Combat Café hosts final Melee bracket

Combat Cafe at Evanston Games and Cafe had its final Melee bracket Tuesday, Dec. 14.

One of Melee’s longest working Illinois tournament organizers is soon to be a father. As a result, he is reducing his role in the Chicago-area Smash scene. While he intends to continue running Smash Ultimate events, his days as a Melee TO are over.

Peter “PAC DIESEL” Casella is the tournament organizer behind Evanston, IL local Combat Cafe for Melee, Ultimate and Project M. In Smash Ultimate, he is also the lead TO for Ignition in Chicago.

“(Ignition is) at present the #1 local in the world based on aggregate attendance,” Casella said.

Casella is soon to be a father, however, which has led to him reevaluating his position in the Smash community. While Ignition has its own team that can handle things while their head TO is busy with the baby, Combat Cafe has always been put together by him on his own.

As a result, the local held its final bracket on Tuesday, Dec. 14, with only be Project + and Melee brackets at this tournament. While the event should go on from then for Ultimate, this wasbe Melee’s last hurrah in Evanston, for the time being.

“Combat Cafe will continue as an Ultimate local, probably not run by me, (because) I’d hate to lose the venue,” Casella said. 

While Casella says he will likely continue to play in Melee, and even enter the occasional event, he has no intentions to return to organizing tournaments for the game.

The history behind the local

Peter “PAC DIESEL” Casella, shown here running the Ignition tournament series in Chicago.

PAC DIESEL ran his first Melee tournament in December, 2006. The small college tournament was one of his first competitive experiences with the game, which remains important to him to this day. 

“I often hear people talk about how Melee is this flawed game with lots of issues and bugs and that’s why they love it,” Casella wrote in a Twitlonger post announcing his retirement. “I never gave a damn about any of that. It was everything else that I loved.”

Casella ran this first tournament by bringing a CRT and Mele setup into an on-campus cafe and a sign that said “Melee tournament – 1pm”. By popular demand, the tournament ran with random stages and items on. By 3 p.m. the informal tournament had been shut down. Diesel never saw any of the event’s entrants ever again. 

Casella spent the next five years running tournaments anywhere he could, often simply at people’s homes. 

By 2011, he started attending events like Wavedash Wednesdays at EXP Gaming Lounge, becoming acclimated to the more serious competitive Melee scene. He helped get Skokie card shop “The Chicago Clubhouse” opened and over time started hosting events there. When Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was released, Diesel became invested in the scene for that game as well. 

While his involvement in Melee and PM would continue, Smash 4, and later Ultimate, would be where Casella would make his biggest mark. 

“I was one of the four primary TOs in Chicago for Smash 4’s scene construction, and I’m probably still THE primary TO for Ultimate today,” Casella told CLM. 

In 2012, he had started Smash Saturdays in Glenview, hosting tournaments for smash sometimes side to side with Magic the Gathering tournaments.

“Everyone was friendly to each other in both communities and I facilitated it,” Casella said. “We recruited multiple MTG players into the Smash scene and multiple Smash players into MTG.”

The weekly was later moved to Evanston, going by the names of Smash Saturdays, Mystery Mondays, and eventually Combat Café. Diesel says this final name change was a way to give the event a consistent name, even if he had to reschedule the tournament to another day of the week.

Casella’s impact goes beyond Illinois. In Sept. 2016, he flew down to Lakeland, FL to help a family friend open a card store. In the process, he started a Smash tournament series there that has continued strong in the central Florida area.

Over the years, Diesel has also competed, playing Melee, PM, and Ultimate. Although today he mostly focuses on playing and coaching for Ultimate, as his hands can no longer take the demands of the speedier smash games. In Ultimate and P+ he has been something of a local gatekeeper, recently beating formidable Chicago Ultimate players like Arctice.

His coaching career is starting to take off, however. He coaches several high level Chicago Ultimate players, including Ikan, who is currently ranked fourth in Chicago.

Changing times

While Combat Café had to suspend brackets in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it reopened this year at Evanston Games and Cafe to hold P+, Ultimate and Melee brackets yet again. Still, with a baby on the way in February, he is ready to let the Melee bracket go.

Diesel may be leaving Melee as a tournament organizer, but he still has love for the game. He notes that the pandemic helped bring out “the greatest creation in human history” with Project Slippi in his Twitlonger post on his retirement. Still, attendance at brackets has been inconsistent.

“The game and world have evolved beyond needing a ‘beginner weekly’ in Evanston, Illinois. The demand isn’t there,” he said. 

Attendance was never consistent for Casella’s locals. He said it tended to range pre-pandemic from 8-25 entrants at a given event. Now, he says it tends to range from 10-16.

Combat Cafe’s attendance tended to range on the lower end for Melee events, and beginner events are now more commonplace in the scene in the online space. Netplay tournaments such as Tired of 0-2 and the Chicago-based Only Noobs offer players new to the game a large pool of players to face up against. 

At the same time, the average Melee player has only gotten better. While Diesel once hosted tournaments for casual players with items on, beginners of Melee today often begin by learning tech skills that were once reserved for high level play. Since the pandemic, some of these trends have accelerated. Those who want to compete more casually may not be able to handle the stiff competiton.

“Events have decreased in attendance, as Melee is now as accessible from home as it has ever been,” Diesel said.

Casella says veteran players are less interested in tournaments and rankings, and recruiting new players is difficult in a game where months of practice may be needed to win a single set in bracket. 

“A lot of the players who haven’t had the desire to continue to turn out to events are the mid-level players who made up the bulk of past brackets,” he said. 

This is not to say that Chicago locals have all struggled. Midlane Melee continues to turn out strong attendance numbers. Melee remains a staple at Tripoint Smash as well, and Melee’s debut at Scrims eSports in Lisle, IL has also been a welcome addition to the scene. Up in Evanston, however, Casella is ready to be finished.

Top Chicago players including Skerzo, Techdeath and Ober made their way to the final Combat Cafe. The event ended up bringing out over 40 attendees, with Chicago’s #2 player Skerzo taking home the gold.

Casella was even presented with a plaque and cake from CLM’s organizers.

Even as Melee is in some ways more accessible than ever, Casella hopes players will remember that community is what has allowed the game to remain so popular.

“There is a community aspect of playing at tournaments and spending time with other players that cannot be replicated at home.,” he said “If you want to meet new people, make friends, network a little bit, and just get an overall feeling and experience with people who have a common goal to what you have, then that can only be accomplished by in-person events.”

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