The "gods" of Super Smash Bros. Melee are incredibly consistent and dominant, trading off wins at every tournament they attend. In recent years, these top five players (Joseph "Mango" Marquez, Adam "Armada" Lindgren, Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma, Kevin "PPMD" Nanney and Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman) have been having closer scrapes with players in the top-10 or top-15 as the skill gap continues to narrow. Even then, they've always able to eek by a win.
But Panda Global's Justin "Plup" McGrath was the first "non-god" since 2010 to win a tournament with two gods present at DreamHack Atlanta last month, taking down both Team Liquid's Hungrybox and Echo Fox's Mew2King. And with Super Smash Con later this week, ESPN caught up Plup to get some insight following his recent first place finish and how he plans to carry that forward.
ESPN: You have been playing Hungrybox for years, but in tournament seem to always come up short. What happened at DreamHack Atlanta?
Plup: I actually haven't always come up short versus Hungrybox. I've taken multiple sets off of him with Sheik in the past. At DreamHack Atlanta I didn't have any secret preparation for Hbox, I just played how I wanted to play. I'm pretty confident that I can beat all of the top players. Whether my hands are cooperating or not tends to make or break sets for me, though.
ESPN: It has been seven years since a player has won a tournament with two gods present. What is it about Melee that makes this so?
Plup: The reason someone who isn't a god hasn't won a major in so long is really simple actually. Melee's skill ceiling is incredibly high. When new players ask me how to get better I usually don't know where to start because there is so much you have to learn and practice to be even competent at this game.
ESPN: Also, what is your opinion on the term "god?" Does it seem fitting? Does it annoy you? Is it all just hype and hyperbole?
Plup: I don't care what they're called. God or not, I know they're all beatable.
ESPN: It seems that most top players believe the only way to take down Hungrybox is with Fox. But it was just a few years ago that many believed it would be impossible for Hungrybox to overcome the best Fox players. Is it possible to grind Sheik to overcome Hungrybox?
Plup: I know it's possible to beat Hbox with Sheik, it just wouldn't be smart for me to do that. I don't want to get into the nitty-gritty of Sheik vs Puff and Fox vs Puff, but I believe Fox is better than Sheik in that match-up so why not use Fox?
ESPN: You have probably the fastest and most technical Sheik currently in Melee. Do you feel your experience is starting to align with your technical ability? How else do you think you could improve as a player?
Plup: In my eyes experience was never the issue. I've known how to beat top players for a while now; my technical ability has been holding me back. I've actually been trying to be more precise with my inputs lately because of how often I make flubs during tournament. I will say at lower levels there are obvious steps you need to take to improve. Learn to wavedash, combo, short hop, ledge dash, so on so forth. At my level, the path of improvement is much more ambiguous. What if I never make one tech error during a tournament but still end up at third? There aren't any guides on YouTube that show you how to get first place.
ESPN: At a tournament, your facial expressions can sometimes look as if you've given up. Is this just a personality quirk of yours, or is motivation during intense competition something you've struggled with?
Plup: This is a narrative that commentators fabricated, and I hate it. I tend to smile when I think something funny happened or look annoyed when something annoying happened. Normal human emotions, ya know? I'm always trying to win, so I don't know what to tell you if I 'look like I've given up.'
ESPN: Going into Smash Con, what players worry you the most and how will you prepare for them?
Plup: I'm not worried about playing anyone, I'm excited that I get to play good players again. This game's fun. Anyone in the top fifteen could give me trouble, though. I'll prepare for them by being really good at Melee.