CHANTILLY, Virginia -- It was one of the tensest moments in Justin "Wizzrobe" Hallett's professional career.
On the side of the triangular stage at Super Smash Con this weekend, Wizzrobe found himself in a close set, staring at the screen and a 2-2 scoreline. Next to Wizzrobe sat Sho "maha" Shi, a top Super Smash Bros. player from Japan. Maha had pushed Wizzrobe to his limit.
Maha, while a formidable opponent, shouldn't have made it this close. Wizzrobe, clad in a white hoodie with a green Nintendo 64 controller in hand, adjusted his headphones and prepared for the final game. This was it. This was what he had been practicing for.
The next few minutes, as Wizzrobe broke down maha and finished off the set, showed why Wizzrobe is considered not just one of the best in the original Super Smash Bros. but across multiple games. For the past four years, Wizzrobe had been a top 15 player in the world, playing on large stages across the United States on a regular basis, but in another game: Super Smash Bros. Melee. He is also the fifth-best player in the lapsed Smash 64 rankings.
A multi-game competitor, Wizzrobe has constantly fought with himself on how to best prioritize Smash 64, Melee and others titles, like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. At Super Smash Con, he chose rather than juggling -- and running back-and-forth across the 130,000-square-foot Dulles Expo Center on Saturday -- to stick with one: Smash 64.
Few tournaments throughout the year feature the 20-year-old title, so Smash Con, Wizzrobe said, feels like their world championship.
"I know for a lot of people, they'll come up to me and think I'm crazy for only entering 64 here," Wizzrobe said. "My decision behind it is for 64, a smaller game where a lot of the players can't travel as much, like the best players in the world, this is the one event every year where all of the best active 64 players come out and they compete to win.
"The way I see it is, should I put my all into the one 64 tournament where all of the best players are going to be here? Or should I do that and also enter other games, when those other games are going to have 10 to 20 majors this year? There are going to be so many that I know I'm going to have plenty of chances to win tournaments and play all of these top players in Melee and Ultimate, while for 64, I'll only have one chance a year."
Switching between multiple games comes with risks. Between Smash 64 and Melee, there are two different controllers -- the three-pronged, elongated Nintendo 64 controller and the more traditional GameCube controller. Game physics between those two are different, but similar, given the titles released just two years apart in 1999 and 2001.
But Ultimate, which Wizzrobe focused on throughout the early part of 2019, couldn't be more different.
"Since the games are similar, a lot of muscle memories and little cues can throw you off," Wizzrobe said. "Being slightly used to a different timing or a different drift, all of these minute differences, that they can really throw you off. That's the No. 1 problem with playing multiple games, and that's why I've thought about only entering one game per event."
Some would argue Wizzrobe taking his foot off the gas, particularly in Melee, could be a mistake, but he doesn't think it will affect him nearly as much as others. 2019 has been a stellar year for the 21-year-old Smash pro: He notched a championship victory over the No. 1 ranked Melee player in the world, Juan "Hungrybox" DeBiedma, at Smash 'N' Splash 5 in Wisconsin in June. That, as well as a streak of multiple high-place finishes, earned Wizzrobe the No. 2 slot, his highest ever, in August's edition of the Summer Melee Panda Global Rankings.
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"Why stop now?" Wizzrobe said. "For me, these days, when you play for this long, it becomes a bit more blurred what your motivation is sometimes. When you get into it, you think about your early days of playing how much you love the game. I still love the game, but my passion for this game is more than any other because I love it so much and I feel like I'm good at it. I can become the best. I've put in so much time and energy that I don't want to turn back now."
Dethroning Hungrybox, who has held the No. 1 spot since 2017, and cementing himself as a dominant player with a significant longevity is Wizzrobe's primary aspiration, he said. Doing so won't be easy, as other players like Super Smash Con Melee champion William "Leffen" Hjelte, No. 6-ranked Zain "Zain" Naghmi and No. 7-ranked Justin "Plup" McGrath hunt for that title as well.
Since the release of Ultimate in December, Wizzrobe, Leffen and Plup have split their focus between Melee and Ultimate. Hungrybox has entered Ultimate events, too, but hasn't dedicated as much time to that game as his top Melee peers.
Despite the Team Liquid star's continued dominance of the Melee scene, players like Wizzrobe, Leffen, Plup, Zain and Jeffrey "Axe" Williamson have ushered in a new era for the game.
Of the "Five Gods," the best Super Smash Bros. Melee players of all time -- Hungrybox, Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman, Adam "Armada" Lindgren, Joseph "Mang0" Marquez and Kevin "PPMD" Nanney -- only Hungrybox and Mang0 are competing in Melee actively in 2019. In their place, both younger players and others who were previously lower-ranked have ascended to create a new upper echelon of the Melee scene.
While Leffen won the final Evolution Championship Series Melee title in August 2018, and now another championship at Super Smash Con, Wizzrobe said he believes his ascension in the rankings is the biggest byproduct of that change in the guard.
"When you've been playing the game for 10 years, there's got to be a point where your motivation is dipping a lot and you feel like you've made your mark, [even though] you may still want to compete," Wizzrobe said. "For people like me, like Zain, Leffen and Plup, for us, we want to make our mark. We want to be the best. We probably have more fire."
Doing that has come at a lot of personal cost -- seeing Wizzrobe enter and compete even when at times, he felt like he wasn't feeling well or didn't want to. But that dedication has been rewarded. In June, after his Smash 'N' Splash title, Wizzrobe signed a contract with Team Envy to become the first Super Smash Bros. player in the organization's history.
Now he has to figure out not just how to juggle games but balance his life and his career to avoid burnout. Wizzrobe started his pro career at 14. Seven years later, he's still in the game and thanks Smash for how it's made him grow as a person away from the screen.
"Trying to become good at Smash has helped [me] get good at life," he said. "I never would've imagined myself traveling around the world, traveling around the country, doing this kind of thing before. I don't know if I would've had a huge interest in doing it in terms of interest in traveling. It's the reason I feel like I've grown a lot. If it weren't for Smash, I feel like I wouldn't care about a lot.
"I didn't care about school a lot; that's kind of bad, but I wasn't passionate about anything in school, and Smash is the thing I'm passionate about. It pushed me to become a better person in this part. I need to be healthier. I need to think about things. Smash is the reason I've grown, honestly. It's the No. 1 thing that has made me grow."
Wizzrobe acknowledged he still has a long way to go and will look to take some time off after Super Smash Con to recoup some energy before. His next major tournament will be The Big House in Michigan in October. There, he will fight for that No. 1 title in Melee once again -- and perhaps take on some of his other games, too.
"I've been going to basically everything. I've been going to every supermajor as far as I know," Wizzrobe said. "I'll be back for Big House and go to everything after Big House leading to the end of the year."