Salem defends Smash 4 throne at DreamHack Atlanta

Saleem “Salem” Young, hot off his win at the Evolution Championship Series, pockets another title at DreamHack: Atlanta. Gail Fisher for ESPN

ATLANTA, Georgia -- Evolution Championship Series 2017 champion Saleem "Salem" Young won the Super Smash Bros. for Smash Wii U bracket at Dreamhack Atlanta Sunday in a show of continued dominance, beating out 392 other participants -- many of them players of the highest caliber.

Despite the total lack of Japanese representation, Dreamhack Atlanta proved to be one of the most talent-dense events of the year. A majority of the Panda Global Rankings (PGR) Top 10 and a sizeable portion of the Top 50 were present, along with a regiment of the local area's best. The fight for the event's $10,000 prize pool was no easy affair, and many fell in pursuit of it.

Expectedly unexpected

Smash Wii U is a difficult game to be consistent at, and the best of the best can underperform. Expectations were all over the place heading into Dreamhack Atlanta, with no one being the clear favorite. While Salem and his signature Bayonetta had taken Evo 2017 the previous week, the game's volatile nature and the sheer amount of talent present couldn't assure any player that they'd even make it out of the early phases of the event.

Several fan favorites dropped relatively early contrary to their reputations. Panda Global Rankings' Top 5 players Elliot "Ally" Carroza-Oyarce and Leonardo "MKLeo" Perez -- having won the doubles bracket together -- were eliminated before the Top 16 by former world champion Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, who was sent into the losers bracket early on by Louisiana's resident Peach specialist Jamaal "Samsora" Morris Jr. Even ZeRo himself couldn't make the Top 8, being knocked out by longtime rival Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada. Other heavy-hitters, such as Eric "ESAM" Lew and resurgent Vincent "Vinnie" Cannino, were close to making bank but fell short at the last stop.

As the dust settled, the eight coveted playoff spots were entirely occupied by familiar faces. Outside of ZeRo and the absent Kengo "Ken" Suzuki, the entirety of Evo 2017's top cut -- Nairo, Salem, Gavin "Tweek" Dempsey, Larry "Larry Lurr" Holland, James "VoiD" Makekau-Tyson and Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby -- was retained, now joined by resurgent veterans Jason "Anti" Bates and Ramin "Mr. R" Delshad.

This set the stage for rivalries, new and old, to be brought to light.

The Top 8 field is set

Each match of the Top 8 was packed with high-level play. Every player who made it that far brought their A-game, making losses at that point understandable.

In the winners semifinals, both VoiD and Tweek upset their demons, in the form of Larry Lurr and Salem respectively, to secure assured Top 3 finishes. The pair aimed to make the event their first PGR S-Tier tournament win, and their nail-biter Game 5 match in the winners finals showed just how much they both wanted it. Hits, stocks and games were exchanged at a breakneck, alternating pace and despite both playing to the best of their abilities, only one could proceed to the grand finals. Ultimately, VoiD was finally on the cusp of securing the throne for himself.

Meanwhile, the lower bracket proved to be just as intense. Nairo and Anti were able to best fellow veterans Dabuz and Mr. R, only for the latter to be taken out by Salem, who had once again been sent into the lower bracket in a similar manner to his Evo 2017 run. Salem then tore through the remaining competition in Nairo and Tweek to secure a shot at facing VoiD in the grand finals.

VoiD possessed all the momentum in the world heading into the set, and moreso upon quickly securing a 2-0 lead. Salem coming back from such a deficit in a Best of 5 series was almost unheard of in the realm of competitive Smash, yet he was nonetheless able to clutch out the third game and subsequently reset the bracket.

Not being one to give up, VoiD bounced back with a solid win in the first game of the second set. His near-unparalleled mastery over Sheik's toolset made the following games as close as they could have possibly been, but when push came to shove, it was Salem standing on top.

Salem closed out Dreamhack Atlanta with a 3-1 score, securing his second S-Tier tournament this season and remaining king of Smash Wii U. It remains to be seen as to whether or not he'll keep that title all year long, but one thing is for sure: He is the man to beat in these coming months.