Far in the most inhospitable regions of Canada, just southeast of Nunavut, is Hudson Bay, home of the Northern Hudson Bay Inuit, and their culinary traditions. Like many who occupy similar geography, hunting seals can be a vital part of their survival and diet, but their respect for the animal is vital to their culture. As a result, when they have a successful hunt, they use every part of the carcass, even down to using the seal’s blood to enrich their broth.
This efficiency is born as much out of practicality as it is respect for the animal, the need in such harsh environments to make the most of every morsel, to stretch every resource, and ensure you get 100% out of each one. This philosophy is similar to a new breed of Melee player we’ve seen emerge in recent years — dominating the scene as we know it by being a character specialist lab monster.
The old Melee gods and the new
For what felt like centuries, Smash was a game dominated by people rather than characters. Of the original documentary’s five gods, four played more than one character, with only Hungrybox being loyal to his main. Meanwhile, the likes of Mew2King and Mang0 had a handful of options at the top level. On any given day you might see the kid bust out his Falcon, or his Marth, even while he still would have called himself a space animal at heart. Mew2King was notorious for counter-picking characters based on the matchup.
The same goes for PPMD and his famous Apex win, where he allegedly told coach Cactuar he needed a longer dash dance before switching to Marth and making history. Even Armada, the only person to win a supermajor with Peach, ended up duel maining with Fox, revolutionizing aspects of that character’s meta. Hungrybox did use a Ness here and there, but for the most part he remains the exception, dedicating himself to his Pokemon.
That’s not to say the gods got where they were with bad characters — Scorpion Master is an exception, but it's more that the people were as much the challenge as the game itself. Today’s lab monsters, on the other hand, have realized the likes of Mango, Leffen, and Hungrybox — while great — still die the same as any other Falco, Fox, or Puff when you play the game right. This has led new players to dissect their characters to find every flaw and foible.
AMSa, the grandfather of the new Melee style
Where once we had the likes of M2K and his pack of options, we have players like Ginger, KoDoRiN, iBDW, Zain, and others who have picked a character and delved deep into the tech, trying to eke every ounce of advantage they can find in the frames. When these players go down 0-2, there is no switch to a different matchup, just another attempt to get the job done with the only main they know.
While this is a more modern phenomenon generally, the grandfather of this style could well be AMSa, the Japanese Yoshi — or his good friend Axe. Both have taken a mid-tier to the highest peaks of competition by exploring and expounding upon every last theory until there is nothing left to give. If you want to see this in action, just watch AMSa’s recent performance at Genesis and Pound, where he was even able to get mileage out of Yoshi’s neutral B.
What makes the new names different to Axe or AMSa is their characters. As it turns out, when you really start exploring the extreme edges of a top tier, you get a lot more reward, be that Marth’s defensive capabilities or the optimal way to play vs Puff as Fox, you can get to a point where the game almost seems solved. That’s what we’ve seen in the last year, with top players convinced Zain is unbeatable on some stages, and the likes of iBDW straight up invalidating Jigglypuff as a character.
Modern Melee problems require modern solutions
Why this happened is not certain, but one guess would be the fact that everyone is just so good at the game today, meaning you have to grind to be sure of every win. Slippi and the COVID era have accelerated that to some extent, but even top players have to try in pools in 2022 — and there are new killers at each major waiting to take names. Summit 13 was the perfect illustration of the fact, with players like Mekk, Salt, and Blue hot on the heels of rising star Jmook, who is himself not that far behind iBDW.
In contrast, a few years back, M2K could go through pools playing Pichu or Roy for the memes and still win as the gap between the best and the rest was huge. This, to some extent, is why "gods" aren’t even a thing now — not because the top players aren’t as good, but because the mortals have caught up and learned how to throw their own thunder.
This is a great sign for Melee too, as tech advances are shared with the community the moment they appear on stream, further contributing to the culture of competition — where every game is a challenge. Just like the Hudson Bay hunters do with every catch, this generation of Melee stars are squeezing every last drop out of their characters, and it’s pushing the game forward in an incredibly exciting way.