SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The saga continues. In the last decade, Alliance's Adam "Armada" Lindgren and Cloud9's Joseph "Mang0" Marquez have battled it out, gunning for the title of best Super Smash Bros. Melee ("Melee") player in the world. One comes from Sweden and the other from Southern California; the two competitors clashed recently at Genesis 4, an annual international premier tournament in January in Mang0's home state.
This time, it's a cold and rainy late Sunday in the capital of Silicon Valley. Last year, Armada defeated Mang0 in a jaw-dropping set that pushed both to their limits. This year wasn't even close, as Armada dropped Mang0 with no questions asked in a dominant 3-0 in the grand finals.
"Melee is a really momentum-based game, and I started off the grand finals really strong and Mang0 couldn't break through my momentum," Armada told ESPN after the win. "The thing is, if we [were to] play this tomorrow, maybe he would win, maybe I would win again. This was my turn."
The two players have become incredibly familiar with each other over the years and have had grand finals clashes at major events like Genesis 4. But to some, the climactic set wasn't the highlight of the San Jose showdown. Instead, that title may have belonged to the winners final match of the tournament between Armada and fellow Smash "god" Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman.
In unexpected fashion, Mew2King gained an early lead in the set prior to Armada mounting a comeback. The set went to a total of 3-2, with Armada winning the victory in a final-game thriller. The memorable set, Armada says, was a result of both parties having improved their games and learning how to face one another and the other's characters.
"It's a really, really stressful matchup [between Mew2King's Marth and my Peach]," Armada explains. "It might not be the most fast pace, but it's so methodical, a little bit like chess, I want to say. Playing that matchup is really hard but also really fun in a way, and Mew2King is getting better at the matchup after every tournament it feels like, so I will have to go back to the drawing board, for sure.
"This is getting too rough, it's getting too rough," he declares, tongue slightly in cheek.
But despite the victory and taking home $8,520 from the singles tournament alone, Armada doesn't take his consistent wins as business as usual. He says that complacency would be detrimental to his champion's mentality.
"I don't look at [winning as normal]," he says. "I feel like as soon as you start feeling comfortable with your position, that's when you start to slack off. In the past, it's been a weakness of mine [that] when I do well, I start practicing a bit less even though I know I shouldn't. I always try to look at the next tournament. The one you played before that, it matters today, it matters tomorrow, but after that it's a new tournament coming up.
"I try not to think about [my momentum in either of the side of the bracket] too much either," he continues. "Whether it's winners, losers, you can still win the tournament; doesn't matter whether you're in winners or losers, I just try to focus on the next match. Someone was asking, 'Oh, who do you think you'll play in grand finals?' before winners finals, and I was like, 'No, [I'm not thinking about that right now,] Mew2King is the next one. He's the next one in my way to get to grand finals. He's my main focus.' Always keep the focus on the short distance."
Like most athletes, Armada says much of his support comes from his family. But unlike others, the support from his kin isn't just emotional, it's in-game, too. Armada is one of the few esports pro players to have two brothers who have competed at the highest level of Smash as well: older brother Alexander "Aniolas" Lindgren and younger brother Andreas "Android" Lindgren.
"It's pretty important [to have my brothers around]," Armada says. "Android especially and Aniolas, in the past, even though he lives pretty far away from me now -- they've always been there for me in terms of practice and help. Android, he's really good at Smash overall, of course, but he's also really good at fighting [against] my style. So when I fight Android, I really need to remember all the things I do too often. He breaks down my habits more than anyone else in the world."
Armada says that he wants to help Android improve in singles matches. The two took down other duos together in doubles at Genesis 4, earning another pair of trophies, but Android bottomed out at 65th in the singles portion of the tournament.
"It's really interesting playing with him, for sure," Armada says. "I'll try and be more helpful to him in the future so he can improve in singles, because he's a fantastic doubles player. In singles, he has some catching up to do. Once we do that, we're going to destroy people in teams even more, I feel."
Although Armada does have his brothers to practice against in his home country, Sweden's Smash scene is limited in terms of top talent to compete against. Most of the professional talent in Melee is condensed into pockets of the United States, notably Southern and Northern California, Maryland/Virginia and several others. To practice before tournaments, Armada often starts traveling early to be able to warm up with top-level competitors.
"When I get the chance to play with people, I always try to treat it as world-class-level practice, more or less," he says. "I try to really pay attention to all of the details, often even telling my opponents that they should think about this and this, partly to help them but partly to help me. If they get better at countering some stuff I do, I will also get better at countering the stuff they start to do. I try to keep it pretty educational but pretty creative, I would say."
Between this constructive style of practice and consistent tournament wins, Armada says he remains confident in his ability but not complacent.
"As a competitor, you always need to have faith in yourself," he explains. "The thing is, people are always getting so much better all the time, so you can't, like, just win. It's so much effort, preparation. It's really important. I always have faith that I can win, but I know I can slack [and fall behind] because so many people are aiming for me, and [Johnny 'S2J' Kim] brought me down to last hit, Mew2King brought me down to last hit, so it's really, really hard. But I'll always have faith."