash 64 Pikachu's back air, or similar to Samus's. But I'd start using it in Melee where it's not there anymore and I'm trying to space out with it and I'm going in circles.
*At this point, some Melee players are leaving the venue and are giving Axe a warm goodbye.*
"It hasn't shown any signs of shrinking. When the newcomers show up, it's like they only play Melee."
Everyone is so friendly in this community.
They really are. A lot of people have been around for so long and they are welcoming to new players. There was a time when this game was dying; it was almost dead. It got the Melee community to be extremely welcoming to new players coming in.
If Melee almost died, what saved it?
A couple of things. The main one being a tournament called Revival of Melee, after Brawl came out. It was supposed to be the last hurrah. The idea was, let's all get together and have a gigantic tournament and have a lot of fun. They held the tournament and amazing Melee was played. Mew2King vs. DaShizWiz, it was such an iconic match. So many great matches happened. After that, it was like: that was so awesome, let's do it again. A lot more people started to get into it and a few more tournaments kept happening.
And then EVO happened. The Melee community kept growing surely but slowly. But when Mr Wizard did a fundraiser to determine which game would get the last slot at EVO, the community got together and Melee got in. Everyone at EVO saw how sick Melee was and it inspired so many people. It was a huge surge of thousands of players.
Immediately after that, a Smash Melee documentary was released. It was in the works for a long time so it probably wasn't timed with EVO, but it also brought a lot of new players into the community.
Seems the documentary never got to Arizona's top players.
Beyond the Summit did one. It's called Locals. Check that out, it's really cool.
Have we reached a cap on Melee's growth?
I don't know. I keep thinking that it's dying, but there are more people. It hasn't shown any signs of shrinking. When the newcomers show up, it's like they only play Melee. I talk to a lot of people that get into Melee and they started with Smash 4, but they eventually find Melee and end up staying with it.
*At this moment, ARMY has just won Grand Finals against AbsentPage for E:AZ 4.*
We were just talking about newcomers and it seems ARMY is living proof. Newcomers are rising in Melee.
Doc Kids. We call them Doc Kids. That was 2013. The Doc Kids are getting really good.
Was there a term before Doc Kids?
They just called us old school or new school. I used to be new school. But now it's like everyone before the Doc Kids is old school now. So instead of new school, we just say the Doc Kids. Old school is like the players who started in 2002-2004. New school was like 2006-2010. Then 2013 happened.
"Another character that could pop up, I hear Game & Watch a lot of the time."
Of course, you're known for your Pikachu. Is there a limitation to your character preventing you from climbing any further?
I don't think so. I've made it to 7th worldwide and I just see a lot of things I could improve on. I don't think it's Pikachu as a character holding me back at all, just a few more things I could be doing better. Maybe a lot more things. I think it's just me, not the character really.
Do you think there's more tech that has yet to be discovered, or there needs to be more Pikachu players that need to exist to find it?
There is a community of Pikachu mains that like to lab out new tech for Pikachu. They do find stuff here and there that I don't implement because it's all new. Things like aerial interrupts and different setups for combos. It all helps a lot and it's nice because for a very long time, any new stuff with Pikachu was just me trying to figure out things.
I love watching Melee, but I can only take so much of the same matchups. I like watching something different, so I like to see players who play something different, whether it's your Pikachu or even Armada's Peach.
I love watching Armada's Peach. It's so refreshing since you don't see Peach too much. When I see players like EddyMexico come here with his Luigi, or like Taj's Mewtwo, I'm just blown away because you don't see that stuff very often. It's something I cherish very much.
Since there's much more to be developed with your Pikachu, do you place him high on your personal tier list?
Not really! I actually think he's lower than what he is on the current tier list. I feel like people see my performance and rate Pikachu higher. But there are a handful of characters that are under-represented and have so much potential. There's no one as good as or better than me using these characters. There are a couple of characters that should be ranked higher.
What are some of these under-represented characters that should be making Top 8s?
Right off the bat, Dr. Mario for sure. I think he's still good. In my opinion, better than Pikachu or at least just as good as Pikachu. He just has so much stuff. Shroomed was making top 8s with him back in the day. We were pretty even back then. Even today, we're close. But he plays Sheik now. He was doing really well with Dr. Mario- back then Dr. Mario was ranked over than Pikachu. I still think he's a better character than Pikachu, but since Shroomed quit him and no one else is representing him, Dr. Mario has dropped. If I were to quit playing Pikachu, he would go down the list. Shroomed had a gigantic impact on Dr. Mario. I think people just forgot; it's been a long time.
I personally think Samus is better than Pikachu. Hugs and Duck, they're both Samus players and think they're currently ranked about the Top 20-30 range. I might be wrong about that. I think people see that I'm Top 10, so they think so is Pikachu- that he must be the best after the high tiers. That's pretty much how it goes. People are doing the same with Yoshi right now. Because Amsa's doing so well, he's probably Top 10 based off this year, so people are putting Yoshi very high now. So it's pretty much Pikachu, Yoshi. And then Samus. And then all these other characters. Luigi, et cetera.
Do you feel seeing more representation of these characters can help the growth of Melee?
I think so. If people saw a sick Dr. Mario get really far, it could help. People see Amsa and he's made a very big impact. People love it because he's just so original. No one is playing that character and he's making Top 8s left and right with Yoshi.
Another character that could pop up, I hear Game & Watch a lot of the time. I think he has the potential to be very good, but no one really plays him. There's a decent number of characters with potential who I think are under-represented. Although Pikachu is higher on the tier list, I think a lot of characters are just better than him. I don't think Pikachu is bad, I think he's good; I just think a lot of other characters are also good.
So Pikachu is overrated because of you.
Basically. It's the results at the end of the day that people look at.
If you were to give advice to a newcomer who wants to carry a new character to fame, which character would it be?
There's got to be a breakout Game & Watch. It has to happen. If you talk to a lot of the top players, I'm sure a lot of them agree that Game & Watch is way better than he is on the tier list, but no one's doing it. There's Qerb and he's really good, but he's not making too many waves in national tournaments. I think Game & Watch could potentially do it, kind of like Yoshi. I don't know, maybe we'll never know. But I think so.