Road to Evo: Will Plup rise to the challenge?

Justin "Plup" McGrath competes at Community Effort Orlando 2016. Provided by Robert Paul

After a fierce victory over Joseph "Mango" Marquez, Justin "Plup" McGrath went into the Top 8 on the winners' side of Evolution 2015. Everything seemed to go well for Plup: his tech-chasing and platform movement were on point, even in a high pressure environment. After day two ended, he needed to perform at the same level on day three.

An unfortunate series of events led to Plup's controller breaking and he went on the Top 8 stage with a back-up controller, in a less-than-ideal situation. The results showed, as the crispy platform shield drops and pivots were no longer coming out on command. Instead, his character rolled randomly and was frequently stuck in shield on a platform as he botched inputs on his backup controller. His opponent, Kevin "PPMD" Nanney capitalized on Plup's missed inputs, and won in a quick two games.

Disappointed after the first set, he decided to have fun by playing his former main, Samus, against William "Leffen" Hjelte in what ended up being one of the most exciting matches of the entire tournament. In a close three game set, Plup's Samus came through in a pinch, despite the lack of regular practice. Shortly after, Plup lost to long time teammate Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma to finish in fourth place, outplacing two of the Big 6.

It's been a year since Evo 2015 and Plup now spends most of his time focusing on his Sheik and Fox, not his Samus.

"I've played with Samus for such a long time that I don't really need to practice with her," Plup says. "I'm never rusty with Samus."

In preparation for Evo 2016, he meticulously grinds out both tech skill and regular practice against top players in the central Florida region. Out of most of the top players, Plup has the cleanest tech skill with the best shield drops out of any player and good platform movement.

Plup explains, "I play as much as I can and grind out what I need to practice. For tougher techniques, such as invincible ledge-dashing, pivots, and intricate movements into up-tilts, I practice until I can get it done consistently."

The practice certainly shows in events where commentators regularly praise him as one of the few Sheiks that heavily invests in movement and tech skill. Along with the tech skill grind, he regularly practices with Justin "Wizzrobe" Hallett, the best Captain Falcon player in the world. He also attends tournaments and competes against opponents such as Colin "Colbol" Green, Dustin "Gravy" White, and Jason "Gahtzu" Diehl.

While he regularly practices for extended hours, Plup usually decides to take it easy for the last few days prior to an event so that he doesn't burn out. The grinds can be brutal for top players if they overexert themselves. Along with lowering the intensity in gameplay, he routinely works out and eats a healthy diet to keep him in good shape for the grueling hours that a tournament requires.

Plup comes into the tournament very confident and believes that he can finish in the Top 5 again. To date, he has defeated all of the Big 6 in a tournament set, except for Adam "Armada" Lindgren. The last time they played was at Battle of the Five Gods, where Armada won 3-1. Out of all the competitors, Plup wants a rematch with Armada at Evo 2016, where he could potentially be the first player ever to take a set off of all members of the Big 6.