“This is the greatest day of my life,” Jake “Jmook” DiRado tweeted at 10:43 p.m. PT on April 18, 2022.
The upstate New Yorker had previously finished in second place at Genesis 8, the largest Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament of 2022. Although it was his first tournament outside of the East Coast, Jmook conquered multiple top 10 players on his Cinderella run to grand finals. Nine months later, Jmook surpassed his previous greatest day at Genesis 9 in San Jose, California.
After nearly a year of consistently performing at a high level but never breaking through to first place, Jmook won his first Melee major on January 22, 2023. In doing so, he became the first solo Sheik player to win a major since Ryota “CaptainJack” Yoshida won MLG San Francisco in September of 2004.
“It’s amazing how much it writes itself,” Jmook said in a post-tournament interview with Zane “epengu” Bhansali. “To really put my all into something, to really craft the best version of myself just from getting better at [a] video game, it’s been so life-changing. There’s so much going through my head, but I’m absolutely thrilled.”
For many Melee viewers, Jmook’s historic victory seemed like the culmination of a story that began at Genesis last year. But for Jmook, this was simply another step in a journey that’s been going on since his teenage years.
THIS IS NOW THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE. https://t.co/JpHBGxqnmk
— FLY | Jmook (@jakedirado) January 23, 2023
From upstate New York to the national stage
Though he did not rise to prominence until 2022, Jmook began competing at Melee tournaments as a teenager in 2015. From the outset, his improvement in Melee was closely linked to his holistic improvement as person.
“Because I wanted to get better at this game, I started taking better care of myself,” Jmook said in his interview with epengu. “I started doing meditation, taekwondo, focusing on my diet, reading; all these things just so I can be 1% better every single day. It’s crazy to think about, but Genesis 9 happened because I wanted to sit up straight at 16 years old.”
Unsurprisingly, Melee viewers quickly noticed Jmook’s impeccable posture and it has been part of his personal brand ever since. Since his breakout at Genesis 8, Jmook has graduated from SUNY Broome Community College, quit his part-time job at Starbucks, joined FlyQuest, and greatly increased his tournament attendance.
— FlyQuest (@FlyQuest) July 3, 2022
The hallmark of Jmook’s 2022 was his consistency. He reached top eight at every single tournament he attended last year. In addition, he only lost sets against the top 10 players on the SSBMRank 2022. Impressively, he was the only player in the world with this distinction.
“Being more process-oriented than results-oriented has allowed me to be here and consistently show up top eight after top eight,” Jmook told epengu. “After Genesis , I was expecting a major drop off, saying, ‘I’ll be figured out eventually. This is a one time thing.’ I’m just proud of myself for overcoming those doubts and trusting the things I’ve been doing since I was 15 or 16.”
Despite his unmatched consistency, Jmook was ranked sixth on the SSBMRank, largely due to the fact that he failed to win a major. In addition, he suffered a brutal 1-11 set record against the similarly-ranked Jigglypuff main, Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma.
Jmook takes on Genesis 9
Even before top 64, Jmook had to face one of his scariest match-ups of Genesis 9: up-and-coming Jigglypuff main Davis “Palpa” Scherer. While Hungrybox regularly beat Jmook last year, their sets were typically close. As a result, it was unclear how he would fare against a lower-ranked Jigglypuff main. Jmook proved that he’s really no slouch at the match-up, taking out Palpa 3-1 to advance into top 64.
From there, Jmook took on a pair of Fox mains. Although he’s generally heralded as the best Sheik in the world against Fox, both of his opponents still pushed him to Game 5. Nevertheless, Jmook defeated Zac “SFAT” Cordoni and Ben “SFOP” Duren to make it to winners quarters. Then, he earned a 3-0 win over Edgard “n0ne” Sheleby, repeating the set count from their winners semis face-off at Genesis 8.
The next day, Genesis 9 winners semis brought a rematch of Genesis 8 grand finals: Jmook vs. Zain “Zain” Naghmi. Zain was the only player who managed to bring Jmook back down to earth at Genesis 8, defeating him 3-0 in grand finals. Nevertheless, Jmook took multiple sets from him in the months that followed, ending the year with a 4-4 record against Zain.
After a series of back-and-forth games at Genesis 9, Jmook seemed to fully hit his stride in Game 5 against Zain. With a two-stock victory he secured his spot in winners finals and took the lead in his head-to-head record against Zain.
Showing us why he's a top 6 player, @jakedirado takes it 3-2 over Zain and moves onto Winners Finals! 😤
— GENESIS 9 (@Genesis_Smash) January 22, 2023
Next came an unexpected opponent: Kurtis “moky” Pratt. To get there, moky had to go on the best run of his Melee career, conquering Hungrybox and Cody Schwab to reach top eight. He even dominantly defeated Justin “Plup” McGrath’s Sheik 3-0 in winners semis. Even so, Jmook’s excellent tech chasing and combo game really shined as he managed to 3-0 moky himself and reach grand finals on winners side.
New York grand finals in California
There was perhaps no more fitting opponent for Jmook to face in Genesis 9 grand finals than the artist formerly known as iBDW, Cody Schwab. Both players came up together around the same time and had faced each other at New York locals; Schwab had even been eliminated by Jmook at his very first tournament.
“When he was ranked [ninth] in 2019, it blew my mind that I knew this person and that this person was top 10 in the world,” Jmook told epengu. “I can’t understate how inspirational that was to me. I owe a lot of my journey to Cody.”
Cody Schwab was also the climactic opponent of Jmook’s breakout run at Genesis 8, as Jmook defeated him 3-0 in losers finals. Since then, the two New Yorkers have had a bit of a rivalry. After beating Jmook for the first time at Smash Summit 13, Schwab went on a three-set win streak, which Jmook then broke at the Scuffed World Tour.
After losing to moky in winners quarters at Genesis 9, Schwab went on a losers run that saw him eliminate Masaya “aMSa” Chikamoto, Toussaint “2saint” Turnier, Zain, Plup and moky. In the process, he dropped only two games. By grand finals, he looked nearly unstoppable.
But so did Jmook. By Game 4, Jmook was going for flashy plays that resulted in him killing less efficiently than he could have otherwise. Even so, his confident playstyle eventually enabled him to get a clean edgeguard and beat Cody Schwab 3-1. The typically stoic competitor jumped up in excitement, nearly tripping over his own chair before leaping off the stage to celebrate.
— GENESIS 9 (@Genesis_Smash) January 23, 2023
Jmook leaves Genesis 9 an ever-growing person
Jmook is aware that his win at Genesis 9 was the result of an “easy” bracket; that is, one where he didn’t have to play Hungrybox. But Jmook intends to keep winning majors, and he isn’t hoping for any easy brackets.
“My ideal version of winning a supermajor involves beating Hbox and finally overcoming that hurdle,” Jmook told epengu. “He’s my next step. Right now, it doesn’t feel like I closed a chapter. It’s just an example of what I’ve yet to prove.”
Jmook also acknowledged that he has no control over who is in his bracket path, so it’s best not to worry about it. He said that, regardless of how players are ranked, the outcome of tournaments ultimately comes down to who is playing the best on that given day.
“Today it was me, but tomorrow it [could be] Zain, tomorrow it [could be] Cody, Hbox,” Jmook continued. “It’s all about, are you willing to show up? Are you willing to put yourself out there? It’s insane that I’m one of those people.”
Going forward, there’s no doubt that Jmook will press toward the goal of becoming the best Melee player in the world. However, it seems that what Jmook accomplishes as a competitive gamer is only as important as how much it makes Jake DiRado grow as a person.
“I’m severely flawed as a person; we all are,” Jmook said. “This game has been like a mirror. I’ve been able to reflect on myself through this game. Even at like 16, 17, I would analyze my sets, figuring out not what I’m doing wrong, but like, ‘Oh, I noticed that in general I avoid confrontation,’ and I’ll see that part of myself through the game. This game is beautiful and I’m proud of the person that I’m becoming through this game.”
IT'S NOT OVER
— FLY | Jmook (@jakedirado) January 23, 2023
Dylan Tate is an alumnus of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a gaming journalist with a love for Nintendo esports, particularly Super Smash Bros. and Pokémon.