SmashEurope writer Joeri attended ESC Melee qualifier Helix and took this opportunity to sit down with the top 3, which probably couldn’t be more diverse in terms of background and style. The recently sponsored mYi.Ice rarely fails to impress with his methodical Fox play and took a set against US top player Tempo.Westballz, who made grand finals at both DreamHack London and Helix with his aggressive and defensive mixture of Falco. Alliance.Armada brought home the gold for both events and can best be described as a as a very calculated and punish game based player. The three share their perspective on Helix, some of their recent sets at both Helix and DHL, the differences between the European and American scenes and their sponsors.
Thoughts on Helix
Helix took place on the 26th and 27th of September in Berlin, Germany. Featuring both Melee and Project M and over 200 attendants, it was the biggest tournament the country has ever seen. As a qualifier for the European Smash Circuit, the results obviously impacted the rankings and it marked the second major European event with US top player Westballz in attendance. With the event fresh on their minds, the first questions dealt with the top 3’s overall tournament experience.
Armada: I think Helix was a great tournament! The last German major was more than 5 years ago, so very fun to see. The tournament barely ran late, there were very little delays overall, we had Melee singles, teams and Project M and a great venue. Berlin is a very big city in Europe, so a lot of people that wanted to do something outside of the tournament as well got an additional reason to go. I would be happy to attend another Helix tournament.
Maybe we can do a bit more best of 5 in bracket. Here it was bo5 in top 16, which is good, and I really urge tournament series to provide more bo5 sets when they have the time, because I feel that’s a more fair way to compare the skills.
Ice: I liked this tournament as well. For me it was kinda close, since I live in Berlin now and it was nice to not have to travel that far for a tournament. The German community improved a lot skill-wise, but maybe we lack the tournaments. I’m sure there will be more tournaments in the future and I think the TOs did a great job on this one. If they carry that over, maybe bigger things are possible as well. I hope that there are other German players who start hosting their own tournament series, but, to be honest, I always see the same guys doing the work in the end and I think it’s amazing that they do.
Did you feel more pressure before and during this tournament since it’s in your home city?
Ice: No, not really. I really liked the crowd, but I think, except for some people that were rooting for me, it didn’t affect me that much. It was more the fact that I studied a bit of my games from last week, at DreamHack London. To be honest, I’m not that kind of guy that studies a lot, it was my first time studying my opponent. I think I already saw some good results from it and will probably continue it in the future.
I really like that I couldn’t hear the commentator desk this time, because at DHL the commentary desk was kinda close to the players. It gets annoying and, since I’m good friends with MSTRRLOVE, one of the commentators, I always crack a smile when I hear him hyping stuff and I want to do cool things, you know.
Westballz: This tournament was really good. The TO, Dusan, flew me out and it was a great opportunity to come to Berlin and experience the city and stuff.
Thoughts on the competition
After running through two rounds of bracket pools on day 1, the top 2 of each pool advanced into the 32 man final DE bracket. Ice and Westballz faced each other in winners semis, where Ice managed to knock Westballz to losers after an intense set that ran 3-2. On the other side Armada won a close set against strong Spanish player, Overtriforce, who surprisingly challenged Armada’s Peach enough to force him to switch to Fox. Despite a good effort, Armada then knocked Ice to losers in winners finals. Westballz took out Trifasia and Overtriforce, providing one of the most memorable moments of the tournament with a nerves of steel stitch catch at point blank range against the former.
The following rematch between Ice and Westballz was as intense as it was in winners, but Westballz started out strong this time and kept that momentum for the rest of the set to clutch it out. Grand finals was again enjoyable but Armada as expected prevented yet another American player from winning a European event.
Westballz: As far as competition at Helix goes, basically I got robbed by Armada again and Ice has definitely stepped up his game from last week. It was a lot closer, since he beat me in the first set. I kinda figured out some things in the last game of our first set, so I carried that into our second set and that’s why I think I got a healthy lead. I was starting to figure some things out, but then he started to mix it up again so it was a really close fight and really fun.
Yeah I won the first set. I already planned some little things, but I’m still trying to figure out what to do against these shortened side-B recoveries. Those are really hard to cover on reaction, I think, and I never saw a Falco do those that consistently, so I was struggling with that a bit. If I would compare our sets from today to the ones at DHL, I’d say I was way more patient and didn’t rush into him that much, so he didn’t get his back airs and uptilts.
Westballz, did you prepare before going to Europe?
Westballz: I like to play the game in a free form, I don’t like to plan things. I enjoy figuring things out while playing the game. So the more I play, the more I learn. I don’t like to practice too much, I practice tech skill and stuff, but I want to just play a lot of people at tournaments and simply play a lot before the tournament.
I noticed when we played in friendlies, you immediately commit more than the players that I’m used to playing. Do you think that’s a difference between American and European play styles or more so a characteristic of yourself?
Westballz: I’m aggro before I notice that my opponent knows how to deal with it, at which point I start playing more patient.
Ice: Yeah, that’s also what I think about him. He’s the type of player that needs to acknowledge you first, before he switches up his play style into a more conservative and defensive play style in order to get more safe openings. I can kinda see that he enjoys playing aggressive more than defensive, so he might struggle with himself a bit there. I think in the metagame we have nowadays, playing defensive is probably the better thing.
Armada, how did you feel about their sets?
Armada: I actually wasn’t watching their sets. When tournaments are going on, for the most part I sit down and prepare myself a little bit. I like going into a match well-prepared and warmed up. Even if I’m likely to win that set, I still want to perform at a level that I’m okay with. If I win a small tournament, I’m not okay with that if I don’t play well. That’s why I prepare for every tournament. When I go out to play grand finals I want to feel like “okay, this is my tournament, I’m gonna play good”. So I can’t really say too much about the sets.
You played Westballz in grand finals of both DreamHack London and Helix. Did you notice a difference? You have often played him in the USA as well.
Armada: I played Westballz in both tournaments and Ice only this weekend. If I’m being honest, I felt like Westballz was way more try-hard at Helix. At DreamHack it felt like he was sort of happy with second place. Some days as a competitor you don’t feel entirely in the mood and I thought that was the case with Westballz at DreamHack against me. At Helix I’d say it was the kind of style Westballz usually tries to play against me. He tried to rush me down for a bit and then he switched it up to put out moves like back air and uptilts to beat me out. I was having a pretty good read on those and was timing my moves well to counter, but it’s all a mix-up game, so sometimes you get stuck in them and sometimes you have the timing right.
Westballz: At DreamHack I was really tired, so after I beat Ice I kinda was like “alright, I’m probably gonna lose”, so I just didn’t try as hard as I normally do. I usually go into a match trying to study my opponent and figure things out, but at DreamHack I was just too tired, I guess. At Helix I wasn’t as tired, I got used to the European time and got a good enough amount of sleep, so I played a lot better… but he just powershield down smashed me. It’s disgusting, dude. I feel like he power shielded like 5 times in a row and down smashed, what the heck. But I feel like I played a lot better this tournament overall and I still played good at DreamHack, but I wasn’t going into the sets with a winning mentality in which I was like “okay, I can win this.”
Differences between the American and European scenes
Westballz: As far as the players go I think Europeans are just a little bit nicer, they want to get to know you as a person. In America people, your fans, don’t want to get to know you or talk to you as much. I talked to way more people than I normally do at tournaments, so I guess you guys are a little bit more social. In America I travel and only hang out with a few people, but here everyone wants to talk to me, so that’s pretty neat.
Regarding player skill I was actually surprised. America as a whole thinks Europe is a weak region and they only have 2 top players, but I think that’s a misconception and there are definitely hidden sleepers in Europe. I heard that Eikelmann wanted to go to Europe and destroy everyone but Armada, but that wasn’t the case, because no one knows about the hidden sleepers so you can’t just go to Europe and bop everyone, you actually gotta be pretty good.
When an American comes over to Europe we’re always interested in how they adapt to the version differences between PAL and NTSC. Did they affect you?
Westballz: The differences between NTSC and PAL aren’t that big of a deal, but I think it’s a completely different matchup based game. In NTSC there are a lot more guaranteed things for at least spacies, but in PAL it’s a little bit harder, because for instance Marth’s weight is different or you can’t DI Falco’s upthrow as Fox backwards. All these little things like weak dair etc. actually change matchups. So it’s kinda like learning a slightly different game, it’s not completely different but there are very minute changes that you have to get used to. Overall I think PAL makes me weaker as a player, but it’s not that much of a difference, almost nothing. That’s for most matchups, but probably against Peach it would be worse. Other than that I can’t really think of any other matchups that suffer in PAL for Falco. For Fox I feel like he’s a lot easier to fight, because there are much more guaranteed combos. I also think downthrow is a really good mix-up in NTSC, but in PAL it doesn’t work on any character so they just tech away and you can’t really get a follow-up. So downthrow is also a pretty big change, at least for me, because I like downthrow.
Can you tell us something about your sponsor and perhaps share some insights as to how you were approached?
Ice: I recently got sponsored by mYinsanity and I’m looking forward to attending more tournaments in the future. I hope that I can also attend DreamHack in Sweden.
Westballz: Tempo Storm is my sponsor and my manager is really cool. He likes to have fun, likes to party and I usually beat him at parties while he’s my manager, so that’s kinda fun. One of my buddies, who knows me from the scene, is a Heroes of the Storm commentator. His name is Jake and he recommended me to Tempo Storm.
Ice: Axe as well?
Westballz: Yeah. Axe and I are starting to team now and I’m not sure how long it’s going to last, but I look forward to it, because last time we teamed we did really well. We choked against MacD and Leffen, but I think we’ll do pretty well at Big House, I’m pretty excited for that. We were supposed to team at Paragon, but they cancelled teams at that event, so I was salty about that.
Armada, can you talk a bit about Alliance? A friend of yours was already playing for them, right?
Armada: Yeah. Akke, one of the players for a DOTA team has been playing for them for quite a while. I’m not entirely sure if he recommended me or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. Alliance basically contacted me and told me they wanted to sign me. We talked for a bit and negotiated for a while and I became one of their players. I have been playing for them for about a year now and it will hopefully be extended for another year, but we’ll see soon what happens. It’s been a great year, they are always helping me and making sure that everything is working out for me in terms of hotel stays and everything that could possibly come up.
What do sponsors provide you with in concrete terms?
Armada: It’s very different from sponsor to sponsor, so I don’t think there is a general rule that describes how it works. At the top you usually get some kind of salary and the sponsor covers flights, hotels and other expenses. With Smash growing this much in the past two years I think the deals for Smashers are only going to get better and better, because people will see us play on streams more often. Tournaments happen more often and more people watch events like Evo, which got over 200k viewers and had almost 2000 players compete this year.
Do you see European players also get picked up more?
Armada:Yeah, as soon as DreamHack was announced we heard that Tekk, Ice and Android got sponsors. Just the fact that we made it into such a big tournament series has opened the eyes of the sponsors. Imagine if in a year from now Melee is a game that is always part of DreamHack. I think a lot of European players could be sponsored. It might not be the biggest sponsors from the start, but we’ll see.
What advice do you have for European players looking to get sponsored?
Armada: You need to get better at the game, of course, and play a lot. Go to many tournaments and meet new players with different styles. Going to America is crucial at some point, because the community over there is much bigger and they have the biggest tournaments in the world, as well as the most good players. I think you can come pretty far in Europe as well though.
Thus concluded SmashEurope’s interview with the top 3 of Helix. All three of them wished to thank their sponsors and could since be seen performing at The Big House 5, which resulted in another dominant tournament win for Armada. It seems fitting to end this article with a quote from Westballz:
“I’m just really excited for Melee events in the future, because a lot more people are taking this seriously and many people are trying to get better. The scene is growing exponentially and I am overall very excited to be a Melee player in this day and age, so… shoutouts to Melee.”
Thanks go out to Marc, Remen and Rutger for assistance with the article. Images used were shot by MrSnakeEater and David Vázquez.