Of all the Super Smash Bros. Melee players to make their way into the Ultimate scene when the game dropped last December, it’s obvious that William “Leffen” Hjelte emerged as the primary contender from the franchise’s “old guard”. And although none of those Melee players who jumped on board haven’t been able to keep pace, Leffen proved exactly why he was the frontrunner among those few players this past weekend at Dreamhack Winter.
He won the tournament with style and ease, dropping only one set en route to a first place finish over the likes of Ramin “Mr.R” Delshad and fellow countryman Adam “Armada” Lindgren, among others.
Leffen came to play at Dreamhack, winning 15 of his first 16 games before coming face to face with Mr R. in Winners Finals. After eventually getting the bracket reset in the Grand Finals, Leffen went down 2 games to 0, but busted out the game’s newest DLC character, Terry, before completing the reverse sweep and taking home the tournament title.
And then he retired.
After finally capturing first place at a tournament and triumphing in a landscape that had seen him come up short so many times, he dropped the game completely. As if to cement his place at the top, Leffen stepped away from the game at his apex. His crescendo was also his coda. In one fell swoop, he erased a year’s worth of “what-ifs” and “could-have-beens” with a major win at a major tournament. He silenced naysayers once and for all as he proved that he, at the very least, deserves a seat at the table.
But to say that Leffen stepped away from the scene in a positive light would be immensely unfair. More often than not, Leffen’s negative attitude towards the game would be aired publicly on Twitter, as he continuously criticized the game and its competitive scene throughout his short-lived time with the game. Whether he was disagreeing with seeding in January, citing poor balance changes in April, or complaining about the game’s design in November, it was clear that if there was a problem with Ultimate and its tournament culture, Leffen was going to be the one to bring it to light.
By the time he reached his final tournament this past weekend, he was practically begging to be knocked out of bracket. He was fed up with the game and his frustration finally hit a boiling point.
But even still, despite Leffen’s frequent criticism of the game, watching his career unfold was extremely intriguing. At any tournament he entered, he was always the most entertaining player present. Whether he was challenging the titans of modern Smash at Genesis 6, coming within reach of greatness at Pound, challenging his longtime rival in the most anticipated match of the year at Super Smash Con, or finally capturing a first place title in his home country at Dreamhack, Leffen always brought something to the table. He didn’t enter into tournaments often, but when he did, a firestorm was sure to follow.
Whether you liked him or not, having a Melee player be so prominent in the modern era of the franchise was healthy for Smash as a whole. And while that’s not to say that Leffen was the sole bridge that connected the two communities, it is to say that a veteran player transitioned into the franchise’s modern stage and gave perspective when it was needed most.
Now, the perspective shifts. As Smash Ultimate nears its first birthday, and the competitive scene expands further and further, a professional environment without Leffen seems borderline unimaginable. Over the course of the past year, he’s served as the scene’s most explosive personality. He brought depth, intrigue and passion to a game in its infancy. Moving on without him, one of the figureheads of the game’s early history, and a staple of the franchise’s storied history, just feels wrong.
But, with a win in Dreamhack in tow, it feels almost poetic for Leffen to close the book on Ultimate. After months and months of tribulations, and a plethora of finishes just outside the top 8 across multiple tournaments, going out on top is seemingly the only option. If he gets knocked down again, there’s no knowing for certain if he’ll get back up. At least now, when we think of Leffen’s timeline in the Ultimate scene, it’s easy to take a sigh of relief and complimentary satisfaction at the end of it all.
Photo Credit: Robert Paul, Beyond the Summit