Evan “Larfen” Himes
You probably have a friend who knows how to play Melee, and might even know some basic strategies for how to win. Millions of Melee copies were sold on release, and thousands of non-competitors watch tournaments on Twitch even today. If you wanted to bring them into the community, where would you send them? To a local, where they’ll surely get trounced by the players there with years of experience under their belt? To Slippi unranked, where even after buying the hardware they will have to forge through the lag and disrespectful play to get to the other side? It’s well known at this point that Melee has a cliff-like barrier to entry, and tournament organizers have tried many experiments to get more future players into “the top of the funnel”. One such experiment is being run out of an apartment in Wicker Park, Chicago, by Kadence.
Kadence is a Sheik player who attended their first tournament in 2018. This was an NMG weekly, hosted out of a card shop in Irving Park. At the time, this was the premier weekly within the Chicago city limits. Kadence, like most new players nowadays, was well aware of how good the attendees would be, but was quite shocked at how good even the 0-2 and 1-2 crowd were. These were players who spoke the language of Melee quite fluently: they were waveshining, edgeguarding, and tech chasing just like the players in top 8. Kadence said at the time, if NMG was just a standard double elimination bracket, they would’ve probably quit pretty quickly. Luckily, head TO Andrew “Unsure” Bisciglia had implemented smash.gg ladder pools at NMG to ensure more matches for lower level players at these tournaments, and Kadence stuck around.
This experience left Kadence with a burning question: Melee is so obviously a great game, but if you have a non-competitive friend, would you subject them to a local to get them started? How does anyone but the insane pick up this game in 2021? As of right now, our community still has trouble integrating new players. But instead of shrugging their shoulders, Kadence decided to take action and start OnlyNoobs.
OnlyNoobs is a weekly online tournament explicitly for the “0-2ers”. Inspired by a similar Canadian tournament run by Pino, Kadence has taken it upon themself to create the tournament they wish they had when they started playing. The basic goal of OnlyNoobs is to get your friend who’s only played a bit into a tournament where they can feel the rush of competition that we all play for, and feel like they have a shot at taking a few sets. There’s no explicit cutoff for skill level, but Kadence’s rule of thumb is ‘If you can beat me, gtfo’. Kadence, according to Chicago’s current trueskill, is #62 in the city.
OnlyNoobs has thus far been quite successful, if you compare its entrants to other online tournaments. It usually gets somewhere in the 70-100 range in terms of entrants, which makes it comparable to coastal events such as East Coast Fridays or either individual coast of Training Mode Tournaments. OnlyNoobs itself is East Coast/Midwest only. In fact, Kadence’s awareness of its success has led them to actually holding back on advertisement to keep the tournament sustainable. This was one aspect of Kadence’s approach that I found quite mindful: awareness of limits. One of Kadence’s goals for this tournament is to make it possible for them to run it for a long time without burning out. This is a very understandable decision, as I’m sure that many of us have bitten off more than they could chew when undertaking a project or promise. Since Kadence takes pride in this event, they want to be sure that it runs to their liking, and in this case that means that it must be possible to run solo if it comes down to that.
On this note, this is also why Kadence is a bit reluctant to expand the tournament, which is always going to be the question from any properly socialized capitalist. Kadence, as of now, both runs the tournament and the stream for OnlyNoobs simultaneously right after work. They do have help sometimes, but in its current state Kadence can’t really take too much more on. This is fine: Kadence wants to have complete control over the handling of OnlyNoobs, wants to provide a good experience for the people who are already showing up in droves, and rightfully doesn’t trust many smashers to be able to show up every week and run a tight bracket. Despite this, Kadence has helped West Coast TO Divine Senator Kelly to start his own similar ‘0-2er’ event for that region: Level One Melee.
Kadence still has ideas to make OnlyNoobs better. One need look no further than their stream, which has a unique ‘results ticker’ feature that you’d see on traditional sports networks like ESPN. Additionally, Kadence is still a bit unsatisfied with the skill level of the attendees: they’re still too good! There’s no doubt that most OnlyNoobs attendees would still smoke your brother who you grew up playing with, and Kadence is looking to get those people involved too. In the end, OnlyNoobs is one more step in the Melee community’s long, long journey to greater inclusivity, but this time it’s for the noobs.