After two failed attempts to defeat his opponent with Mario, Jason "ANTi" Bates tried something new in the grand finals of Community Effort Orlando 2016: play Diddy Kong against Diddy Kong. ANTi, for his part, is known for mastering multiple characters, so beating his opponent, Michigan's Julian "Zinoto" Carrington, wasn't out of the question.
But following a forward aerial from Zinoto, ANTi found himself with his back against the wall. After sweeping most of the tournament in the winners' side of the bracket, he was now in the losers'. Again, he returned to Mario, with no inkling of success in sight.
In that moment, fellow tri-state area Smasher, Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada, ran to the ringside and uttered two game-changing words to ANTi: "Go Cloud."
Quickly changing characters, ANTi's dexterity behind the likes of Final Fantasy 7's main character quickly won him three games with several highlight reel worthy combos, using the character's special attacks, Blade Beam and Cross Slash.
It was the first time ANTi ever won a major tournament with Smash for Wii U's best players, all in attendance.
"This was a huge confidence booster," he said to ESPN.com after his big win. "I never really expect to win big tournaments. Finally, I got it."
Following the victory, he ran around CEO's wrestling ring and jumped high off the ground. "I jumped super high because I never knew what it was like to be the champion," he said.
For the past year and a half, ANTi has been in the shadows. He's a known member of the Smash community, originally transitioning from the previous version of the game, Super Smash Bros Brawl, but his skill has always been questioned. Due to a lack of publicity and also a lack of dedication to the game, he's played other titles competitively such as Street Fighter V, and has been outspoken about wanting to try things other than Smash.
Last week, however, he joined a competitive team, Dream Team, specifically for Smash for Wii U. The new team has reinvigorated his love for the game, he says, and made him want to improve.
"Now, since I'm sponsored for Smash 4, I have to invest way more time into Smash 4," he said. "Street Fighter V has a lot of competition, and I'm pretty much a late bloomer for that so I'm just gonna stick to Smash 4 for now. I'm so good at Smash 4 that I feel like I'd be wasting talent not to take it seriously."
His dedication began several weeks ago as he practiced and temporarily lived in the home owned by popular YouTuber Sky Williams, who also competes and commentates for Smash for Wii U. At that house is Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, as well as other top players like Matt "Xzax" Liberatore.
"I feel like [staying at Sky's house] is a big part of what's helping me," ANTi explained. "Shout out to Sky Williams. He's the best. I just played over there and leveled up by playing ZeRo, playing Sky, playing everybody over there. When I play there, I'm testing out all of my characters and seeing what matchups I should use what character for. I just used that as a learning experience to get better and just play more solid in tournaments, and it paid here."
ANTi, who works a day job in his home of New York, says he'd like to move to Southern California. He believes that the competition there -- ZeRo, Xzax, Larry "Larry Lurr" Holland, James "VoiD" Makekau-Tyson, Tyrell "NAKAT" Coleman, and Eric "Tyrant" Legesse -- would help him improve tremendously.
"I just want to move to the west coast because I just like being there way more," he said. "It's so warm and everyone is nicer and New York people are just angry in the subways and stuff. Now I have some more money in my pocket so I could actually use it to afford taking off work to play over there for a bit, since it was a big help for me."
Part of his practice in California was figuring out the confusing current meta of Smash for Wii U. Following the nerfs to Sheik and Zero Suit Samus, formerly the undisputed best characters, the game's tier list and competitive scene have become all the more perplexing. Players like ZeRo and Nairo suffered at CEO 2016, placing 9th and 17th respectively.
ANTi, however, managed to weed his way through this tournament primarily with Mario. In his match against teammate Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby, ANTi used Meta Knight, a character which he was known for in Brawl, but has changed significantly in the newer version of the game. Against Zinoto, he used Diddy Kong and Cloud. He even pulled out Zero Suit Samus at some point. Not many people are able to properly play five characters, but ANTi managed to do so this weekend.
"I feel like just because I'm known for being a threat with all these characters, it kind of instills fear into my opponent," he said. "So when I played Cloud against Zinoto, he probably doesn't know what I do because he plays Mew2King and he beats him a lot. So I'm going to play totally different from Mew2King, do my own options, and my own play style, and it worked out in the end."
On social media, ANTi is known for trash-talking various opponents with a massive amount of confidence behind his play. It got as far as him removing the majority of his tweets on Twitter in fear of turning off teams or sponsors from picking him up. But that's not an issue with Dream Team.
"My manager encourages my s--- talking, so this is perfect. This is the best sponsor for me," he said about Dream Team FGC lead Paul "Mal-3" Decsi. "I just have to clean up my image a little bit. But for the most part, it's just not saying stupid things online and just treating everyone with proper respect when it's due. Just basic respect."
ANTi's next challenge is defending his title at the Evolution Championship Series, or EVO. That tournament will most likely be the largest Smash for Wii U tournament to date. In other games, such as Street Fighter, the tournament has over 4000 entrants, while Super Smash Bros Melee has over 2000.
"People got bodied this tournament, so nothing is guaranteed," ANTi said. "But I hope to get top eight again, although I'll be happy if I get top 16 because there's double the entrants of [CEO] and this tournament was already huge. I'll be happy with top 16. I want to be on that stage though. It's gonna be sick."