MaNg0: "I've never thought of myself as a God"

— -- A charged-up smash from Fox brings those assembled in the Austin Convention Center's Ballroom D to the edge of their seats. It's not enough to kill, at least in this scenario, but the crowd knows they're just seconds away from either competitor taking home their share of $10,000. A brief silence follows, and just a few moments later an up throw into up air sends Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma's Jigglypuff off the top of the stage.

The crowd erupts, and the Fox player -- one of the best in the world, Joseph "MaNg0" Marquez -- jumps out of his seat. Popular Super Smash Bros. Melee commentator D'Ron "D1" Maingrette sums up the DreamHack Austin finale by yelling a signature, "Destruction!"

Over the past few months MaNg0 traded matches with Hungrybox, with each winning their fair share. The year started at Genesis 3 with a dominant MaNg0 victory in the losers' finals, as he displayed some of his best form -- only for him to fall off a month later at PAX Arena, as Hungrybox beat him in the Grand Finals. Consistency is key in Super Smash Bros., and with the most difficult part of the year (the summer) just around the corner, winning at DreamHack Austin can mean everything.

"It feels good, man," says MaNg0, after signing some autographs at the HyperX booth in the arena. "From losing so long to finally getting a W, man, it feels great. Pretty much all I can say."

While he has held his own and more against Hungrybox so far in 2016, he'd been unable to take first place at a major tournament before his triumph at DreamHack Austin. In previous tournaments, even when he has taken down Hungrybox, it only led to matchups with Adam "Armada" Lindgren, who for the last year was the game's best player. Alternatively, he has beaten Armada in losers' finals matches at other tournaments, with Hungrybox awaiting him each time in the finals to cut him down.

DreamHack Austin was different. Armada was not in attendance, and the odds finally seemed to fall in favor of MaNg0.

Despite a somewhat bumpy start to 2016, MaNg0 is no stranger to winning it all. In 2013 and 2014, he won back-to-back Super Smash Bros. Melee EVO titles, standing tall at the biggest fighting game tournament in the world. In 2015, things proved to be less consistent, with only a handful of first-place finishes and a slump in form. MaNg0 said it caused people to count him out when it mattered most.

"Hungrybox has been beating me lately," he said, "And people were starting to say that, 'Oh no, MaNg0 can't do it, blah, blah, blah.' So it's nice to just get a W, because winning, as I was losing for a long time, but the first win feels good, since I've come close to winning and I'd blow it. I just didn't have that champion fortitude."

Less than hour after beating Hungrybox, it was clear that the victory was a huge confidence boost for MaNg0.

"Now that I've won, it's like wait a minute, I can do this again, you know?" he said. "The first one's the hardest, I'm feeling pretty confident, like my confidence is pretty high. I wish Armada was here, it would've been great to play him today. But I'll take the Hbox win."

He'll get plenty of opportunities to face Armada. DreamHack Austin, for many, was the beginning of the "Summer of Smash." While tournaments happen almost every weekend in Smash, the biggest ones -- the ones with the most viewers, highest prize pots, and the most respect to be earned -- occur in the summer.

The next major is Get On My Level, which begins May 20 in Toronto. Four of the "Five Gods" (Armada, MaNg0, Hungrybox, and Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman) and their most serious foil William "Leffen" Hjelte, who for the early part of 2015 beat most of the Gods, are all confirmed to be in attendance.

"[The summer] is gonna be a bumpy ride," MaNg0 said. "I think we're at a point in Melee which is actually very good for the scene. You don't know when Armada is gonna win, you don't know if Hbox ... pretty much those two and then MaNg0 just lingers around, just kind of being annoying and maybe win, but not really. But now that I've won, Melee has kind of shaken up. It's like, 'Whoa! MaNg0 can still do it. Hbox can still do it, and Armada can definitely still do it.' It's gonna be an interesting, great summer for Smash."

The moniker "Five Gods" dates to 2013, a reference to the "Gods of Fighting Games" in Japan; Smash, in part, wanted its own version. That saying was popularized by Twitch employee and popular commentator Bobby "Scar" Scarnewman, who used to reference the five greatest players of that era in competitive Smash.

But just because many say MaNg0 is a god of the game, he says he never has let that matter to. In fact, he says he's "just MaNg0."

"I've never thought of myself as a God," he said. "I'm just doing my own thing, and I want to separate myself from them. I want to be my own thing. I've never once in my head been like 'Oh, I'm a God.' That has never crossed my mind. I'm just, just MaNg0, you know? I'm just trying to do my thing."

Preparing for the big show this summer is easier for MaNg0 than some of his fellow competitors. Originally from Norwalk, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, MaNg0 grew up and lives around others who are now fellow professional Smash players.

"Luckily, I live next to Lucky, who lives like seven minutes away. S2J lives like 40, 50 [minutes away] but he's always down to drive. He's a driver, so he'll come down if we want him to. I have Alex19, and if I want to invite MacD over, we can. It's like I'm pretty spoiled, like having Lucky there is pretty nice and other top players to practice and grind with, so I'm pretty lucky to live where I do and have the people to play that I do."

Many of the Southern California players play based off instinct rather than studying and researching the more technical parts of the game. That style of play focuses more on beating individual human input and choices, rather than being bound by the natural expectations and limitations of the game.

"I play different from everyone else," MaNg0 says. "I play more on the spot, so I feel like if I can always play well, I'll always be able to keep up with the meta."

He acknowledges that the competition is tougher now, and recently, there has been a massive improvement in skill in Smash. Players in the top 10 are closing the gap in terms of skill level, and on any given day, the top six could lose a match or even a series. Players such as Zac "SFAT" Cordoni, James "Duck" Ma, Sami "DruggedFox" Muhanna, and Mustafa "Ice" Akcakaya have improved dramatically this year.

"But it is rough, people are getting better at like Smash DI'ing, and getting out combos, not getting hit, or like killing you when they touch you," MaNg0 said. "Everyone's getting pretty nutty, man. Even look at the game two years ago, nowhere near as good as we are [right now.] The thing about Melee is that every year that goes on, our players get better and better and better -- and there seems to be no stop."