On November 7th, 2018, The Association of Gamers at UC Irvine (TAG @ UCI) hosted the Orange County Melee Arcadian, a tournament for popular Nintendo platform fighter Super Smash Bros. Melee. The Emerald Bay rooms of the UCI Student Center hosted the 160-man event, a sequel to the Melee tournament that TAG @ UCI ran last fall. The tournament featured two main events, a two-on-two Doubles bracket and a Singles bracket. Since the tournament was an arcadian-style event exclusive to Orange County, any professional or ranked players were disallowed from entering the event, and players had to verify their OC residence upon registration using their smash.gg accounts. Without the competition from players ranked by the Melee It On Me (MIOM) or the Melee Panda Global Ranking (MPGR) stats, unranked amateur players had a chance to demonstrate their skill and prove that they, too, were Melee threats worthy of recognition.
The Doubles bracket, which opened the event, was a standard double-elimination bracket in which each team could only afford to lose once before their second loss would eject them from the tournament. Twelve teams of two players each competed in the bracket, and the winning team was comprised of players Adam “TurbotHot” Witkowski and Drake “Carrot” Cappi from UC Irvine. TurbotHot and Carrot, who played as Fox and Sheik respectively, defeated the double-Fox team consisting of fellow UCI students Jacob “Schmerv the Bird” F. and Eric “Woosh” Chagoya in order to win Doubles at the OC Melee Arcadian. TurbotHot/Carrot had fought Schmerv/Woosh twice in the same bracket- once in Winner’s Finals, and then once again in Grand Finals.
The main event of the OC Melee Arcadian was the Singles bracket, where players would compete against each other in a one-on-one format. The bracket was divided into two waves, with four pools of players each, and the pools bracket was conducted in a Round Robin format. All nine players in each pool would take turns playing against each other in a rotation, and the top three players with the best performances and most wins would move on from pools into the main Top 24 bracket. Much like the Doubles bracket, the Grand Finals of the Singles bracket also consisted of two players who had previously fought each other in Winner’s Finals. David “Commas” Park, a Sheik main from UC Santa Barbara, defeated CSU Fullerton’s Joshua “Pulse” Kim and his Marth three games to one. The set ended in a very close round, with Pulse ultimately losing due to an unfortunate mis-input in a high-pressure situation. In a brief interview after the tournament, Commas acknowledged that the set between him and Pulse in Grand Finals was more difficult than when they had played only moments before in Winner’s Finals, demonstrating just how quickly his opponent was able to adapt.
Beyond the events of the tournament, there were also players whose attendance at the OC Melee Arcadian was simply another step in their continuing journey of improving at their game. Even though the main events were being streamed and projected in the venue, there were still many players who took the opportunity to play friendly matches with each other. By playing against people from outside of their local city or university’s Melee scene, these players were given the unique opportunity at the OC Melee Arcadian to expand upon their base of knowledge and skill.
The UCI Esports content team had the opportunity to interview Kavi Mathur and Alejandro Valdez, joint directors of the Melee subdivision of TAG @ UCI and main tournament organizers [TOs] for the OC Melee Arcadian. We asked Mathur and Valdez questions about their involvement in the Melee community, their history with TAG @ UCI and UCI Esports, and the role of esports on campus.
“I came into this school fall of 2016, and I got into competitive Melee junior year of high school,” Mathur said when recounting his first encounters with the Melee scene. “TAG has an internship program, and each subdivision, including Melee, hires interns. Griffin [Williams,] or Captain Faceroll, hired me and [Valdez] as interns and we’ve just worked our way up, learned different things such as TOing, streaming, and running tournaments in general.” Mathur’s perspective on the function of esports communities on campus was informed by both his time with TAG @UCI and his work as a UCI Esports staff member. “In terms of TAG, we’re really focused on players on campus and getting students engaged, and just creating a kind of community environment where people can meet weekly, at these different subdivisions and stuff like that. It’s really all about that student-community aspect with [TAG @ UCI.]” He went further in-depth about how UCI Esports provides resources and a level of professionalism to campus gaming communities: “With UCI Esports, [it’s about] getting esports recognized by the public eye, and that’s really important, especially because UCI Esports has access to certain resources that maybe clubs don’t. But I think both TAG and UCI Esports have an important role- TAG with the community aspect, and [UCI] Esports with the promotion, getting things more public, and making everything more professional.”
Valdez also discussed his storied history with the Smash scene, and how it led to him being a co-director of Melee for TAG @ UCI. “I remember going to my first tournament at UCI, and I saw everybody here, and […] it was all set up really nicely, and I thought, ‘wow, this is great!’ I actually ran my own club at my high school for Melee, so I had some experience with event organization, but on a really small scale, so to see things that were way bigger than that was amazing to me. I said to myself, ‘I definitely want to be a part of this.’” At the time of Valdez and Mathur’s application of internship, Griffin “Captain Faceroll” Williams was the president of the Melee subdivision of TAG @ UCI. When Williams graduated, the two of them stepped up to fulfill his duties. Valdez spoke on how the Melee tournaments he organized in high school were popular, but disorganized due to a lack of structure on campus. “To come [to UCI] and have a lot more structure and resources to help us out is definitely a step up.” Valdez also concurred with Mathur’s remarks about esports and its relationship with the student body. “If we didn’t have UCI Esports, if we didn’t have TAG, if we didn’t have the Melee club, people would still be playing video games. But I feel like having these organizations on campus, whether it’s really grassroots, casual, competitive, or organized, it helps people come together and find their niche at school. It’s really great that there’s a spectrum of players, and UCI Esports and TAG provides resources for gamers of all types to have fun and get what they want out of that experience.”
By far one of the most impressive aspects of the OC Melee Arcadian was that it attracted players from a community that reached far beyond the campus of UC Irvine. Players from different school and cities all entered the tournament to compete with each other, demonstrate their skill, and learn from one another. While the community of Melee players that TAG @ UCI had fostered was its own tight-knit group of students, the extensive outreach that drew in players from all over Orange County created a unique, spectacular experience.
Your article author lost every game he played in Wave 1 of pools.
A full link to the interview transcripts can be found at the author’s blog, here.