How Indiana’s #2 player got into Melee’s biggest invitational
by Matt “Dr. Hunk” Koester
In under two weeks, Smash Summit 13 will bring many of Melee’s strongest up-and-comers and living legends under one roof. A single one of these players will be representing the Midwest.
Team Pulse’s Blue was voted in on the last day of the summit voting period, April 29. This came as a surprise to the larger Melee community and the player himself.
Blue’s campaign beat players with larger national reputations. Think Logan, who attended Summit 11 last year as a vote-in, and Mekk, a popular Chicago-based player with a propensity for grandiose speeches. When Blue began his campaign, he indeed did not expect to win.
He was aided by a lower key voting season than usual for the event. Plenty of beloved Melee personalities such as S2J, Moky, Axe and Wizzrobe were not invited to the event, and could have mounted strong campaigns. With only 22 people opting into the voting period, Indiana’s #2 ranked player felt the odds could go in his favor.
“The voting pool was, fortunately for me, lower skill in general,” he said. “I just saw an opportunity and wanted to take it.”
When he saw that a Top 64 finish at Riptide the prior year was enough to qualify him to be a vote-in, Blue figured, why not?
Martin’s campaign began mostly as self promotion, but became something more. After placing a link to his nomination page on the Northwest Indiana Melee Discord, he accrued hundreds of votes. Even then, he had doubts that things would go any further.
After surviving first round eliminations, Blue reached out to his longtime friend, Fox main Dalbull. Together, the two would turn the joke campaign into a success.
Before the next elimination round, the two made a list of incentives for voters, gathering together funds for a “spirit bomb”. Votes for summit are hardly a democratic process, with votes determined by monetary contributions to the event prize pool. A bomb is a last second drop of crowdfunded cash. These allow candidates to raise their vote count moments before voting periods end.
By adding incentives to donations, the two hoped to motivate their largely midwestern base of supporters to fund a mighty spirit bomb. The community’s response surprised them.
Every voting incentive was eventually met, meaning that Blue will have to take a mac & cheese bath, dye his hair pink, and cover a Nelly song, the latter of which he has already done. Much of the campaign’s operation came from Dalbull. A former student of Political Science, he organized the voting bombs on a discord server built for the campaign.
“Ethan’s a very charismatic person with a lot of friends in the scene who believe wholeheartedly in him, but isn’t the most organized guy, so a lot of what I did was just filling in the cracks,” Dalbull said.
The first bomb was dropped before the first two players were voted in on Monday, April 25. In the aftermath, Blue placed second out of the remaining eight.
This convinced Dalbull. He saw that the two had a real chance. They could make it in.
“It showed people that we were serious and really set the tone for the rest of the voting,” he said.
While there were no individual “whales”, meaning large donors, to bankroll the campaign, the two were able to find support across different parts of community. This base included Midwest TOs, players, and even members of the Melee Stats discord, where Blue is a regular.
Blue’s competition outranked him in acknowledgement by the larger Melee community. Mekk, who he edged out on the final day of voting, has nearly six times as many followers on Twitter as the Indiana Fox. Others had larger organizations or individual donors behind them, taking on the financial cost of getting into summit.
Understanding how Blue was able to make a mark requires a local perspective. Why is this? Because at the local level few summit candidates have been as involved.
Putting NW Indiana on the Map
Blue’s history with Melee begins later than many established players. He started playing Melee in 2017, but says he didn’t start becoming a regular attendee of local tournaments until 2019.
These Purdue and West Lafayette weeklies let him cut his teeth and make an appearance on the higher end of the PR, but when the pandemic hit in March of 2020, Blue’s passions moved into the online space. Every day, he would go to work, come home and play Melee. He kept getting better.
Over time, his profile rose, and not only because of his growth as a player. In 2021, when the pandemic had receded and vaccination was widely available, Blue, alongside his co-TO Dalbull, rebuilt the Northwest Indiana scene with new weekly events.
“When LAN was coming back and Ethan wanted me to TO our local with him, it was a no brainer,” Dalbull told CLM. “Since then we’ve hosted 34 Lan weeklies, 15 Indiana-locked online weeklies, and five house tourneys (two with over 30s entrants).”
Blue has been dedicated not only to playing Melee but also spreading it. Besides hosting events, he runs carpools, sometimes driving an hour and a half on his way to the venue picking up players who don’t drive.
He has even run carpools to out-of-state events and regionals as well, exposing NW Indiana players to the larger community.
Running weeklies in Northwest Indiana meant sourcing CRTs and Wiis, as well as a PC setup, on his own. The majority of the setups used at these weeklies belong to Blue. When hosting the Come for the Crown weekly, Blue will come home after finishing a 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift, and his work setting up the event will begin the moment he gets home.
He admits that it can be exhausting, that some days he would rather not host the tournament. Still, he always does, save for next week when he will be taking it off for summit.
This dedication has yielded Northwest Indiana Melee’s growth, with an average of 15 entrants at events now. Players come out as well from Purdue and Indianapolis. It certainly helps that Blue is also one of the state’s best players, and one who is happy to play friendlies with anyone.
Blue has taken sets over Minnesota Sheik Ben, the Jigglypuff legend Michael, Chicago’s king Skerzo and Chicago’s villain NoFluxes between the online and offline spaces. Still, even in Chicago many players may not be aware of him.
“Who is Blue?”, asked many community members upon seeing his name in the list of nominees. The fox player’s tag is not exactly search engine friendly either, making things confusing for those looking to learn more about him.
If they didn’t know before, they likely do know now.
Over 9,000 viewers watched Blue’s stream when he was accepted into summit. This may have been aided by the fact that final vote-in Salt and runner-up Mekk were both on their way to Low Tide City in Texas at the moment, he admits. After days of hustling for votes, streaming and playing Melee in the same clothes, it was a life changing moment.
“It was so humbling,” he said. “I’m never gonna forget this in my entire life.”
Consequently, whenever someone asks who he is or why he deserves to be where he’s going, Blue doesn’t get too worried.
“(The anxiety of) having people maybe not be happy with you. That compared to the anxiety summit (voting) gave me, that’s nothing,” he said.
Making a mark
Blue’s acceptance into Summit comes while his days in Northwest Indiana are numbered. Blue will be moving to Terre Haute, IN at the end of the summer, further south and closer to Indianapolis than his current home of Valparaiso. In some ways, the summit campaign could be seen as a capstone of Blue’s time in the community as TO and player.
He already has plans to become more involved in the Indianapolis scene, but at Summit, he will be representing the Midwest at large, getting exposure to players from around the world.
Blue is especially excited to play against Marths Kodorin and Zain, players who he believes will offer him insight on how to better approach the much-discussed Fox Marth matchup.
He’s also excited to play Jmook, perhaps Melee’s hottest player right now, and to play the tournament’s international players Pipsqueak, Sora and Frenzy.
While getting a sample of how distant regions play, Blue will also get a chance to show off his take on the “Midwest Spacey” style that has continued to develop over the years through players like Kels, KJH and Ginger.
Blue says the style at its roots has been very technical and is becoming a more polished defensive style, with heavy use of dash dances and full hops, a style that is defensive with a heavy punish game.
“The Midwest spaceys punish you for being lazy,” Blue says of the style. “I think we’re a lot smarter than we’re given credit for.”
As for whether Blue will be able to “upset” any of the players present, we will have to wait and see. With Genesis 8 showing Mang0 can drop a set to Colorado Sheik Fizzwiggle, and Canada’s top fox Moky can drop lose against Chicago Peach Eggy, Melee truly feels like a game where anything can happen right now. Either way, the event will give Blue lots of hands-on practice with the best of the best.
“I’m gonna probably get dumpstered, but hey, you gotta get your shit kicked in before you can really get fired up and motivated to learn,” Blue said.
He hopes he can take what he learns in the bracket and friendly matches at summit back home to Indiana, where he can keep working to reduce the skill gap between the Midwest and Melee’s coastal regions.
“There is a skill gap right now, but there won’t always be, and I truly believe that,” he said.
With Summit guaranteeing a payout to all of its entrants, Blue isn’t going to forget what Indiana, and Midwest Melee at large did for him. He intends to reinvest his winnings from the event back into the community as well. It’s this dedication to his own community, alongside a commitment to improving at Melee, that has made him such an endearing figure to his supporters.
“It’s been hard not to be a Blue fan,” Chicago Marth player Saffron, who wrote a Reddit post explaining Blue’s pedigree, told CLM. “Speaking as a low level player, Blue’s always been one of my closest friends and supporters. He’s taken time to give me friendlies, cheered on my growth, hosted tourneys for me to attend every week, and offered me and my friends rides to tourneys across Indiana and Chicago.”
Dalbull agrees that Blue as a person mobilized the community, and that made all the difference.
“We didn’t have a massive whale to bankroll the campaign. We had a ton of people take their time and hard-earned money and throw their support behind Ethan,” he said. “Ethan’s mobilized our community in a way that I thought was impossible. It’s truly a reflection of his character and what he’s given to this scene.”