In the days leading up to Genesis 6, the first supermajor to feature Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Brandon “Akashic” Rieser took the time to speak with Michael Kelly. Over the course of one hour, the two spoke about the upcoming tournament, the balancing of some of the characters in Ultimate, the game’s greatest players, and the state of the competitive scene as a whole. Their conversation can be found below.
Michael Kelly: So far you’ve had some really solid performances in Ultimate – the game has treated you quite nicely – of course you finished 2nd at TBC 25, 1st at Prism 158, 2nd at 161, 1st at Spectrum 2 and of course the big one – the top 20 finish at Smash Conference United. Obviously you’re proving you’re a force to be reckoned with – how do you plan on taking this early momentum and keeping it rolling?
Akashic: That’s something I’ve been having trouble figuring out. Because before Ultimate came out, I was gonna go to Dreamhack Atlanta and give my all in that. But when I returned home, I was going to double down and focus on my work life for a while. Seeing how Ultimate played out early on I figured it would take more time while I pushed getting through a promotion and a raise and a few other things. But now I’m in a position where I don’t want to quite give up because I just got started but in order for me to capitalize on my momentum in Ultimate I need to start pushing hard. I need to double down on my lab time, I need to get my stream set up, which will be ready after Genesis, I need to start creating content, and I need to manage a social media aspect- which has actually been going really well. Ever since Smash Conference, I’ve gained 200 new followers which is like a growth of 40% and I had one clip go extremely viral – which was an extremely stupid clip – like, did Myran deserve to die at 10%? Absolutely not, that was horsecrap. But…we take those.
Kelly: Oh yeah we always take those. Take anything you can get honestly.
Akashic: We always take those. That is an Akashic policy. I am not above being cheesy, I’m not above playing like a delinquent, but my style has always been defined as really ignorant and really smart at the same time. Anyone who appreciates my play has always described it as “man you know what you’re doing, but man you just press buttons”. Like, for example, it’s best to tell this in a story. So I was having a conversation with Nick Riddle the other day, who, you know, is historically one of the best Zero Suit Samus players since the Brawl days. I was at a South Florida tournament, and I got 7th at that tournament which is actually the lowest result I’ve had in Ultimate outside of Smash Conference. Two 7th place finishes have been the lowest result I’ve had thus far this whole time which is awesome, but, in this particular situation, I lost a set because I had a 3-1 stock lead and I started to show respect. Nick Riddle pulled me aside and asked, “Why did you spend the whole game pressing buttons and have it work and then all of a sudden start to respect your opponent only to lose?” Look, the point I’m trying to make is that I only play my best when I’m playing as myself. In game, I’m beligerent – like, I assume that I’m better than you and I just run with it. It’s really just complete arrogance. And it’s like very different from the kind of person that I am in real life like outside of the game I’m very respectful and laid-back but in Smash I’m arrogant, I know best, I don’t second guess anything. I just punch it and go.
Kelly: Honestly, that’s a great way to play Greninja, who you’ve mained seemingly forever now. Like he really does reward that all-or-nothing playstyle, and honestly, things are looking solid because he came out of the latest patch relatively unscathed.
Akashic: He got a Down-Smash buff! He got buffed! He walked away fine!
Kelly: Yeah I kind of figured him to fly under the radar a little bit but to see him actually get better was really surprising.
Akashic: Okay, so there were two fixes I was hoping for with Greninja this patch that we didn’t get. Shadow Sneak’s auto-correct in this game is messed up. It takes priority over your input unlinke Smash 4, which causes it to be completely malfunctioned in doubles. But, people are starting to realize that the move is straight up broken and it will eventually get fixed. The other one is that if you start Hydro Pump with one of the major eight directions, your second angle has to be one of the other major eight directions or it’s no dice. So, like, if you try to do one straight up and then one that’s slightly to the right or left that isn’t completely diagonal, you’ll just go up again.
Kelly: Do you think that’s intentional?
Akashic: It’s interesting, like, I think it’s a little intentional to some degree like no matter what your first direction might be you’re then locked into a different direction from that angle. So, if your first angle is a slight angle, you’ll unlock eight different compass directions from there. But, it just seems to be a weird quirk that isn’t really well explained in the game.
Kelly: Do you know if other characters like Pikachu, Pichu, Pit, and Bayonetta struggle with these double-directional Up-Specials or is it specific to Greninja?
Akashic: Well, I mean, as far as I know the only Up-B’s that a directly comparable are Pichu and Pikachu and I don’t know if they have that same problem. I wouldn’t think so, but, it’s not something I’ve around with enough to know. But, I digress.
Kelly: Regardless of any minor issues, he’s still a very good character. And what’s super interesting to me is nobody can seem to properly place on their tier lists this early into the game. I’ve seen him as high as top 15 and as low as top 50 but where do you personally rank him?
Akashic: That one’s difficult. I feel like it’s too early for any tier list, still. It’s too early for an objective tier list. I don’t know by the numbers, but, he is in the upper echelon of what is available on the character select screen. If you’re picking him, you’re not picking wrong. He is what would be considered top tier. Now, is he Peach level top-tier? Is he Peach? No he’s not Peach. But he’s fairly close. In terms of raw oppression and obvious brokenness. Like, Peach is obviously busted. She has a very strong neutral game, strong mix-ups, ridiculous frame data, you know. Her only major flaw is that she’s relatively weak to characters that use swords on all of their abilities so they can always challenge her no matter what position she’s in. Like, Greninja only has swords on some of his attacks, so he kinda has trouble dealing with Peach sometimes. Like Greninja is a precise character and fighting Peach with precision is usually not a good idea. But, other than that if she accidentally airdodges off stage she’s dead – which is hilarious. Other than that she’s crazy strong. She has a strong recovery, great mix-ups, she’s hard to gimp, she has the single best projectile in the game, some of the best aerials in the game, great grab game, great versatility, incredible smash attacks and a great distribution of kill power across every one of her attacks. She has a neutral game, a ground game, an air game, an off-stage game, an edgeguard game and they’re all amazing. Greninja, however, may have all of those things, as well, but a lot of them are too precise. I feel like he’s top tier right now – he reminds me a lot of Smash 4 Fox – all of his tools are oppressive and strong and there are very few matchups where Greninja is forced to calm down. But yeah, he’s really strong and great in this game, there’s just a few matchups you want to stay away from. I’m not sure what all of them are yet, but Peach is definitely one of them. Maybe Pikachu, as well. But the worst matchup he has might be at a rate of 55/45. So, to answer your question, yes, I think Greninja is a top-tier. He will take your strengths to the limit and is one the characters that is going to rarely do you wrong. Greninja, Mega Man, Peach to name a few – those are all strong characters.
Kelly: So what do you expect from Greninja? Do you think more people will start to pick him up? Will we see more Greninja players crawl out of the woodwork at Genesis?
Akashic: I don’t know about Genesis. My expectation for Greninja is that I don’t know if we’ll see more Greninja mains, but I do expect more top players to be putting him in their pockets. Mkleo, for example, is already working on a Greninja. He likes the character a lot, and I can see a lot of other players of that caliber putting him in their pockets.
Kelly: It’s honestly kind of absurd how so many tier lists had him ranked so low based on first impressions alone. People are finally waking up now, but even still, he’s not getting close to the amount of respect he should be.
Akashic: I just don’t know how you can think that when you pick up the character. Like, let’s say you’ve never played Greninja before. When you’re killing with F-air at 90%, and Down-Smash at 80% and Down-Smash is like frame-nothing, and your Up-Smash is one of the best in the game, and your Side-B can randomly just kill at 10% sometimes, how on Earth can you look at those things and think the character is bad?
Kelly: Well I think a lot of it has to do with hype. I mean, I don’t know about you, but there are some characters on the roster where people buy into them and immediately say they’re the best in the game. On the converse, there are others who people may look at and just cast them aside because they aren’t flashy or new or anything and I think Greninja falls into that unfortunate pile. If you look at Inkling, she’s the polar opposite. Early on, everyone thought she was the consensus number-one character in all of Ultimate and now, with nearly two months of play under our belts, things are looking kind of different. I don’t know, I just think it’s interesting how hard hype plays a factor when these tier lists are made.
Akashic: It’s interesting how you mention Inkling because she gives off a mix of Smash 4 Mario and Smash 4 Diddy. Because, right now, the popular opinion is “oh we were wrong about Inkling being top tier, but she’s still definitely high tier”. The masses have caught up to Inkling being overhyped. And maybe if Inkling doesn’t receive too many nerfs she can probably sustain a niche and borderline top-tier anyway. I mean, the options are there. Inkling can be really oppressive. Grenade is just flat-out busted and I’m honestly surprised Inkling got away without any visual adjustments. Because her visuals is the main source of what makes the character good right now. Like, Dyr and Cosmos, the way they move with the character, the way they use their tools – they are clearly trying to trick you visually. They are not above using the visuals to fool you. Which is good! If your character has tricks, use them. Grenade is an awesome tool for that because there’s a lot of characters who can’t deal with it. Also, Inkling’s aerial game is really nice. I mean, F-air is enormous, B-air is disjointed as all hell, N-air is an amazing combo option, Up-air has absurd kill strength, and D-air is just a nice dunk. Inkling can also dunk so if she gets the airdodge read she just kills you. She’s insanely versatile and is extremely rewarded in a game with good movement. Look at Diddy for example. He’s good in every Smash game because it would take a fundamental rework of the character to make him bad. Whereas Inkling is a character who is rewarded by the system she’s in. Like, if we were playing Smash 4 with Inkling and we had better shields, she’d have trouble establishing a niche. So it’s interesting that despite those similarities to characters like Mario and Diddy, she’s still a character that’s being pushed heavily by the game’s engine.
Kelly: Do you think as time goes on we’ll start to see Inkling drop further and further? Because I think she might have been overhyped and might naturally fall down to the middle tiers.
Akashic: No I think she’ll stay high tier. She may be the worst top tier character, but she’d still stay high tier.
Kelly: Is there a chance that Inkling is one of those characters that is immune to nerfs only because of the nature of her kit?
Akashic: I mean, we saw it a lot through Smash 4. Sakurai is not above leaving a character incomplete in order to nerf them. The roller nerf is interesting although it’s kind of a buff at high percents. People are still breaking down exactly what that did. But, if you gave Inkling more landing lag, she’d be bad. If you shrunk the multi-jab to be the same size as other characters’ multi-jabs and made it so that it didn’t fully ink you, she’d lose a lot of her basic oppression because when you play against her, you have to be so worried about jab and her dash into grab. But still, there a lot of things that you could do to tame the character. Because, as of right now, she’s relying on a lot of things that are slightly overtuned. Some of her things are just a little on the heavy side and that’s what makes her high-tier, even though her kit, at first glance, looks like a mid-tier character. And she’ll eventually get nerfed, but I imagine we’re just seeing things go kind of easy so far like a lot of top tier characters aren’t getting hit as hard with nerfs this early in the game. I mean, how did K. Rool get hit with more nerfs than Peach?
Kelly: I think K. Rool is another one of those characters where the community got hyped up and thought that he was top tier so the influence was definitely there. Like K. Rool isn’t deserving of a massive hit with the nerf bat, but here we are.
Akashic: Yeah and the nerfs to him weren’t even that bad. Like, the ceiling combos were so niche anyway, but whatever. And now Piranha Plant can do them anyway! We just gave the ability to someone else, a Sakurai classic. Like, let’s take Witch Time and give it to Greninja or let’s take K. Rool Up-B and give it to Piranha Plant.
Kelly: But yeah, I really think K. Rool was actually kind of balanced so it was shocking to see him get hit so prevalently.
Akashic: Hey, hey, K. Rool is my secondary.
Kelly: You busting him out any time soon?
Akashic: Look I have one matchup. Just one.
Kelly: Okay, don’t tell me. Don’t tell me. Save it.
Akashic: Oh yeah totally. I want to bust it out. It’s probably a bad idea, but I want to rock with it.
Kelly: You know what? If I see you bust out the K. Rool on stream this weekend I’ll think back on this moment with a twinkle in my eye.
Akashic: Wouldn’t that be something? If someone were to bust out K. Rool in Genesis top 64. Look, most people think the character is a gimmick, but I’m used to playing read-based characters and if you have the reads with him, you’re going to get the rewards. You know, like Sakurai really leaned into the gimmicks with this game. All of the new characters are very gimmicky like K. Rool is very heavy-handed with gimmicks. Incineroar, very heavy-handed with gimmicks. At that point, if everyone is a gimmick, no one is. It’s like Syndrome says – “If everyone’s super, no one will be”.
Kelly: Yeah, for sure, and there are definitely some characters who aren’t perfect.
Akashic: Oh absolutely. I mean, there’s 75 playable characters and a lot of them fall through the cracks. Rest in peace to Sheik and Bayonetta. I actually think those two are fine, they’re definitely not high tier who can still win neutral but they’re not broken top tiers like they used to be.
Kelly: If anything they feel balanced.
Akashic: Yeah definitely but they could maybe use a few buffs.
Kelly: I really think the biggest problem, specifically with Bayonetta is like players now have to realize that things that killed in Smash 4 aren’t going to kill in Ultimate. Making those adjustments is half the battle.
Akashic: That’s definitely the biggest adjustment for sure. Like, when you’re playing characters like Bayo and Sheik and nothing is killing, you just feel trapped. Although, Bayonetta’s back-air is still good. She’s not killing you with F-air, Up-Air is sad.
Kelly: The worst of all is Up-B. That thing was nerfed to the ground.
Akashic: It’s so funny that she can’t grab ledge with it. Greninja can actually do an uncharged Water Shuriken on a Bayonetta who pokes over the ledge and because of the regrab timer to grab the ledge, you can buffer a Shadow Sneak that trades with her and that’s their stock.
Kelly: Wait that’s nuts!
Akashic: Yeah it’s pretty dumb.
Kelly: What percent does that work at?
Akashic: If they’re on the ledge, usually around 30-40%. Just don’t try and grab the ledge as Bayo against Greninja it’s not going to work out.
Kelly: Speaking of Bayonetta and shifting our focus to Genesis, we’re about to head into the first supermajor where she won’t be the dominant force that controls the tournament. In fact, there’s only two Bayo players in the top 50. But you were the big surprise when it came to rankings and seedings as you jumped from 84 to 49 after the Genesis reseeding. How much stock do you put into those numbers going into a huge tournament like this?
Akashic: Sheesh. Okay. There’s obviously a lot of controversy surrounding the seeding but I don’t really want to talk about that part of it. But, I’m happy that there are people out there who have seen my results, seen my wins, and can appreciate the work I’ve put in. I’m starting to accumulate wins and even just outplace top players. Like, if you look at Smash Conference, I outplaced a lot of top players in bracket. And that was such an unfortunate bracket run to go straight from MVD to Samsora like I looked at Kobe’s run and I think I could’ve made top 8 with his bracket. It was definitely way more than doable. So I was definitely upset to see Kobe outplace me after I won that one against him but he made his run off stream. It was thankless and unpublished while I made my run on stream and got the publicity so it was a better trade off for me in the end.
Kelly: That’s such an interesting crossroads like would you rather play well and have good results off stream where no one knows about it or do you want to play against top players on stream, get beat hard, but still gain traction and publicity?
Akashic: That’s such an interesting debate because in my whole career during Smash 4, people would say “Oh Akashic is good, yeah Akashic is really good”. But then if you asked me “what upsets does Akashic have over top players?” – there are none. I continued to grow as a player but I only won every set I was expected to win, while losing every set I was expected to lose – I never made any upsets. But when I beat Dyr the other day at TNS, that was the cumulation for me of six years of work across Brawl, Project M, Smash 4, and Ultimate. In bracket, the only PGR player that I took a set off was Myran, and the only reason that happened is because I play him every week. And now, I’m working on growing my mentality as a player, and I feel like a big reason I’m finding so much growth is because I pushed so hard at the end of Smash 4, despite it being a “dead game”. And I feel like my work ethic from the end of Smash 4 has carried into Ultimate and as a result, I can compete with high-tier players now. And even though Greninja is a functioning character who is really, really good, I don’t want to get caught up in that. I need to be humble, and I need to continue to grind. I need to do the VOD analysis that I’ve been doing, I need to do my research, play the matchups, go on WiFi – and somehow, I need to balance all of it with work. Like, I had to work 154 hours in my last bi-weekly pay period just to make Genesis work.
Kelly: See, that’s what I find so interesting about getting to talk to a player like yourself. Like, other top tier players – pro players who are signed to a team – have the luxury of dedicating themselves fully to the game. Whereas you, manage to still be a competitive player while balancing all the time you dedicate to Smash and all the time you have to set away for real life. The fact that you have such a real life and are still a top 50 player is really impressive.
Akashic: Well, I wouldn’t give myself that title just yet, but I’m flattered that people think that. Let’s see what Genesis brings to the table. Let’s see if I can live up to the hype, but I’m not going to sell myself as a top 50 player yet. I have to stay humble, I can’t lose the mentality.
Kelly: I mean, the numbers don’t lie so far.
Akashic: Yeah, still, I mean, it’s not about the number. I’d rather have wins I’m proud of than a number next to my name. And I’m starting to get those wins. In Southwest Florida, especially, it’s been so hard for the region to secure a venue, but now that we’re hosting weekly tournaments consistently – and even monthly’s like Spectrum 2, which is the first monthly we hosted in a long time – we had almost 100 entrants. That’s big for us. We even had South Florida guys come up too so entrants were out of region and it was definitely difficult. I lost to Uncivil Ninja in winners, and was stuck in losers, set to place 9th. I had to go through a weird bracket demon in the form of Monthu who’s this one player from Southwest Florida who’s always had my number and upsets me multiple times. I also had to go through Seibrik, who I lost to not even a week prior. I had to go through Uncivil again – only to fight Myran twice.
Kelly: I love that rivalry between you and Myran by the way. For sure it’s one of the most underrated regional rivalries in all of competitive Smash.
Akashic: We’ve been rivals since kids and I’m really glad you think that. Unlike Smash 4 where I used to hate fighting Olimar with every fiber of my being, I feel like in this game, we oppress each other just the right amount. Like, I can kill Myran with a really sick 0-to-death and all of a sudden, I’m looking at his face on the results screen. It just feels fair. We’re both really good players who play really dumb characters. We like to play as ignorantly as possible. We know each other’s habits inside and out and we are just going ham. Also, he’ll hate that I say this. I do feel like Greninja wins, he feels like Olimar wins. I think Greninja wins the matchup, though.
Kelly: Even still, I feel like Myran has proved that he’s really really good and is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Akashic: In this game, absolutely. Like if you look at the numbers, he’s totally the best player in Southwest Florida. He’s able to attend more than me, but his win-rate edges out mine, even in the ones that we have attended together. But, he doesn’t have those achilles heels like me. Like, he’s not out there losing to Uncivil Ninja. He’s out there 3-0’ing Samsora. He unfortunately got reverse 6-0’d in Grands winners side but he not only took a set, he had Samsora at championship point. He would’ve been the first person outside of a major tournament to take a tournament from Samsora. I could be wrong, maybe MuteAce has done it but Myran was really the first to knock Samsora down a peg.
Kelly: That’s so crazy to think about like, if you had to guess on any player who would be the one to push Samsora to his limits, not many people would say Myran.
Akashic: I would always say Myran. I don’t understand why so many people underrate Myran. Yes, his playstyle is very ignorant. And yes, you could probably call out when he’s going to Up-Smash or F-Smash you. But if that’s the case, why are you losing? Why aren’t you doing anything about it? Most people underrate him because they are jealous of him and what he is doing. He’s one of the best rivals I can have. We have our differences and think the other one is an old man set in our differences – but that just makes it better. Like, when we play, it’s always a thrill. Even if one of us walks away salty as hell. There have been times where we’re both super happy about the set but most of the time it’s just a handshake and a “we’ll talk about it later”. But yeah, Myran is incredible. He’s seeded 35th at Genesis which is an underseeding in my opinion. The fact that there are other Florida players outside of Samsora, Leo, and Salem who are seeded higher than him is absolute blasphemy. He is the best Floridian player outside of those three. Granted, they might just be avoiding regional conflicts, but still. Regardless, he’s the best Olimar in the U.S. and the only Olimar player that compares is Shuton and I still think Myran is better. He might just be the best Olimar in the world.
Kelly: So we’ve mentioned so many great players over the course of the past hour. I don’t think there’s a single player we’ve mentioned who isn’t going to be at Genesis this weekend. With that in mind, when you see the list of entrants, who is the one player you’re just dying to play against? Who is your dream matchup?
Akashic: All of them. My goal is once I make it into top 64 – because that is the baseline goal – now that I’ve been seeded 49th, I want to outdo the seed, too, but let’s focus on getting to top 64, first. One step at a time. Let’s get out of pools. I’m going to have to fight some tough fights to get there. I just want to lose myself in the top 64 and just close my eyes and go from game to game and fight one rewarding player after another. It’s a euphoric dream just to throw myself against these top players back to back to back to back. I just want to keep playing them and if that means that I get into top 64 and get shambled then so be it. All that matters to me is playing against them and when the dream ends, that’s it. When I wake up, I wake up. Right now, everything in front of me is focused on performing my best at Genesis.
Kelly: Okay so last question. Let’s wrap up with this one and try to encompass everything we’ve discussed.
Kelly: How are you approaching not just Genesis 6, but your career in Smash Ultimate in 2019 as a whole?
Akashic: Wow, that’s actually a rough question. We’re still ironing out all the kinks and dealing with a game that different from any other Smash game interface-wise and mechanic-wise. We’re developing rulesets and stages and everything that goes into making this game perfect. A lot of people are upset with the Genesis stages. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the stage spread either. Some stages feel like they’re trying to play “Meta Doctor” for a few characters and definitely doesn’t reward others, especially when there’s two Smashvilles, two Battlefields, and one FD. But regardless of my opinion on stages, we’re just going to be in a really confused state for a little bit because if everyone stays true to their convictions, then people are going to branch off and go back to their local rulesets and we’re not going to have anything. That means that the meta will go back to developing in individual pockets, which I really thought was interesting. But, I don’t know when there’s going to be a universal ruleset. Like, I don’t know what they’re going to do at Frostbite. It’s very early and Frostbite is two weeks after Genesis. It’s another major right off the cusp of the first one and I can’t tell you what ruleset they’re going to run. So from here, I would expect people to focus on the characters. Like, they’re going to focus on growing their individual characters. The biggest thing right now, though, is that people who played Smash 4 a lot are struggling to make the transition proper. So currently, the meta is going to be defined by players who are trying to make the transition from playing in a Smash 4 style into playing Ultimate. Those adjustments will be made, whether it’s through losing enough, or practicing enough, or whatever it takes – people will adapt to Ultimate. This game allows you to do a lot more with your buttons – it’s really aggressive and you can do more actions per minute. And, just by virtue of having that, there’s going to be a lot more to do and learn. A lot of people say defense is bad in Ultimate. I disagree – I think it’s underdeveloped. Sometimes your best offense is a good defense but sometimes your one directional airdodge feels like it neuters defense at first and the bad shield feels like it neuters defense but people just aren’t figuring out how to use them yet. I don’t think anyone is playing optimal neutral in Ultimate yet. I don’t think any of the clips you’re seeing on the internet now aren’t going to be considered “good clips” by the time this game actually gets the ball rolling – maybe in a few months to a year. In two years, we’ll look back at Genesis 6 and say “man, I can beat these guys”. And that’s exactly how you want a game to develop. And I think Ultimate is a game that can develop like that. As for me developing in the next few months – I want to go with the flow. Whatever the ruleset around me is, I’m going to work with it. I’m going to continue to work on my character because the two things that aren’t going to change are characters and matchups. I’m going to continue to pursue Smash and hope to take things really really far. I would like to make Smash a priority and go as hard as I physically can in 2019. I want to attend majors and be relevant in competitive play. I want to push the game forward.
Kelly: That’s actually really well said. And what I find to be so unique about you is that you’re right there like you are on the cusp of being in the thick of things. You’ve been knocking on the door for so long and finally everything is culminating for you. You’ve gained so much traction in the past few months.
Akashic: I’m gaining traction like nobody’s business.
Kelly: Exactly. It feels like everything is coming to a head and this is the climax of a really long storyline. Your entire career has led up to this weekend. I’m not sure if you realize that or not.
Akashic: I agree. I shake with anticipation whenever anyone says that I’m on the cusp. Like, I can feel that I’m on the cusp. I am so close to the breakthrough that people dream of and I just need to follow through.
Kelly: It’s definitely not “now or never”, but it’s more like “now and especially now”. The window is wide open for you.
Akashic: Yes! That doesn’t mean there won’t be another chance. But I will regret it if I let this chance go.
Photo Credit: Nintendo, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate