Coming off a successful run to the top eight at Genesis 3 earlier this month, Super Smash Bros Melee player Michael “Nintendude” Brancato talked with Slingshot staff writer Joe Cannavino about Ice Climbers, wobbling and his place in the SSBM rankings:
Joe Cannavino: How did you get into Smash and why did you pick the Ice Climbers?
Michael “Nintendude” Brancato: I originally got into Smash as a casual (player), with just my friends and brother. I started with Smash 64 and then got Melee when that came out.
When I first started playing and knew nothing about the game, I figured out that you can grab someone and smash them at the same time with the other Ice Climber, and I thought that was really cool, and I would beat all my friends with that.
JC: Did you watch Chu back in the day?
MB: This was actually before Chu. I knew no other things, I just knew I could grab them and smash them. *laughs* Eventually I discovered Smashboards and the advanced techniques. Since I was good with the Ice Climbers, I applied the advanced techniques to them first. I actually don’t really like the Ice Climbers as a video game character. If I were to pick a character based on how I like them, I would have picked Samus.
JC: So you’re a Metroid fan?
JC: Do you remember the first tournament that wasn’t just with your friends, that you went to?
MB: Oh yeah, I remember. It was in an arcade, back in 2006. No one really good there. I think I got second.
JC: So were you the best out of your friend group right away?
MB: Yeah, I was the only one that really knew competitive things. But like in the local scene, I wasn’t near the best. The tournament I went to was new, so no one was good there, so I wouldn’t call it an accomplishment. But eventually it got bigger and better players used to come, like PC Chris. Wes, and all the old school players would show up from New York and beat everyone.
JC: It seems like the top Ice Climbers players, you, Wobbles, Chu, and Fly, all have your own play styles. What would you say differentiates your play style from the rest?
MB: I tend to focus more on reading movements and catching people in their movement to find opportunities. More recently I’ve gotten better at finding grabs than the other Ice Climbers and converting off them more efficiently. More emphasis on the first one, though. I was watching Tafo’sanalyst desk and he was even pointing out that I was reading movement really well.
JC: How big of a problem do you think Peach is in a tournament as an Ice Climber player? I know Mew2King switches to Peach. How confident are you versus the top Peach players?
MB: I feel very confident in my knowledge of the matchup and how to win. I occasionally lose to Peaches that I shouldn’t lose to, and that’s usually just because in order to do very well, even if you have all the knowledge of the match up, you need to still execute very precisely. The chances you get to punish Peach without trading, or eating down-smashes, are very thin. If you are slightly off in your execution, things go down very fast.
JC: What do you think about Mew2King’s Peach? Do you like it when he switches to Peach?
MB: I both like it and don’t like it. I like it because his Peach honestly sucks. He also plays the matchup like Peach loses. He camps the whole time, he doesn’t engage, and waits for you to make mistakes, and then capitalizes on her punish game on the Ice Climbers.
JC: Is that Mew2King’s overall playstyle even when playing his other characters?
MB: No, definitely not. If you watch his Marth and Sheik, he proactively finds opportunities. But with Peach, he doesn’t really know how to find opportunities. He just waits. The matchup is good for Peach because she can just go in on the Ice Climbers and they have a hard time dealing with her offense. So yeah, he plays it totally wrong.
JC: Do you think it’s bad manners that he picks Peach?
MB: No, he does it because he doesn’t know the matchup that well (with Sheik or Marth). With Marth, he knows the matchup better, but he doesn’t have confidence in it. Mew2King tries to optimize things, including matchups and stages. For example, he picks Marth against a spacie and takes them to FD because it’s the best on paper. Peach is the strongest counter pick against the Ice Climbers, so he should be picking her. That’s his mindset towards the game. Which is fine, except his Peach isn’t good, so it doesn’t work that way *laughs*
JC: Speaking of matchups, what are your thoughts on the Ice Climbers’ place in the meta. Do you think they are in a good place on the tier list?
MB: I think they are seventh or eighth. A lot of people put them under Falcon, I can see them being above Falcon. Especially with wobbling, they can be higher, since I think that it’s just such a strong punish.
JC: Do you think we can see a Ice Climbers player winning a major in the future? Or do you think they are limited as a character to do it.
MB: They definitely have the tools to do it. Armada is a huge obstacle, however, I honestly don’t think Armada is that good at the matchup either. It’s just that because he’s Armada, he just wins anyway. I took a game off Armada without wobbling him once. I might have done grab up smash but he was already at kill percent. I feel, though, with the skill gap between me and Armada, if he just plays the matchup right, that shouldn’t be happening. So I think that Armada is very beatable for the Ice Climbers. It’s possible. It’s just that there isn’t that many Ice Climbers players, so there’s not as many chances. Just going objectively, the top Ice Climbers players’ skill is just not as good as the Big Six.
JC: Do you think that you are at the top of the list for the top Ice Climbers players?
MB: I think that overall I am. Wobbles has better mastery of the character itself. But I think that I bring a more consistently good mindset, which is why my tournament placings are more consistently good.
JC: Yeah Wobbles didn’t have the best showing at Genesis 3.
MB: Yeah he lost to Milkman. Milkman is in the same region as me. He has a lot of practice against me and Chudat. In fact there was a period where Milkman beat me like seven sets in a row, and Milkman also has beaten Chu many times in the past too. So I wasn’t surprised at all when Milkman won that match.
JC: I would say that your run at Genesis was the most surprising. You beat three guys that were ranked higher than you on the Melee It On Me Rankings.
MB: Yeah I beat three guys in the top ten.
JC: Yeah and one of them were one of the gods of Melee. So, speaking of the rankings, what are your thoughts on the Melee It On Me Rankings. How accurate are they?
MB: I think that the top 50 or so are pretty good. Everyone is pretty much correct, plus or minus five spots. I think it’s pretty good overall. You can nit pick it a lot more once you get into the top 25. I think that in the top 25, I was actually underrated. I like to call it Ice Climbers deflation, as opposed to Captain Falcon inflation. I think that Wizzrobe is overrated on that list. It has always been a thing for Falcon players being generally a little overrated.
JC: Why Falcon?
MB: He’s just a crowd pleaser character, and inherently flashy. So it kind of creates this bias.
JC: I actually want to talk about wobbling a little bit. Obviously it’s a huge part of the Ice Climbers game, and whenever an Ice Climbers player places high at a tourney, like you at Genesis, everyone’s always talking about it. Just to start off, what are your general thoughts about wobbling.
MB: I’m happy you gave me a chance to talk about this because it is something I want people to know how I feel about it. It is not secret that I get hate for it. My honest opinion is that I hate wobbling. I think it’s a really bad mechanic, I think it’s probably the worst mechanic in Melee. I learned how to play the game before I knew what [wobbling] was. I actually played most of my smash career during the “wobbling banned era” of Melee. It wasn’t until around Evo 2013 it started to become more accepted as a legal tactic. So, think about it, I’ve been playing since about 2006. That’s seven years of playing Melee with wobbling banned.
OK, so then it gets unbanned, and I actually didn’t even use it for the first year afterward. Because I wasn’t in the mindset of doing it, I liked doing the cooler stuff. I got to the point where I was like, hey, this is a strictly better thing to be doing, so I should do it if I want to increase my chances of winning. So I just started doing it, and as a competitor, that’s what you got to do. It also kind of sucks because I spent all these years crafting my grab game and all these traditional Ice Climbers combos, and all of it became obsolete because of wobbling.
JC: Do you think the Ice Climbers need wobbling to compete with Fox and Falcon and the other top tiers?
MB: I think that to be a truly viable character in today’s metagame, yeah, they need wobbling. That’s not to say they can’t do very, very well without it. But to have a shot at winning a national, they need wobbling.
JC: Does wobbling ever have a chance to be banned again in the future? Or does everyone basically agree that it should remain legal?
MB: I don’t think it’ll be banned. In fact, most of the people who hate it are the ones that are the so-called “documentary era” of players. Because they all came to the scene after wobbling was already legalized. They aren’t familiar with the pre-wobbling Ice Climbers metagame. But they don’t dictate the scene. All the figureheads that have been around for a long time understand that it isn’t broken because even with wobbling, the Ice Climbers are still at best the seventh or so best character. I think until you have a top six level player, winning like every tournament with Ice Climbers — which isn’t going to happen. I mean I can see Ice Climbers players winning nationals, but not winning them consistently. I don’t think it will ever happen. I don’t think it’ll ever be banned.
JC: You were talking about how you gain a lot of hate after a tournament for winning matches with wobbling. How do you handle the hate when you see it on social media?
MB: I just ignore it. It’s a little bit annoying, but I don’t take it personally. I acknowledge that it’s boring, and even I wish my most optimal punish was more exciting than just pressing the A button. I’ll get private hate messages every once in awhile, but I just block them, try and make it no big deal. I think I’m pretty thick skinned.
JC: Do you think people like you, or even Hungrybox with his Jigglypuff, garner more hate than they really deserve because of their play style?
MB: Yeah I think so, even especially with Hungrybox. It takes a trained eye to understand what he’s doing. Your average stream viewer doesn’t have that trained eye. So they just see Jigglypuff aerial camp and throwing out attacks. But to the trained eye it’s much more that that, and he’s really an amazing player. It’s similar with Ice Climbers. A lot of the things I do in neutral game to win neutral and find grabs are very elaborate and there are many layers. To viewers, it’s just like, okay, he hit a shuffle (Short Hop FastFall L-cancel), and got a grab, that’s it.
JC: Would you say that they have the worst neutral out of the top tiers?
MB: Yeah, out of the top tiers. But they have the tools to win neutral. At the end of the day, if you are smart enough, it doesn’t matter what character you play, you can win neutral.
JC: Smash is coming up as an esports, but not quite as big as League of Legends or Counter Strike. What would you say to an up and coming player looking to become a pro at Smash? Is it worth it being a pro smasher?
MB: It’s kind of a mixed answer. I would say, if it’s something you enjoy, then definitely pursue it. It’s very rewarding and there’s a lot of opportunity. But if you are seriously trying to make a career out of esports as a player, not as some other role, but as a player, I wouldn’t go into Smash with a really high expectation with being able to quit your job and being able to live very comfortably simply off of playing Smash in tournaments. The prize pools aren’t there yet, but, I mean, they are improving, they definitely are improving. Like me, I keep my day job, but I might be able to get away with not having a day job anymore, I keep it because I don’t think Smash is quite there yet.
JC: Do you go to a tournament basically every weekend?
MB: Not really. I go to Xanadu like two or three times a month, and I go to weekend tournaments like twice a month.
JC: Do you practice every day, or not as much since you are a pretty experienced player?
MB: I actually don’t really practice that frequently. In fact, my practice is usually going to Xanadu. Which I am kind of surprised I can keep up sometimes without having a real practice regimen.
JC: Is that common in a lot of the top players?
MB: I don’t think so. Many of the top 25 players don’t have real jobs, and they have more time to practice and stream. A lot of them go to each other’s house and practice a lot.
JC: Is there any other last things you want to say?
MB: I want to add something about to the question about going pro in Smash. I think you should go into Smash if you love it, and not trying to make money off it. If you have that mindset, then you should play Smash.
That’s about it. Shoutouts to Splyce, my sponsor, they take really good care of me. Shoutouts to all my fans and supporters.
Photos courtesy of Rose Wang.