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When Park Se-jun joined T1 in November of 2019, fans of competitive Pokémon rejoiced. As a former Pokémon Video Game Championships winner who was widely considered to be one of the best players in the world, Se-jun was also the first VGC champion to sign with a top-tier esports organization. But when T1 first approached Se-jun, it was not about Pokémon, but Super Smash Bros.
Though Se-jun made his name as a Pokémon player, stealing the hearts of fans after steamrolling through the 2014 World Championship with a bulked-up Pachirisu, he had also been competing in Smash tournaments since 2016. In April of 2021, he turned heads by qualifying for the regional finals of the Smash World Tour’s East Asia division.
YO @pokemon_tcg QUALIFIED?? THATS SO HYPE
WORLD CHAMP FOR POKEMON COMING FOR OUR NECK https://t.co/SUEx3zZMLj
— ESAM (Panda) (@imESAM) April 25, 2021
How Se-jun got into Super Smash Bros.
“I’ve always been interested in Super Smash Bros. because, obviously, it has a lot of Pokémon,” Se-jun said.
After picking up the 3DS version in 2014, he became hooked on the game. He played it for countless hours during a long vacation after taking the College Scholastic Ability Test (Korea’s version of the SAT).
After mastering Smash on the 3DS, Se-jun had to get his hands on the console version. This was especially challenging as the Wii U was never officially released in his region. Despite the premium cost of an imported console, Se-jun said it was well worth the purchase.
By 2016, Se-jun was confident enough in his skills to attend his first Smash tournament; a small Korean local where the other attendees immediately recognized him as the hero of the 2014 Pokemon World Championship.
“There were almost no people in the Nintendo community that didn’t know about the Pachirisu,” Se-jun said.
The Korean smash scene immediately welcomed Se-jun into the fold. However, many were surprised to see him pick a non-Pokémon character. That’s right: Se-jun Park, the former Pokémon world champion, does not main a Pokémon character in Smash.
“My skills to perform precise inputs or fat combos aren’t very good,” Se-jun said. “For example, I tried to change my main to Pikachu in the early Ultimate days, but I wasn’t able to perform the crucial nair [neutral air] loops. My fingers are not that good for Smash.”
Instead, Se-jun decided to main King Dedede. He enjoyed the character’s relatively safe setups, mindgames and heavy weight. He found that Dedede’s ability to control space with slow-moving Gordo projectiles and disjointed hitboxes helped him translate his Pokémon playstyle into Smash.
“The way I like to play Pokémon competitively is by limiting the opponent’s resources and options, and just keeping the pressure on,” Se-jun said. “I really like that in Smash, too — limiting their options with Gordo and punishing the panic options.”
The primary benefit of being a top-level Pokémon player, Se-jun recalled, was that it allowed him to develop a rock solid competitive mindset. Through Pokémon VGC, Se-jun learned to glean as much information as possible from his losses. He taught himself to avoid tilt and remember that the most important goal is to have fun; a mindset that allowed him to achieve the No. 6 spot on Korea’s most recent power rankings.
Though he entered the Smash scene with a strong mindset, Se-jun had to develop his technical skills through hours of dedicated grinding.
“Of course, Pokémon did not teach me how to space back-airs or DI out of a Bayonetta combo,” Se-jun said with a chuckle.
— Core-A Events (@CoreAEvents) February 1, 2020
Se-jun shooting for the stars in Smash
Se-jun’s first experience competing outside Korea came in 2017. He traveled to Japan for a VGC event located in the same building as Umebura, one of Japan’s most prominent Smash tournament series. It was a classic “big fish in a small pond” moment. Though he had already experienced some success in Korea, Se-jun said, the veteran Japanese pros who showed up demolished him.
“I got bodied,” Se-jun said, “and that made me want to play Smash more.”
Over the following years, Se-jun continued to hone his Smash skills while rising through the Korean power rankings. In 2019, his chance for a sponsorship arrived when T1 decided to lean into its investment in Smash. Though T1 had already signed top American players Jason “ANTi” Bates and Larry “Larry Lurr” Holland, the organization was on the hunt for homegrown Korean Smash talent.
At the time, the Korean Smash scene was exploding, following the release of Smash Ultimate. But, most Korean smashers had been unable to compete in Smash for Wii U, giving Se-jun a competitive edge. Furthermore, he had already developed a considerable following through his successes in the Pokémon scene. Though T1 primarily viewed Se-jun as a Smash player, his Pokémon experience was a considerable bonus.
Due to the COVID-fueled moratorium on in-person tournaments in 2020, Se-jun was unable to show the extent of his Smash skills while with T1. In July, he will travel to the East Asia regional finals; his first in-person tournament in over a year. There, he will once again test his mettle against professional players from Japan and beyond. This time, he said, he thinks he has a better chance.
Regardless of Se-jun’s performance at the regional finals, his passion for Smash is as real as his love for Pokémon. Still, despite the victories he’s achieved with King Dedede, he hopes to someday main a Pokémon character in Smash.
Alexander Lee is an editor and freelance writer based in New York City. He has covered esports and the FGC for national and regional publications such as the Washington Post, the Nation, and ESPN. Top-level Super Smash Bros. Melee players have described his Jigglypuff as "pretty good."