DaJuan "Shroomed" McDaniel has been a top player in the Super Smash Bros. Melee scene for over a decade. The Sheik main's penchant for tech-chasing and great reads landed him several top finishes throughout his career, in which he has both competed as an independent player as well as a sponsored player for the Winterfox and Immortals organizations in Melee.
Shroomed brought his Melee insights and experience to IGEC 2019 as a panelist of "The Smash Bros: How an Unsupported Nintendo Game Survived as an Esport." Shortly before his panel, Shroomed touched base with Nick Geracie on the state of the Smash community, the potential of Justin "Wizzrobe" Hallett being signed, and to weigh in on the "Melee vs. Super Smash Bros Ultimate" debate.
I'm here with Shroomed at IGEC 2019. How are you enjoying the event so far?
I've been having a good time; there's a lot of cool panels. I just finished with the "Play the Pros" section of my day where I got to face a lot of the Irvine Super Smash Bros. Melee community. I've been having fun hanging out with everyone.
Any heavy hitters in the Irvine Melee scene?
I think his name was John...he played Marth, and he was the only one to take a set from me.
Wow, that's quite impressive. You'll be speaking on your Smash Bros. panel soon. As someone who has been in the community for quite some time, what insights are you hoping to bring as a panelist?
I want to help by teaching people everything I've learned from being a part of the community, and how amazing it is to be a part of the Melee community. It's like a family, it's very tightly-knit. I'm actually hoping to also inspire other people to play Melee, because I want more people to get into the game. I know Super Smash Bros. Ultimate just came out, but I also want to show love for Melee as well.
We've seen some top Melee pros make the switch to Ultimate, but some people are still playing both and regardless of Ultimate, Melee is going strong. Did you consider switching from Melee to Ultimate at any point?
Personally, I don't think I'll ever stop playing Melee as long as there are people to play against. I never thought I was going to quit playing Melee, but I was also hoping that Ultimate would be a really good game, too. I would love more games of the Smash genre to play. When Ultimate came out, I played semi-seriously for a while and went to a few locals while practicing here and there. I enjoy Ultimate, but nothing can get me to stop playing Melee.
Did they ruin Sheik in Ultimate?
They butchered her! She's terrible. She's fine as a character in theory, but she does next to no damage. Her Forward Air does 3% or something like that.
But that's her kill move in Melee...
Not in Ultimate! There's no knockback. She can hit someone 100 times and they'll only take like 40% damage.
That's a bummer, I totally understand you sticking with Melee in that case. People keep trying to pit Melee and Ultimate communities against each other to see which game is better, but so far I've seen crossover going both directions for players and spectators alike. Is there anything you can pass on to the new blood in Melee?
It's amazing that I see kids with their parents at tournaments now playing both Melee and Ultimate. I think the fact that there is crossover is a beautiful thing. I don't know why people seem to try to pit the games against each other. I actually think it's the loud redditors that make it seem that way. In the actual community, we all respect each other as competitors. There's no beef between any of us at all. We even challenge each other in our respective games.
All I've wanted to do is keep the feel of the old school Melee community, where it's like you're hanging out with friends. I'm not trying to pass on anything, I'm just trying to be a welcoming competitor and show people that we're all here because we love to play fighting games and want to have a good time.
As Smash gets more established, there's more criticism towards top players, especially players signed to an organization, for wanting a certain level of privacy. As a competitive player who has been both sponsored and unsponsored, what is your take on this discussion?
I would say that it's really important because the scene is so big now. A lot of the top players rely on this for their livelihood, so I think it is necessary to have certain areas sectioned off for people to be able to focus and be as serious as they want to be. It's hard when everyone wants to play you and everyone wants to meet you.
It's great, because we love the support, but at the same time, people are there to compete and win the tournament. They need to be able to break away from all of that so they can just focus. As for me, now that I'm unsponsored, it's pretty hard to get to events, because even if I do well, there's not that much money in it.
I never played Melee for the money, but you can't go to as many events if you don't have the funds to travel. For example, even though I got 2nd place in Melee Doubles at Smash'n'Splash 5 last weekend, I think we only won like $300. *laughs* It's hard to continue to consistently compete without a big organization coming in and propping up the players with support.
Illustrious esports organization T1 recently signed Jason "ANTi" Bates, which is the first big signing out of the Smash Ultimate community. Because Melee is not only remaining popular, but also becoming popular with the Ultimate community, do you think organizations will begin to sponsor top Melee players in the near future?
I think sponsors are unsure about entering the Melee community. That may be because unlike other esports, we can't really market products for the companies that do a lot of the sponsoring. The Melee community isn't going to sell computer gear or anything like that.
I think teams love our passion, but from a business standpoint, it's hard to justify a signing. However, I do think that if Melee continues to grow and gets a little more infrastructure to support it like an official circuit, we would see more sponsors come into the space. There are a lot less sponsored players right now when compared to the past few years.
In my opinion, the turning point for Melee will be if Wizzrobe gets sponsored. He's just won Smash'n'Splash 5 Melee singles, and he's been doing so well for so long and he's been unsponsored the whole time. I think that's because sponsors don't see the return of investment; it would only be a sponsorship out of passion. It wouldn't be a business decision.
What can be changed about the Melee community for that to change? Are there other ways Melee players can make themselves more appealing to organizations?
I think this is why streaming is so important for players. I think the only way sponsors can feel comfortable signing a Melee player is if they are consistently streaming and on that sort of grind. That's where the organization can get value out of the player, as opposed to them going to tournaments and winning $1000-$1500. If you're a personality and a streamer, you can help spread the brand.
I think that's why ANTi got signed by T1. Even though sponsors aren't coming into the community super quickly, T1 is a huge sponsor. ANTi is a personality, a brand, and a content creator. I think all players that want an organization will have to work really hard to brand themselves.
We've seen a lot of sponsored FGC players start creating content in addition to playing competitively to provide more value. Do you think that will become the standard?
I think we're kind of already at that point. Going back to Wizzy; he doesn't have a brand, he's just a really strong player. I think he deserves to be sponsored based off of his play, but I also understand the organizational perspective.
People should know that this is already the standard; we don't need a transition. The people that are sponsored now — Cloud9's Joseph "Mang0" Marquez; TSM's William "Leffen" Hjelte; Alliance's Adam "Armada" Lindren — they're all branded as well as being strong players. I think this is already the standard and other players need to catch up on branding themselves.
Do you think we will ever have another era like the Five Gods of Melee ever again?
I don't think we'll ever see the dominance we saw in the Five Gods era ever again. I think there will be more players at that level, instead of it just being wittled down to five players. I think everyone is practicing and grinding so hard that there will be more than five top players, and there will be a new guard of a new top level of competition. I'm excited to see it, too.
Melee's great, and the storylines with the Five Gods were great, but it's also cool to see new players rise up and show us new things. Even after 20 years of playing this game, there are still players coming up with new things.
Guys who have been around for a while like Wizzrobe and Masaya "aMSa" Chikamoto are reaching new heights to this day — maybe Shroomed is next?
*Laughs* Hopefully. Sadly, I feel like my peak might be behind me. I don't play as often as I used to, but I'm always going to play and I'm always going to be a force to be reckoned with in Melee
For my last questions, allow me to present you with a scenario: You're approached by a young player who is looking to go pro in Ultimate, but has started playing Melee and has fallen in love. Which game should that player focus on?
I would say that they should play both. There's no reason you can't be good at both games. If you need to get better in one of the two, you put more time into it. I would advise this player to play them both a lot and see what they like more, and then they can go from there.
Unless you play Sheik, then play Melee.
*Laughs* Yeah, then play Melee.