On January 14th, 2017, 2GGaming started what would become the first major circuit for the SM4SH community. Points were rewarded to those placing high enough in the qualifying events that would then be tallied after the final qualifier, MKLeo Saga, on November 4th. Once it was announced who the Final 19 were, players got to work studying everyone in their pool. The only odd one out was whoever would have to play through the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) bracket to earn the sought-after final spot. 20 Players entered and only one would leave the victor.
The LCQ took place on Friday, December 1st. A highly stacked bracket consisting of 132 players led to a finals that surely surprised expectations. The highest seed in the bracket, Ramin "Mr. R" Delshad, seemed to have the bracket easily. There was no one else competing in the LCQ that came close to his #9 ranking in the world. While upsets did happen, the Top 8 contained most of the higher seeds and wasn't too out of the ordinary for such an inconsistent game like SM4SH. After defeating Mr. R in Winner's Semis, Matt "Elegant" Fitzpatrick went on to take the coveted spot among the other 19 players to compete for the Championship title.
The 20 players were split into 5 groups of 4, with each group using a Round Robin format to decide who would continue on. Whoever had the best record would move onto the final Top 8 bracket, while the second place finisher would be placed in a playoff pool with the 4 other second place finishers to fight for the remaining 3 spots on Sunday.
Throughout the five groups, only one pool had the player who was seeded first to come out as the first in their pool. Unsurprisingly, that achievement goes to the strongest player the SM4SH scene has ever witnessed, TSM's Gonzalo "Zero" Barrios. The others to move on straight to the final bracket were Echo Fox's Leonardo "MKLeo" Lopez, CLG's James "VoiD" Makekau-Tyson, Kengo "KEN" Suzuki, and most surprisingly, Luminosity Gaming's Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura. Abadango had a lackluster season that led many to believe his ranking would drop heavily, but he came to play at this event as he went 3-0 in his pool against 3 Top 10 threats.
The ones to qualify for the Playoff pool were Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby, NRG's Nairoby "Nairo" Quqzada, C9's Elliot "Ally" Carroza-Oyarce, MVG's Saleem "Salem" Young and the winner of the LCQ, BSD's Elegant. Even though 10 moved on, the 10 that had fallen deserved to be applauded for their years of success and the fight they put up in their pools, mainly Shuto "Shuton" Moriya being the only one in his pool to beat MKLeo (3-0 ,no less) and Chris "WaDi" Boston who, while going 2-1 in his pool, did not qualify to move on. He also deserves congratulations as he proposed before the start of his pool to his girlfriend on stream.
As the first 5 are cemented, the remaining players had to square up again to continue on to the Sunday bracket. As many were mentally exhausted from fighting for dear life in their earlier pools, no one could predict how it will finish. To the surprise of almost everyone, the lowest rank player in the pool and crowd favorite, Elegant secured 1st place. At this point in this tournament alone, Elegant earned wins against those ranked #3, #5, #6, #9, and #11. As someone ranked #25 last season, this is a phenomenal performance that continues as his home state got louder after each win. The two other players who would join him were Salem and Dabuz.
By now, the final bracket has been decided and the end is in sight. Throughout the weekend, most challengers' mentalities have been beaten to a pulp as many players look more defeated than they ever have. It only speaks to how difficult it is to maintain a high level of consistent play & how crushing losses on the big stage can be to each person. Those who remain standing have risen above the rest and sat down to decide who walks away with $20,000.
While the ranking of his opponents grows, Elegant's fire had not been extinguished. His next opponent was the best player from Japan, KEN. Going into Game 5, after being tied 2-2, Elegant won in quite an odd fashion. He plays a character who rewards aggression, Luigi, so this will never lead itself to a timeout (when the 6 minute timer runs out, the player with the highest stock count wins, and if they are equal, it defers to the lower percentage). KEN has trouble taking away Elegant's first stock until there is only a minute and a half remaining. Luigi glues himself to the top platform as he avoids Sonic's pressure and is rewarded the win as the clock strikes 0.
At this point, history has been made. Luigi, a character regarded as the 26th best player according to a poll among top players, has guaranteed himself 5th at one of, if not the most stacked event of the year. This is a sign of hope for all of those who play characters not regarded as the best in the game. Sadly, Elegant's run ends after losing the rematch against MVG Salem and falling to Dabuz in Losers.
After shocking sets and some of the most intense gameplay the community has seen, the bracket is down to 4 players. Echo Fox MKLeo sits against MVG Salem in Winner's Finals, while TSM Zero and Dabuz are pitted against each other in Loser's. There are some that would argue these are the 4 strongest players in the game at the moment. Throughout all that has happened this year, we are left with the cream of the crop. Two rematches set to begin with $20k is on the line. MKLeo wins against Salem for the second time this weekend, securing the first of two spots in Grand Finals. Zero, once again, defeats Dabuz 3-0 and moves on to his rival, Salem. Salem is the first person to ever threaten Zero's first place ranking in SM4SH since the game came out. As they plug in, one would emerge victorious and claim the better head-to-head record over the other, as they sat at 4-4 for this season. The players pulled out everything they had in their pockets to garner the final win for the season, and Zero emerged as the one to join MKLeo in Grand Finals.
It is somewhat poetic that the two that would sit here would be the King & Prince of SM4SH. MKLeo's story started as the star talent in Mexico that many claimed was truly the best player in the world. Without a visa, he was unable to prove the claim. He cemented himself as a real threat to the world when he defeated a top ten player, Mr. R, at Smash Factor 4. His claim to best in the world does not seem so preposterous now. Even though he lost his first encounter with Zero around a year later, the world knew he was someone who would remain a threat for time to come.
The two had faced once this tournament, that being in Winner's Semifinals. MKLeo's Meta Knight became the first person to 3-0 the reigning champ in under 6 minutes. Leo has now won the past two encounters against Zero as he seemed helpless when it came to fighting Meta Knight. However, Zero never comes back to fall again. Almost every player that has ever beaten Zero gets utterly demolished the next time they stand in his way. If there is one person that can beat Leo, it's him.
The first set of Grand Finals is filled with patient play, precise spacing and intelligent decision making. Zero found himself at a 2-1 deficit after Game 3 is finished. This matchup for Diddy Kong is usually seen in his favor, but Zero is noticeably having trouble with MKLeo's heavy bait and punish style. After taking a deep breath, he calmed his nerves before reminding everyone why he is the best. He ends the first set 3-2 in his favor. MKLeo has now been put into loser's bracket alongside him and everything now rides on this final set.
Zero appears to have figured him out as he won the first game without breaking a sweat. MKLeo is now put in a situation many have seen themselves in before. Winner's side of Grand Finals with a set to blow in case things go awry. This is not the normal opponent however. This is a player that has been in this situation countless times and knows how to completely dismantle his enemy. This is the strongest opponent MKLeo has ever had to face, and he was now down a game.
There is a reason MKLeo has made it to this point. He rose above everyone else at this event to be fighting for the final spot. As if something clicked in his mind, MKLeo bounced back. He destroys Zero in Game 2 as he ends the game with only 35% taken on his last stock. As this set continued, it's possible to witness the players becoming one with their characters, as if they were not playing the game from the outside anymore. MKLeo secures Game 3.
Zero was put into a 2-1 deficit yet again, and faces losing for the 3rd spot this tournament. This is when you see Zero play his strongest, and he proved it, too, as he takes a commanding lead in Game 4 and sits with a huge advantage in taking Leo's first stock and gains a 59% advantage going into his last stock. The players put everything on the line and when Zero showed one hint of weakness in an airdodge, MKLeo Shuttle Loop'd his way into being the winner of this year long series and the crowd erupts.
The competitive season is at its end as we move into an off season for a month until Genesis 5 near the start of January. This PGR season has breathed life into the game as more players start to close the gap with the upper echelon, as we see for the first time, a Top 5 contender who was not a Super Smash Bros. Brawl veteran. No one can predict what the future holds for the SM4SH community except that the top players never fail to impress.
I want to add the Twitter handles for everyone who made this incredible event possible. If you enjoy Smash content in general and the streams provided to the community, these people deserve your recognition:
General: @2GGaming, @smashgg, @esportsarena
Talent: @xD1x, @TKbreezy, @ThePhenomenalEE, @gsmK0rean, @GunbladeSWR, @Silentdo0m, @GPikSmash, @Cedgehog, @VikkiKitty_, @PG_suar, @Pierce7d
2GG team: @Jmex25, @2ggdemi, @2gg_Zfly, @2ggstrides, @KwonSSB, @2GGlakitu, @Sydortiz, @2gg_warchief, @champtang