Few players are as unique as Jeffrey "Axe" Williamson. Few players have had as unique of a time over the past two years as Axe.
Someone not satisfied with online Melee tournaments, Axe did not have as much of a presence as other top players in the online era. With offline tournaments ramping up, his competitive fire is ablaze again. Inven Global had the opportunity to sit down with Axe, and discuss his tournament performances, perspective on the scene, and why Pikachu is just so great.
Axe and the Melee scene's other top players
Riptide was a fairly strange tournament for you. You had one of the most impressive losers runs of your career. Walk us through that experience. What was your mentality like throughout each day?
Oh my gosh, that was crazy. It was a very humbling experience. When I first lost, I think it was a combination of me underestimating him. Because in my mind, I was like, "Well, it's just round-one pools. This shouldn't be too hard." So I kind of went in without really warming up too much or anything like that. And honestly as I was playing I felt fine. And as I was playing him I'm like, "Wow, this guy is actually really good." And I felt like I was doing okay.
But he was just much, much better than I was expecting. And I just lost, he got the better of me. There was a lot going through my mind, I gotta say, it was really tough mentally to handle the loss. Because I just felt like, "Man, I guess I've just really fallen behind that much. Maybe there's a lot more practicing I need to do or maybe everyone's just getting better and I just can't keep up." I had a lot of doubts about myself.
And as I continued through the bracket, it was really hard for me to feel that fire anymore because I just felt like anyone could beat me. And I had a ridiculous amount of close calls. I mean, I can't even recall how many times I went to game three in the best-of-threes or game five in best-of-fives. I was hanging on by a thread the entire time. And I guess at some point throughout that bracket I just thought to myself, "I don't want to give up." I want to be a competitor and I can't win with the kind of mindset that I was having. And I just eventually found a way to push myself and really get things started.
And so I ended up making it all the way to top eight just by having a different mindset actually. And it was tough. It was tough. But I will say like I am pretty proud of myself that I was able to get out of that mental state and really push through and make it to top eight.
So it was more of a mental shift in your opinion by the end? Did you feel vindicated with your result?
I think so. Yeah, it was kind of like, "You know what? I think if I want to win these tournaments, I need to prepare much harder because even in round-one pools. Because of the Slippi era especially, everyone's just gotten so much better. And I can't underestimate my competition like that.
It's not a breeze anymore to even go through round-one pools like it was maybe two years ago or so. And I think I just really need to respect that more. But yeah, I think that I do still have what it takes as a competitor. I just have to understand that things have gotten so much harder now.
What have you noticed in local competition? Are there any Arizona players that really stand out to you?
Yeah, I'm not sure if you know about this, but currently, I'm ranked number two to Medz. And Medz is a player here who has just gotten really, really good. He's been up and coming for so many years. And he's taken sets off of me here and there. But during the pandemic, he was still playing a lot and practicing and stuff and he's gotten a lot better. And you know, we're sort of going back in sets right now, but he has the upper hand. And he's going to make it super far one day in these national tournaments. I swear he's super good.
But besides Medz, I would say just the general skill level of the Arizona players have gotten really high. There's someone who goes by CPU0 who's a Jigglypuff player. He's currently ranked number four in Arizona, but I think he could be the best Jigglypuff player in the world one day. I think he has a lot of promise. And it's just really cool seeing everyone's progress that's happened throughout the online era. I do think that basically everyone has gotten better, but I don't think it's just Arizona. I feel like most regions have really had a big level up because of Slippi.
At Riptide we saw KoDoRiN and Logan both make top eight. Do you think with the rise of online players, the top 20 will be much more volatile?
I think eventually yes. I don't think it's quite there yet. I think the people who were really grinding out through the Slippi era have the potential to upset the top players. I've already lost, but I think that more of them will start rising to the top. I don't think they're quite there yet, but I'm pretty sure it will happen. I think it eventually will be pretty volatile and near the top and I think it'll be kind of soon. Maybe within the next year or so I think the Slippi kids are gonna start really rising up and maybe take some of those top spots.
Pikachu mains in Melee rise up
We finally have another Pikachu main making a lot of noise. What have been your main impressions of Tyler Swift? How would you contrast his style in comparison to yours?
There's two of them actually. OkayP. has more or less had similar performances to Tyler Swift. I think Tyler's just more in the spotlight because he plays with Zain a lot. So he has a lot more exposure. But OkayP. is also very good. To me, it seems like they are around the same level of Pikachu players. I don't remember what OkayP. placed. But both of them made it pretty far (25th for Tyler Swift and 33rd for OkayP. at Riptide).
But yeah, both of them have been good Pikachu players for quite a while now. And it's really impressive. It's been a long time since I've seen any other Pikachu in the top 32. It's pretty wild to see how far they've gotten and I watched their gameplay and I'm like, "Wow like they're really pushing it." It's been a very, very long time since I've seen a Pikachu who could challenge the best of the best players.
I know that OkayP. at least took a game off of Wizzrobe. I think that's really impressive. Taking a game off of Wizzrobe with Pikachu is really, really hard. I've tried and it's tough. I think last time we played he 3-0'd me. I remember I went up to OkayP. and I was like, "Dude, you did better than I did! How did you even do that?" It's really cool to see the progression of Pikachu players right now. I'm just excited to see how far they can go.
Some people have argued that another top Pikachu will make it easier for opponents to adapt to you. At the same time, they're helping optimize the character. What's your perspective? Will it be harder?
Yes, but I sort of see it as a similar challenge to how it's always been. I think even though people are gonna have more experience versus Pikachu, I do think that I can still rise on top and I'm also not afraid to switch characters if I feel like I need to. But I just kind of think that even if people have Pikachu experience, I still think that Pikachu is the right character for me to rise up as a player.
Why do you think that is?
It's mainly just the character's strengths, the things that he can do in the neutral game, punish game, and his movement and everything. It's not something that I can get with the other high tiers. I think the other high tiers in general have better options. But none of them can mimic the strengths that Pikachu has. And I feel like that's just more fitting for me, and I just have a connection with the character I think. When I'm using him I feel like he is a top tier. I feel like regardless of the tier he's in, I do think that I could potentially be the best in the world even if it's with a mid tier.
Axe explores a secondary... Maybe... Probably not
You’ve mentioned before how you want to start taking advantage of switching characters when you need to. When I talked with Cody (iBDW), his opinion was that players with characters like Pikachu will need to develop secondaries. Do you think it’s essential in the current meta?
I think it's a good idea, but I don't think it's necessary. I think that... Honestly I think that Cody's wrong. I think he's wrong about Pikachu. I think that Pikachu can compete with the top tiers, I feel like he's viable in that sense. When I watch my gameplay and I watch when I lose, I think most people see it as like, "Man, there's nothing that Pikachu can do in this situation."
But when I watch it, I'm like, "There are so many things that I could be doing better. If I did this here, or if I do this kind of movement." If I think about the different things that I can do. I think that I could beat everyone in the world with Pikachu. I just need to get better and I don't actually think that the character's the problem.
aMSa and taking another Melee major
His Summit performance wasn't the strongest, but aMSa was really impressive at Summit. Do you think he's top 10 currently?
At minimum, he is definitely at least top 10 right now. At least. I think that he could have won Summit if things went his way. Like it was actually very close when you look at it. He beat Mang0 which is really impressive. Versus Zain, game five last stock. I mean things went down to the wire. And things could have changed if he actually just took that last stock. And then he had to play Hungrybox, and that also went to game five down to the wire.
So he's like on the very, very cusp of winning these top matchups. Like if he just takes one more stock, he's winning a major. And I think he's going to do it. I think aMSa is going to win a major. And I feel like it's only a matter of time. And it turns out that after barely losing the Hungrybox, I played him.
And for whatever reason, I beat him kind of bad. I don't know, it could be a combination of his lack of Pikachu experience and my ridiculous amount of Yoshi experience. Or maybe he just wasn't prepared for me, I don't know.
But I think that if he just takes one more stock against these top players, he's going to be the best. And if you look at the numbers—at Summit he placed ninth, which does not look super impressive for him. But if you look at the games, you can just see that if just one tiny thing went different, he could have potentially been first.
If I were to rank aMSa just based off the type of play that I see from him—how he does in the actual games—to me he looks like a top five player. That's what he looks like to me.
If you could sit him down and give him one piece of advice, what do you think the biggest thing holding him back right now is?
Don't be afraid to lame it out. *laughs*
There are times where he will get into super defense mode. He'll just start going to the ledge, throw a bunch of eggs, and then almost never approach. And then he just like slowly gets damage that way. I think he's extremely good at that. And there are times where if he did that just in one or two more situations, he would clutch out these games, I think. And I think he just needs to not be afraid to do that. I think he might have maybe a little too much pride. But sometimes you kind of have to throw the pride out the window and just lame it up
If you had to put money on it, by the end of next year, what do you think the chances percentage-wise that you will win a major are?
That's a little hard to say, I'm almost feeling like it's 50-50. Right now I have a lot of competitive fire in me, and I've been working pretty hard just to try to get better and everything like that. But there are times where it gets really tough for me mentally. And there are times where I feel like giving up. The whole mental game as a competitor can just be really tough. And when I get in those modes, I do much, much worse. So I feel like it's up in the air.
I definitely think I have a good chance to win another major. But I don't know, I think it's kind of 50-50. But I'm sure I'm gonna try my hardest. I think I can do it. But we'll see.
Do you think offline events ramping up will help your mental?
I think so. A big reason for my lack of motivation throughout the pandemic was I got tired of playing online... I didn't enjoy it anywhere near as much so my competitive fire kind of went down the whole year and a half. So I don't think I really got proper practice. And I kind of fell out of things.
Now that things are coming back for in-person events, I do feel much better and that fire has basically come back. And I think as long as I have in-person tournaments to look forward to then I'll keep this fire. But I will say my experience at Riptide, when I lost in round-one pools, I lost that motivation pretty easily. And it's things like that where I need to just get my head in the game more and learn how to handle those situations.
You’re now one of the (relatively) older players in the scene. There’s a whole new breed of players. What more do you want to prove? How long do you see yourself competing?
Probably until my hands fall off. I mean that's how I feel. Melee is just my favorite game. And I think I will eventually reach a point where I get tired of the stress of tournaments because it is stressful. And there's a lot I need to prepare for, and tournaments can be hard.
But Melee itself, I don't think I can ever stop playing. Like to me, it's my favorite thing. It's almost like a pro-bowler stopping bowling in his life somewhere. Like I don't think they ever really want to stop. It's just something really fun. To me, I don't think I ever want to stop playing Melee.
Competing, I don't know when I'll stop. I'm going to go for at least several more years. I mean, that's how I feel. But I don't have any feeling of stopping anytime soon. So I'm just having too much fun. And I think as long as I'm having fun with it, I'm not going to stop.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.