In amazing fashion, Zachary "SFAT" Cordoni finished in third place at CEO 2016 in June, just behind the "gods" of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee. On his way there, he made one of the greatest comebacks against Justin "Plup" McGrath before falling short to Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman. As much as this is a solid showing for SFAT, the real story is that he has been placing well at events as early as 2012.
The early days
Back in 2012, SFAT had just finished high school and wasn't quite sure what he should do next: esports or college. Joseph "Mango" Marquez was a regular at SFAT's place and they trained diligently together. The results showed immediately with several top-4 finishes at iconic events such as The Big House 2 and MELEE-FC10R Legacy. Rankings weren't established at this point, but these performances put him arguably in the top 10 in the world.
Despite these accomplishments, there was still an aura of uncertainty. Melee was a much smaller game both in prizes and recognition, and his parents wanted him to take a more stable path.
"Back then, I wasn't so sure what I wanted to do. I juggled back and forth, but esports is my passion. Looking back, I have no regrets with the choice I made," SFAT said.
SFAT's current journey
Times have changed. SFAT joined Counter Logic Gaming in late 2015 and has begun pursuing Melee as more of a full-time gig. While he has been hovering around the top 15 for a while, SFAT has his eyes set on larger goals.
"By the end of summer, I want to win a super-major: a tournament that includes at least four of the top five players and a majority of the top 100," SFAT said.
It would be quite an accomplishment for the aspiring Fox main, considering that only a small handful of players have won a super-major. To do so, he needs to win multiple sets against the gods, something that has remained mostly elusive for him. In 2016, he has seen some success with a win over Mew2King back at Genesis 3. However, he has also seen several heart-breaking moments, especially against Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma, who he has taken to game five on multiple occasions, most recently at Smash N Splash 2.
"I didn't feel too bad about that set [at Smash N Splash 2] because I know that I'm improving and that I'm getting closer in overall skill to the best," SFAT said.
Not alone in the journey
SFAT had another opportunity to take sets against the gods recently at the giant ring at CEO and at WTFox 2, but nerves and jitters got the best of him at each event. Although they weren't the performance he wanted, SFAT says he still believes he is heading in the right direction and credits his overall improvement to longtime friend Robert "BobbySiege" John.
"I'm hoping that one day CLG picks [Bobbysiege] up, so that he can travel regularly with [teammate Kevin "PewPewU" Toy] and me," SFAT said.
When SFAT is not at a tournament, he breaks down game footage with Bobbysiege, identifying mistakes and areas of improvement. At events, Bobbysiege mentally prepares SFAT for his bracket matches by keeping him calm and present while relaying key tendencies of his opponent. These tips have been pivotal for many of his wins against other top players, especially in the past three months.
With no more large tournaments until the Evolution Championship Series (Evo) on July 15-17, SFAT decided to house Adam "Armada" Lindgren for the two weeks leading up to the event to train. SFAT was ecstatic when the Swede had reached out to him to discuss his plans to come to Northern California again; Armada noted that their training helped both of them for Genesis 3 in early 2016 where Armada finished first and SFAT fifth.
"I feel that I learn so much when I play against Armada and he's given me so much useful advice in the game and also in how to deal with high pressure situations," SFAT said.
SFAT hopes to be in peak shape for Evo with Armada's help, and also hopes to meet him in the grand finals at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. His goals are set high, but he has been slowly making his mark with excellent performances. Perhaps Evo will be the event where he finally breaks through.