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.
The Doc Kids
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 first big name is also the least well known nationally, as he has also been playing the least amount of time for his level of success. Zain Naghmi, from MD/VA, has made tremendous waves in his scene even though he’s only been playing for two years. His first tournament, Smash @ Clarendon, took place on May 23rd in 2014.
Even though many players fail to win a set for several tournaments, Zain (entering under the tag tekkenz) went 2-2 in his very first tournament. He had been reminiscing with a friend of his from school about their favorite games from childhood, when Zain mentioned Melee. His friend encouraged him to go to this tournament and try it out. He didn’t even own his own controller, and certainly couldn’t wavedash. By all accounts, tekkenz should have been another 0 and 2 noobie, yet from the start he had a knack for the game.
It also may have been a passing curiosity for him were it not for his first semester at Virginia Tech. This is where he encountered Mah0ne, a top 10 player in the region, writer of the most up-to-date “Stuff About Puff” guide on smashboards, and an old school presence. Most top players can point back to their first inspiration or their first smash sensei, and Zain is no exception. He was blown away by Mah0ne, saying “absolutely no one could even come close to beating him in our smash scene.” He was awed by him immediately (and still unaware of how huge the gap was between Mah0ne and the top two in the region...nevermind the top 10 in the world), and started grinding to improve his Marth. As he improved, he was introduced to Smash G0d, another MD/VA legend, and in Zain’s words, “He was the first person I met that I believed was actually trying to innovate with Marth, and that inspired me to try the same.”
Indeed, Zain has made some minor innovations that have caused ripples in the region. While his neutral is slower and more defensive, focusing on reactionary dash dancing instead of proactive pressure and baits, he is also well known for his punish game, which combines edge-cancelled aerials and a shockingly consistent rate of pivot f-smashes to get kills. MD/VA has a reputation of slower and more methodical play, but they have a sharp eye for clean punishes; Zain’s crispy and unique approach in this regard made him a notable success in a very short time period.
Perhaps a large part of his emerging success is the methodology he applies to Melee. Unlike some players, who spend a little time in the lab getting basic familiarity with a technique before trying to bring it out in friendlies, Zain will not bring a new technique out against another person unless he is 100% confident he can do it in the lab every time. As a Computer Science major, Zain applies this rigorous attention to detail into every part of his life, and aims at total perfection with all of his techniques.
Strangely, he prefers to try out new things against Jigglypuff players rather than more common matchups. Admitting himself that it’s an odd pick, the Puff matchup is Zain’s favorite.
“For me, the matchup showcases Marth’s devastating punish game. His ability to convert off of pivot fsmashes on grabs or even off of stray fairs is something that makes the matchup deeply rewarding to play. I also like the gamble of going for grabs versus Puff. It’s true that Marth can grab a crouching Puff with his dash grab; however, if it’s done improperly you can still get rested. This type of risk makes the matchup exciting for me.”
He also possesses some unorthodox opinions about Marth as a character. He believes Fox and Sheik are Marth’s only even matchups, and that he wins solidly against everyone else. This defies conventional wisdom on the topic which says that Marth runs even with Captain Falcon and Falco and loses to Sheik, yet these are the matchups he’s most comfortable with and he demonstrates his confidence whenever he plays them. His biggest notable national win was a 2-0 against New England’s MattDotZeb, and as he travels to more tournaments he will be tested against the world’s best players of those matchups. He already plans on attending Evo 2016, and this year he plans on attending Super Smash Con, The Big House 6, and Genesis 4. These will be his first out of region tournaments, reflecting his personal methodology; he doesn’t showcase his talent until he’s perfected it on the home turf.
With his out-of-region presence finally planned, there are a couple of reasons why Zain is a player to watch out for. Primarily, he is able to keep mental composure through an entire tournament. He does not get disheartened by a drop down to loser’s bracket, and recently won his first Xanadu weekly by steamrolling through losers’ side to defeat top-100 ranked Llod in two sets.
While he self-describes his playstyle as a slower and more defensive one, this has allowed him to get an edge over many of MD/VA’s top players, including Llod, Plank, and Milkman. He feels totally confident against Fox, Falco, and Jigglypuff, which means that in a setting like Evo he may prove to be a sleeper hit against spacie players unfamiliar with his style. Indeed, the current pools place him against Hungrybox in round 2 of Winner’s bracket at Evo, and Zain is confident enough in the matchup that he believes himself to have a shot at making the upset. He is setting his sights at the very highest, aiming for nothing less than first in his region and to beat all of the current top 6.
To that end, Zain has become one of MD/VA’s shining players. After only a year and a half of playing, Zain placed 12th on the most recent MD/VA Power Ranking. This put him ahead of players like Bones, Husband, and Wenbobular, all three of whom have been playing for at least twice the length that Zain has. He has eclipsed not only his peers but seasoned veterans in a very short time, is consistently driven to play the game and improve, and his consistent growth in skill has been outstanding to watch.
He is currently working to implement crouch cancelling into his game, to tackle his unfamiliarity in the matchups against the Mario brothers, and to overcome Llod’s Sheik counterpick, which has been a thorn in Zain’s side for months. He aims to break into the top 100 hopefully by the end of this year, and great placings at his nationals would go a long way towards that end. He has already made great strides, with a 49th place finish at Pound 6, a Xanadu win under his belt, and getting every MD/VA spacie to be afraid of meeting him in bracket.