Pacific Smasher Sparks National Interest
On the weekend of Super Bowl LIII, as much of the American population geared themselves up for a clash of the titans between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots in Atlanta, Georgia, an entirely different population of people prepared themselves for battle at the Oakland Convention Center. Over 3000 people gathered in Oakland, California for one of the biggest Super Smash Bros. tournaments in the world, a yearly major tournament known as Genesis. In Genesis’ sixth iteration, top players from countries including but not limited to the United States, Japan, Sweden, and Mexico vied to compete for prize money and glory both at the Convention Center and on the grand finals stage at Oakland’s Paramount Theater. The Super Smash Bros. community is unique to its other eSports counterparts. It comprises of multiple games: the original Super Smash Bros. game, released for the Nintendo 64 in 1999; its sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee, released for the Nintendo Gamecube in 2001; and the most recently released Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch. The competitive Smash Bros. community is wide and far reaching, and even has its own club at Pacific that meets weekly in the Spruce Room every Wednesday night at 7pm. However, Pacific has what many other schools with competitive Smash communities do not: one of the best Smash players in the world. Out of the thousands and thousands of people trying to reach the top of the competitive Smash world, only 100 players from the Melee and Ultimate scenes are considered to be within the top echelon of players. Among those 100 is Pacific computer science student Zaid Ali ‘21, better known in the Smash world by his alias, “Spark.” This is Ali’s fifth year playing competitive Smash, and in those five years he has quickly risen through the ranks in Northern California, winning his first local tournament in August of 2015. The community’s most recent rankings placed Ali as the 4th best Melee player in Northern California, a state that boasts some of the game’s top talent, and as the 53rd best Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the world. “Being acknowledged by your community for all the effort you’ve put in truly is a wonderful feeling,” says Ali, “To have risen in rank is rewarding as well, since it shows not only to everyone, but also to myself that I haven’t grown complacent with the fact that I’ve made it on the rankings.” 2018 had Ali show some of the best placings in his competitive career, always consistently placing within the top 50 out of thousands of competitors at every major tournament he attended, while still earning top placements at local tournaments. His highest placing throughout 2018’s major tournaments included placing 17th out of over 1000 competitors at the eighth Michigan-based major tournament known as The Big House. While this is his second year ranked in the top 100, having been ranked 61st the prior year, Ali went into Genesis with something he had never had before: a professional sponsor. Many of gaming’s top competitors tout sponsors from professional gaming organizations, and the end of 2018 saw Ali sponsored by professional gaming organization True AmBition, as he went on to place 33rd out of over 1000 competitors at Genesis’ sixth iteration. Ali’s placing of 33rd was par for the course as far as his previous placings throughout the year, though he also spent the weekend competing in three other events simultaneously, as he also competed in the Melee doubles tournament with Binyan “Darkatma” Lin, and also placing 33rd out of over 200 teams. “The goals I have set for myself aren’t exactly set in stone,” Ali explained, “but I want to be very close to the world’s players in terms of performance and decision-making by the end of the year.” The man known as Spark continues to make waves, with many notable wins already under his belt. He will be sure to collect more as his career continues, and as his star continues to rise, more eyes will surely be on Zaid Ali.