John "KoDoRiN" Ko is one of Melee's brightest up-and-coming stars. The 22-year-old Marth main consistently ranks as the best player in Southern California with top 12 finishes at Genesis 8 (9th) and Pound 2022 (5th).
After being voted in through crowdfunding, KoDoRiN made his third consecutive Smash Summit appearance this past weekend. He made Top 8 in a stacked bracket where he eliminated Joseph "Mango" Marquez in an impressive upset. Inven Global caught up with KoDoRiN during Smash Summit 13 to talk about preparing for the event, netplay vs. offline, and more.
KoDoRiN on Smash Summit 13
Congratulations on making it back to Summit! What was the moment like when you found out you’d been voted in?
It was really exciting. I had been streaming the results for two days. But at the same time, I knew it was inevitable that I’d get in no matter what. So it was nice that I got in earlier than expected.
Were you already preparing for Summit before you were voted in?
Well, I’m always practicing for any tournament so by definition I am practicing for Summit.
So just another tourney in your eyes?
Yeah, you could say that.
Do you practice for certain character matchups or game plans for opposing players?
I practice based on what my current weak points are, and somewhat the players. I try to prepare for all of them if I can. But what’s more important to me is understanding certain concepts that will help you win, as well as preparing for very specific matchups if I know them in advance.
This is your third consecutive Summit appearance. Tell me some lessons you learned from the previous two that helped you prepare for Smash Summit 13.
Yeah, it is true I’ve been to the last two Summits, huh? Kinda crazy…
Some of the lessons I’ve learned? Well, energy management is important. Getting in all the practice with the top players is very important. Having a really good night’s sleep is very, very important.
It’s not really about the environment though, I’d say. It’s less about Summit itself and more so me as a player. What are my current weaknesses? What are some things I need to learn? How can I better apply this during tournaments? Summit is a different environment for sure but it’s not that drastic. It’s still a Melee tournament at the end of the day. So it’s not really that I’m making changes between Summits, I’m just growing as a player.
Who are you most looking forward to playing this weekend and why?
Pretty much all the top players of course. I have Hungrybox in my pool, which is pretty cool because — generally speaking — he’s not as available for friendlies or just won’t try as hard. So I’m happy I have the opportunity to play him in bracket.
I’m also excited to play Leffen. His Sheik’s been looking mad scary against Marth so I’d like to see where I stand in that regard. But really just getting practice vs all the top players – Zain, Plup, Mango. So not really excited for one particular player but more for the opportunity to be around so many greats.
KoDoRiN on Marth and the allure of Melee
What led you to maining Marth over other characters?
I liked how he felt the most. I was juggling between very many characters when I started. When I got to Marth, his wave dash felt like butter. He fit me like a glove perfectly.
You’ve described your playstyle as “zoning” even though Marth doesn’t have projectiles. Could you elaborate more on that?
So if you think of it in the context of projectiles, they make you respect certain spaces more. Even though Marth has no projectiles, you still need to respect his range. He has an invulnerable sword in many aspects. To beat Marth you have to play around his sword instead of directly challenging it. That’s how zoning works in regards to Marth and I utilize it because it’s one of his best strengths.
You’re one of the youngest stars in Melee. Talk to me about the game’s appeal that keeps some of the younger generation from newer Smash entries.
Well, I’m not even sure if I’m the best person to ask this. Because I’m probably one of if not the very last generation that grew up with Melee. I’ve been playing the game since I was a little kid. Technically, I was born before the game came out so I think this question is probably better suited for players who were literally not born when Melee came out.
But to answer anyway, I thought the game was great when I was younger and forgot about it as I grew up. Then I rediscovered it through the Smash Doc. But having prior familiarity did help. I didn’t know that much competitively but the fact I had some experience already did go a long way. I just knew the game was really fun and when I found out about the competitive scene I thought, “Yeah I’d like to be a part of this.”
What was it about the Smash Doc that made you want to start playing Melee competitively?
Seeing all the tournaments being held for Melee and all those storylines were so cool. I wanted to try and be like that if I could. So I put my hand in it and somehow I got to where I’m at right now.
You’re definitely etching your own story in Melee history already. If you were to ever compete in Ultimate would you stick with Marth or try another swordy?
I currently have no plans to ever compete in that game, but I think I’d try another character. [laughs]
KoDoRiN on Netplay, unnecessary online stigmas, and career growth
You’ve attributed your fast progress to asking questions and learning from others. Tell me the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten.
It’s tough to pin it down to one singular type of advice. Because it's not really about that one piece of advice, there’s a lot of lessons to learn. Melee’s a very complex game, and trying to be the best in the world at anything isn’t quite so simple. In part because everyone’s journey is so different.
But I think a pretty good piece of advice I got was if you want to be the best, you can never be satisfied. And I think that’s a pretty good piece of advice for anyone. If you really really want to get good at something, you can never be satisfied.
You kind of broke out in online events during the pandemic and continue playing in them today for practice. You even host your own online weeklies in Training Mode Tuesdays (TMT). What are the biggest benefits of netplay that have helped you grow as a player?
When we finally got viable netplay it not only changed my growth, but everyone else’s too. Because back then finding practice was very inconvenient in the Smash world. It wouldn’t be too uncommon for players to practice only a couple times a week at the most. For high level players, finding competitive games was really hard to set up. So overall practice was just lesser.
But now we have really good netplay and with so many people hungry it kind of changed the game in terms of skill set. Like right now, Melee has the highest collective level of talent it's ever seen. Now practice is so much more accessible, and because of that it allows me to get match experience and develop good learning tactics. It just made putting in the hours way easier.
What kind of adjustments do you need to make between offline and online?
Honestly, there’s not that much. A minor adjustment is that there is a little bit of sound delay online, so that matters for certain edgeguards. But other than that not too much, it’s really that good if you have everything optimized.
That’s so crazy because I’ve literally never heard anyone say that about another fighting game.
Yeah we’re blessed to have that good of a netcode.
What’s your favorite part of returning to offline majors after the pandemic?
So this is the answer I’m going to give, but I don’t necessarily like how it’s this way. My favorite part is the fact that offline tournaments “matter” to some degree. However, I don’t like how we relegated online despite everything I just said about it being almost identical to offline. We as a community just decide to not really count it, and that’s kind of a boneheaded move on our part.
We just don’t really count the last two years of Melee even though it was pretty legit. Zain pretty much became the consensus best player and he’s still doing very well, all things considered. So online really does represent skill in Melee, but that we refuse to acknowledge it kind of sucks and invalidates a lot of hard work players put in. Especially Zain, because he was the best player but since it was online he got no reward from it. It’s nice to see that our work definitely transitions to offline.
So I’m glad that tournaments finally “matter” again, but I wish the negative view of online could change.
And now Zain’s already proven he’s the best player again offline!
Yeah, and if you notice, most players that do well online do pretty comparably offline too! So to me, it just further proves that online practice is really that good under the right conditions.
How has signing with FlyQuest made a difference in your career?
Flying to events is much easier than before. Having them support my other endeavors such as TMT has been incredible. As well as having basic income. Because you know, Smash and Melee specifically isn’t very rich at all. We’ve seen the prize pool discourse so many times, and the fact that I don’t necessarily need to rely on that is a pretty big relief. They’re also interested in my professional development and have a very supportive staff. I think I have it pretty good compared to most players, so they’ve been very instrumental so far.
Do you have any goals for Summit and the rest of 2022?
Pretty much the same goals as always. Patch up my weaknesses and see what I can learn from this game. Find new things I can use to better care for myself and perform better next time. I really don’t have expectations, per say. Just play my best, try out some new things and do a little better than last time.