On Jan. 30, the Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament Valhalla Online will get underway. Valhalla is an annual Smash tournament that began in 2018 and is usually held in Copenhagen, Denmark. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s edition is the first in SmashEurope’s SAME 2021 pro Melee circuit and is being held online using software known as Slippi.
The tournament features Europe’s best player, Team SoloMid’s William “Leffen” Hjelte, a Fox player. Leffen won the 2018 and 2020 tourneys, defeating Adam “Armada” Lindgren in the grand finals for the first title and Aaron “Professor Pro” Thomas for his second title.
With Armada having been retired from Melee singles since September 2018, Leffen is the undisputed best player in Europe at the moment. Leffen was ranked No. 2 worldwide in the MPGR 2019, the ranking system run by Panda Global, trailing only Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma. Due to the pandemic, rankings were frozen for 2020, and if there are rankings for 2021, they likely won’t be published until late in the year if and when LAN tournaments resume.
After Leffen, the highest-ranking European player on the MPGR is Alvaro “Trif” Garcia, a Peach player from Spain, at No. 16. He is not participating in the tournament, leaving the United Kingdom’s Professor Pro (No. 34) as the highest-rated entrant after Leffen. Elliot “Frenzy” Grossman (No. 76; Falco) and Dominik “Nicki” Kunze (No. 83; Fox) are other globally-ranked players in the tournament who could make some noise.
Without many of the top players from Europe competing, Valhalla will be a tremendous opportunity for some of the continent’s lesser-known players to grab the spotlight and make a name for themselves. Trif did exactly that at Valhalla in 2018, placing fourth to put himself on the map. Any player who does make a serious run in the bracket will eventually have to face Leffen and/or Professor Pro in order to prove themselves.
With the tournament being held online, it will be run completely through Slippi, software that adds some quality-of-life options to Melee, including an online feature. Every noteworthy Melee tournament held after February’s Smash Summit 9 was run through Slippi with mostly great results. Slippi implements “rollback netcode,” which essentially predicts incoming inputs and simulates the next frame (Melee is played at 60 frames per second). Doing this, rather than waiting for the returning inputs of the other player, reduces delay. In rare cases where the prediction is incorrect, the game state is rolled back to the last correct state.
The spate of online tournaments and the ubiquitous use of Slippi is part of the reason why there aren’t any updated power rankings. The community has not reached an official consensus on how to handle the changed landscape as a result of the unpredictability caused by the pandemic. Online tournaments offer advantages and disadvantages that vary from player to player.
Kevin “PewPewU” Toy, a Marth player with Counter Logic Gaming, suggested that online tournaments have helped some players better manage performance anxiety, since they’re playing from the comfort of their own homes rather than in cramped arenas “with flashing lights and crowds in your ear.” He also noted that players have more control over their access to food and drink. On the other hand, PewPewU mentions that some players might have trouble flipping the “on” switch, so to speak, because “we compete in the same room that many of us watch Netflix, do schoolwork, relax, or play other games in.”
PewPewU said weighing Slippi tournaments equally with LANs of the past would be “extremely unfair.”
“So many factors that relate to the restrictions of online tournaments can alienate certain regions, disallow certain players with weak internet services and … the unexpected lag that plays into every match,” he said.
We can still recognize players’ achievements during this era, but PewPewU thinks the community should understand that “the online era is different.”
Due to ping and other potential connection issues, Smash tournaments during the pandemic have mostly been region-locked, meaning that European players haven’t been playing in North American tournaments and vice versa. PewPewU thinks there is the potential for a competitive divide to develop.
“Since NA, EU and Asian regions are so separate with the pandemic, I do think we’ll start to see a difference in skill level between the regions much like the past. The sheer volume of high-level tournaments being held in NA is much higher than other places, hence the opportunity for growth is more readily available,” he said.
Valhalla Online may not be Evo or Genesis, with thousands of fans in attendance and virtually lag-free setups, but it will feature Europe’s best player in Leffen, a handful of other globally-ranked players and a bunch of up-and-comers looking to knock Leffen off of his throne. This tournament could be a bellwether for the future of competitive Melee in Europe this year.
Photo credit: Jeff Mahieu/Flickr