War of the Weeklies: Sunshine vs. Pixel VIC Crew Battle Report
One of the best parts of any tournament is the sense you’re playing for stakes. Whether it’s prize money, sponsor gear or qualifying points toward the BAM Path to EVO ladder, CouchWarriors events offer plenty of reasons to play hard and chase that trophy. But sometimes, what’s really most important is playing for pride – and for the sweet taste of bragging rights over your rivals. This was the prize on offer last week at the CouchWarriors VIC Smash ranbat, as up-and-comers from the state’s two biggest weekly tournaments clashed in a long-awaited crew battle.
EAST V. WEST: WHO’S THE BEST?
This battle was set to resolve a longstanding rivalry between players from Melbourne’s eastern and western regions. Both regions gained a new weekly tournament around the same time, forming two communities of players who mostly trained against their own members and developed their own hierarchies of players.
Pixel is held out of a trendy gaming bar of the same name near Huntingdale Station in the east, and plays host to a who’s-who of ranked VIC smashers. Sunshine was started by determined TO MarchOfHell to give a common venue to a wave of talented fresh players coming up with Smash Ultimate. The obvious parallels and difference in cultures naturally led to some trashtalk between the groups when they met at ranbats, and the friendly banter slowly built into the idea to have this bragging-rights showdown. After many months of anticipation and training, the date was set, and as this month’s ranbat rolled around the hype in the room was sky-high.
Each team was well represented for this challenge, including at the commentary desk; Little Mac phenomenon Daniel “OnePhoAll” Tran cheering on Pixel and Angus “Troongy” Troung repping the west side on the mic. For the actual smashing, each weekly had a hand-picked row of their best and brightest, with one caveat – AUS PR ranked players were not allowed, which would keep a few outliers like Jonathan “KANGA|Jdizzle” Douglas and Nick “DS|Extra” McKenzie from dominating the battle for Pixel. Instead, up-and-coming players would represent each group, hungry to get some big wins and prove themselves in front of both sides of the city.
1. Phillip “iB” Vu – Wolf (30th in VIC)
2. Abaan “FURY|Zaki” Mohammad – Ike (12th)
3. Dominic “WhisDom” Bessette – Dark Samus
4. Michael “M.O.D.” Driss – ROB (27th)
5. Haris “Haris” Husidic – Donkey Kong (15th)
1. Llewellyn “Desert|Princess” Taylor – Palutena (14th in VIC)
2. Jason “Aya” Akers – Mega Man (23rd)
3. Arran “Flow” Van Zuylen – Inkling (16th)
4. Shane “Shen” Carnell – Terry (18th)
5. Ernest “EL” Lam – Lucina (29th)
The crowd was already getting rowdy as the first two crew members, iB and Princess, started setting up their controls. Some friendly taunting and confidence from Princess carried over into the start of the match, with his Palutena covering iB’s shield in aggressive nair strings. Princess then converted that chip damage with a few great smash attacks that read iB’s movement giving Pixel the early lead. However iB was at least able to prevent a potential 2-stock with a signature killing Wolf up-B in neutral.
Princess kept his composure and easily controlled the stage throughout the last stock.
As the Sunshine crew debated who to send out second, Princess intervened with his own suggestion. He beckoned over the 14-year-old prodigy Zaki, calling the young fella out so he could run back a loss to his Ike at last year’s Arcadian tournament. Sunshine generously granted his request.
Zaki lived up to his reputation as an absolutely fearless Ike, playing like a man starting the match with 3 stocks to 1. The commentators speculated that Princess would try to wall him out, but it was Zaki who ended up hampering Palutena’s movement, throwing out constant aerials. Princess managed to earn a great shot at taking a stock as he had Zaki offstage at 173%, but seemed unable to properly guard Ike’s absurd horizontal recovery. As soon as Zaki found his feet back on stage he got on top of Princess and quickly found the 2-hit conversion to even things up between the crews.
OnePhoAll talked up Pixel’s chances on the mic as their next member Aya took Zaki to FD. Aya seemed to have better success punishing Zaki’s aggression, as the youngster repeatedly found himself caught in Mega Man’s Leaf Shield or beaten out by bairs. Aya was also able to repeatedly protect his recovery by sticking Crash Bomber to the ledge, literally blowing up Zaki’s attempts to edgeguard. But the economy of damage came into play in Ike’s favour, with Zaki able to repeatedly kill confirm off only a couple of touches.
Despite barely ever being in control, Zaki was again able to clutch it out when it counted, with another early kill confirm on Aya’s final stock letting the kid from Sunshine advance to a 3rd opponent and start running up a lead for his crew.
The next to try and neutralise Ike was Flow, who like Zaki had come into the scene with Ultimate and immediately demanded attention. His strategy as Inkling was clear – force Zaki onto the defensive and then look for a hit with the roller. Discouraging Zaki from chucking out deadly aerials proved impossible, but Flow was able to survive the haymakers long enough to finally trap Ike in the dirt and smash Zaki out of the battle.
The score now even once again between the crews, Sunshine sent out Canadian import WhisDom to do battle with Flow in a fair 3-stock match. He had been forced to surrender his state ranking after heavy work commitments kept him away from tournaments, but now “The Dom” would have his chance to flex on the Pixel kids.
WhisDom displayed impressive patience and character knowledge as he played cagey around the tiny Yoshi’s Island stage, punishing Inkling for trying to come to him. An early 2-stock lead had the Sunshine crowd on their feet, and while Flow did mount a slight comeback WhisDom cut away his momentum with a brutal spike kill and popoff.
BRINGING OUT THE BIG GUNS
With 3 members defeated and behind 2 stocks overall, things seemed grim for the Pixel boys. However, they had the right man primed for the comeback, sending out Shen to take the controller against the in-form WhisDom. There were some grumblings from the Sunshine crew and Troongy on commentary. The teams had been picked without any PR-ranked players allowed, but this grudge match had been delayed and delayed so long that we were virtually at the end of the current PR season.
During that extra month’s wait Shen had picked up Terry Bogard and transformed into one of VIC’s most dominant players. Current guesses had him moving up as high as top five in the state with the next announcement, but he was still technically eligible to rep Pixel for this fight. Sunshine steeled themselves for the potential one-man comeback.
Almost immediately Shen threw down the gauntlet with some clean parries and edgeguarding to put WhisDom on his last stock. He quickly got Dark Samus trapped offstage again and threatened to take the 3-stock victory Pixel were hoping for. But again, a Sunshine player was able to barely sneak back onto stage at critical % and after an extended off-stage sequence Dom managed to hit another spike to soften up Pixel’s star player. He didn’t manage to land anything else before being put away by Power Dunk, but his team still gave Dom a hero’s welcome as he returned to his seat.
Sunshine’s penultimate warrior was Master of Disaster (M.O.D.), who sat down next to Shen looking like he was trying to stare straight through the screen. The same incredible focus was evident in-game, as his ROB traded evenly or better with one of the state’s best players. Shen took the first of three stocks but was badly beaten up, and the expected hero run petered out to the dismay of Pixel as M.O.D dominated Terry with impeccable gyro setups and edgeguarding.
As M.O.D. howled his satisfaction to the crowd, the Pixel crew was in shambles. While they still had one man left, their best player had failed to even reduce Sunshine’s lead and now morale was getting low. Without even waiting for M.O.D.’s momentum to cool, Pixel sent out the infamous Ernest “EL” Lam as their last line of defence.
Not afraid to talk himself up at tournaments, EL would now have to walk the walk and take out 5 stocks for 2 to steal the win for Pixel – better than any player had managed for either side. His long road back started out shaky as he ran into ROB’s projectiles, but once he got the robot offstage he settled into a more sustainable rhythm and ran up easy %. Then, he let M.O.D. back into neutral and immediately gave up one of his precious stocks.
There was a shout of dismay from Pixel supporters as they sensed things getting even more desperate; M.O.D. looked to be in the form of his life and squeaking out a win would not be good enough for EL with another full-stocked opponent waiting in the wings.
EL soldiered on and took a stock of his own, but he was sustaining too much damage, catching too many loose hits to keep hope of a comeback alive. After an extended sequence M.O.D. killed Lucina again, leaving Pixel on their final stock and facing down the largest deficit of the entire battle. Suddenly, it was not even clear that EL would be able to make it to the final battle; M.O.D. was still relatively healthy and clearly had the upper hand between the two. Both the live crowd and Twitch chat, including some of the PR players barred from this crew battle, held their breaths.
EL was finally able to kill ROB and force a final game, but there was no popoff to be had here and no whooping from his teammates. Holding a single stock to work with against Haris Husidic, EL leaned against his chair and tried to figure out his path to victory. Even Pixel’s commentator was tentative about their chances, realising that with a 2-stock starting lead Haris’s DK or Bowser could easily go for SD grab strats and close the battle out in the cheapest way possible.
The first few exchanges did not inspire extra confidence for Pixel.
But seconds later, EL regained the stage and gave his team reason to hope. His ledgeguards against DK’s clumsy recovery looked impenetrable, and even on Haris’s second stock EL immediately trapped the grape ape on the top platform and ran up a lightning-fast 100%. Now the pressure on Haris was visible – he missed a combo out of grab and EL took the chance to swipe him off the stage and camp out a 2nd stock. The crowd came to life and suddenly both crews were down to their final stock.
It was an unforgettable few seconds as almost a year of banter and rivalry hung in the balance, but the moment could not last. Playing with his heart in his mouth, Haris used his respawn invincibility to catch EL with a down-smash, running over to meet him as he recovered to the ledge. Lucina’s simple get-up was punished with a DK grab, letting a relieved Haris finally seal it for Sunshine with the throw off stage. EL and the Pixel crew had to watch as his opponent was mobbed by the crowd, and the “SUN-SHINE! SUN-SHINE!” chants filled the hall.
All told. this was a tremendous afternoon for VIC Smash. The scrappy Sunshine crew had proven their competitive edge despite all power rankings, expert predictions and player strength, with Zaki and M.O.D. in particular turning in monstrous performances that demanded respect.
EL and the Pixel boys were not exactly humbled, all managing at least 2 stocks and keeping things very close, but this was still a tough L to hold after so long building up the rivalry. Planning instantly began for the runback; luckily this battle had proved so entertaining that there was equal willingness to repeat it on both sides. There seems to be a decent chance this will become an annual or semi-annual fixture on the CouchWarriors calendar, giving both ranbats something to work towards and keep up motivation through the year. You love to see it.
The story was not quite done yet, with a final spicy twist coming in the updated PR list released five days later.
The Victorian Smash Ultimate Power Rankings have been updated! Congratulations to everyone who made it!
— Jason (@DuonJLM) February 28, 2020
Not only did Shen take his predicted place in the state’s top 10, but Ernest Lam shocked everybody by getting a spot right under him, both of them becoming PR players for the first time! The presence of effectively two PR players in a no-PR battle makes the Sunshine upset even more legendary in hindsight, while taking a bit of the sting away for Pixel’s best. Both groups are continuing to meet every week and level eachother up, and I would not be surprised if they start taking over more spots on the VIC PR list in 2020.
Congratulations to the Sunshine crew on a massive win, and the Pixel players as well. Special thanks goes to Nevarc for providing essential context for the event and AusSmash for being way too good of a resource for looking up players. Look up your state ranbat dates in the March calendar post and stay tuned for an important Smash announcement from CouchWarriors soon!