SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Hundreds gather around one computer monitor as they see two Canadian rivals face off at the annual Smash tournament Genesis. One, a world champion whose success in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in 2016 saw him win multiple tournaments and obtain a contract with one of the biggest esports organizations in the world. The other, an underdog, but regional foe of the former. The underdog is seconds away from winning the match.
After some fancy footwork on on Ryu, a character best-known for its time in the Street Fighter series, the Canadian player Mason "Locus" Charlton is close to the biggest upset of his career, a potential victory over Evo 2016 champion Elliot "Ally" Bastien Carroza-Oyarce. But thanks to a platform on stage Town and City, Ally is saved and able to lead his Mario across the finish line to beat Locus. The match was close -- a little too close.
Ally, as he walks away from the setup, is nearly out of breath. While he's beaten some of the best in the world and took home the biggest prize of 2016, he believes that that match shouldn't have been his. In that case, it would've sent him to the losers bracket, giving him a significantly smaller chance at winning the event.
"I feel like I cheated death," Ally tells ESPN with a sigh of relief. "I feel like I should've lost that. I got really lucky. Things don't always go the way you want, especially for [Locus]. [I wanted that win], but I feel like I should've lost that. But I'm happy now; I'm in winners [bracket]."
The Evo 2016 champion hasn't won a tournament since July, despite placing at the top consistently over the last six months. He says, however, that it doesn't bother him.
"[Evo] was a good win," he says. "I took life pretty relaxed after that. If you win one Evo, Evo is enough for a year; it's a good win. If you don't win anything else, it's fine, you got the big one."
His big win at Evo landed him a contract with Cloud9, one of esports' most popular and wealthiest endemic team organizations. He's not resting on his laurels, though; for 2017, he says he has new goals.
"Now, it's a new year, you have to prove that you're the best of the best, so we're back here at Genesis," he explains. "I won doubles, still one of the best in doubles. But in singles, I have to put in some work, because my results are not what I want and probably not where people think I should be at. They want me to play better."
"Hopefully I can win a tier one event, that's really what I want to do this year: win one under Cloud9. I'm going to do my best, but you never know when it's going to happen."
Six years ago in July of 2009, Ally won the inaugural Genesis Super Smash Bros. Brawl singles tournament -- the previous Wii installment of the game -- here in San Jose. Now, after a second-place finish at Genesis 2 in 2011 and a ninth-place finish at Genesis 3 in 2016, Ally looks poised to win his second title at the event.
But he says things are different this year. While he's enjoying the event, he says some of the excitement from last year's event isn't the same.
"[Genesis] is pretty good," he exclaims. "It [just] feels a little different from last year. Last year was more hype; [it] seemed like [more people were] into it."
"Now, we don't have, you know like, [the situation where we had some of] Japan coming [to their first major tournament] last year. Now, it's just a tournament really, a big tournament with all of the good players. I like it, but it's nothing as special as before."
During the event this weekend, there have been Japanese players who flew out to play in the US. Eliminating the MexiCanEU (a mix of Mexican, European, and Canadian players) in the crew battles on Friday, players of the Asian continent have also seen singles success. Notably, some of its Duck Hunt players have had good tournaments, as Kentaro "Brood" Asari took down the best player in the world, Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, and Yuusuke "You3" Nakamura nearly defeated young star Leonardo "MKLeo" Lopez Perez.
"Japan [Smash] is really high level, it's just so expensive to fly overseas," Ally explains. "There is a lot of talent over there that just can't travel. We're seeing every year new Japanese players coming into the US and proving how good we are [comparatively]. We don't have a lot of good Duck Hunts here and I think all three of them came [to Genesis]. It's just incredible how good the Japanese are with Duck Hunts."
As the tournament moves into top eight on Sunday, two Japanese players, Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura and Rei "Komorikiri" Furukawa, remain in the winners and losers side of the bracket, respectively. It's likely Ally will have to meet one of them, depending on how the bracket shakes out. But Ally seems confident that he can take home his second Genesis and start out 2017 with a major title win.
"[Genesis] is all full of surprises," he says. "I could win this, a Duck Hunt could win this."
In the past year, Smash for Wii U ( or Smash 4) has grown significantly and it seems to only want to continue. Recently Southern California tournament organizer 2GG announced that it would host a circuit for Smash for Wii U only, featuring large prize pools and a final championship in December 2017.
"Honestly, it's really looking like Smash for Wii U is getting really big, [with upcoming events like] like [2GG] Civil War, the 2GG Circuit with a big pot," Ally reflects. "Smash 4 is getting really huge. I think we're going to make it, we're going to be really big soon enough. The only thing we have to wait for is the Switch; we don't know what's going to happen with the Switch."
With the release of Nintendo's newest console, the Switch, on the horizon in March, rumors have circulated of another Smash Bros. release for that console. While those rumors are not confirmed by Nintendo, Smash for Wii U players are already thinking of their future and what it might hold.
"If we can't use Gamecube controllers [on a Switch Smash game], I think we're still going to use Wii U consoles," Ally explains. "That's how I feel because if we have to use the Switch controllers, you can't play Smash with that. I mean, you can, but not at this level. I'm hoping that they port the [Gamecube controller] adapter or we're going to have to stick to the Wii U."
Previously, when many players including Ally played the 2008 Wii version of the game, Brawl, they eventually all switched to Smash for Wii U upon release. Whether that pattern repeats itself is something that Ally believes is heavily dependent on the controller setup of the game.
"The Wii Us aren't old, [after all] they still use Gamecubes [for 2001's Melee]," he says. "We can do this. There's the Melee players and the [Super Smash Bros.] 64 players, and then we have us, who kind of [moved] on to the next game. We keep going to the next game. But I feel like if [there's a new Smash on Switch] and there's no adapter port, I think we'll stay with [Smash 4] and the Wii Us. I think we'd become just like Melee and 64 are. I'm hoping they do port it but we'll see what Nintendo is up to."