This year’s Super Smash Bros. Melee bracket at Evolution Championship Series was nothing short of a bloodbath. Perhaps due to the event’s unorthodox support of best-of-three sets and early-morning pools, the tournament’s second day was marked by titanic upsets, including James “Swedish Delight” Liu’s victory over Adam “Armada” Lindgren and Rishi “Rishi” Malhotra’s comeback win against Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman. Entering EVO’s third day, the event’s outcome was clouded by uncertainty.
However, in a few thundering sets, William “Leffen” Hjelte erased that uncertainty, showing all of his doubters that he still has what it takes to win one of Melee’s most coveted supermajors. The mercurial Fox main weathered the carnage of EVO’s Melee Top 48 bracket—and a Top 48 run in his secondary game, Dragon Ball FighterZ—to face off against Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, the event’s top seed and presumptive champion, in winner’s semifinals. After a blowout victory for Hungrybox in game one, Leffen opened his third eye, squeaking out a game-two victory before three-stocking Hungrybox in the set’s deciding game.
After that, Leffen didn’t miss a beat, easily dispatching the recently-minted world No. 2 Justin “Plup” McGrath in winner’s finals to ensure himself a grand finals berth. There, he faced off against a resurgent Armada—who had kept his “3VO” hopes alive with an epic loser’s run—in an all-Swedish finals. To Armada’s chagrin, Leffen showed his prowess against both of the Team Alliance member’s main characters, defeating his Fox and withstanding a desperate switch to Peach to ensure himself an EVO title with a swift 3-0.
Only two years after visa issues prevented Leffen from even attending EVO at all, the longtime Team SoloMid member found himself on top of the biggest podium in competitive Melee. After connecting a killing up-aerial on Armada’s final stock, the world No. 4 erupted out of his seat in elation, pausing only to accept a congratulatory embrace from his friend and countryman. Overcome by the moment, Leffen strode to the center of the stage, standing alone as he grappled with the magnitude of his victory.
This win means so much for me personally. Not because of "prestige" or money, but because I had to overcome so many personal struggles to win. Evo has always been my worst tournament perfomance wise, but I finally managed to focus just doing my best for the task at hand.— leffen (@TSM_Leffen) August 5, 2018
Of course, not everyone can be an EVO champion, and Leffen’s victory was counterbalanced by disappointing performances by some of his contemporaries. Though he’d never failed to make it into an EVO Top 8 since Melee’s return to the series in 2013, Mew2King placed a disappointing 13th this year, eliminated by Armada after both “gods” found themselves in loser’s bracket earlier than expected. Joseph “Mang0” Marquez also fell victim to Armada’s loser’s run, squashing his own "3VO" dreams to tie with Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett at 5th.
While Armada’s loser’s bracket saw him defeat many of the world’s greatest competitors, he was unable to force a rematch against Swedish Delight, the New Jersey Sheik main who had defeated him in winner’s bracket. Though Swedish Delight made it into the event’s Top 8, he fell to Wizzrobe for a 7th-place finish, tying with Johnny “S2J” Kim in a more-than-respectable performance for both players.
Unlike past “Summers of Smash,” this year’s EVO represents the beginning of a long Melee tournament stretch, including next week’s Super Smash Con and the following week’s Heir 5 and concluding with late August’s Shine 2018. But no matter who wins those tournaments, Leffen has already captured a victory that few will forget when the time comes to determine 2018’s year-end rankings.
“He’s the hero of the story,” said commentator Bobby “Scar” Scarnewman. “Finally.”