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.
Thus far in this series, we’ve explored a handful of players who picked up Smash as a hobby, perhaps something they had a passing interest in and decided to excel at. Today’s ‘doc kid’ is a different matter entirely.
Steven “Fat Goku” Callopy is not a hobbyist. He was drawn to Melee by a force much larger than himself - a calling, some would say - and has struggled far more than many of his contemporaries. Occasionally, you might hear a top competitor talk about Melee as if it’s something much more meaningful than a game. Mango and Lucky have both mentioned their hometown, Norwalk, and the circumstances they were born and raised in.
Were it not for Melee, two of our most talented competitors may have wound up as L.A. gang members, destined for a life of crime or mediocrity. Instead they have accolades aplenty, consistent (ish) incomes, adoring fans, and a solid and healthy support structure.
In a way, Melee saved these two players by giving them the opportunity for a new life. Fat Goku sees Melee in the same vein.
For him, Melee isn’t just about innovation or creativity, and it’s not just about making new friends or finding a constructive outlet for his competitive drive. For Fat Goku, Melee is about purpose.
It’s a strange thing to find life’s purpose inside of a video game, but looking back at the Fat Goku of 2013, it’s not hard to see how Melee became that for him. Wracked by deep clinical depression, Fat Goku had no motivation to do anything with his life. Left untreated, it tore through him, eventually culminating in his dropping out of high school in early 2013. He had no reason to care about school or his future, or even about getting out of bed in the morning.
This was the existential crisis he faced when Melee had its run at Evo 2013. He was aware of the competitive scene as a kid; his older brother Binx had been one of Oregon’s finest in 2007 and 2008, and Fat Goku attended one or two tournaments at the age of 10 or 11. He didn’t really care about the game and never took the time to learn about it in any capacity, but he looked up to his older brother and followed in his footsteps when he could. When his depression hit its peak in early 2013, Fat Goku was left with the unpleasant question of what to do with his time and future in the absence of school, work, or anything meaningful.
For Fat Goku, Melee is about purpose
While he grappled with the demoralizing quicksand of depression, the Melee scene began to make large waves and some of the ‘Spirit Bomb’ energy seemed to find its way into him. Caught in the hype, a small spark lit within Fat Goku and he decided to follow his brother’s path and attend tournaments in a serious capacity. He mained Fox, just like his brother had done in earlier days. He started to rise up the ranks, just like his brother had. Before he knew it, he began finding purpose and meaning in the game. There was now a reason to get out of bed, things during the week to look forward to, and a community he loved and was committed to.
On his climb to the top, Callopy adopted a new persona. Having always been a Dragon Ball Z fan, he was gifted a Goku t-shirt by his mother, which he wore to every smash event he attended. His early tag was ‘noobcube’, named for his hobby of solving Rubik’s cubes as fast as he could. However, after attending several tournaments in the Northwest area he was given the term “Fat Goku” by fellow Fox player and tech skill legend Silent Wolf.
The tag stuck, and at every event from then on he began to embody it more and more - devouring his competition - and coming back stronger each time he lost. To an outside observer, such a tag might seem self-deprecating, or worse, a double-edged sword perfect for inviting undue criticism, bullying and abuse. Callopy claims, however, that he has never been bullied for his weight and that he wears this reality like armor, not allowing himself to become insecure at the thoughts and opinions of others.
“I think it's because I already beat them to the punch. My tag is Fat Goku, I have been fat my whole life, calling me fat at this point won't really do much to me.”
As he improved, he eventually found both a teacher and a rival in old-school legend Eggz. Callopy would go to his house as frequently as he could; given that he had no job or school life to speak of, he essentially lived there for months.
Under the wing of this top player (Oregon’s number one for many concurrent seasons), he experienced a massive burst of success and growth as a player. The two have wildly different playstyles -- Fat Goku describes his own play as being inspired mostly by Leffen and Armada’s style of patient, optimized Fox, whereas Eggz comes from the age of Melee dominated by the old school legends. The two’s playstyles are wildly at odds with each other; according to Callopy, he prefers to try to react to everything in punish situations, whereas Eggz attempts to read the opponent’s movement in order to punish them harder. Eggz prefers unorthodox and somewhat outdated options in the neutral, but their novelty catches Fat Goku off guard as they don’t fit in with the modern day textbook of Melee.
The result is a rivalry which pushes Fat Goku to his limits. Both he and Eggz hate losing to each other and disagree with the other’s approach to the game. Even so, the two provide the best practice for each other and constantly work to innovate. As this rivalry was developed and Fat Goku continued to push his game further, he started taking bigger and bigger names up and down the coast.
First was Foos Jr., the number 2 player from Oregon and the first player Callopy defeated that had once seemed hopelessly out of reach. After that came his run at Northwest Majors VII, where he finished 7th and defeated ranked NorCal players Gar and L (the random Norcal Fox) along the way. He would then go on to a 7th place finish at PAX Prime, dominating Vish and outplacing several top 100 players before finally going down 1-3 against MacD.
Finally, after two years hard work, he overcame Eggz and took the number one spot on Oregon’s PR, where he’s stayed ever since.
Moment of Crisis
Unfortunately, once he arrived at the top he almost immediately faced a crisis. The top-most players from the old-school era have gone on record many times about how the drive to win just fades away when you’re already at the top. This was the factor behind Ken and Armada’s hiatuses as well as Mango’s brief roleplay as the Scorpion Master. When no one offers a challenge and you feel like you’ve conquered a mountain, where can you find the motivation to keep climbing?
Fat Goku struggled with this question after dominating his state. Despite conquering his depression after falling in love with Melee, he still needed to figure out how far he wanted to go with his relative inability to travel and a lack of a stable source of income. Callopy faced a decision: should he continue his quest to be better by devoting more time to practicing in a region that is a clear step below him, or should he consider moving to a better region of smash to continue to improve?
Fat Goku dreads the idea of the “soul-sucking job”, saying that if he can go his whole life without having one, he’ll consider it a success. This has the unfortunate consequence of jeopardizing his ability to travel and play on a national scale. Might he need to pick up a soul-sucking job to help him afford his passion? Before he can answer those questions, however, he needs to figure out just one thing: How much does he really want it?
The drive to win just fades when you're at the top
The interesting thing I found about Fat Goku is just how much of a backdrop his actual gameplay holds in his story. He can point at nothing in his play he thinks he’s doing differently. He can only point to the influences other people have had on his playstyle, and he admits that anything he does that looks unique, is actually something he ‘stole’ from other players. He credits his character choice and even his interest in the game to another person - his older brother.
By all accounts, Fat Goku should have just been another Fox player destined to fade into obscurity and mediocrity. Yet he has succeeded, not just at his local level but at the national one as well.
Adapting to Win
I am reminded of two quotes when it comes to Fat Goku. The first was attributed to Pablo Picasso: “Good artists borrow, and great artists steal.” It’s entirely likely that not innovating on his own may actually be a huge part of Fat Goku’s success. Whereas other players may get blocked by stylistic choices or stubbornly repeat options the opponent has already figured out, Callopy’s lack of ego about his own gameplay and preferences allows him to adapt to situations on the fly. He can look at the state of play he’s in and determine that it calls for a tactic Leffen pioneered, and then in the next minute decide he needs to look more like SFAT. His lack of personal identity in game makes him a true jack of all trades, although he is still the master of none.
More importantly though, is a quote by Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” At the end of the day, Fat Goku hasn’t needed to innovate to find success. He has used Melee as a catalyst for an overwhelming change in himself, one which took him from a clinically depressed high school dropout to Oregon’s most feared player. Melee has been his purpose, it has made Callopy care about himself and what happens to him in his life. His search to find himself through Melee has profoundly changed him as a person, and instead of the apathy he once had when confronting a problem in his life, he now itches to address it. He is constantly searching for new motivation, new methods of firing up his competitive drive.