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Q&A: Santiago on Melee rankings, playing full time and his origins

Santiago “Santiago” Pinon is ranked eighth in Super Smash Bros Melee in on the SoCal Power Rankings and was also ranked 42nd overall in the most recent Melee It On Me top 100. Although he’s not as active as other players, Santiago still manages to place highly at stacked local tournaments and is also known for his controversial Twitter.

Slingshot’s Dylan “C.C.” Cooke caught up with Santiago to talk about getting started, world rankings and why he doesn’t play more.

Dylan “C.C.” Cooke: Your current tag is Santi?

Santiago Piñon: Santiago

DC: You used to go by Lil Fumi?

SP: Yeah exactly. That was the tag I was given. I originally entered as Santiago but at my first San Diego tournament, I played Yoshi and was given the tag Lil Fumi by a friend. I just stuck with it for a while. Eventually after I dropped Yoshi, I went back to my original tag.

DC: When did you start playing?

SP: Seventh grade, 2008. I didn’t play at all in high school, so there’s four years I didn’t play at all.

DC: How long were you playing Yoshi?

SP: Just the first two years. I kept him as a secondary for a bit but then eventually dropped him.

DC: Who do you main currently?

SP: I was playing Fox for a while but he was hurting my hands really bad. So I started to lean towards Sheik, who is one of my favorite characters. She’s a ton easier on my hands. I think sheik is really good and goes at least even with everyone but spacies, which is the only thing slowing her down. At this level of play, she has her chance to win, but Fox and Falco are really good and give her problems. It’s mostly Fox right now because there’s not too many Falcos. I think Sheik as well as other characters can be pushed much further right now.

DC: When did you start taking the game seriously?

SP: Just my first two years, I haven’t taken it seriously since then. That’s when I really liked Melee. I quit for four years then I kinda got back into it again. I haven’t been too serious. It’s just a hobby.

DC: Your definition of serious seems to be a bit different than others definitions of serious.  How often are you playing as a non-serious player?

SP: I’m going to UCI every week or two. I’ve only been to one mayhem ever and only four SSSs in total. Only entered singles once in the past two years.

DC: What causes this form of mentality? You’re an incredibly good player at a level of play that most people who take the game seriously strive to be at. What drives you to keep playing and entering tournaments?

SP: I still like to play, not too often but since college is finishing I want to play more. I still watch a lot of videos and practice by myself sometimes. I don’t enter tournaments as much as other people, but I’m probably more efficient than some other people with my solo practice. As for tournaments I like small locals where they only last a few hours. I don’t really like a tournament that lasts all day or a few days.

DC: How did you train to get to your level, both in game and mentally? For a player who plays less than most players who are trying to improve, you have incredibly high placings.

SP: I think a lot of players are putting in more hours than me might not be using their time wisely. They tend to play friendlies all day and not really see the game how I see it. Instead of working on their fundamentals, they kind of learn little tricks to improve that don’t really help in the long run. I think overall, Smash is just getting big enough where people are taking it a lot more seriously. I don’t think people have been trying to get that good for that long. Even people at EVO that I beat that are technically better than m. Like Shroomed isn’t really putting in that much time, either. I don’t really think there’s that many professionals in Melee yet, maximum of 10, easily the top six. I think anyone who works hard can easily make top 20, although it may take people different amounts of time. I don’t think there’s a big gap between the top 15 and the top 40. Or even higher than that, top 100 I would say. They can all be squished in.

DC: Do you plan to be more active now that college is over?

SP: More active than now yes. I plan to play more with Zack from San Diego. Me and him will practice together, I think it’ll be fun.

DC: With EVO coming up, do you change your training for a tournament of this size? Last year you placed 13th.

SP: I’m not registered yet but I might go. I don’t really train for a specific tournament because your work should come around all year. If I went to EVO, I just want to play myself. I don’t concern myself with placements too much. Last years EVO I feel like I just had a good bracket.

DC: We don’t see much of you outside of SoCal local tournaments. Is there a reason you don’t travel out of state?

SP: It’s expensive to travel and it’s time consuming. I like to do other things like play chess, tennis, other party games. I have other friends, a girlfriend, family to visit. Like I said, I keep Melee as a hobby.

DC: There’s been a lot of talk lately about players and their competitive mentality. Do you have any issues with your mentality?

SP: I’d say for the most part, if there’s competition you have to have a good mentality. I’ve never had a bad mentality when it comes to it. I’ve never had to work on my mentality when it comes to competition, it’s all come pretty naturally. One issue people have with Smash is they tend to get nervous. I think it’s due to a lot of things. Self confidence issues is one thing. You have to believe in your execution, you have to be able to execute without thinking about it too much. Take care of yourself, eating and sleeping right the night before. Training your focus as well. Everyone will get upset when you lose, you need to. If you’re not getting upset, you’re not going to improve. You have to want to win.

DC: When we first spoke you considered double eliminating Westballz to have “meant nothing.” Can you elaborate on that?

SP: I don’t see beating him as a big accomplishment. I’ve played him multiple times; I’ve always got close to beating him. It’d be Game 5 or a close Game 15 of grand finals. It wasn’t new to me; I knew I could beat him. I played him in sets with my secondaries like Sheik, Falco and Marth and was doing fine, so I knew with the work I was putting into Sheik, it wouldn’t be too hard. Especially since I think he’s not that good against Sheik and his overall level isn’t that much different than mine. I think it’d be a different story if I beat someone like Armada or Hungrybox, because they’re at a whole different level than Westballz is. I know he’s ranked seventh or eighth in the world, but there’s a huge gap between him and the top ranked players.

DC: What do you think is holding players back?

SP: For a lot of people, they don’t put enough time. For players like West and others, they need to fix a lot of their specific aspects in their game in order to compete. I don’t think those players have a neutral that can compete with the top players. I think West has a really good punish game, he’s technical and fast. But when he plays against floaties like Peach and Puff, you see him struggle a lot more versus spacies and falcon.

DC: Thanks for speaking with me, anything you’d like to say for the fans?

SP: Twitter: @santiagosmash. Shout outs to ken and manacloud. They’re the players who helped me the most these past few years. Shout outs to Zack. We’ll play a lot more in the summer.

Cover photo: Screenshot.