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Extensive Q&A with Nairo (Part I): Smash 4 meta, career origins and whether or not he’s overlooked

Slingshot’s Colin Nimer had the chance to talk with Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada for an extensive, two-part interview. Nairo is one of the top Smash 4 players in the world and is coming off a win at Super Smash Con. In Part I of the interview, they talked about the Smash 4 meta, Nairo’s career origins, whether or not he’s overlooked and his most recent trip to Japan. Look for Part II next week.

Colin “CD Mangaka” Nimer: You just came back from Japan. How did that go? I understand you went to a tournament (Umebura S.A.T.) over there.

Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada: It was amazing. It’s always interesting to go to a different part of the world, like, traveling so much for Smash. I was pretty excited. It was my third time going there. My second time I didn’t do too much, I was there for like two days, but this time I was there for like seven or eight days. It was really fun outside of the tournament and at the tournament. I went with Dabuz, a top player from my region, and Mr. R was already there by the time we arrived. We just hung out. Many of the tournaments I’ve gone to out of country, I’ve always gone to the same ones as Mr. R, so we’re already cool (with each other) to hang out. But the actual tournament itself, it was great to see a lot of the Japanese players. I recognize many of their faces from the last time I was there last year. It was a very hard tournament, but, you know, I tried my best. I won the last anniversary one, so I had to try to win the second one in a row. But I came short. Barely. I came in third. I lost to Ken, who went on to win the whole tournament, and Dabuz, someone from here, but they played amazing so I’m not mad about that at all.

CN: Actually, that leads to a question about the Japanese players. ZeRo had put out a YouTube video talking about the differences between the player culture in Japan and the player culture in the United States. He talked about how it’s illegal for Japanese tournaments to have prize pools because the Japanese government considers that as gambling and that’s outlawed. That changes the tone a bit. The Japanese players operate as a collective unit and help each other improve. Is that what you experienced going over to Japan?

NQ: Yeah, I agree. They aren’t used to playing for money, so I guess when they come over here they probably feel a little nervous, like “Oh, I’ve never really done this before,” especially the newcomers at EVO. Many of the Japanese players there came over here for the first time, and knowing there was money on the line they probably got real nervous. Over in Japan they don’t play for money, but sometimes maybe the winners will get a free ticket to a tournament, so I guess you could say that’s equivalent to winning money, but for the most part they just play for the venue and they don’t have to pay to enter the tournament, so yeah. There’s not any real pressure for them like, “Oh, I have to get money” or something like that. So they just play… so much. Even at the place I stayed at, it was like a giant — well, not a giant — but it was like the Smash house of that area. So many players that were around the area for the tournament. I stopped by at some points in the day and stayed there for hours and just played. It pretty much happened from morning to like very late at night. They definitely practice a lot and give it their all. They play very different with some characters. For example, Clouds in America will be really aggressive and use Limit Break very often, but Japanese Clouds will save their limit and use the stat buffs they get because Cloud gets faster…

CN: And heavier.

NQ: Yeah, heavier. So they use all that and maybe if they see a guaranteed moment to land it, instead of like “Oh maybe if I throw it out now maybe it will work.” If they see a guaranteed moment then they’ll use it, but they’ll hold onto it for like 30 seconds or a minute. It’s very different because you would expect them to do it at some points, and then they just don’t and you’re like “oh.” (Laughs.)

CN: That’s quite a difference in play, and some cool insight. I wish there was some more eyes in the Japanese scene, but alas the money is in the West.

NQ: Yep (chuckles).

CN: Although, EVO Japan…

NQ: Oh yeah, I’m trying to go to that. I’m almost positive they’ll have Smash 4 there, so it would be nice to go to Japan again.

CN: That would be a great opportunity. So let’s move on to the bulk of the interview: I want to go back to your start in Smash. You’ve been around in the Smash scene for a while, ever since Brawl. says your first tournament was 2010, six years ago. You were about fourteen or fifteen at the time, right?

NQ: Actually, it might have been earlier than that. I started right when Brawl came out, which was 2008. So it was actually eight years. I didn’t go to that many tournaments from 2008 to 2010, but 2010 was when I was getting more well known, so that’s probably why it has that there. As far as tournament-wise it was 2008, like the week after Brawl came out.

CN: So eight years ago, that’s quite a long career, and here you are!

NQ: (Laughs) Yeah, very young.

CN: Now one of the most recognizable names in Smash 4. You started very young and that’s very cool. But what happened to get you into the Smash games before that. What was the inspiration for you to go, “Hey, I enjoy this game. I want to take this seriously and play competitively.”

NQ: Oh way, way back (laughs). Brawl was my first competitive game, but not my first Smash game. I was always a fan of Smash before that, and at that time Melee was the most recent one to come out. I would just play with my brother and a bunch of friends like a crew and play Melee a lot. There was like one library tournament, like one of those very small tournaments in my town. We just went to that tournament and it was pretty fun. That was near the release of Brawl, probably like a few months before Brawl. We would watch for “oh this character is confirmed for Brawl” and all that on the website, it was really cool. Then once Brawl came out, obviously everybody went from Melee to Brawl here, the crew, and played it a lot. The crew leader basically, his name is J.G., he hosted a tournament in his house, and we all attended, and I ended up winning my first tournament. After I won that, I was like “oh that was really cool,” and it was really hype with a lot of people watching. Yeah, I enjoyed it, I enjoyed it a lot and I wanted to do it more, and that started everything. But I also had school and all of that, so it was like I really wanted to attend more tournaments, but obviously balancing school and that, school took the higher priority. But as time went by I was able to manage school way easier, but now — well, not now I graduated — but throughout that time as school got easier I had more time to practice and I kept improving.

CN: So that’s how you started, and then in 2015 that’s when Smash 4 really started to hit its stride competitively, and that was the year of ZeRo. He was winning everything, there was the 53 or 54 win streak you put an end to. But during that time you were one of the players who was always nipping at his heels. Just one of the many names in second place. Fast forward to 2016, it’s like the year of anarchy. Crazy things are happening. Dath took third at Shine playing Robin, which was just immaculate to watch. But in the aftermath, the consensus has been that Ally has stepped up as the new best player. He’s winning all the majors, he’s been consistent, and people have sort of forgotten about you until you won Smash Con. One thing I saw was a statistic on showing how consistent you are: you’ve played in 26 tournaments and you won 15, which gives you the highest win rate of any top Smash player at 57%. Yet, at the big majors, like CEO and EVO, you didn’t make top eight. Do you think there’s something that happens in those events that holds you back and causes the public to forget about you?

NQ: I would probably say people just don’t look at wins and losses for those tournaments, or just focus only on (certain) tournaments. Obviously, not getting top eight at EVO or CEO wasn’t my standard, but the players I lost to weren’t shockers. Like at EVO I lost to Ranai in winners who is a top three player in Japan, maybe top 10 in the world. You can’t sleep on that, and then Larry Lurr, who is top 10 — they’re both top 10 — and I ended up getting 13th. So it’s like I lost to two top 10 players, but I fought them before a top 10 spot, so…

CN: Like, what do you do?

NQ: Yeah. Them beating me is never out of the question. Larry beat me for the first time at EVO. I had a perfect record against him, but like, that doesn’t mean I can never lose to him. It just happened there of all times. Same for CEO. I lost to Zinoto who ended up beating everybody. And Hyuuga is really good. He’s never easy to fight. He’s beaten players like ANTi,  maybe Void if I remember right. He did really well at one of the 2GG events. It wasn’t like I lost to people that came out of nowhere and they just straight up destroyed me. I guess people kinda sleep on that, or tend to see only those results and not everything else. Well now it’s probably getting a little outdated, but now it’s not outdated, but back in May I went to a tournament every weekend. I went to MomoCon, LVL UP EXPO, Get On My Level, and EGLX cause it went from the end of April to May. I won three of those events: MomoCom, EGLX, and LVL UP, beating Void, Ally, like two or three times, Mew2King. I got fourth at GOML, I lost to Leo and ZeRo, like those aren’t even bad losses and it’s still fourth place out of like 600 people or more. It’s still really good, but I guess people just forget about those. I also won KTAR XVIII too, which was in June, a week or two before CEO. So I don’t know how people forgot about those (laughs).

CN: Yeah, maybe they were overshadowed by other events. I think there was another even going on during KTAR that drew more attention or something.

NQ: Actually… you might be right. I think it was a 2GG event. Which those are pretty big, too, so yeah that might have been overshadowed. But like, people should never really say much if they don’t know all the results or only know partial. So that’s kinda wrong on their part. I guess they got to research.

CN: Basically. I think it was ANTi who shared like the perfect reaction to how people did a 180 on you. It was like “Man, Nairo’s not even good anymore,” and then you won (Super Smash Con) and people were like, “Y’all are sleeping on Nairo.”

NQ: (Laughs)

CN: But you’re right. Context is very important and running into those players that take second overall but you met them in top 32, so that’s just like…

NQ: Rip.

CN: Yeah, rip.

NQ: And then all those losses at CEO and EVO wound up getting top eight. Ranai got fifth, Larry got fifth or seventh, something like that, and Zinoto got second, Hyuuga got fourth or something like that. They didn’t place bad after beating me, they actually continued on and beat a lot of other good players. Also, it could be like a combination: last year the game was pretty different. Many of the characters have changed and new characters have been added. We’ve gone from ZeRo with pre-patch Diddy Kong at Apex, to the end of the year we got new DLC characters like Ryu, MewTwo, Lucas, and now we have Cloud, Bayonetta, Corrin. They’re all really good and there are more matchups (one needs) to be familiarized with or else you might run into one at tournament and lose. And characters changed. For example, Zero Suit Samus. She didn’t change that much, but these changes end up affecting matchups. Like say it was a close matchup, like high percent, many of her options now are very poor to land, or make it much harder to land because of the game. Like rage, as everybody calls it. If I Up-B, and we’re both at like 130 percent it would not connect ever. It should not connect, ever. If it does, then they’re doing something wrong. But they don’t have to do anything, they can just pop out. And Up-Tilt can not connect: it’s a two-hit move and sometimes since they’re at such a higher percent and I have rage, the first hit would just knock them away, but I need the second one to hit because that’s the one that actually kills. Probably the one that changes the most is her grab. It’s a tether grab that lasts longer than a normal grab, but also starts slower. They reduced the duration of her grab by a few frames, but those frames can change a match completely. Before, if you were to spot dodge and she threw out her grab and the same time, you’d be grabbed, but now the duration is shorter but the animation is just as long. The end lag is longer by four or five frames, I can’t remember right now, but it increased. Now if that same scenario were to happen you won’t get grabbed, and many characters with strong moves could punish and kill. Like, say Diddy Kong was holding a banana. He could throw it and forward smash and kill me. Cloud could Finishing Touch. Stuff like that. That small change can change so much. But other characters, of course, have changed as well, and that’s why they’re doing better or worse. Like ZeRo was half Sheik and half Diddy, but now he’s like all Diddy, so now he has to learn the matchups he would use Sheik for. Like (at Shine) he fought ESAM and I don’t think he’s ever gone Diddy vs. ESAM, he would always go Sheik, but this is the first time he’s gone Diddy vs. ESAM, but he won. So he’s learning all of the matchups, and he can definitely adapt. Now he’s 99 percent Diddy and he’s confident he can beat any player with Diddy. That’s the same case for me and Zero Suit. Even with the changes, I think I can beat any player if I’m playing really well.

CN: Well you showed that at Super Smash Con. People now think it’s the counter-picking meta, and I think it’s true with regards to some of the stages, but we’ve seen the results vary. Like ANTi is known for switching up characters; he won CEO by switching to Cloud after his other characters weren’t doing so good. But you came through Super Smash Con with only Zero Suit and you didn’t drop a set. That leads into a question about diversity in Smash. With so many characters being arguably viable, or having favorable matchups, it does put that stress onto the players to know as much as they can and sometimes they can be surprised. Or they have to relearn key muscle memory like what you talked about with Zero Suit’s grab. What do you think of the current state of Smash 4, the patch 1.1.16. Do you think there are any buffs or nerfs that need to be handed out, or do you think it’s fine the way it is?

NQ: I would say it’s fine the way it is right now. There hasn’t been anything super crazy. Results have been many different characters, like Ally winning EVO, me winning Smash Con, ANTi winning CEO, ZeRo winning End Game and Shine. At least it wasn’t like before where it was ZeRo with Diddy, Diddy, Diddy, or Sheik, Sheik, Sheik, you know like that. That has changed so that’s pretty good. It’s really hard to make a game where are all the characters are good or equal, that’s pretty much impossible to be honest. It would be good to see “low tiers” or characters that aren’t seen much to be buffed, but I can’t give a solid answer as to how they should get buffed. Nobody really can. They’re just trying to use their imagination to make them the best character and that’s the wrong way to program. Not all characters can be the best or equal. Some characters unfortunately are going to stay at the bottom if they don’t have any changes. I don’t think it’s needed. I think the game has a good amount of (viable) characters. With the game like it is, you can switch the momentum no matter what character you are. As long as you get a few reads you can change a match easily. So even if you’re using the worst character, or you’re fighting someone using the worst, don’t think of it as a free win. You can still lose if you sleep on the character. At the moment I would say the game is pretty good. Maybe a few changes, but nothing drastic. But hey, we don’t know. They just release patches out of nowhere.

CN: True. Congrats on avoiding the shameless “buff Zero Suit Samus” plug by the way.

NQ: (Laughs) Yeah, everyone is always like “buff my character” but I’m not going to rely on that because it’s impossible to get everyone what they want. Like it just happens.

CN: At least Nintendo listened to us about Bayonetta. At least that happened, right? We got through that dark age.

NQ: (Laugh) I enjoy Bayonetta, but it was a little crazy. I still think she’s really good, so at least she wasn’t ruined.

CN: Yeah, Saj and PinkFresh have done some amazing work with Bayonetta. I’m glad to see Nintendo kept some of that character alive. One thing about characters I’ve noticed is that some top pros tend to downplay how good their character is. I mean, you talk to Ally and I don’t think you’ll ever get him to say that Mario is top 5. There’s a few exceptions to that, like ESAM rates Pikachu highly, but few agree with him on that. Is there a reason that some pros will downplay their character? Is it just an elaborate banter, or does it depend on the person?

NQ: I honestly have no idea (laughs). I could say Zero Suit sucks verses like some major character, but that wouldn’t make her not top 10. Her hardest matchups are characters I normally see in tournaments, like Diddy and Sheik, but if I lose to them it doesn’t mean she’s not top 10, it just means I ran into one of the matchups that suck. She has matchups where it’s not free, but favorable. The way I see a character is top something is by matchups and results. Mario has both of those really good. Right now I’d say he’s top five for sure, but if I say that I’ll get attacked by the Mario Brothers.

CN: (Laughs)

NQ: The Mario Brothers will come out and be like “You’re dumb, blah blah blah.” But Mario is good, everyone knows that. Except for them I guess. Maybe it’s to make them look better, but everyone already knows they’re a good player, so they don’t need to say that to make them look better. I’m not sure. Maybe people just want to get more credit? Like I could go down the line of people that said “Zero Suit is broken. Zero Suit is second best for sure.” But now people aren’t talking about her unless she gets a rage kill, but that only happens if she gets beat up a lot, so it’s a weird case. I would just say even if they don’t think Mario is not top 10 or top five to not sleep on the character regardless of the character, at least for that example, Mario, even if he isn’t, it doesn’t mean he’s bad. If he actually is like 10 to 15, the characters there are still really strong. Pretty much from like 1-30 they are really strong.

Cover photo: Major League Gaming/@OZenrique7