Competitive Super Smash Bros. is a steadily rising esport in both attendance and viewership. Hundreds of fans flock to the local weeklies, and thousands more every month head to major events such as the upcoming Shine 2017 tournament. Those who can't travel contribute in their own way by watching tournament live streams, which can peak in the six digits given the right circumstances.
Thanks to Smash's dedicated fan base, well-backed esports organizations such as Team SoloMid and Echo Fox have made the decision to invest in the scene by signing Smash players. In fact, a number of respected teams were founded partly due to the community -- Panda Global and Balance Gaming, for example. Despite this, several top players remain teamless.
"When someone with high caliber and ranked per the [Panda Global Ranking] is not picked up by a reputable team, it essentially doesn't give value for that said player," said event director and consultant Bassem "Bear" Dahdouh. "It devalues the competitive scene as a whole if there's not vested interest into the players."
That being said, what exactly makes an appealing free agent?
Players who place high at events naturally appear on-stream the most and receive regular coverage from publications. This naturally makes top placers like Team Solo Mid's Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios valuable pick-ups; they bring prestige and exposure to an organization and its sponsors.
Content creation and social media presence:
Organizations also find value in players who make high-quality content and/or are social media personalities. Popular personalities such as Counter Logic Gaming's Tyrell "Nakat" Coleman often bring an organization more bang for the buck than an unpopular peer of equal skill level. Conversely, a bad reputation hinders a player's chances of getting signed.
As Smash's competitive scene is heavily offline event-based, organizations tend to prefer players from its central region: North America. This makes foreign players a hard-sell due to expensive travel costs and employment logistics. However, exceptions have been made those with compelling hooks, an example of which is the Top 10 status of Luminosity Gaming's Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura, who lives in Tokyo.
Given the criteria mentioned above, here are five free agents in Melee and Smash 4 that teams have yet to recruit, but should consider.
Corey "False" Shin (Smash 4)
Panda Global Ranking: N/A
False wears the most hats out of everyone on the list. He has footing in nearly every aspect of the community, from running the popular YouTube channel "Rush Hour Smash" to being the mind behind the crowdfunded "Smash 3" documentary on Super Smash Bros. Brawl. While he is currently unranked due to a focus on the aforementioned documentary, a top 13 placing at Evolution 2017 shows that he is still within the top echelon of players. Teams wanting a multi-faceted addition to their roster should look no further.
"I make content, stream, and kids look up to me," False said. "I'm a fan favorite, and I can tell this because of the amount of support I get when I go to events. Jokes and feeling myself aside, I really feel I reach many different avenues, and that's not something many can say they do."
Joey "Lucky" Aldama (Melee, Project M)
If you were to ask any Melee fan which free agent they'd like to see signed, Lucky might just be the most common answer. A longtime pillar of consistency, his mastery over Fox has netted him a top 20 spot on the global rankings several years in a row. This is further backed up by his placings, which include second at Flatiron 2, Bigger Balc and Low Tier City 5, and fifth at Evolution 2017. His popular Twitch channel, which has over 24,000 followers, adds even more value.
"I tend to go to two to three local tournaments a week to sustain myself financially," Lucky said. "Not to mention still trying to travel or attending the occasional weekend local tournaments, which I think is almost a bad thing in general since energy and drive would be better spent on the regional [and] national level events."
Tyler "Marss" Martins (Smash 4)
Panda Global Ranking: 14
Region: Rhode Island
Marss is among the most accomplished free agents and is currently ranked 14th in the world. He placed fifth at 2GGC: Civil War and seventh at Community Effort Orlando 2017 this season alone, cementing his place as one of North America's most consistent players. That, coupled with his relatively large following, makes him a high value pick-up for teams looking for both results and popularity. The only downside is his lack of attendance at major events, something that can be fixed through joining a team.
"I can't really be considered a professional if I can't [travel and] compete with the pros," said Marss. "If I were picked up by a team I'd be able to attend a lot of events and place good at them."
Hugo "HugS86" Gonzales (Melee)
The "old man" of Smash, HugS has seen the community grow every step of the way and has been near the top all the while. Throughout his 13-year stay in the community, he has amassed not only results but also one of the largest Twitch and Twitter followings in the scene. He also boasts a charismatic personality that makes him quite the influential figure and the ideal person to promote a team's brand.
"I'm currently one of three free agents at a top 20 level," HugS said. "I have the most visibility of any free agent currently, and one of the most popular streams in Smash altogether. A team sponsorship allows me to attend more events worry free so I can focus on my performance rather than my finances."
Mason "Locus" Charlton (Smash 4)
Panda Global Ranking: 22
Region: British Columbia/Saskatchewan, Canada
High-level Ryu play is a rarity in competitive Smash 4, and Locus is one of the few that can play the character on an international level. Debuting internationally last year as part of 2016's new wave of Smashers, he has risen to the top level by breaking top 8 at majors like 2GGC: Civil War and Dreamhack Austin. In addition, his wholesome reputation, active presence on social media and fast-growing Twitch channel make him a solid choice for any team.
"The word that I'd use to describe being teamless is limiting," Locus said. "It's very hard to focus on competition when there's also a fear of how I'm going to make it to each event, as well as how I'm going to make ends meet on living expenses. There's a lot of time that goes into planning and making sure my trips are set up properly that could be much better used actually practicing."