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John “KoDoRiN” Ko’s life changed when he turned 18 in 2016. It wasn’t because he got into college or landed a part-time job, though. It was because he could get a driver’s license in New York and drive to Super Smash Bros. Melee tournaments.

The moment he got that piece of plastic, he hopped into a car, drove to his first Melee local and never looked back. Now, five years later, KoDoRiN is one of the best Melee players in the world, and part of a new generation of players trying to make this game their own.

KoDoRiN’s first local

KoDoRiN’s first experience with competitive Melee was at a tournament he found on the San Diego Melee Facebook page. He had heard of competitive Smash Bros. Melee the way any late millennial would: through “The Smash Brothers,” a documentary about the earliest days of the Melee scene and its competitors.

He walked in the room assignment for the Melee local and was greeted with 12 people and five Cathode-ray tube TVs, each with a Nintendo Gamecube attached. KoDoRiN later said he doesn’t know whether it was the clacking of fingers on controllers or the shared feeling of competition that drew him in, but something clicked.

Melee local
Super Smash Bros. Melee locals run in small rooms, usually crowdfunded and held by local tournament organizers. It’s a great opportunity to grow a love for the game and make friends. | Provided by Kansas State Collegian

“[It was] just a bunch of guys playing Melee, and I had a feeling that this was right,” KoDoRiN said. “I would rather be here than do anything else.”

KoDoRiN rotated through Jigglypuff and Falco, two characters on opposite sides of the Melee play-style spectrum, but neither felt right to him. It wasn’t until he touched Marth that he thought he’d found his main character. The moment he wavedashed with that blue-haired swordsman, everything changed.

Consistency is a warrior’s greatest weapon

As a high schooler, KoDoRiN said his life was pretty boring. He would study and play video games with friends. Nothing ever really stood until he experienced competition for the first time.

“With that tournament, it finally felt like there was some fun,” KoDoRiN said. “There was something I was putting on the line and it made me feel alive.”

KoDoRiN’s rise to prominence happened faster than a lot of his competitors, though not because of some hidden talent that allowed him to get better. KoDoRiN’s key to success is consistency.

He attributes his growth in the Melee scene to the constant practice and trust in his own process. KoDoRiN also maintains one goal: to be the best in the world. That will require climbing over numerous, longtime staples of the scene, but he said his plan will work out in time.

“I’ve always been that guy that’s like, ‘I just need to break the next barrier,’” KoDoRiN said. “That conversation kind of doesn’t stop because I’m always trying to break the next barrier. it’s just gonna take a little bit more time, trust in my process.”

Getting older also helped him gain the emotional maturity to grow as a person, allowing his skill to grow in equal measure. That also made it easier to venture beyond his Melee stomping ground and start competing against the rest of the country.

Kodorin Melee
KoDoRiN’s last placement on the Melee Global Rankings put him at 7o. | Provided by Panda Global

Marth at Melee Majors

As KoDoRiN transitions from the local scene to regionals and even national tournaments, mentality becomes ever more important. The environment at a major is completely different from that of a local, he said, and so is the pressure.

KoDoRiN compared the feeling to taking an important exam. All of the preparation leads up to this one crescendo where you have to prove yourself in front of many peers.

However, with the way some tournaments are run, KoDoRiN said that external factors have hindered him from performing at his best. For example, while he placed fifth in the recent Smash World Tour: North America West Qualifier, several obstacles outside the game stood in the way.

KoDoRiN said he would get called up for a match, come in warm and then have to wait through a 15 minute ad-break, sending everything he had done to warm up down the drain. Then, as the day dragged on, delays wore down the mental fortitude required for him to play at the highest level.

“It all really comes down to the honesty of how you are feeling, reminding yourself why you play and facilitating the correct emotions,” explained KoDoRiN. “Because you can’t dumb down your emotions, you can’t pretend that they don’t exist. In my opinion, what is better is to try and evoke the emotions you want.”

According to KoDoRiN, this becomes even more important in particular matchups. One in particular is the Marth counter pick against Fox or Falco on Final Destination. Everything from Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman’s play in the late 2000’s to Zain “Zain” Naghmi’s current dominance have convinced some that it’s a 100-0 matchup in Marth’s favor. But not KoDoRiN.

He said that the struggle is overblown and that Joseph “Mang0” Marquez’s recent win against Zain in the Smash Summit 11 grand finals has changed the matchup entirely.

KoDoRiN cheers for Mang0’s win at Smash Summit 11, a paradigm shift in the Fox-Marth matchup. | Photo by Todd Gutierrez. Provided by Beyond the Summit

“Mang0 has done so much for the Fox meta,” KoDoRiN said. “He single-handled just saved the Fox meta. It was so much pessimism for so long.”

To KoDoRiN, this matchup is the definition of being tough mentally. If a person comes in with a poor mentality due to previous losses on Final Destination, then nothing will ever change. But he said Mang0 awakened the collective consciousness of every Fox player and forced them to look at the situation differently. For that reason, KoDoRiN prioritizes the way he thinks and feels over the way he plays.

“I’d rather have bad execution and a good mentality because I’ll find a way to win,” KoDoRiN said. “If you have perfect execution and a bad mentality, you’ll find a way to lose.”

Committed to that plan, KoDoRiN has done the same thing across his career and will continue to trust in his process. Over time, he believes his skill will get better. His consistency will improve, slowly but surely, as he climbs the mountain of becoming the best in the world. As Mainstage 2021 draws closer, KoDoRiN will have another chance to prove he’s making progress, yet again, on an even greater stage.