Of the many Super Smash Bros. Melee majors, The Big House may be nearest and dearest to its community. It's the game's longest-running grassroots series, and is widely considered to be second only to the Evolution Championship Series in prestige and importance. Thus, it's no surprise that Melee's strongest competitors returned to Detroit last weekend for the series' seventh edition. But while many spectators knew they were in for an entertaining weekend of Super Smash Bros., few could have predicted that they were about to see Melee history in the making.
"This is the first tournament of the new era."
When Justin "Plup" McGrath and Adam "Armada" Lindgren walked onstage for their winners' semifinals match, victory was all but assured for the Swedish world number one. After all, the players' record was a definitive six-zero in Armada's favor-Armada hadn't lost a single set to a player ranked outside the top five since William "Leffen" Hjelte in 2015, and before that to Jeff "SilentSpectre" Leung in 2010. But in Armada and Plup's first meeting since last November's Smash Summit 3, Plup showed that he had improved beyond all expectations, walking away victorious in a 3-1 upset that sent shockwaves through both the tournament venue and the community at large. With this win over Armada, Plup was able to put his final demon to rest, completing his ascendance to Melee godhood.
However, despite notching additional wins over Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman and Leffen, Plup was unable to defeat four gods in one tournament, falling to Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma in grand finals. Although Hungrybox was forced to play the role of spoiler at The Big House, Hungrybox's victory is an exciting shake-up in its own right. After winning three consecutive majors-and defeating Armada at two of them, Team Liquid's champion is now firmly in the running for this season's year-end number one ranking. Furthermore, the tournament marked a resurgence on Leffen's part; after a disappointing 13th-place finish at Game Tyrant Expo, the Swedish Fox made it to 3rd at The Big House 7 by upsetting both Hungrybox and Joseph "Mango" Marquez in winners' bracket, the latter in a dominant 3-0.
Just like Game Tyrant Expo the weekend before, The Big House 7 was defined by upsets, both at the top level and in the earlier stages of the bracket. This year, a whopping eight SSBMRank top 50 players, including top eight contenders Weston "Westballz" Dennis and Ryan "La Luna" Coker-Welch, failed to make it to the third day of the tournament, losing to unranked and relatively unknown players such as Ben "vortex" Geoghean and Antoine "Anther" Sledge. Although these results are surprising, they have wider implications as well. The Big House 7's many upsets may portend the dawn of a new age as the next generation of top players rises, past top players decline, and the game's "new gods" assume their position among the hyper-elite. Half in awe and half in disbelief, commentator Bobby "Scar" Scarnewman said it best: "This is the first tournament of the new era."
Doubles déjà vu
The Big House 7's excitement wasn't limited to the singles bracket. In the event's much-anticipated crews tournament, eight squads of top players went head-to-head in a battle for bragging rights and regional pride. Europe and Florida had no trouble steamrolling through the competition, but while Armada's Peach went on a rampage in earlier rounds, the presence of Hungrybox's Jigglypuff, a hard counter to his Peach, forced him to play Fox in the final. Florida took advantage of this pick, successfully neutralizing Europe's strongest asset by sending him to Final Destination against Mew2king. In the end, this shrewd counterpick allowed Florida to pull out a last-stock victory against the Europeans. However, the absence of two-time defending champions Southern California put a damper on the proceedings and prevented Florida from truly claiming the title of uncontested best region.
The tournament's doubles event ended with a repeat of Game Tyrant Expo, with Alliance's Armada and Andreas "Android" Lindgren facing off against CLG's Kevin "PewPewU" Toy and Zachary "SFAT" Cordoni. Despite this déjà vu, the Swedish brothers looked dominant throughout the tournament, losing only one game to "PewFat" on their way to victory. Notably, the Big House 7 doubles marked the rise of static teams. While teams finals of years past often contained a scattering of top singles players looking for an easy payout, each of The Big House 7's top five teams was a partnership in which both players are deeply connected, whether by region, sponsor, or blood. In Melee's rapidly developing doubles metagame, players are increasingly being forced to rely less on raw skill and more on efficient and practiced teamwork.
The end of The Big House 7 marks the beginning of a month-long break period in the Super Smash Bros. Melee season. Only Smash Summit 5, on November 2, stands between now and the end of the season. As Melee's status quo crumbles, each of the game's top players will be entering Smash Summit with something to prove: Armada will look to resume his position atop the metagame, while a victory for Hungrybox would push the Jigglypuff main closer to the elusive number one ranking than ever before. And, of course, all eyes will be on Plup to see if he will back up his stellar performance at The Big House 7. With other heavy-hitters like Leffen, Mango, and Mew2King thrown in the mix, the outcome of next month's Summit is more uncertain than ever.