The Doc Kids
Evo 2013 ushered in a new generation of players, expanding the scene by more than tenfold its size. Between the media hype of the event itself and the release of The Smash Brothers documentary a few months later, there was enough interest in Melee to spark a constant rise in player numbers. Affectionately referred to as “doc kids”, the players who began in this time are getting to the point where they are serious tournament threats.
Shepard “Fiction” Lima once theorized that a really talented player could reach top 100 status with three straight years of directed effort. It has been three years since Evo 2013, and a small handful of players are reaching that level. While none of these players are quite at the level of the seasoned veterans, that does not mean they aren’t worth paying attention to. Similar to how NCAA basketball is a raw, unpolished street fight in comparison to the sleek and crispy NBA, these players are the star attractions of a generation which will soon be taking names.
This series of articles is about them, the Doc Kids to watch out for.
The most beautiful part about Melee is how accessible it is to people from all walks of life. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads - we all adore the game and the challenges it brings. It’s a righteous game. The most inspiring, however, are the people who come to Melee and succeed even when they struggle in other aspects of life.
In Minnesota, tucked away in an icy corner of the midwest, one such player has risen to the call of Melee and surpassed all expectations. Charlie “Absent Page” McKinley went from his first exposure to Melee, at the tournament Hyper Fighting in late 2014, to number one in the state in the first quarter of 2016. It took only fifteen months for him to earn his place there, eclipsing a handful of players who had been playing at the top level six or seven years longer than him.
He came to Melee in a sort of roundabout way; he was always a hardcore gamer, with hundreds of hours logged into Call of Duty, Gears of War, Halo, and others. Those games came and went, and he eventually started looking for a new kind of game with a scene that wouldn’t go by the wayside whenever another game was released. There is but one game in today’s eSports world that fits that bill: Melee. He had looked at other fighting games, which is what brought him to the Hyper Fighting tournament, but like so many others, his first taste of Melee left him hooked. He went into the lab right away, working with a fire completely unrivaled in Minnesota (and perhaps, the world).
It might sound like hyperbole...but it isn’t. When he wasn’t attending trade school, Absent Page played Melee to the exclusion of all else. Some of the more lab-focused players around the world spend a few hours a day at most analyzing their play and practicing their tech. Absent Page spends upwards of four hours every day, on some days putting in eight to ten, and that dedication hasn’t slowed down. He grinds perfect wavedashes and lands, chain grabs, SDI, and anything else which he wants to work into his game, and he grinds it to one hundred percent excellence.
He attributes the success he’s found in Melee to his work ethic, but there is more to it than that. Absent Page possesses an ethic that’s rivaled only by one major name: Mew2King. Mew2King is well-known for the work he’s put into gathering frame data and perfecting theoretical combo strings. It’s no accident that Absent Page’s work ethic is so similar to M2K’s: both have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum. Absent Page was diagnosed at the age of three, and much like Mew2King, he has turned his laser-like focus and singular drive onto Melee as an outlet. He is a true savant at the game; although he struggled in grade school and currently goes to a trade school as a transition into adult life, Melee is the outlet he has to show what’s really in his heart and mind.
As is the case with all players, that inner personality radiates through his playstyle. Absent Page has an almost supernatural reaction speed, and the countless of hours he’s practiced in his room have created a monster that is capable of completely overwhelming the opponent with perfect strings and practiced combos. He doesn’t drop chain grabs. He doesn’t miss edgeguards. He attacks the opponent with a precision that can only be created by thousands of hours of work. However, as a functioning autistic he lacks the ability to get into his opponent’s mind and understand how they approach the game. His ability to read and condition the opponent is virtually nonexistent, and it has created a player who is very calculated and patient, but has struggled against players who can condition and adapt to his patterns of behavior.
Rising to the Top
One such player was Minnesota’s previous number one, Slayer. A member of Michigan’s PR back in the early 20-teens, Slayer arrived in Minnesota and immediately took his place at the top of their PR. A wild, unpredictable, and aggressive player, Slayer’s Captain Falcon, Marth, and Fox each were introduced into rotation as he dominated everyone in the state. Like the rest of Minnesota, Slayer hardly travelled, but when he did the results were impressive: A pair of 33rd place finishes at The Big House 4 and 5, with wins over HomeMadeWaffles, Android, and Toph. He has a lifetime positive record versus former Wisconsin player Frootloop, and can keep up with Chicago legend Kels.
This was to become the benchmark for Absent Page, since no one was effectively able to dent Slayer’s reign at the top of the pack. In order to get there, Absent Page began taking name after name. With his Sheik he started taking on the lower PR members and the Honorable Mentions, but once he made the switch to Fox, he was able to take sets off Minnesota legends Triple R, Chexr, Wake, and AaroSmashGuy, all of whom are older school players who had Minnesota in an iron grip at one point or another.
Eventually he overcame Slayer in a set last December, becoming the first non-old school player to do so since Slayer arrived in the state. This signalled a large shift in the mindset of the state’s players. Whereas the previous PR and community were dominated by old school legends who focused on a creative punish game and a neutral filled with reads and conditioning, Absent Page represented a newer generation focused on the trend of optimization. Players like Absent Page, Dairy, Karma, and Locke played a slower and more patient game, with much safer and more methodical play. All four have made the PR in recent quarters.
A Bumpy Road
Unfortunately, there have been struggles for Absent Page in his road to the top. This shift in player mentality has not been a comfortable one across the local scene; some of the older school players accused Page of ruining the game, and “playing lame” is accepted as common nomenclature among a sizeable portion of the player base there. Without the large and competitively diverse player bases of the established regions around the world, Minnesota struggles to come to grips with new styles and adapt to changing times, and Absent Page’s autism is no help to this end. He is completely socially awkward, oftentimes entering smashfests without a word of greeting and staring people in the eyes in silence while waiting for them to speak first.
He has repeatedly committed social faux pas, asking players to shuttle him from his house to theirs (sometimes an hour-long drive), attempting to make a three-hour walk home in the dead of night during the Minnesota winter with nothing but a sweatshirt for warmth, and assuming the generosity of the people he’s around. Those who have experience with people suffering from autism understand and look beyond the surface of these seemingly rude and uncaring actions, but there are also some who see only the actions themselves and judge Absent Page based on them alone. He has been demeaned and insulted repeatedly in part because of this behavior, but also because he refuses to lose.
To his credit, while he doesn’t understand the reasoning behind some of the hate he receives, Absent Page is able to attribute it to jealousy and frustration on others’ parts. This allows him to play the game as he wants, unfettered by the expectations others in the crowd are placing on him. Trash talk doesn’t really affect him, which is a luxury seldom afforded to other players, and he is able to easily cut out what he calls “toxic truths” in the pursuit of what he’s striving to be. Most notably, when talking to him I learned that he never thought any of his wins in Minnesota were upsets. His logic is deceptively simple: he won because he was ready and had practiced enough to defeat them - end of story. It was no upset, just proof that he was now on their level.
That is not to say that Page is immune to crowd pressure. At the recent Wisconsin tournament Tales of Jank and again at Chicago’s Smash n Splash 2, he was introduced to the pressures of a large crowd and a national stream presence and some of that refined tech skill slipped away.
Sadly, he doesn’t know why this happened; I was reminded of Mew2King lamenting recently on how he was a terrible player in the clutch with absolutely no knowledge of why or how to address the problem. Absent Page suffers similarly; he still doesn’t know if it was the crowd that got in his head or if something else made him feel discomforted, and this unease sticks with him. He is a talented player in the game, but no one’s path to the top is struggle free, and learning to deal with crowd pressure isn’t something that can be practiced in a lab for eight hours a day.
In spite of this difficulty, Absent Page has shown himself to be one of the most promising young players in the “Doc Kid” generation. He has usurped all of Minnesota’s best players in an astonishingly short time period, and is only just beginning his national presence. He had a great showing at Smash n Splash 2, holding his own against Hungrybox and defeating Drephen before losing out at 17th place, and will be traveling to The Big House 6 in October to test his mettle against the world’s best.
His autism certainly creates problems in some aspects of his life, generating some hate and spite towards him as a result of his poor communication skills, but his ability in Melee is well above normal and his work ethic is rivaled only by those at the very top. He shows no signs of slowing down his play or his improvement, and this fall he wants to make the point that if they’re willing to put in the work, anyone can become the world’s greatest player.