ProtoBanham continues American hot streak with Smash Ultimate Summit 5 win - Upcomer
Graphic featuring ProtoBanham for Smash Ultimate Summit 5
Screengrab provided by Twitch via btssmash

ProtoBanham continues American hot streak with Smash Ultimate Summit 5 win

The Double Down champ is at the top again

Smash Ultimate Summit 5 invitee Naoto “ProtoBanham” Tsuji is not the best player in Japan.

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The Kanto native has entered every Japanese major so far this year and has placed no higher than fifth at any of them. At half of these majors, ProtoBanham failed to even crack top eight. His results at home pale in comparison to those of Japanese compatriots like Mashita “acola” Hayato and Shuto “Shuton” Moriya.

However, ProtoBanham might be the best player in the United States.

In a rare display of out-of-region consistency, ProtoBanham has excelled at every American major he has attended this year. It started with his third-place finish at Smash Ultimate Summit 4 in March, where he bested Leonardo “MkLeo” López Pérez and Gavin “Tweek” Dempsey. ProtoBanham took it a step further by winning Double Down in July, double-eliminating MkLeo in the process.

This past weekend, ProtoBanham kept his American hot streak alive by winning Ultimate Summit 5 in Los Angeles, California. With a second major win for the year under his belt, ProtoBanham has confirmed his ability to come out on top against many of the best players in the world, even in spite of his lackluster performances in Japan.

Master of two

ProtoBanham finished first in his round robin pool at Ultimate Summit 5 and skipped the gauntlet phase by earning a triad of 3-1 wins against Steven “Anathema” Acosta, Jayjay “Ouch!?” Basilian, and Paris “Light” Ramirez, the latter of whom had beaten him 3-0 the last time they played at Ultimate Summit 4.

Throughout the tournament, ProtoBanham showed off his ability to seamlessly switch characters midway through a set. He used both Min Min and Lucina in every single set he played besides winners finals.

“[My] strength is that [I] have two characters, so that just shows [my] style,” ProtoBanham said through a translator in an on-stream interview after grand finals.

During Sunday’s final bracket, ProtoBanham faced Edgar “Sparg0” Valdez in winners quarters. Despite being the reigning Summit champion, Sparg0 came into this tournament following a two-month hiatus from major competition. In addition, ProtoBanham’s methodical playstyle gave Sparg0 some reservations going into their set.

“He kind of freaked out when I told him he was going to play against Proto yesterday,” commentator Victoria “VikkiKitty” Perez said of Sparg0 in the lead-up to his set against ProtoBanham. “He was nervous, but earlier today he said, ‘You know what? After yesterday, looking back on it, I’m feeling pretty confident going into this match-up.’”

ProtoBanham three-stocked Sparg0 in Game 1, showing off his ability to use Min Min’s extendable arms to gimp Sparg0’s recovery attempts as Cloud. While Sparg0 adapted his game plan and pushed ProtoBanham to Game 5, ProtoBanham came out on top in the end.

ProtoBanham runs through top eight at Ultimate Summit 5

Earlier in the tournament, ProtoBanham had expressed his desire to play another set against the reigning No. 1 player in the world, MkLeo.

“[I respect] Leo,” ProtoBanham said in an on-stream interview during pools. “[He is] one of the most fun players to play with.”

However, ProtoBanham didn’t get the runback he had hoped for. MkLeo ended up placing ninth after losing a five-game instant classic against Tweek. It marked only the second time in his entire career that MkLeo missed top eight at an offline Ultimate tournament.

Nevertheless, ProtoBanham did end up fighting his second pick for the player he most wanted to face: Michael “Riddles” Kim. Riddles had made it to winners semis by securing convincing upset victories over MkLeo and William “Glutonny” Belaid playing with Kazuya. However, Riddles unsuccessfully opted for Terry against ProtoBanham and lost 3-1.

Afterward, ProtoBanham challenged Kolawole “Kola” Aideyan, who had won their only prior set at the 2021 Smash World Tour Championships. Despite a disappointing showing in pools, Kola had upset acola and Light to make it to winners finals.

Even after losing the first two games as Lucina, ProtoBanham decided to stick with Lucina for the remainder of the set. His confidence paid off as ProtoBanham pulled off the reverse 3-0, even two-stocking Kola in the last two games.

In the meantime, Light had been picking up steam in the losers bracket. He took out Glutonny 3-1, three-stocking him in each game that he won. Then, he eliminated acola 3-2, causing this event to tie with acola’s fourth-place finish at Maesuma Offline (Shikoku) as his worst placement at any offline tournament. It was clear Light had the in-house crowd on his side going into his rematch against Kola, which Light dominantly won 3-0 with a three-stock in Game 3.

Throughout the weekend, commentators had referred to ProtoBanham as the iceman due to his ability to slow down the pace of a match. Prior to grand finals, commentator Zak “Coney” Zeeks asked Light if he was prepared to be iced out by ProtoBanham’s campy playstyle. Light suggested he was ready for ProtoBanham’s game plan and that this was his Summit to win. Then, he added a caveat.

“It just depends on how long it takes for this set to start,” Light said in his interview after losers finals.

The iceman cometh

About five minutes later, grand finals began. It was clear that Light’s earlier momentum had not worn off. He conquered ProtoBanham’s Lucina in the first two games, even pulling off yet another three-stock in Game 2. ProtoBanham tried switching to Min Min but still fell short, resulting in a 3-0 win for Light and a bracket reset.

“The thing about Light is that Light has this zone where he can just turn into beyond the best player in the world,” Brian “Cosmos” Kalu said on stream after Light’s win in the first set. “That’s basically what he’s doing right now.”

Light’s convincing win also had a negative impact on ProtoBanham’s confidence.

“[I] thought everything was going to go downhill,” ProtoBanham said in his interview after grand finals.

But then, a fortuitous development shifted the tides in ProtoBanham’s favor: he had to go to the bathroom. The commentators requested blankets and jackets as they joked about how ProtoBanham was icing out Light even outside of the game. For Light, it didn’t seem like much of a joke.

“If I’m going to lose, this is why,” Light told the commentators during the break in between sets.

While the break may have stifled Light’s momentum, it gave ProtoBanham the time he needed to reset his mentality.

“[I] just thought to be [myself],” ProtoBanham said in his post-grand finals interview. “[I] remembered when [I] beat Leo [at] Double Down in the past and [I] just thought of doing the same thing.”

After about six minutes, the second set of grand finals kicked off. Though the games were generally close, ProtoBanham successfully used both of his characters en route to a 3-1 victory to win Smash Ultimate Summit 5.


ProtoBanham heads home as Ultimate Summit 5 champion

It’s hard to pin down what exactly a Smash Ultimate Summit 5 victory means for ProtoBanham. Despite his dominance in the States, his losses at home make it unclear whether he’s really a contender for No. 1 in the world. Even ProtoBanham told the commentators after grand finals that he would rank himself fairly low compared to Ultimate’s best players.

Still, there’s reason to believe that ProtoBanham’s stocks could be on the rise even in Japan. While he has still yet to win a Japanese major this year, his results have been trending upward; he has reached top eight at the past three Japanese majors he has attended.

In addition, this tournament marked ProtoBanham’s first time outplacing acola, who is currently the frontrunner for Japan’s best player. His victory also highlighted his ability to sharpen his mentality and convert a strong mental game into polished gameplay.

“[I] was able to control [my] mind very quickly,” ProtoBanham said in his post-grand finals interview. “Everything turned out alright.”

Going into Summit, many viewers were expecting a showdown between MkLeo and acola to see which of them was really the best player in the world. Instead, viewers saw a different Japanese titan prove he has what it takes to be the best player in an entire country; just perhaps not his own country.

Image of Dylan Tate
Dylan Tate
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.