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.
Prior to October, if you had asked the average smash fan who this Doc Kid was, very few would have been savvy enough to say anything besides “R2Dwho?” That didn’t stop him from creating arguably the biggest and most shocking upset of the year in his 2-1 defeat over top-ten player Axe at The Big House 6. Miraculously, in a tournament which included Zain’s 2-0 upset over Plup and Nakamaman’s upset over DJ Nintendo, David “R2DLiu” Liu went home with all the focus. So how is it that this Fox player, who isn’t even at the top of the PR of a small and mostly irrelevant region, somehow managed to take down one of the most consistent spacie slayers in the game?
Unlike the other Doc Kids featured in this series, Liu is the only one who came to Melee directly from the documentary itself. A club at his high school in Delaware held a fundraiser one afternoon which included a casual Brawl tournament; Liu surprisingly won the event and made a few friends in the process. Together with those friends, they played various casual games like Rock Band and Mario Kart. Inevitably, one of these gamers discovered the Project M mod for Brawl, which they took a liking to immediately. From there Liu was introduced to the world of competitive Smash, and after viewing the documentary joined up with the Delaware Smash Facebook group.
Armed with his new tag, created after his peers in tennis made remarks on his robotic style, R2DLiu drove to his very first tournament to “just see how good competitive players were in person.” It was a life-altering experience. He was convinced to enter Melee alongside PM, chose Sheik out of a lack of character knowledge, and failed to hold down A at the start of his match. Totally unaware of any of Sheik’s good competitive options, he was slaughtered by the Ganondorf player he played in the first round. Yet the spark had been lit; he was given some tips by SS|Archangel, then one of Delaware’s top players, and started following all the streams he could. As PM faded in popularity and Melee continued to grow, it became the more dominant force for Liu. As he expanded into more of Melee’s roster, he found Sheik frustratingly limited and considered a switch to Marth, Falco, and Falcon before eventually settling on Fox. He was unable to short hop whatsoever, but decided that with dedication and time he’d learn as he went. His improvement rate was quite frankly astonishing. He grinded tech skill in his dorm daily, and at a smashfest in late December, he took part in a friendly round robin where he 2-0’d Archangel. At the time, he was unable to wavedash out of shield.
As with all players, Liu set bars for himself to vault over. One of them was the infamous Tim “Ultimascout” Davis, who was notorious for, as Liu puts it, “priding himself on playing suboptimally, for being good at hitting tippers in neutral, for having little tech skill, and for being good at survival DI. He rarely gets more than 2 or 3 hit combos, he plays the game incredibly weirdly, he loves to troll Facebook groups. He sometimes disseminates false information and argues like a ten year old, simply by refusing to admit he’s wrong. The man behind ‘Have you seen his DI? Have you seen his Link’ has been playing for a decade. He sometimes hangs onto the past, where he was relatively better in comparison to everyone else. And at the time, he was atop Delaware’s throne.” Liu was driven to beat him more than anyone else in the scene at first, both due to his infamy and also because he was unable to touch him for months. In Liu’s words, Davis was “not quite good enough to be truly good, but way better than any scrub,” and on his quest to dethrone him, Liu was forced to learn a lot of basic fundamental concepts to the game.
Those fundamentals became the core of Liu’s gameplay. Although Philadelphia was home to Zhu and Cactuar for a short time, it was still a very desolate region with hardly any good practice. In lieu of reliable and consistent practice partners, Liu became a monster in the lab. His friends became DI sandbags, he spent a large amount of time practicing the guaranteed and consistent traps and combos, and focused almost exclusively on tried-and-true methods of playing against the opponent. He acknowledges both the strengths and weaknesses that come with this kind of style: his biggest benefit is that he doesn’t get tilted and it’s usually very easy for him to stick to a gameplan. As a Fox player, this is an especially rare gift. Yet the biggest drawback is also one that will hound him as he becomes a more recognizable player: those who can pick up on his playstyle and adapt to him will have a strong edge, as he does not have the breadth of mixups that characterize a versatile player.
Liu continued practicing and grinding, not even letting a torn nerve in his wrist deter his enthusiasm for the game. He continually set bars for himself, first to defeat Ultimascout (which he eventually did in April of 2015), then to take out players like Smokey Bluntz and Widl, and finally he has set his sights on Stango as the only one who is capable of defeating him in his home region. He has his work cut out for him; Stango boasts an undefeated 0-29 record against Liu with his main. Liu is not content with setting his sights on the small region of Philadelphia, however. He began attending majors with Apex 2015, where he drowned in pools, then continued to G3, where he was unable to compete at his level due to his wrist injury.
Since then, his placings have been impressive with a 65th place finish at Shine and his incredible 33rd at TBH6. Liu is a rare player who possesses the skills that matter most at nationals. His mindset is constantly focused on personal improvement and he is very unconcerned with the pressure of a win or loss, even against a top player. He playstyle lends itself to consistency, as has been mentioned before, and more importantly than all of those he believes in his ability to win.
These all came together in a perfect cocktail when he sat down on stream to play Axe in round 2 of The Big House 6’s bracket. He wanted top 64, he wanted to not get bodied on stream, and he was nervous. But losing a stock only to find an up-smash on a hard read to take Axe’s first signalled to Liu one very important fact: “Hey...I can out-dash dance Axe...hang on...this is doable.
“I started pushing a little harder from there, made him feel uncomfortable, and I could see him kind of struggling. It’s hard to describe in the moment, but I could feel that he was a little bit nervous and on edge, dealing with a really fast, technical, precise Fox this early in bracket, and a lot of his go-to options did not work on me. Game 1 ended with me calling out one of his angles to the edge with a super fast ramen noodle ledge grab and then I knew for sure I could do it.”
Liu went into game 2 with a lead until getting spiked by Axe’s up-air, at which point he started fishing and his mentality wavered. Game 3 was a completely different story. Liu had the upper hand from the very beginning and it was Axe’s normally solid mentality that found itself shaken. Axe was later heard saying “After I lost my second stock I kinda had that thought of ‘uh oh...I am not playing well enough to handle this loss right now.’” Liu dismantled Axe, cleanly two-stocking him and even getting the crowd on his side, an almost total rarity given Axe’s immense popularity with crowds. Liu left the stage totally satisfied with his play and went on to defeat Jflex, making winner’s side of top 64. He would lose the next day to KirbyKaze and Ryan Ford, but earned his spot at 33rd and went home very proud of his accomplishments.
It really can’t be overstated how big a deal his win over Axe was in the larger scale. He has had a couple of unfortunate losses this year, most notably losing to Gravy and Mafia, yet both of them were top 100 players. Moreover, out of all his sets this year Axe has an astonishing record against Fox players. He has lost only to Lucky, SFAT, and Mango, but of those only Mango has a winning record against him on the whole year. He is remarkably consistent and one would have to go back years into the annals of Melee history to find a set he dropped to a player not widely recognized as one of the top 100 best.
It is a testament then, to R2DLiu’s spectacular mentality and ability to remain calm under immense pressure, that he was able to take a convincing set off of him. Liu is one to say only positive things about others, whether they are those he defeats or those who defeat him. He does not speak ill of anything about Melee either. He doesn’t dislike any character and claims he would play the game even if it were just wireframes and rectangles. He doesn’t see Melee as the gateway to a star-studded life; even if he were good enough to afford playing the game as a living, he only sees himself taking a year or two out of his life before returning to the tech industry, where his passion and education lie.
But most importantly, even though Melee is not serving some greater purpose to him other than a test of his resolve and abilities, R2DLiu has the drive to compete and improve for its own sake. When asked about the secret to his success, he simply responded “There isn’t a secret to success in anything. Regardless of how talented you are, if you don’t put in any work, you’re not gonna be any good.” He works hard, he puts his heart into his play, and he plays with everything he’s got. R2DLiu is a rare breed of player with the right mindset to be a champion, and he knows it. I gave him the chance to have the last word in our interview, and he had only this to say: