The field of Melee players is growing stronger year-by-year. The strength of the middle tier of players has improved the entire scene, and now relatively unknown players are starting to push the top-20 and forcing their name into the conversation.
For example, Sami “DruggedFox” Muhanna has become a premier player and a perennially top-10 player in Melee. For years, DruggedFox was known for being talented and knowledgeable, but with the uptick in his tournament appearances, his true skill is starting to show.
Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett is another great example. He always had the hand speed but just needed more experience. He’s now looked at as
a top-10 player in the game.
Even more examples include players like Edgar “N0ne” Sheleby, who’s pushing the limits of his character, along with James “Duck” Ma and James “Swedish Delight” Liu, who have also exploded into the top-15. All of these players made huge waves in the last year.
I looked through the rest of the top-100 and tried to pinpoint certain players with similar breakout performances with strong wins against top players. I came up with four names that are clearly on their way up. These names are familiar to Melee fans, but are somewhat unknown entities to the standard Smash community.
Kalindi “KJH” Henderson
The Michigan Fox main has made strides each of the last three years. He’s shown clear improvement in certain areas and has the ability to compete with the top-20. If anything, his start to 2017 has been very telling. Wins over the aforementioned Swedish Delight and Duck have him off to a hot start.
Furthermore, KJH has a tournament win under his belt (Fight Pitt 7) and his strongest showing ever at a super major (13th at Genesis 4). But even with the nice start, he has serious matchup issues he’ll need to work on. He is 1-11 against Fox players in the last two years. If he figures out the mirror matchup, watch out.
Justin “Syrox” Burroughs
The rise of Syrox has been well documented, with him showing up on Jospeh “Mang0” Marquez’s infamous stream and being in the public eye as of late. His talent is undeniable as he has big wins over a litany of top-20 players (wins over Westballz, Lucky, and N0ne in 2017).
Additionally, Syrox’s placings are starting to rise at tournaments. Despite his low Evo 2016 and Genesis 3 placings (65th in both), he’s starting to creep into top-20’s at larger tournaments (3rd at Flatiron 2). His month in Southern California has shown his ceiling is extremely high but he needs to add more tournament experience and learn floatie matchups.
Jack “Crush” Hoyt
The most apathetic player in Smash (or so it seems) looks to be anything but that in 2017. The Fox main who has always been a dominating force within the New England region is off to a strong start to the year. After a solid finish at BEAST 7, he looks like a prime candidate to make the jump this year.
He’s already off to a 25-8 start against top 100 players in 2017 after only getting 14 wins against the top 100 all of last year. He’s always had the skill set to be one of the better Fox players, but hasn’t been able to travel out-of-state much. More consistent attendance at tournaments are already starting to pay off from him early on.
Griffin “Captain Faceroll” Williams
The first on-Fox main on the list and a player who has been steadily rising in Southern California for the last year. It feels like only a matter of time before Faceroll gets a marquee win over a top-20 player at a major.
Any player that can roll into a region like Southern California and have the kind of success Faceroll had last year has to be brimming with talent. He has good numbers against the players near his skill level but has only a few wins against players above him. If he can add in more mixups and improve on an already solid edge guard game with Sheik, he can be a real threat to the top-20 in 2017.
Honorable mentions: Slox, Drunk Sloth, and Squid