Skerzo’s Story – The New King of Chicago?

by Evan “Larfen” Himes

To someone who hasn’t been paying attention to Smash over the quarantine period, especially if they’re not from the Midwest, there may have been a surprising name sliding in at 33rd on the Summer 2022 MPGR, the worldwide ranking of Melee players. That would be one Adrian “Skerzo” Chavez, a Chicago native who at his peak was ranked best in the city.

Skerzo holding my cat, Effie

Where did this player come from? To us at Chicagoland Melee, it’s not much of a mystery, but Skerzo’s rapid rise to prominence has shocked even believers. Over the past few years, Skerzo has scored wins over established, elite players at LAN majors: Zuppy, Ginger, Ben, Spark, Frenzy, Professor Pro, Drephen, Jflex, theSWOOPER, the list goes on and on. This has all been capped off recently by a marvelous top 8 placing at Super Smash Con 2022. Looking to understand this success, I sat down to speak with Skerzo about his origins, gameplay, and future.

The Origin Story

Skerzo, by his own admission, came from humble beginnings. He thanked Melee and other video games in his childhood for keeping him inside and safe in some of Chicago’s more dangerous neighborhoods. He played everything with his brothers. Of course, it didn’t exactly resemble modern tournament gameplay, but he was quick to point out that items were in fact turned off. As in many such cases, Melee was dropped in the rotation for Brawl, and other games were pursued.

Skerzo’s first flirtation with competitive games was more with Call of Duty and Runescape. Like many young gamers, he was impressed with gameplay in videos made by FaZe Clan and learned the techniques they used. The technique for performing a dropshot, it just so happens, uses a claw grip, something Skerzo still implements today for Melee.

A Serious Discussion About Claw : r/CoDCompetitive
Claw grip on an Xbox controller

Smash, and especially Melee, was off the table for a while. Skerzo got interested again from watching Samox’s The Smash Brothers, and began following the scene while doing solo practice in the 20XX pack. Of all places to connect, Skerzo found his first practice partner on social media app Yik Yak. 

At the time, Skerzo was studying Music and Computer Science at Knox College in Galesburg, a cool 3 hour drive from any CLM tournament. After founding the school’s first esports club, he began running and winning all the locals there. Coincidentally, he also met future CLM writer Dr. Hunk in the process, who made graphics and posters for events, which Skerzo would put up in the wee hours of the morning after finishing homework. Around this time (2015-16), astute players would notice a young fox with the tag of “Adrian” coming to EXP and putting up decent results.

The Big House 7 was a major shift in perspective for Skerzo, even if he didn’t enter singles. Not only was it his first time traveling to a major, it was the first time he had ever traveled east of the Illinois border. He traveled on basically a whim, buying a spectator pass last minute. He cites Plup’s iconic victory over Armada there as a touchpoint: He wanted to be the one on the big stage, making history, making an impact on everyone watching. 

Adrian soon changed his tag. Using his music textbook, he picked a random term out of the index, Scherzo, and americanized the spelling and pronunciation. The correct pronunciation of the tag is “Skurr-zoh”.

With his modern tag and mentality now set in place, Skerzo now began one of his more consequential journeys as a smasher, and that was his 2 month trip to Japan in 2018. Skerzo quit his job and spent the summer playing in 20 tournaments over the short trip, taking sets off top Japanese talent such as Sanne and Shippu. 

Skerzo enmeshed himself in the Japanese Melee scene in his travels

I roomed with Skerzo at Genesis 6 in 2019, and we joked that Japan was all he wanted to talk about, but the competitive results speak for themselves here. After returning to Chicago he obtained his first PR placement, 14th on the Fall 2018 ranking. Two ranking periods later, Skerzo was now the 4th best player in Chicago.

Why did Skerzo’s sudden rise to national prominence happen in 2022 and not 2019, then? Besides the covid-shaped elephant in the room, the simple answer is employment. Around the time Skerzo was ranked 4th, he began a new job and had much less time to dedicate to the game. His local placements suffered as a result. Similarly, once he found himself unemployed again during the pandemic, and thanks to relentless attendance to online tournaments, Skerzo’s results began filling out that accomplished resume listed at the beginning of this article.

This summer of 2022 has been marked by extensive travel from Skerzo. It seemed like every weekend you’d find him in some corner of the US, or even England, testing himself against the nation’s best talent. You’d think that such a player would have no need for a sponsor, but Skerzo was recently picked up by Florida-based Wolf Pack Gaming. Skerzo himself expressed a bit of skepticism about joining a team, but was impressed by the owner and got along with him well. Additionally, Skerzo has found great practice with the other recent signees, such as fellow midwesterners Slowking and Zamu. The jersey is coming in the mail soon, and Skerzo will rep it at whatever dozen tournaments he flies out to in the next month.

Why does he play like that?

I also had to ask Skerzo some burning questions I had about his playstyle in-game.

First off was about his propensity for taunting in tournament matches, something he does so much that the CLM twitch channel made an emote about it. Skerzo’s explanation of the taunts is that it’s a reminder that Melee is for fun, to bring some levity to the high pressure tournament environment. It’s also a bit of showmanship: people remember taunts, and Skerzo’s goal is to create memorable moments in Melee. He cites Mekk’s infamous Falcon Punch vs Lucky as a similar example. It wasn’t good, but it was fun, memorable, and what Melee is all about to many of us.

The other curious piece of Skerzo’s playstyle is his punish game. Anyone who’s watched him or played him themselves would note that Skerzo doesn’t follow up like most foxes. “Drag-down” drills, Link-like offstage nairs, and high percent jab spam are all hallmarks of Skerzo’s play. This is not to say that all of Skerzo’s gameplay is inspired, though. The infamous “Dirty Skerzy” is the tried and true backthrow gimp, which he used to take a whole tournament over New England’s Slox. When I brought these up to him, he first noted that he gets that comment a lot, and that he primarily does them to keep the game interesting to him. Punish game is one of the best ways to flex your creative muscle in Melee, and Fox is one of the most freestyle characters out there. As Fiction famously said:

If none of Fox’s combos are real anyway, why not put your own spice on it?

A Chicago Boy

Skerzo seems to many like the heir to Kels or Michael in CLM. Not only in that he’s our top player (and Shabo may have something to say about that soon), but also in that he feels like our representative to the rest of smash. He’s always lived in Chicago, minus when he attended college early in his career. His local attendance is consistent, except when there is a major on the horizon, since he follows a personal rule of one tournament a week. Even if he doesn’t enter, there have been multiple times where he shows up to Midlane Melee just to commentate. Skerzo often wears the “CLM” tag at majors, and two emotes on the official CLM twitch channel are Skerzo-related.

When I asked him directly about his thoughts on the CLM community, he said he was impressed by the skill level increase in the region. Players like Eggy, JustJoe, Pleeba, and Mekk have gone from local players to known threats out of region. He also commended UIUC graduates like FoxCap, Killablue, and especially Shabo, a player that Skerzo quite admires, for remaining in the state of Illinois when they could have easily moved elsewhere. He credits this regional level-up as a big factor in his national success, since he can get great practice at home. As for any particular vision for the scene, Skerzo just wants everyone to get along.

What’s Next?

Skerzo was not surprised at his being ranked on the MPGR, given the quality of his performances at nationals. The ranking itself was never the goal, but the things around it. Having the validation that your daily little improvements actually mattered in the end, and that you really “are that guy”, so to speak, is what he really cares about. 

The added notoriety to the CLM scene is a plus, too. Skerzo is the highest ranked CLM player in an official ranking since Kels was placed at 28th in 2014, though old school legend Tink is an HM in the Retro SSBM rank for 2006. He wants to “do it for the city”: get into Summit, make those supermajor top 8’s, and maybe even eventually win one. That’s not something reasonable to aim for directly just yet though, and he finds that enjoying the process is much more important. Ever since seeing Plup beat Armada, he’s wanted to leave that same sort of mark on the scene, to be remembered by the community. His inner redditor even has a desire to be put in the YouTube top 8 compilations, preferably when he’s not getting four-stocked by Zain. Being the best in the world isn’t everything, and Skerzo much prefers to just enjoy the time spent traveling, seeing friends at tournaments, and trying his best in bracket. May he do CLM proud in the process.

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