A Chat With Sky Williams Over 'Smash Bros. Melee,' The DreamHack Austin Finish, And Our Criticisms
On Monday, I posted an opinion piece about what I thought of the DreamHack Austin finals for the Melee tournament. To say it was met with criticism would be an understatement, especially after using insults as part of my critique. For that, I apologize. But a lot of discussions were had on social media over the past two days on both sides. Hardcore Smash fans telling me how wrong I was in some of the most vicious ways possible, while others not tied to the Smash community agreed that the ending looked kinda dumb. Since this has become a hot-button topic on our website, we thought best to ask questions about it with someone who has played Melee competitively over the years and could speak to the tournament and the match, as well as the issue of running down the clock. In the middle of all the vitriol, I was able to reach out to Sky Williams via Twitter, who agreed to do an online chat about everything. He gave me his unfiltered opinion about my criticism as well as a new perspective on the Smash community and the players who currently work it.
BC: First off, thanks for doing this interview. For people who may not be familiar with you, tell us a bit about your career.
Sky Williams: My name is Sky Williams. I'm a mediocre internet sensation—mostly known for losing to Dunkey in Smash and being his friend. Beyond that, I have an inconsistent YouTube channel with uploads as inconsistent as my comedy performances. I've been playing competitive Smash since 2002 and it's the best thing that's ever happened to me.
What was it about Smash competitions that drew you in and made you want to compete?
A pseudonym. In high school, I was cringey, annoying, not really good at anything but all I've ever wanted to do was fit in somewhere. I played Smash religiously, and when I heard that there were actual competitions for a game I loved so much—win or lose I had to at least try. It was a chance for me to be with people I had things in common with. It was a chance to reinvent myself.
Was it an easy transition to start up your channel after all those years playing, or were there a lot of difficulties going out and competing while making content?
I was never amazing at Melee so it's not like now where you have to dedicate like 230,948,209 hours to streaming/travel/etc. I didn't experience any real trouble with working and Smash. Since the age of 14, I've had a job, carried 2/3 jobs [from] 17-21 and then moved to L.A. and took a shot at this. The work was difficult and tiring but it was my dream—so it, at the same time, was the easiest stuff I've ever done, and the happiest I've ever been.
It's a career you've known for years and would never trade for the world.
For those who have never watched a complete Smash tournament, explain how the brackets are built and how players advance.
Certainly. Brackets are built first and foremost by seed. Seeding is a term for placing high-level players in areas based on what they are ranked locally. Many regions employ a "Top 10" leader board plastered on Facebook groups. While many believe this is a list for vanity reasons—this is simply to prevent tournaments from being boring, not fair, or flying off the handle with upsets. When entered in a standard local tournament, players are placed in the 'winners bracket' where they will compete against others in an attempt to get as far as they can. If a player loses a set, they are placed in the losers bracket. If that same player loses a set while IN the loser's bracket, they are eliminated. The last match of the tournament is "Grand Finals" in where the last remaining player in the losers bracket faces off against the winner's bracket survivor. The Winner's Bracket Finalist must only win one set, while the Loser's Bracket Finalist must take two consecutive sets off the Winner to win it all.
So it's your standard double-elimination setup with some name-players announced ahead of time to give it some promotion.
Mmm. Not usually, the players aren't always named. Sometimes it's just a local that people go to. The advertisement aspect is hardly a factor.
Did you have a chance to watch the DreamHack Austin finals for Melee between ChuDat and Hungrybox?
Yes, I did.
What were your thoughts on the entire match, both resets and the final?
"Hungrybox really is a bitch nigga sometimes," was my words almost exactly at the time of completion.
Is that speaking to his skill or just the way he plays some rounds?
Sometimes, the way he plays. OTHER TIMES WHERE HE STEALS MEMES FROM OTHERS. But mostly yeah, his gameplay.
So as a player who has been in the game for years, would you say it's a fair assessment that he doesn't play fair with some opponents?
No, that might be the most offensive point of view in the history of smash, LOL!
I'm not trying to incite something, I'm just asking that based on what your thoughts on the win were. So you would say he plays fair in all his matches?
I would say that you're not using the right word. There is no "fair" or "not fair." Recall when somebody literally hacked their system/game to make [Pikachu] stronger in the fourth controller slot to take an advantage of other players in their tournament matches. They altered the game completely and cheated. That isn't fair. Legal tournament play knows no "fair" and "not fair."
So the opinion I voiced from the previous article about running down the timer. That's considered fair game to all players.
Technically yes, you're correct. The best kind of correct, in fact. It is fair across the board.
Why is running down the clock in a pinch considered an alternative to fighting it out with what's left in your stock to see who is better?
BECAUSE THAT'S MONEY. Sure, you could fight somebody. But fighting isn't always what proves a player is better. Timing somebody out isn't always free either, it's backfired big time. Nobody likes it, it's pretty boring, but especially a fragile character like Jiggs it's a very viable option. What's interesting is both of these characters are bitches. Jiggs runs away, and IC's infinite you. Both employ a generally considered 'lame' 'boring' way to win against your opponent. You don't need me to tell you obviously, but personal opinions aside as lame and boring as they may be, they are fair.
So additionally, both these guys chose two of the lamest characters to have a final battle with, rather than bring anyone that could be considered their best guns. I guess the question here for non-competitors is why? Just because of cheap moves along?
Now hold on there. Their characters are considered lame by some—there's a reason why Jigglypuff44 isn't in first place. While their individual characters employ tactics that are boring, these players have crafted and honed the mental stamina and decision-making provided to win at this level of play. It's not easy. The level of Melee no matter who you choose is impossible. HBox knows this more than most. I'm not sure how much this will help—but I do have an example from Brawl I can reference that's always brought up in these discussions, may I?
At 22:37, we see ZeRo (Meta Knight) shown here being a complete bitch while attempting to time out a God (Diddy, shown here. AKA, ADHD.) You'll notice that at the VERY LAST SECOND, the damage is achieved which makes ZeRo lose. At the very last frame available to do damage. ZeRo's efforts were thwarted. Notice how Pierce tries to hug ZeRo, yet the salt has overcome him. The clock is a win condition, but it's not simple. It's not easy. One wrong move can cost you the game.
So you can do whatever tactics you want, even if they're frowned upon. But it takes just one good hit to cost you everything.
In this situation, yes. What you're not understanding is Melee wasn't made for the crowd. We have been playing Smash for over a decade and NOW Smash is starting to get an audience. We love them, sure—but this isn't anything new. We aren't all now groaning at this like "OH MY GOD THIS NEW THINGS IS BROKEN!" No. IC's always been a bitch character. Puff has always been a bitch character long before eSports. Hbox isn't trying to put on a show. He doesn't care about who's sleeping, who's booing him. Hbox is here for MONEY. He wants to WIN. And I commend him and respect him immensely for that.
So two quick talking points. When it comes to this kind of gameplay, even though no one likes it and it's boring, everyone kinda shrugs their shoulders because it's a tournament with money on the line. Correct? Because that's how it's always been?
He doesn't give a fuck, he's [trying to] make that bread. A career in eSports is not always stable, and in times like this where money and opportunities spring to the best players, Hbox is dishing L's. I mean, nobody shrugs, [people] still care and are mad or whatever. But end of day, he's not cheating, he's not being unfair. He's playing the game with the tools given. Listen, if you told me "Time this nigga out for six games in a row and I'll give you $10,000," buckle up fam! I don't give a FUCK about anything at that point. I'm gonna run. I [don't care] if I'm being a bitch. I'm a bitch with $10,000! LOL! CALL ME WHAT YA WANT, BUT YOU CAN'T CALL ME BROKE!
LOL! I know this is a different topic, but does that happen? Are there players taking dives and drawing out matches for cash not in the tournament?
I ain't no snitch nigga. LOL, nah, I don't know. I mean, I'm sure it happens. M2k will literally do anything for money. You might think I'm using literally wrong, [I'd] like to emphasize my point. No, I mean, LITERALLY ANYTHING. So it wouldn't shock me.
Getting back to the original topic, do you think the system needs tweaking or changing to curb that kind of gameplay? Or is that taboo?
Nope. See, if this style of play was this rampant, then people other than Hbox would be up there but they aren't. Hbox is easily the best Jiggs by centuries, and there is nothing easy about competitive Melee. Nothing. So, no. No tweaks.
For me, not being a pro-player and more of a viewer, I have to look at things from an audience perspective. I get what you're saying about players not giving a fuck because they're playing for money. But when you have a game now publicized as a major eSport, the players have to know that organizers are trying to get more attention beyond hardcore fans. Does it ever come up that some people may be turned off from watching or being invested in tournaments because of results like this one? Or do the players not give a fuck how the organizers gain audiences?
It's not the responsibility of the players to cater to an audience. Melee, by history, has always been extremely entertaining to watch—which is why the general consensus in topics like Melee vs Brawl/Smash 4 is always Melee. The average match in Melee isn't nearly as boring as the ones we see later on down the line. The ratio from dope gameplay to lame is just so critically in dopes favor. What you're not seeing, and this will be the most important thing I say during this interview I'm sure, is that Melee has never really "needed" anything. Historically, when Melee and Brawl would run side by side, Melee came early, worked efficiently, and left on time. This is thanks to the tireless efforts of our wise TO's in the community, most notably Sheridan Zalewski. Many of these people are like family to eachother—your post and questions are insinuating that these players are doing something "bad" or "counter-productive" to the growth of Melee. But against all odds, Melee's growth without changing rules/players or making tweaks has grown astronomically. Surviving low after low Melee's overcome it all. ChuDat, Hungrybox—two of many players who have played the villain to keep things interesting. Leffen is a villain too but is like Itachi. He's cool, but then he sandbags and dies and we all get mad at him for it. The players care about the auidence. The players love their fans, I'm sure of it. But not enough to fundamentally change what has brought them and this game as far as it is now. And I don't think anybody is a bad person/player for thinking this way.
So while my criticism of the way the final match went down may be valid, ultimately I'm wrong because this is the way it's always been and it isn't changing for anything.
Not exactly. Your critique was that it wasn't fair. That's not valid or sound at all. Saying it was boring is, fine. They both know they are boring. But they are boring with money and a professional team backing them. I'm not saying Melee will never change, I'm saying that Melee has gotten to where it is now with developing character metas, a rich culture and story line and a wonderful family of people who put their entire hearts into what they do. Don't invalidate that with your media.
So there you have it, my interview with Sky Williams. As a final thought to this interview, going back and looking at the entire match, I still believe the finish looks bad. However, I now have a better understanding of why that match happened the way it happened. I may not like it, but I realize most disagree, and I'm fine with that. Williams notes that one of the driving forces behind many players is the chance to grab prize money that isn't easy to come by, and that's completely understandable. On the other hand, even Williams doesn't deny that some game strategies can be boring and that Melee wasn't meant for an audience. It doesn't take too much speculation to conclude that those two concepts and the notion of prize money and sponsorships continuing into the future might not mix too well. The game will have to evolve.