Change is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It is always in motion, propelled by the passing of time, the decisions of an individual and the principles of science. To completely resist it is a futile effort, but many have immortalized their legacy by withstanding the current longer than considered possible.
Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios is the undisputed Emperor of Smash 4; an immovable boulder that change has yet to sweep away. No one in Smash 4 — and few in other competitions — boasts a record as dominating as ZeRo. He’s placed in more than 200 international tournaments across three titles, winning 140 of them. He won 53 consecutive tournaments spanning 2014-15, destroying any competition. The size of the stage, the opponent, and the nerfs to his mains did not matter. His ability to clutch and adjust to any foe kept the crown firmly on his head.
This year, the current is finally taking its toll. Fractures are beginning to form in the rock, and ZeRo’s greatest test looms ahead.
Three months ago, ZeRo was forced to take a break as he nursed an infection on his finger. “Many activities that I had to use both of my hands, such as eating, or cooking, or playing, or typing, or editing, or even the most basic of things; everything was more difficult because I had to use only one hand.” He shared a picture of the sleeve he wore to protect his healing appendage on his Youtube video.
“Not being able to go and compete, which is my passion, really hurts me,” he said in the video. “It’s like a pain in the soul that you cannot heal.”
During his recuperation, a power vacuum opened that no one could fill. Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada, Yuta “Abadango” Kawamura, and others claimed first at notable majors like 2GGT FOW Saga and Pound 2016, respectively, but neither them nor anyone else could make themselves the next guy to beat. (Granted, that task was near impossible during the span of three months.) Rather that one person, a group of solid players all emerged in the interim.
In the background, the metagame settled into what is perhaps the most diverse it has ever been. Nerfs to Sheik, Cloud, Bayonnetta, Zero Suit Samus, and buffs to Mewtwo have increased the parity of characters that break the top eight. Most notably is Mario, the character played by Elliot Bastien “Ally” Carroza-Oyarce.
ZeRo returned to competition in May by attending Get On My Level. It at first looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, but then Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman swept him 3-0 in winners quarterfinals. No one had ever beaten him like that. And yet that description would find new applications to ZeRo’s career.
ZeRo made the crawl from the losers bracket back to the grand final, where he met Ally, who has been on a bit of a hot streak of his own. Digging deep, Ally managed to reverse sweep ZeRo and prevent a bracket reset. Those were the first games he ever took off of ZeRo, and he did it on home soil.
ZeRo next attended 2GGT: Mexico Saga and Smash ‘N’ Splash 2. Again, he made it to the grand finals, this time from the winners bracket, but his opponents, Larry “Larry Lur” Holland and Ally, reset the bracket and took him down. Ally’s feat at Smash ‘N’ Splash 2 marked the first time anyone has eliminated ZeRo twice. ZeRo’s return has not been accompanied by the anthem of trumpets, hailing the emperor reclaiming his throne. It has been greeted with resistance — rebels looking to deny a return to the status quo.
It’s still too early to say ZeRo is no longer atop the Smash 4 world, but his grip on that title might be loosening. Keep in mind, ZeRo took months off from not only from competing, but from practicing, in order to ensure he could heal. To come back from such a long hiatus that certainly dulled the edge of a player and still advance to the grand finals is a testament to how good he is. He hasn’t been struck from losers quarters, semis, or finals. He’s maintained his composure and his striking ability to clutch. He also rebounded to win Low Tier City 4, besting Nairo twice in the tournament.
Furthermore, his legacy within the title remains intact. Even if he doesn’t win first place as consistently as he did during the previous year, he will remain the best Smash 4 player of all time until another overtakes his records.
Still, the Smash 4 scene is changing. A tweet from Juan “HungryBox” Debiedma summarizes itperfectly: “The Gods of Smash 4 are beginning to show themselves.” The competition between the best players in the title is growing, fading the line between “winner” and “first loser.”
The Gods of Smash 4 are beginning to reveal themselves.
— Hungrybox (@LiquidHbox) June 9, 2016
Whether it’s Nairo, Ally, Mew2King — already dubbed a “god” in Super Smash Bros Melee — or anyone else, there have never been more people aiming to take ZeRo’s spot atop the Smash 4 world. He continues to train, possibly expanding his competitive pool to include Cloud and deconstruct an opponent’s character. He has shown how he can adapt; he must do it again.
Looking ahead to what the scene refers to as the “Summer of Smash,” majors like CEO and EVO await. For the emerging gods, it is a chance to be the next to add their name to the list of those who have bested ZeRo.
For ZeRo, the old god himself, it is to fight change. To keep not only himself, but the world, under his reign — to keep his empire going just a little longer.
Has ZeRo lost his grip on the professional Smash 4 world? Let us know by voting in our Twitter poll.
Cover photo: Screenshot