Leonardo “MkLeo” López Pérez had a weekly routine while growing up outside Mexico City. He would take a one hour subway trip outside his home in Naucalpan de Juárez and get off right in front of his Super Smash Bros. Ultimate meet-up in the city. He would go inside the game store and see familiar faces, like Santiago “Chag” Perez and Abraham “BigBoss” Slane Parra. And then MkLeo would win a lot of those weeklies — though the others never made the path to victory easy.
“It was hard, it was just hard,” MkLeo said from his home in Los Angeles. “I felt that people really tried to beat me in 2015. That’s when I started realizing Mexico could be really strong.”
The Super Smash Bros. scene is as spread out as a fighting game community can be, but most of the action has centered on the United States. Other regions, from Sweden in Melee or Japan in Brawl and Smash 4, have grown over time. Yet, one region that few expected could play a major role in the future of competitive Ultimate: Mexico.
Much of that is due to MkLeo, who is the best Ultimate player in the world, wracking up tournament win after tournament win. For years, he used to be the sole representative from Mexico on the biggest Smash stages as he climbed the ladder of success. Now, other players are starting to follow in his footsteps.
“Back in Smash 4, MkLeo gave us faith because he did so amazing,” Chag said. “Everyone was like ‘oh Mexico is really strong, Mexico can do this.”
Chag himself has had a quiet career ever since his breakout performance at Genesis 4, but in the post-pandemic era, the twenty year-old has placed top eight at back-to-back events. Chag attributes his success to learning from Mexico’s best and growing more confident in his play. He isn’t the only one in the Mexican scene who’s been learning from MkLeo, however.
Mexico’s proving ground
While the majority of the Super Smash Bros. community refers to him as Enrique “Maister” Hernández Solís, MkLeo knows him as just Enrique. The two had known each other for some time but hadn’t become friends until Maister started performing well outside Mexico. That’s when Maister needed to crash in MkLeo’s hotel room.
Even though Maister and MkLeo have never played in a Mexican tournament together, they’ve faced off plenty of times. Maister, who says that MkLeo is his inspiration, has never been able to best his idol.
“Honestly, Leo is just a lot different.” Maister said. “He’s literally number one in the world. I mean, there’s a reason why he doesn’t drop below second place.”
MkLeo has been the best player in Smash 4 and Ultimate for years at this point, but he didn’t get there on his own. Mexico is also home to some of the best character specialists in the world. Maister, for example, excels with Mr.Game & Watch. In fact, the character has been synonymous with Mexico ever since Smash 4, when Alejandro “Regi Shikimi” Martínez helped put him on the map.
There are also plenty of big events in Mexico, where MkLeo and the region’s other rising stars can hone their skills. Smash Factor, for example, has been Mexico’s premier Smash event since 2013. The annual event, held in Puebla, Mexico is the biggest Smash Bros tournament of the year for many of Mexico’s talented players.
The series didn’t really pick up traction until Smash Factor 4 in 2015, which was one of MKLeo’s first tournament wins. Meanwhile, Maister placed 65th at Smash Factor 6 and then 17th the next time. He came into his own in the process, placing third at Smash Factor 8, but ran up against an all too familiar road block.
After beating fellow Game & Watch specialist Regi Shikimi in four games, Maister moved on to his nemesis and mentor, MkLeo. Maister fell to MkLeo in the first round before clawing his way back through the loser’s bracket. He met MkLeo again in the loser’s final, ultimately losing 3-1.
“I hear a lot of people say ‘oh once Maister stops running into Leo he will do really well,’” Maister said, “but I’m really aware of the fact that if I want to win a major I have to beat anyone in my path.”
Despite Maister taking third at Smash Factor 8, the story of the event was the player who took 17th. After all, he was just 13-years-old at the time. And that’s a perfect example of how the event gives players a way to see how they stack up against the international talents that make the trip to Mexico. The major is also a final test of sorts for aspiring professionals – do well there and players could see global success as well.
Next in line to the throne
Edgar “Sparg0” Valdez lives in Tijuana, more than 1700 miles from that weekly in Mexico City that makes up MkLeo’s routine. Still, the 15-year-old player made waves when he placed high in Southern California tournaments like 2GG Prime Saga and Kongo Saga when he was only 13. Despite that, he didn’t enter the international spotlight until the COVID-19 pandemic pushed all competition online.
Sparg0 spent a lot of time as a Wi-Fi warrior, competing in tournaments and destroying opponents in online Ultimate and Smash 4 tournaments. That continued recently with the Smash World Tour Mexico Online qualifier, where Sparg0 beat every top Mexico player, including MKLeo and Maister, on his way to a tournament victory. The only question that remained was if his improvement online could translate into in-person events.
The LAN finals for the Smash World Tour Central America Regional Finals was the first chance Sparg0 had to meet his countrymen. He didn’t perform as well in-person, but he still made the cut to qualify for the Smash World Tour Ultimate Championship at the end of the year. Sparg0 couldn’t beat MkLeo on LAN, but he got closer with every opportunity. He went up over MkLeo 2-0 at Smash Ultimate Summit 3 before falling to his elder’s patented reverse sweep.
While younger than most of his peers, he’s someone many others look up to. And while Sparg0 is Mexico’s next big thing, there are even more top level threats emerging from the region. Chag, who ironically is one of the oldest players from the region, is at the forefront of Mexico’s talent pipeline, with the likes of BigBoss and Juan “Skyjay” Pablo at the top with him.
Still, they recognize that age or time spent playing doesn’t mean as much as skill or results. Chag said that even though Sparg0 is very young, old dogs like himself can still learn new tricks from him.
“Sparg0 is a really really big influence on me.” Chag said. “His advantage state is really good so I started playing like him. When I see Mexican players play, I try to be like them and learn about them.”
As for MkLeo, despite only meeting in person for the first time in August, he said looking at Sparg0 is like looking in a mirror.
“He’s a little kid from Mexico,” MkLeo said. “He reminds me of myself.”
Both players started to produce results at age 15 and both gravitated toward sword characters. MkLeo doesn’t plan to compete at the highest level forever, and he said he hopes Sparg0 can follow in his footsteps once he decides to hang his controller up.
“Hopefully Sparg0 one day takes that spot at the top before I leave,” MkLeo said. “I think that will be the perfect ending to my career. For now, I’ll just keep doing my thing.”
One nation, one region
Although things are looking up for Mexico, there is still a way to go before anyone can call the region the undisputed best.
“I think that Mexico’s top level is better than the U.S. — like our top level is really, really, really strong,” Chag said. “But, I think that the U.S. in general is better than Mexico. I think that middle players in Mexico are worse. That’s like a huge difference.”
Chag did point out that there are more players rising in Mexico every day and that the next, next generation is already in development, but it will take time.
Mexico has many tournament threats heading into Mainstage 2021 and beyond. Sparg0, MkLeo and Maister could very well all end up at the podium for Mexico and, there even is a chance above zero that top eight consists of a majority of Mexican players with Chag, BigBoss and SkyJay climbing the mountain fast.
Still, MkLeo said there’s something more valuable than his home region dominating Mainstage despite his satisfaction with the Mexico moving toward the forefront of Smash. He just wants to be able to cheer for the friends he made during his weekly routine of grinding locals.
“They make me proud — they make me happy. Finally, I’m able to support someone in a tournament.” MkLeo said. “It feels good to have your friends be inspired by your game.”
Mexico has come a long way since the weeklies MkLeo played years ago, which he said seem like such a distant memory. But even if he hasn’t been able to make the weekly in some time, the Smash world is slowly becoming Mexico’s playground. Instead of showing up to a small tournament in Mexico City to see familiar faces and friends, MkLeo might soon get to see those same people all around him on the top eight stages at the biggest international events.
Dylan Tate and Aron Garst contributed to this story
About the Author
ASU alum with a B.A in Sports Journalism, Warren is one of the premier TFT Journalists in the scene and is a decent TFT player as well who has peaked Challenger and has had multiple accounts in Master+ over all sets. Warren also specializes in other esports content including League of Legends, Valorant, Smash Bros, and more.