By Chris Brown
Ken Hoang stands as possibly the most heralded Super Smash Brothers Melee player ever. Statistically, Ken was a monster at all levels. During his reign as the “King of Smash,” Ken managed to win the 1v1 crown at 27 of 34 major, national level tournaments between January 19, 2003 and October 6, 2007: a 79% win rate. He won MLG’s 2004 and 2005 1v1 Championships and was the Season Point Leader for 2004, 2005, and 2006. His worst finish in five years of active competition was 9th Place, and on only five occasions (out of over 60 Events) did he finish outside the Top 3.
As if that weren’t impressive enough, throw in what Ken achieved with his favorite 2v2 partner, Isai, and his legend only grows. Ken and Isai went from August 3, 2003 to July 30, 2006—just days short of three full years—without losing a 2v2 Event together. It took them two and a half years before they even saw the Losers Bracket at an Event. Together, they were MLG’s 2005 and 2006 2v2 National Champions, winning 11 out of 13 MLG Events in that period. While it is difficult to accurately calculate Ken’s career winnings, since many of his victories came from small-scale underground tournaments, it is likely he earned in the ballpark of $55,000-$65,000. His most profitable Event was the 2006 MLG National Championship, where he took 1st Place in the 2v2 ($5,000), 3rd Place in the 1v1 ($3,000) and solidified himself as the Season Point Leader ($4,000) over the threatening opponents of ChuDat and PC Chris.
Ken’s Biggest Rival
Ken’s biggest rival over the entire course of his career was Azen. In the early days of competitive Smash, nothing sparked a more contentious debate amongst fans than who was better: Ken, the best player on the West Coast, or Azen, the best player on the East Coast. They both attended the first national Melee tournament in California (TG5 in August of 2003) where Ken managed 1st Place and Azen took a disappointing 4th. Six months later, they both played at Game Over on the East Coast, where Ken once again emerged in 1st Place, and Azen took a close 2nd. Azen would eventually take 1st Place at TG6 in August 2004, a tournament where Ken had his worst career performance—a disappointing 9th Place—without losing to Azen. This represented the only period before 2006 where Ken’s reign was threatened.
Ken would quell any doubts about his stature by winning the 2004 MLG National Championship and by kicking 2005 off with a win at MLG D.C. He went on to win Events at GS2, FC3, and the Jack Garden Tournament in Japan. His success would carry into 2006, when it finally seemed that the competition was beginning to catch up to him.
Despite being the odds-on favorite to unseat Ken, Azen began takin a series of breaks from the game, and they resulted in his absence from the early Events of the 2006 MLG season. When Azen eventually came back on the scene, he took 4th Place in Chicago, where Ken took 1st Place. Despite once again falling short in singles, Azen, with his teammate Chillen, did manage to finally end the nearly three-year win streak of Ken and Isai in the 2v2 Event. Azen would then win the next two MLG Events and would finally beat his rival for the first time at the 2006 MLG Playoffs. After his loss to Azen and his subsequent 3rd Place finish at the 2006 National Championship, Ken’s undisputed reign as the King of Smash was over. At the end of 2006, and through 2007, he would compete with roughly four other players for the best in the world. His last National title came in 2007 at EVO World.
Ken Gets Carried
Ken began 2006 by winning the 2005 MLG National Championship (held early in 2006), but stumbled at the Season Opener in New York, where he lost unexpectedly to PC Chris. This would begin an interesting rivalry that would eventually culminate in the Event that has continued to live on in MLG and Smash folklore. The East versus West Coast rivalry in Smash has always been fierce, and all of its intensity was on display in Anaheim in 2006. PC Chris, after making his way through the Loser’s Bracket, would eventually face Ken in the Finals. The entire Smash community anticipated an epic match due to the nail-biting encounters the players had previously engaged in. PC Chris was viewed as the first legitimate contender since Azen to end Ken’s reign, and he was not about to go down lightly.
The Finals for the 1v1 Event would be held for the first time on MLG’s Main Stage. The extra seating and exposure attracted a large pro-West Coast crowd behind Ken that cheered at his every success. PC Chris managed to win the first Match of the Finals 3-1, bringing the entire tournament down to just a single Best-of-5 Match. With each game the crowd roared louder and it was clear Ken had finally found a worthy opponent. This was a welcome spark for a community that was thirsty to see the King of Smash overcome a real challenge. Game after game, it was apparent PC Chris and Ken were evenly matched. The two went back and forth until the Match was tied 2-2, leaving one final battle to determine the victor. Ken, using Marth, took PC Chris’s Falco to the risky stage of Mute City. They traded hits back and forth until they were each on their last stock with high damage. Ken would seal Game 5 of the second Match of the Finals with a B-Throw to F-Smash just as the stage hazards entered the field of play. The crowd went wild and the West Coast fans picked up their hero and carried him around the stage. The video, shot from above, was later used in the introduction to MLG’s 2006 TV show on the USA Network, and would even be played during the Survivor Gabon Reunion episode with millions of viewers watching on.
After this stunning victory, Ken attended tournaments sporadically in 2007. He had some notable successes, like winning EVO World 2k7’s $5,000 1st Place Prize, but he also had some notable setbacks, like taking 4th Place at OC-3 and 7th Place at Super Champ Combo. After he took 1st Place and $1,000 at the NewEgg Lanfest on October 6, 2007, Ken essentially retired from the tournament scene. Few heard from him, and many wondered just what he would do with the release of Brawl in early 2008. Their answer would come very shortly.
In the early summer of 2008, Ken traveled to Gabon to be one of 18 contestants on CBS’s hit series, Survivor. The show, which consistently averaged over 10 million viewers during the season, showed Ken as a true competitor and one of the top strategists. Ken would credit the “mind games” that he honed as a National Champion in Smash for his success at Survivor. Despite being on the tribe that lost nearly every immunity challenge, Ken somehow managed to make it into the final merger and ultimately placed 5th overall.
What is more stunning, though, is what he did after his foray on Survivor. Ken finished 2nd at EVO World 2k8, just weeks after spending 39 days in Gabon. This would be Ken’s last appearance on the national smash tournament scene, and it would be his only top finish at a Brawl National.
Today, Ken works as a freelance illustrator after having finished college at CSULB. He likes playing family video games like Mario Party and is an avid player of StarCraft 2. Ken looks fondly on the memories of his time as a Champion, and while he feels it is time to move on, he will always appreciate the many stories that came from his time as a top competitor. To this day, Ken still holds most of the records for competitive Smash players.