IntroductionAny student of esports will tell you that Melee’s Five Gods era is one of the most interesting stories in esports. A period of time completely dominated by five players, all capable of beating one another and miles ahead of everyone else. Such interesting parity is something we don’t see in many other competitions. Another player entering the top echelon would be a monumental moment. That’s what made it so exciting when Leffen bested all of them and solidified himself as a top player. A demigod finally achieving godhood, a truly Herculean task. A few others have joined him since then - Axe, Zain, and Plup all taking the mantle as new kings of the game. Others vying for a crown have either fallen to obscurity or given up completely. All except one. One player has consistently failed at climbing the final ring to champion status, but refuses to give up his ladder there. The eternal demigod. The silver sovereign. None other than Zachary “SFAT” Cordoni. SFAT entered the competitive scene like any other OG Melee player. A skilled casual player, he began attending (and losing) local NorCal competitions. He eventually got better, and started attending national tournaments. His first major accomplishment was a 9th place finish at GENESIS 2, finally making a name for himself on a serious level. His placements at other events were not as impressive, but SFAT persisted. He began living and training with Mango, as well as steadily battling Shroomed for the spot atop NorCal. These factors, along with his strong dedication catapulted him to among Melee’s best players. Yet unfortunately, never the very best. SFAT still hasn’t won a major, and he’s never been considered an absolute top player. Even if he never is, the contributions he’s made for the game’s history are immeasurable. SFAT is my favorite player. Not only does he have one of the most badass Foxes in the business, his story in the game is one of the most admirable and underappreciated gems we have. A man who has helped foster friendship, create history, and demonstrated unbreakable will. FriendshipYou can’t discuss SFAT’s career without mentioning his doubles play. His partnership with PewPewU (known as PewFat) is one of the greatest doubles teams in Melee’s history. Not only that, they bring something to the table no other top team can.The competitive landscape of doubles tournaments is far less interesting without PewFat. Without them, every top team is either a top player carrying someone, or two top players joining forces. Imagine how much less respected tennis doubles would be if every Finals was just Federer plus one. That’s what makes PewFat so important. They’re Melee’s Bryan brothers. No one would argue the likes of Leffen, Armada, and Mango being better than SFAT and PewPewU. But when the latter combine forces, they’re able to slay gods. How? The team has arguably the best synergy of any doubles team around, their playstyles perfectly complementing one another. SFAT acts the main initiator - homing in on the enemy in dealing as much damage as possible. PewPewU takes on a more supportive role: hanging in the back and using Marth’s attack range to fan every fire SFAT starts. Their understanding of each other’s intention in matches almost seems like telepathy.With such a unique style of play, PewFat has enjoyed tremendous success. Their presence in competition has spanned a decade. In that time they’ve 33 competitions, many of them including the best teams in the world. They’ve expanded the doubles meta by leaps and bounds, and they’re always hungry to improve. Put simply, their partnership is truly valuable.History An unfortunate point of SFAT’s career is the many times he’s been on the losing side of history. For every shining moment LeBron James or Faker have, there’s an Andre Iguodala or Ryu cast in the shadows. Even more so, these are competitors that have forced legends to give their all, that have pushed them to the edge. SFAT has many times done this. In losers quarterfinals of Press Start 2015, SFAT found himself head-to-head with Hungrybox. The following video is one of the most iconic moments of Hungrybox’s career:Even by his standards, this is the most adrenaline fueled pop-off recorded (definitely the one most disrespectful to chairs). But considering the position SFAT put Hungrybox in, it makes sense. He was initially up 2-0, and was very close to sweeping him. Hungrybox slowly clawed his way to an even 2-2 series. Even from there, SFAT gave an impressive performance, going up three stocks. Slowly but surely Hungrybox, standing tall and determined, brought the game to a lost stock situation. Just to make the occasion even more poetic, SFAT stands to meet Hungrybox. Jigglypuff hits a Rest, and history is written.Then, there’s the opposite side of the spectrum. People that create legends by getting destroyed. Moments of such violet destruction, it’s seen as a testament to the skill of the doer. Wesley Johnson by James Harden. Aldo by McGregor. SFAT by Leffen.Early in 2015 on Twitter, SFAT made critical comments about Leffen. Upon seeing this, Leffen saw an opportunity. To create some hype for the scene, to feed his ego, and to make a quick buck. The TSM star challenged SFAT to a $1000 first-to-five money match. Not one to back down, he accepted. Ready to show he could ascend to the next level, SFAT battled Leffen.It...didn’t really go the way he probably had hoped. It was a slaughter. Still, we should think about what this meant to the scene and SFAT’s part in it. It was more than a fun beef and a nice payday for Leffen. I’d contend it made a significant contribution to Leffen’s legacy. A cocky phenom that wouldn’t take trash talk from anyone he saw as below him. The trend that Chillin started, SFAT solidified.This wasn’t an easy decision - it definitely took a lot of guts on SFAT’s part. Keep in mind this was the same year that Leffen ate Chillin’s soul in the cold of New Jersey. The latter was constantly jeered on. Everything was at risk: his reputation, his pride, and his money ($1000 isn’t chicken feed for a professional Smash player) were on line. He could’ve simply ignored it. People would’ve forgotten. It takes confidence to be a true competitor, though, and SFAT accepted the challenge. Maybe it didn’t work out for him, but it showed his courage in the face of adversity, and added a valuable moment to the scene’s history.Some might say what I’m suggesting is a reach. All I ask, is to imagine the scene without SFAT. It’s not as exciting. In a way, he played a small part in helping define what certain top players are good at. Hungrybox wouldn’t seem as clutch without him. Leffen wouldn’t be as bellicose. These are the characteristics that make them as players, that make the scene. It’s figures like SFAT that push these defining moments.WillThis is the most admirable (and important) part of SFAT’s career. His durability. His perseverance. After every heartbreaking loss, every disappointing defeat, to get back up and try again. This is a notable trait in every phase of his career. Remember when we talked about his beginning, how he never won any locals? For his first two years he never even won a match. To experience that for two years and grow to his current level defies understanding.His determination is pretty unique to a player in SFAT’s position. Most that have gotten close, but failed to penetrate the highest echelon of talent simply stop playing seriously. Either that or they give up competition altogether. SFAT continues vying for his chance at greatness, and doesn’t look to stop anytime soon. Related: GOAT: GENESIS 3 - The Greatest Fairytale Run in HistoryWhat is impressive is not only his endurance, but what he’s endured. Even after suffering some of the most demoralizing losses in history, SFAT learns from the situation and gets better. He proves people wrong. Look at the aftermath of the historic moments we considered. You’ll see an example of a person that doesn’t back down.Hungrybox’s comeback at Press Start could haunt any man. To come so close to upsetting one of the best players in the world, only to watch defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, no doubt it’d be disheartening. SFAT, though, was motivated. In a stream shortly after the tournament, he’s quoted saying about Hungrybox “I won’t be satisfied till I beat that guy.”It wouldn’t be long until he did just that. A few months later at The Big House 6, SFAT gave one of the cleanest performances of his career against Hungrybox. All throughout the set he would slow down the pace of the game, slowly whittling away at Hungrybox’s percentage. He found himself exactly where he was at Press Start: up 2-0 against one of the greatest players in the world. This time, he would not squander it. In the third match he’d maintain his focus, and deliver the same beatdown he served in the first two games. He proved he could maintain form - even at the highest level.Still, something about a reverse sweep is more gratifying than a clean 3-0. We’d see that in 2017’s CEO Dreamland. There the roles were reversed: SFAT was down 0-2, not finding any forgiveness in Hungrybox’s play. With focus (something SFAT has discussed being a previous weak point) and determination he evened the score to a deciding fifth game. There he edged out Hungrybox with a stomach-churning 2-stock comeback. Not only could he maintain his grip on opponents, who could wriggle out of theirs.SFAT’s prevailing over Leffen came in a different sense. He still hasn’t had any notable performances against the Swede, but his redemption came more subtly. See, the money match against Leffen was at 2015’s DreamHack Summer. After the tournament, Leffen sat down for an interview with Mango.The verbal assault is almost more brutal than the one ingame. Leffen seemed disgusted at the idea it went 5-1 rather than a clean 5-0. He continued to kick SFAT down: how he was unsponsored, how he never had even a top 5 placement, how he felt sorry for him.Obviously some of this is just trash talk, but they’re biting words. Slowly, SFAT built himself up, making Leffen’s previous insults null and void. The end of 2015 saw SFAT signed to the prestigious Counter Logic Gaming. A month later he got his first top 5 finish at a national tournament. Since then he’s pulled off performances even Leffen has shown respect to.SFAT is a beautiful addition to the Smash scene. His incredible play, historic moments, and admirable will are sights to behold. Even if he never wins a major tournament (which he will), the legacy he’s left behind is wonderful. It’s easy to hold up a champion with respect and admiration, to be in awe at how they always pull through. It’s easy to look at a struggling competitor with pity - to feel sorry for their continued failings. But for someone that comes back from every heart break, that grows stronger with every transgression - that’s a true competitor.If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @OddballCreator.
Images courtesy of A Wizard Hat Photography, SFAT, and Robert Paul respectively in order.
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