League of Legends
Call of Duty
John “KoDoRiN” Ko made it into Smash Summit 11 because of a lucky break.
He had finished in third place at Rollback Rumble: The Big One, where the top two finishers earned spots at Summit. KoDoRiN was only invited as a backup after Swedish Fox main Linus “Pipsqueak” Nordin couldn’t make it into the United States.
But, five months later, at Smash Summit 12, the circumstances were much different.
KoDoRiN comfortably qualified for Beyond the Summit’s latest Super Smash Bros. Melee invitational by placing third at Mainstage 2021, where everyone in the top six qualified for Summit. In the process, he beat Cody “iBDW” Schwab, who went on to win Summit. KoDoRiN also participated under the banner of a professional esports organization, FlyQuest, for the first time at Smash Summit 12.
Since offline Smash events returned this summer, KoDoRiN has climbed from merely a fast-rising up-and-comer to an established top-level threat. With FlyQuest’s support, the Marth main from Southern California continues to push toward his goal of becoming the best Melee player in the world.
Welcome @KoDoRiNSSB to FlyQuest!
— FlyQuest (@FlyQuest) December 8, 2021
Learning how to learn
KoDoRiN might not be so good at Melee now had he not been so bad at math in ninth grade.
As a mediocre math student surrounded by classmates who seemed to be experts, KoDoRiN began to think he simply wasn’t cut out for the difficult subject. However, his mindset changed when he got a tutor.
“Before, I was super defeatist because I didn’t know how to learn,” KoDoRiN said. “When my tutor gave me the blueprints on how to learn properly, like asking for help, it then hit me that the other people that are good at math also got tons of help. It wasn’t because of the talent that I thought. Their background of how they learned math [was] not too different from mine.”
As KoDoRiN opened himself up to seeking help and learned how to ask the right questions, his math grades steadily improved. When he began competing at Melee tournaments, he realized those same skills that helped him get better at math could help him improve as a competitive gamer as well.
“The thing that set me apart for a quick improvement route was that I just asked what other people did,” KoDoRiN said. “A shortcut to improvement is seeing what other people did and [applying] it to yourself in your own way. I’m not saying to copy what they did one-to-one. No, you kind of see what elements of improvement they did and see how that translates to you.”
On his road to becoming a top player, KoDoRiN utilized one particular resource better than perhaps any other Marth main: Melee god and former No. 1 player Kevin “PPMD” Nanney.
To this day, PPMD actively responds to questions about Marth in a SmashBoards thread called “Carefully Ask PPMD about the Tiara Guy,” which was created by Charles “Cactuar” Meighen in 2007. Even as SmashBoards has fallen out of popularity with the broader Smash community, KoDoRiN has remained an active participant; this year alone, he has asked PPMD questions in the thread 18 times.
“I would just keep asking questions every time I didn’t know what happened with Marth,” KoDoRiN said. “He answered it and I got better every time I asked.”
— Kevin Nanney (@PPMD) December 8, 2021
Additionally, KoDoRiN takes monthly coaching sessions with PPMD to help him refine his gameplay and mentality. As a result of his studious training, KoDoRiN has become one of the best Marth mains in the world after only three years of major competition. He currently considers himself a top 10 player, albeit with the caveat that multiple players who would rival or outplace him have been too inactive to accurately rank.
His meteoric rise is comparable to that of fellow Marth main Zain “Zain” Naghmi. Zain attended his first major, Super Smash Con, in 2015, and was widely considered the best player in the world in 2020. Of course, KoDoRiN learned in high school to focus on himself rather than comparing himself to others.
“I don’t really think too much like I’m doing a race against Zain or something,” KoDoRiN said.
Likewise, one major lesson KoDoRiN carried from math into Melee was that it’s always easier to improve with a little bit of support.
Beginning a new quest
FlyQuest COO Michael Choi’s favorite esport is Melee. As a result, he’d been hoping that FlyQuest would branch into the platform fighter ever since he joined the organization as senior project manager in 2019. With KoDoRiN’s recent rise to prominence, Choi saw the perfect opportunity for FlyQuest to expand into the Melee scene for the first time.
“We weren’t necessarily looking at him from the perspective of a Smash competitor, as funny [as] that is to say because he’s such a good player,” Choi said. “More so, we felt that he was such a good fit with our brand and what FlyQuest stood for. He does a lot for the community. He does coaching, he does educational content and, not only that, he does [tournament organization] and sort of uplifting the community. Those are all values we really appreciate at FlyQuest.”
Since joining the organization earlier this month, KoDoRiN has already felt the impact of FlyQuest’s support. He got to visit and stream from their training facility in Los Angeles. Additionally, they sent out multiple encouraging tweets even as KoDoRiN finished in last place at Smash Summit 12.
— FlyQuest (@FlyQuest) December 12, 2021
Choi views FlyQuest’s collaboration with KoDoRiN as a two-way partnership. FlyQuest will help KoDoRiN with the work he’s already doing in the Smash community, like his informative YouTube videos and Training Mode Tournaments, a weekly online tournament series KoDoRiN started over quarantine.
Meanwhile, FlyQuest also have plans to create their own unique content centered around KoDoRiN. Like their TreeQuest initiative to benefit the environment or their MeQuest initiative focused on mental health, FlyQuest plan to start another “side quest” with KoDoRiN.
Regardless of what FlyQuest’s next steps end up being, Choi said signing KoDoRiN was a first step that could be beneficial for the Melee community as a whole.
“Whether we decide to pick up an entire Melee team or just focus on getting more people to be educated or enjoy Melee, the prospect of going either way is very exciting to us,” Choi said. “KoDoRiN and I really would like to see Melee grow and I think there’s a lot of good foundational things we can do together to make that happen.”
Sharpening sword and mind
As KoDoRiN presses on toward his goal of becoming the best Melee player in the world, he said his improvement will become less and less about in-game execution.
“It’s mostly honestly not really about what I’m doing in Melee, but what I am doing in here,” KoDoRiN said, motioning toward his head. “So much about top-level Melee is surprisingly not as gameplay-oriented as you’d think. There’s so much pressure going on, the crowd affects a lot and your own expectations affect a lot.”
The pressure of the crowd has caused trouble for KoDoRiN in the past. At Riptide, the first major where he made top eight, KoDoRiN fell apart any time he heard even a single person shouting from the crowd.
But, two months later at Mainstage, the circumstances were much different.
Even as hundreds of people chanted “Ay!” every time he up-throw chain-grabbed Zachary “SFAT” Cordoni’s Fox on Final Destination, KoDoRiN remained focused. Maintaining this kind of composure consistently will be crucial for KoDoRiN’s success going forward.
“The fact that I was still so dialed in, in the zone … looking back, I don’t know how I did that,” KoDoRiN said. “I really would like to tap into that sort of feeling and mindset more often.”
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.