Armada and ZeRo: Smash's best

Adam "Armada" Lindgren Courtesy of DreamHack

Genesis 3 kicked off the new year with not only one of the best Smash events of all time, but also a statement for everyone competing and watching from home as 2016 began. TSM's Chilean superstar, Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, and Alliance's Adam "Armada" Lindgren are still the best Smash players in the world, and they want you to know it. Not much has changed in the past year in that regard.

Barrios and Lindgren were the undeniable stars of Smash in 2015. The world of Smash 4 was (and still is) dominated by one man alone, with Barrios stringing together 54 straight tournament wins for the game in a feat that will likely never be seen again. Lindgren earned himself a heroic Melee EVO championship, which had eluded him in previous years, and capped his year with wins at Smash Summit and The Big House 5. G3 tested both men, and both were victorious.

"I'd say it's the hardest win of all time for me so far," Barrios told ESPN after winning his 63rd title in 64 career Smash 4 tournaments. "The crowd was comparable to the Smash Invitational at E3 -- maybe even bigger. Just too many people watching, in person and online. You could feel the pressure in the air. Definitely my favorite tournament of all time. Legendary."

"Many things made Genesis great, and this was the first grassroots event that truly, really felt like an esports event," an as always humbled Lindgren told ESPN. "The most people might not have seen the person winning that they wanted, but at least they got the third Grand Final in a row at Genesis, between Mango and I, and I think that means a lot for many in our community."

Melee fans got the finale they wanted, as Cloud 9's Joseph "Mango" Marquez clawed his way back through the lower bracket with a clutch win over Liquid's Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma to send those in attendance into a frenzy. The win set up the third edition of the only grand finals match the Genesis tournament series has ever seen -- Lindgren vs Marquez -- with wins split between the two in their previous meetings.

Lindgren, who was coming from the winners bracket, began the series with Fox and the ditto match-up against Marquez's own Fox -- a decision that promptly lost him the first two games of the set. A switch to Peach saved Game 3, but the set was lost in those first two games. Switching to Peach for the full final set proved to be the right call, as Lindgren claimed the title -- and cited Marquez's finals play style in making Peach a better fit for this particular matchup.

"I will be honest, I threw away Game 4 with a very unfortunate suicide. I still had great confidence I would take the tournament," Lindgren said. "I started off with Fox because I usually tend to prefer the ditto, rather than play against Fox with Peach when it comes to the very best Foxes. Fox is getting punished pretty hard once you hit, and my movement and punishes was not good, and Mango played amazing. By switching to Peach, I knew that Mango's super aggressive style would not be as efficient because Peach is way better versus that style, compared to a very defensive style.

"I have experienced Mango playing defensive in the past versus me with Fox, but the way he played those games combined with the fact of me losing made me switch. This time, Mango played very aggressive, compared to big parts of MLG 2014, for example. By having both my characters, I make it harder for him since playing defense is better versus Peach and offense versus Fox, I would say."

In the post-championship interview on stream, Lindgren vowed to keep to the Fox ditto against Marquez, without switching next time they meet. Will he keep his word?

"If I feel before going into the set that Fox will be the better pick, I will do it for sure. I like the match-up, and two games is not going to change that," he said. "I do realize, though, that sometimes you have to accept that a certain strategy is not working out, and if that would be the case with Fox, I would switch. Being too stubborn with Peach did probably cost me many tournaments in the past, and I don't want to be too stubborn with Fox. I will do what I feel is best for winning. Even if I think people give too little credit to my Fox, he also is an important [character] for me to actually win versus certain opponents."

Barrios' run to the finals was no less easy than Lindgren's, as he squared off against Japan's Villager hero, Ganbaranai, also known as Ranai Hayashi, in the semifinals. Hayashi bounced back after two losses with two wins of his own to force a fifth game, while Barrios squeaked out a win. The nation's best Rosalina player, Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby from New York, found similar success to Hayashi, as he too pushed Barrios to his limit in a thrilling, five-game set. The end result would be no different, though, and the Smash 4 crown remains firmly on one head alone.

"EVO as a win may have had more prestige and more entrants, but Genesis featured the biggest, most stacked International attendance," Barrios said. "And beating the best Japanese and American players was a great accomplishment. It was the most tense and difficult event I have ever played.

"I knew it was going to be tough, no matter what. I didn't have so much of a 'uh oh' moment after going 1-2 to start, but much more about being focused on how to win," he said. "I was analyzing in my head what was happening and what to do about it. Strategy and re-collecting myself. I just wanted to play my best, and I know that [I] was capable of taking it all. Glad I did."

Barrios isn't quite sure how he has gotten to this dominant of a position.

"I don't know, to be honest," he said with a laugh. "It's not even exactly all about being the best, either. Something important is that I want to push my play as far as I can, play my very best, and I know that's capable of all this. I try not to think about what's around it so much."

Lindgren is confident in his versatility and ability to play his best when it matters most.

"[I] have had a lot of success recently since I now have two characters, which covers pretty much all of my weaknesses in terms of matchups," he said. "One of my biggest strengths I have compared to the rest is that my consistency is very good, and it makes it hard for people to send me to losers [bracket], so I actually have less sets to play and more time to prepare for my next games, instead of playing multiple sets back-to-back. I win pretty much all the most important games."

With most of the larger international Smash events held in America, Sweden's Lindgren -- along with countryman and Barrios' TSM teammate William "Leffen" Hjelte -- has not traditionally had fan support against American players. Never was that more evident than when Lindgren quieted the G3 finals crowd by defeating Marquez. It's something he has gotten used to, and he won't let it affect his game, but a little love wouldn't hurt.

"The crowd does not bother me, especially not whenever it's such a clear distance between me and them," he said. "I like when the crowd is passionate, even if I'm not the one they want to see win. I won't lie, I wish more people wanted to see me win, but playing partly Peach and being from Sweden is not making that part easy. I love the fact that Melee is such a spectator sport. It truly is amazing."

While Melee has had almost 15 years to curate itself into the esport it is today, Smash 4's journey has just begun. With the full character list now set, Barrios sees a bright competitive future for the game.

"Smash 4 is still growing and developing a big fan base, storylines for players and events, crowd chants and more," he said. "The overlapping of both Melee and Smash 4 was minimal. It's essentially different scenes under the same roof and rules, in a way. Personalities are creating more content and developing their brands. It's all going in the right track. The whole Smash community is awesome."