Avalon IX: Winter has come to the Netherlands

Last weekend the ninth edition of the Avalon tournament series took place, featuring Melee and Smash for Wii U. Registration for this event opened up only two weeks in advance, due to TO Marc traveling Asia for a few months with limited online resources. Despite this, the event capped out in a record time of five days. Besides Dutch top players such as Amsah, LLL.Remen, LLL.Jeapie, LLL.Mr-R, S1-14 and iStudying, a wealth of international talent made the trip to Zoetermeer, most notably Nintendude from the United States. Other international threats were Ice, Reaper and Blaze from Germany and VwS.Professor Pro from the UK.

The TO team at work
The TO team at work

Melee

Melee singles was entered by 84 players, with Ice and Nintendude generally considered the favourites for grand finals. While Dutch players were motivated not to let a non-European player win the event, it seemed questionable whether anyone could stand up to a high level Ice Climbers main. Having lost to Däumling at the previous Avalon and up-and-coming Dutch player Jules at a recent local, the usually dominant Amsah was sure to struggle. With Remen also having a loss against Däumling under his belt, Jeapie was the dark horse the Netherlands needed. However, the bracket turned out in a way where he would have to get past several top players first, making the encounter unlikely.

While confident in the Ice Climbers matchup due to his experience against countryman AlphaDash, it took many people by surprise when Professor Pro sent Nintendude to losers with a solid 3-0 victory. “I was expecting to place top three, only possibly losing to either Ice or Professor Pro”, Nintendude commented. “I knew going into the tournament that my match vs. Professor Pro could go either way. He caught me off guard with his forward throw trick to kill Nana very effectively, and he was good at shutting down my neutral game with Popo.”

On the other side of the bracket Jeapie was beaten by Ice, who opted to go with Sheik rather than his usual Fox. This put Jeapie in position for what was arguably the most intense set of the tournament, as he crossed paths with Nintendude. Finding himself down 1-2 rather quickly, Nintendude had to tough it out in a rough game on Final Destination to stay in the tournament. He managed to keep a lead for the entirety of the last game, but almost had victory slip away when Jeapie, already at high percentage, took out Nana when both players were on their last stock. A SoPo down smash sealed the deal, much to Nintendude’s relief.

Lorenzo and Fourze commentating for the Salty Playground stream
Lorenzo and Fourze commentating for the Salty Playground stream

Nintendude and Amsah then played to decide who would make it into top three, the money placings. The set, which ended up 3-0 in the American’s favour, showed Amsah’s lack of experience in the Ice Climbers match-up. “Unfortunately for me Sheik has a natural disadvantage against the Ice Climbers, which is multiplied by my lack of experience against the character”, Amsah explained. “In theory I know what to do against the Ice Climbers, but in practice it’s difficult to execute because I rarely play against them.” Prior to the event Amsah thought that fast and technical Fox play is particularly difficult for Ice Climbers and considered both Professor Pro and Ice to have the odds in their favour against Nintendude, alongside Jeapie. In his own set he tried his hand at Fox and Marth, but a character switch ended up not making the difference for him.

Coming off of a 0-3 loss against Ice in winners finals, Professor Pro and Nintendude met again. The set was closer this time, but Prof came out on top with a 3-2 victory. Professor Pro commented after the tournament that while he understood that him beating Nintendude was an upset from the public’s point of view, it wasn’t as much of a surprise to him. The aforementioned “hundreds of hours” against AlphaDash have made him understand the character well. Prof: “Because of my experience in the match-up, I knew for sure I could do it. Nintendude is a great player, so I’m not taking away from him, but a lot of people, including me sometimes, play a bit too afraid of the Ice Climbers and it’s really halted the development of counterplays against this character, mixed with the character being relatively un-played.” Avalon IX marked Professor Pro’s first appearance at Avalon, and certainly not his last. While still at the venue, the British top player made it clear that he will be coming back for more after the summer.

Nintendude and Professor Pro squaring off
Nintendude and Professor Pro squaring off

Nintendude reflected on the second time he played against Professor Pro: “I was fully prepared for Professor Pro’s playstyle going into the second set and I arguably lost the set due to misjudging a PAL Fox up-B on his third stock in game five, that forward smash would have connected in NTSC. Johns aside though, Professor Pro impressed me with his familiarity with the match-up and solid conversions on his positional advantages.” We also asked him about key differences between American and European playstyles: “This is hard to say because many Europeans are clearly not very experienced with Ice Climbers, and also the sample size is relatively small. I think the biggest difference I notice is that the European Sheiks have more tricks up their sleeves than American Sheiks, which is definitely because they have to compensate for the PAL down throw.”

Although grand finals saw a bracket reset by Professor Pro, Ice took the second set dominantly. This netted him his fourth Avalon win on the way to EVO 2015, which is more than any other player can boast, including Armada and Amsah, who each have two wins. While Nintendude brought blizzards, Ice has once again proven himself as the true winter to his neighbouring country.

The Melee top 5 at Avalon IX (missing Remen)
The Melee top 5 at Avalon IX (missing Remen)

Smash 4

There were 68 people in the Smash 4 bracket, including Mr-R in his last Dutch tournament before an extended stay in the US where he will attend at least CEO and EVO. This meant that Avalon IX was the last shot competitors could take at the champion for a while and some of them were well aware of that, most notably S1-14. The veteran Ness main in both Brawl and Smash 4 can currently be considered the second best player in the Netherlands. Before this event, he had consecutive second placings to Mr-R at Avalon VIII and JST7, where he beat the likes of J.Miller and IxisNaugus. Having played League of Legends at a high level in the past, S1-14 is no stranger to competition in general.

Considering the above, it was unsurprising that S1-14 and Mr-R met in winners finals. “I knew it would be the last time I would play against Mr-R for a long time, so this was my last chance”, S1-14 commented. “Before our match, I listened to a song that hyped me up and got me in the mood. I knew the chances weren’t in my favour but I had enough confidence to prove otherwise.” The set ended up 3-1 in Mr-R’s favour, against whom taking a game is quite impressive. S1-14 was fairly pleased with how things went: “I felt great about my performance in winners finals. Even though there were a few things I could’ve done better, it felt like I played the matchup better than I ever did.”

S1-14 (r.) with regular team partner PikaForLife playing against Skippo and Azeez
S1-14 (r.) with regular team partner PikaForLife playing against Skippo and Azeez

The Smash 4 bracket also featured an interesting rivalry between iStudying (Greninja/Fox) and Grove (Dedede). While iStudying is generally a consistent top 3 player among the Dutch, he recently lost to Grove at a 2-stock event. Although most would pick iStudying as the favourite to win their rematch in winners quarters, he was sent to losers 1-2 and determined to fight his way back. The two met again in losers semis and this time iStudying just barely dragged out a 2-1 victory with a move trade that sent both to their deaths, resulting in Grove hitting the blast zone just a bit earlier. Characteristic for both sets was that Grove generally managed to stay alive for long periods of time against iStudying’s characters, frequently getting early kills with rage down smash and aerials to keep himself in the matches. The latter stated that Grove did a good job at preventing him from abusing shuriken with Greninja and that he had to play more aggressively towards the end to keep himself in the game.

Grand finals once again came down to Mr-R and S1-14 in their second set of the day. This time however, it was a clean 3-0 victory for Mr-R. S1-14 had apparently run out of steam: “Before I played vs Ramin in winners finals I hadn’t played for a while and was mentally preparing for the games. In the grand finals it felt like the focus I had in winners finals wasn’t there anymore. Maybe it was exhaustion or Ramin being more on-point.” Those who interact with S1-14 know that he is planning on playing the game less, but we can rest assured that he will keep attending events even if he won’t practice as much. He would still like to test himself at an American event, so we will be sure to see more of him in the future.

Jeapie and Mr-R sharing a culinary experience
Jeapie and Mr-R sharing a culinary experience

The event ran well on time, with Smash 4 ending around 9 PM and Melee around 10 PM, including an amateur bracket for the latter game. The card system, where players get a red card at the TO desk before their set that they have to return afterwards, once again proved efficient at signifying where tournament matches were being played and getting people to report their results. American guest Nintendude was quite positive when asked how he felt the event compared to those in his country: “I had a great time at Avalon and thought it was run very efficiently and professionally. The “red card” system for identifying what TVs were being used for tournaments was effective. I thought the TOing was on-par with the execution of top American TOs at similarly sized events.”

Avalon will go on a summer break and come back full force with Avalon X on September 5th. Furthermore, Avalon will provide two SmashEurope circuit qualifiers in the form of Avalon M (October 3rd, Melee only) and Avalon U (November 7th, Smash for Wii U only). You are encouraged to follow their Facebook page for all related media and to stay updated on future events.

Photographs taken by iStudying and Desirée of Good Games Well Played. Thanks to Utto for his help with the article and the players for sharing their perspectives. Opening image created by Joeri.

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