If you had asked anyone familiar with the Smash 4 competitive scene if they'd imagine a Top 8 that would include characters such as Ryu, Peach, and Luigi, they would call you crazy. Well, that is exactly what happened at GameTyrant Expo this past weekend in Salt Lake City. While the thought of what happened is hard to believe, it becomes more unbelievable as you see the path each player had to face.
Orion "Darkshad" Wolf had arguably the hardest pool to get out of on Winner's side because #1 ranked TSM's Gonzalos "Zero" Barros stood in his way. With the additional difficulty of having to deal with one of Ryu's most annoying matchup ups, Diddy Kong, the odds were as bad as they could get. His patient approach, as well as utilizing the rage mechanic, led him to causing the first of many upsets as he advanced into Winner's bracket of Top 48.
Darkshad continued on his way to break Top 8 as he took down another top Diddy Kong player, Panda Global's Jestise "MVD" Negron. He falls short to Ramin "Mr. R" Delshad, a match that would have secured him a spot in Top 8 had he won. Fans start to lose hope at seeing the newly arisen Ryu's next opponent, NRG's Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada, who is currently ranked #3 in the world. However, beating top players in unfavorable matchups is not unfamiliar to this Ohio native, and he goes on to beat yet another Top 3 player with a 3-1 victory over Nairo. He has done what hasn't been seen since March, a Ryu player in Top 8 at an S-tier event. His next opponent is a rematch from pools, where he loses 3 close games to Zero. He is indisputably the top Ryu representative after this dominating performance.
The poster boy for consistency, Jamaal "Samsora" Morris Jr., arrived at the venue already defeated. For those unaware, Samsora plays Peach, a character known as being a tad better than a majority of the cast, but not a top tier by any means. One of the reasons for this is that floaty characters like Peach suffer from being able to be put into a deadly combo at any percent by Meta Knight. While the character has received nerfs, he still has the ability to kill Peach after hitting her at almost any percent. To say a Meta Knight player can not look at the screen for a minute and comeback and win a match would be an understatement about this matchup.
GT-X would mark what would seem like the 10th time that Samsora would have to fight a Meta Knight player in pools. Luminosity Gaming's Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura, who is known for being one of the best Meta Knight players, was lined up to fight Samsora in Winner's Finals of their pool and sports a 3-0 record over Sam. However, this fiery Peach main was not about to let his chance at $12,000 pass him by. After a convincing game one, Abadango actually switched to his other character, Mewtwo, in an attempt to pull out the set. This attempt was futile as Samsora quickly secured his first win on the Top 20 ranked player.
At this point, most players would be satisfied if they lost their next two matches, but Samsora was hungry for blood. His next opponent was yet another person he had yet to take a set from, Nairo. This wouldn't deter Samsora, as he would go on to win a nail biter set with a 3-2 victory. This left only one set for him to win to make his first Top 8 appearance at an S-tier event, and he had two chances to do so since he was still in Winner's. Even with his elegant Peach play, he would fall to Matt "Elegant" Fitzpatrick. His last shot to garner a Top 8 spot would be against RNG's Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby. Utilizing Peach's unique movement due to her ability to float, he would secure a Top 8 spot. This marks the first time a Peach main has made it into a Top 8 at an S-tier event. Sadly, the run would end here as he lost 3-0 to #6 ranked player Misfits' Larry "Larry Lurr" Holland.
Finally, we get to the talk of the town. If this was a normal Nintendo story, Luigi would be in the shadow of Mario. However, Matt "Elegant" Fitzpatrick arrived in Utah with the message that the "Year of Luigi" didn't end in 2014. This South California resident is not unfamiliar to top player upsets. He has accumulated many wins on Top 20 players at the weekly tournament series Mega Smash Mondays, yet he hasn't performed higher than 17th at any high tier event. Elegant is someone you aren't surprised with if he gets an upset or two at an event, but it's much more likely he will fly under the radar with another Top 32 finish.
It needs to be noted that without being able to execute Luigi's devastating 60%+ throw combos and his tornado (which, when performed correctly, can kill players at zero offstage), no one would be able to come close to achieving Top 8. While Luigi does have these things going for him, his low traction means moves that usually are not safe on shield are safe due to him sliding away from his opponent. Between this and his easily gimp-able recover, you have your work cut out for you with Luigi if you want to do well. Elegant's gameplay revolves around avoiding these weaknesses at all cost and capitalizing as hard as he can every chance he gets, very similar to the best Melee player in the world, Adam "Armada" Lindgren.
To start off his GT-X breakout performance, he moved onto Winner's side of Top 48 after beating C9's Elliot "Ally" Carroza-Oyarce 2-1 with a not so surprising upset. His next two matches would be wins that will surely let him make it on the top 50 rankings this year as he defeated 42nd ranked CLG Tyrell "Nakat" Colema and 24th ranked Samsora. Some at this point might not be too impressed because, due to upsets, he avoided both Larry Lurr & Nairo, but he had his eyes set on finally proving he could perform well at the large events.
At this point, Elegant has qualified for Top 8 and remains on the Winner's side of the bracket. He faces Immortal's Jason "Anti" Bates in Winner's Semifinals of the entire event. Anti is known for his ability to play multiple characters at a high level, so this won't be an easy match when Anti can choose his character that does the best against Luigi. He chooses Cloud, a character that, when he keeps Luigi out, succeeds. If he doesn't, he can be combo food for Luigi with an exploitable recovery as well. Elegant quickly takes the set in 3-0 fashion, even after Anti tried his Zero Suit Samus. This is already a historic placing for Luigi, but Elegant wants more. Going into Winner's Finals, Elegant has picked up four sets on top 50 ranked players. But he has his toughest opponent up yet, No. 2 Leonardo "MKLeo" Perez.
MKLeo is someone who is ranked higher than any opponent Elegant had faced at this point, alongside him having the strongest Marth/Cloud in the game. At this point, it seems like this could be the end of the road for Elegant, but he is still on the Winner's side of the bracket and won't give in. He becomes the first player to not only make Top 8 with Luigi, but also the first to make it to grand finals, let alone Winner's side with a 3-1 victory over MKLeo. Although he falls to Leo in two 3-2 sets in Grand Finals, he gives every viewer watching one of the best sets that has ever been seen in the game's history.
GT-X showed the playerbase that even with characters like Cloud and Bayonetta existing, those who put their heart on the line and utilize every tool their character has, even the most unlikely players can compete at the highest level. Not to mention the undisputable best team in the world comprised of MKLeo and Komorikiri lost their first set in Smash 4, and the incredible Loser's runs by both Larry Lurr and Zero, GT-X will go down as on of the craziest SMASH events to have happened so far.
All images © Thomas Tishcio, Find him on twitter @tischphotos. You can find all of his pictures from GT-X here.