After almost a year without attending a Major League Gaming tournament, Ken, the King of Smash, will make a triumphant return to the stage at Champ Combo in California this month. He recently took first place at Evo World, once again showing that on any given day he is a player to be feared. In his most extensive and in-depth interview to date, Ken talks about his past, his future, and some of the moments that made his many years playing the game special.
MLG: Ken, it’s been almost a year since you’ve last attended an MLG tournament, what have you been keeping busy with during this time?
Ken: First of all, I’ve become really attached to the new Pokemon Diamond/Pearl game and I’ve been pretty busy raising new Pokemon to try to beat Arash, since I think he’s the best at it. The reason for doing this was that Arash said even If I started to play Pokemon, I’d never even have a chance at him since he’s a Pokemon Master. However, I responded, ” What!? Pokemon is a game of luck, anyone can beat anyone.” Furthermore, Arash has finally agreed with me that Pokemon is a game of luck rather than skill, since so much shit happens. Sorry to rag on about Pokemon, but when I’m not playing Pokemon, I’ve been drawing and painting. School’s about to start, so I’d like to get a fresh start, since I am an Illustration major.
MLG: What year are you in school now? How many more until you graduate?
Ken: Right now, it’s my fifth year; I’ve been taking it pretty slowly since I’ve had to travel to so many Smash tournaments in the past. However I should be graduating by the end of the year. I don’t really want to leave school just yet, I feel that if I stay perhaps an extra year, I could take some of the classes that I really wanted to take and it would help my skills as an artist to prepare for the real world. Of course my dream Job would be to work for Nintendo someday, however I would also like to work for Wizards of the Coast by drawing magic cards.
MLG: So has school affected your ability to play Smash or has Smash affected your schooling?
Ken: To tell you the truth, both. Here are the reasons why. Without Smash, I would simply have to get a part time job and student loans to pay for college tuition. Of course, with school, especially being an illustrator, which takes hours upon hours of work on a single piece of art, there really isn’t much time for anything else. My average day was: go to school, go home, and then draw for 8 hours and go to sleep. Sometimes one meal a day, but only if I even remembered to eat. When the school schedule gets really tight, I’d have to pull all-nighters for five to six days a week trying to finish on time. It gets really hectic.
MLG: During the summer you competed in two big tournaments in California. The first, OC3, you took fourth in, but just recently you took first at Evo World and won $5,000. What changed between the two tournaments?
Ken: Oh, that’s a very simple question. During 0C3, we were short a lot of staff so most of us ended up doing more than we should have. Running a major tournament and also competing in one is really tough. I think I’m the only person to host a major tournament and have won my own tournament, that being 0C2 last summer. Your main goals are for the tournament really, so most of the time you just think what you can do to make the tournament better and not really care for your placing. Also, sleep is a major issue. I was running off 15-30 minutes of sleep a day during 0C3 along with 2 hours on Sunday which is singles day. I’m usually a person who requires 16 hours of sleep a day; you can ask Eddie Howels (Ganon player) for proof of that. Moreover I didn’t really practice before 0C3, nor did I intend too, since I really didn’t care. After 0C3, I wanted to prove to myself that I still had what it takes to beat these guys (being the pros) if I actually trained. Moreover, during 0C3, I was talking with Sean B (aka Forward) and I told him, if you’re going to retire, you have to go out with a bang! Foward replies, “I know Ken, but that only happens in movies, this isn’t a movie.” It’s funny because right now, it seems like I was just in a movie. To make a Naruto reference: Mew2king has always compared himself to Rock lee, saying “He was really never good at Smash, but trained so hard that he will eventually become the best.” He’ll train so hard that it’ll hurt. However, I’m not like Rock lee. I’ve had talent with Smash ever since I first started playing. I am like the Shikamaru of Smash. I’m a genius at the game, however if I think things are too troublesome, I won’t even care to do it.
MLG: A year ago if I were asked who the best Smash player was, I replied “Ken”. During the last six months, however, that response has changed to “take your pick among Ken, Mew2King, PC Chris, ChuDat, and KoreanDJ”. Most hold Mew2king as being the best currently and you unfortunately didn’t play him at Evo. Do you still consider yourself the best? Or do you feel there are now players who are really on par or even above you?
Ken: To tell you the truth, and not to sound too cocky for all the haters, but no matter what happens, I’ll always be considered the best player and I don’t think any Smasher can ever take that away from me. I’ll still be known as Ken, The king of Smash until the day I die. Right now, it really depends, I feel that if I consistently trained like the rest of the pros then I’d still be the best, but I don’t think I’d want to do that. I think I would have really beaten Mew2King if he were to be in the final 8 at Evo, since I’ve been training against other Marths before the tournament. Also I would like to add that before the tournament Mew2King was scared to play me. Of course this is coming from Cactuar and Mew2King himself. Furthermore, there really aren’t any noobs at this game anymore. The game has been out so long and everyone is so good now a days that even a pro can lose to some random Joe out there. It’s nothing but all counters at this game, and some players just seem to counter others or do extremely well against them.
MLG: Sort of like you and ChuDat. I think he is currently 18-1 (or worse) against you in tournament play, but I haven’t even seen every tournament you two have played in. This aside, let’s talk about a rumor that has been going around. Are you or have you retired?
Ken: After 0C3, I was really done with the game and I felt that it was time to move on. I thought, hey, I’ve had my glory and perhaps it’s time for someone else to have theirs. Moreover, after 0C3, during my time at Disneyland with PC Chris, Milktea and Rickety, they really wanted me to go to Evo West. I was really done with the game and told them “I’m sorry, I’ve retired.” and I didn’t end up going to Evo West which is like an hour and half from my house. However, during the gap between 0C3 and the Evo World Championships, I’d received tons and tons of AIM messages from random Smashers out there who said “Ken, don’t quit, please, you’re my idol.” At first I didn’t really want to go to Evo World but of course Manacloud convinced me to go. He’s a really good older brother and he has a lot of faith in me. Without him, I would have never even heard of Smashboards and without him, I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am at today with Smash. He told me, “Ken, I’m willing to help you get back into shape and we’ll train when I’m free until Evo World.” This is the first time this has happened since 2005. Moreover, I decided to take my own advice that I had given to Forward and decided to go out with a bang. Finally, I’m going to quote something here that Kiwii said, “Congrats Ken for winning Evo after your 503rd retirement. What happened, East Coast?! Good job, Cali.” Well, Kiwi, I’m sorry to have pulled an Azen but it had to be done. I had to prove to myself and all my fans out there that I still had it in me. But, yes this is it, I really am retired, furthermore, if I am going to play then it’ll be just for fun and not competitively.
MLG: It’s already been confirmed that you will at least be teaming with Isai for MLG’s Champ Combo this September. Have you reached a decision about the singles tournament?
Ken: I will attend MLG’s sponsored Super Champ Combo and team with Isai for one last time and probably won’t enter singles seriously.
MLG: Let’s talk a little bit about how the game has changed over the last year. Since you haven’t attended tournaments as regularly as you once use to, have you noticed a difference in how the game is played across different levels?
Ken: Yes, I have. Since I really haven’t been up to date, I’ve seen new tactics from all kinds of characters that I’ve never seen before. There’s always something new, at every tournament, however the basics and the important techniques will always be the same, for example L-canceling. Wait are you talking about levels, as in Smash levels or levels as in competitive play levels?
MLG: As in competitive play, you mentioned that now everyone is good at the game.
Ken: Oh yes, as mentioned before, everyone is so good at the game now. I think that this game has been out so long and it has been so competitive, that the US as a whole is just too good at this game. Moreover, all the old school Smashers like me who once used to be at the top are just waiting for Brawl to come out.
MLG: Let’s talk a bit about Champ Combo; are you excited to team with Isai for what will probably be your last chance to prove your team dominance?
Ken: Yes, I am very excited to team with Isai and I always will. As Captain Jack will says “Isai is the best teams partner anyone can have. Isai is TOO GOOD.” For the past eight months, I haven’t teamed with him, and it’s been too long. He’s been teaming with other players such as Mew2King, King and who knows (sorry I haven’t been keeping track). Perhaps I feel a bit sad that everyone always says that I’m not good at teams and Isai always does all the work. I’m not even ranked Top 3 in Southern California for being the best team’s partner. That’s kind of why I teamed with BombSoldier (from Japan) at 0C3, since I wanted to prove to a lot of people out there that I’m also pretty good at teams (not Isai good, but still have a major role in teams). But of course, it was all BombSoldier at 0C3 right? Not me at all. (laughs)
MLG: The most dominant team’s performance so far this year was by Cort and PC Chris at FC Diamond, they barely dropped a game the entire tournament. If they show up, do you think you can take them? What other teams could cause trouble for you?
Ken: PC Chris and Cort, eh? We will definitely take them. This is my master plan against them; I’ll sit there and look pretty while Isai takes them both out. Just kidding, I’m not sure to tell you the truth. Isai and I will be rusty at teams; hopefully we can get some practice in before that. Nonetheless, it will be a good battle. I heard that Azen and Chillin are teaming for Super Champ combo, and this might be a little troublesome for us. However, I hope to pull a mighty no-hands against them again. Furthermore, ChuDat and Mana are also teaming. A lot of the good teams are coming back; it’ll be a hard win, but also a deserving win if Isai and I will make it to the top once again.
MLG: Champ Combo will most likely be Melee’s last big tournament before Brawl. Have you been keeping up with the news on Brawl? What do you think so far?
Ken: I don’t really check up on the news for Brawl as much as I’d love too, however news gets around no matter what. Every time a new character is released, I hear it from some random Smasher out there. I think that Brawl will of course be a good game and Nintendo is going all out this time around. Hopefully it will be a more balanced game than Melee is right now.
MLG: What improvements do you want to see in Brawl?
Ken: First off, ledge invincibility is way too cheap. Everyone now is just ledge camping and nerfing people. I hate to see that happen all the time, especially when Mew2King does it. Secondly, hopefully there will be no Sheik. I just hate Sheik, however I see Zero Suit Samus, uh oh, looks like another version of Sheik. Perhaps some air grabs would be nice too and of course Bowser being top tier in the next version.
MLG: If you could choose 3 new characters, from any game, for Brawl, who would you choose?
Ken: Oh, that’s simple. 1) Viewtiful Joe 2)KoreanDJ 3)PC Chris.
MLG: Okay, but seriously?
Ken: Yea, I’m just kidding, it would be 1) Viewtiful Koe 2) Sephiroth and 3) Orlandu from FFT.
MLG: Why don’t you think you will be entering singles for Champ Combo?
Ken: September is during the school year and I might have lots of work to do. However I might just enter and go all Roy for fun, or Luigi. It really depends on how much free time I have that weekend.
MLG: Assuming you don’t enter, whom do you think the Top 3 will be?
Ken: Isai, PC Chris, King/Mango. Fourth would be ChuDat.
MLG: California has many strong players. Aside from the bigger names, can you think of any players or teams that could cause a ruckus during the tournament?
Ken: Yea for sure, Edreese, Knives, Mango, Lucky, that Falco player forgot his name, Kyle, Mr. Pbody. Mango and Lucky are definitely one of Southern California’s best teams out there, and oh yeah, Boa, ROFL, Emerican, Aesis, all the Pdale guys, they’re just too good.
MLG: (laughs) That Falco player forgot his name?
Ken: Yea, I think his name is Deth or something, you know that Falco player. (laughs)
MLG: All right. In most interviews we tend to focus on a player’s future. How about we take a little bit of a different route and have a look at your past. What would be your two fondest moments in your years of Smashing?
Ken: There have been so many moments, but the best two moments would be Manacloud taking Azen and Chillin 2v1 at MLG’s 2006 Championship and myself doing my no hands thing after getting Azen in the infinite with Isai at MLG’s 2005 Championship.
MLG: Who were the three most difficult opponents in a championship match and at which tournaments did you play them?
Ken: Te first being PC Chris at MLG Anaheim 2006, actually that was also a good moment when I beat him, with the last stage being on Mute city, so close. Mew2King at 0C2, that was also very intense and lastly, BombSoldier at the Jack Garden tournament (in Japan) in the summer of 2005.
MLG: What were your three most disappointing defeats?
Ken: Losing to Azen at MLG’s New York 2006 playoffs, when I was 3 stocks ahead. Losing to Korean DJ at MLG’s 2006 Championship in the final match at Yoshi Story when that Ken cloud finished me off and, lastly, getting my all time low at ninth place losing to Sastopher back at TG6 in 2004.
MLG: The greatest players in any field leave a legacy, with many of the habits, moves, and the techniques they developed being copied, refined, and improved upon long after they have retired. What are some marks you have made on competitive Smash?
Ken: Of course, the Ken combo, and mostly the whole Marth metagame.
MLG: When did you first realize you had a natural talent for Smash?
Ken: I first realized this when I was playing the 64 version. I just happened to be really good and it carried over from that game onto the next. Most of the things I used from Melee came from 64. This includes the Ken combo, which came from Captain Falcon in the 64 version.
MLG: Considering this talent existed both in the 64 version and the Gamecube version of Smash, do you think you will be just as talented when Brawl is released?
Ken: It really depends on how the actual game play will change. If it is a mix between the original and Melee, then I suppose I would be good. I know that no matter what, I will still carry the most important thing I’ve always had in Smash and that’s my mind games. I’m very good at reading my opponent and very good at doing things in certain situations. Moreover, I wish I still had the passion I used to have when I first started playing this game. As a pro and an old school player, my flame is burnt out compared to many of the newer pros now such as Mew2King, PC Chris, KoreanDJ, etc.
MLG: Halo 2 players offer lessons online for aspiring competitors, for a price. Assuming Brawl is online and you are similarly successful in it, could you see yourself also offering such a service?
Ken: I actually started training sessions during some MLG events. However, I feel that actually teaching is a lot more work than actually just playing. I used to do training sessions for $20 an hour and by the end of the training session, I would be so tired that I could barely think. I then had like two money matches and made $20 in 6 minutes. I can actually see myself offering such a service if the people really are demanding it. However, it might come back and bite me in the ass if they know all my moves and how I think and will be able to beat me in tournaments.
MLG: Would you compete in online ladder tournaments for Brawl?
Ken: Of course, however, I won’t be using the alias SephirothKen anymore. Every other pro has such a cool alias, and I’m always simply known as Ken. I already have a different alias, from now on I hope to be known as Nekromancer.
MLG: Why would you change your alias? You’re already known around the world as Ken, the King of Smash.
Ken: As said before, every other pro has such a cool alias and it brings fear to other players, for example, Azen Zagenite. Ohh scary, or even KOREAN DJ, when I hear the word Korean it already gives me the shivers. Moreover, every tournament I register as SephirothKen and in the brackets, they always just put Ken. Anyway, I’ve had the name SephirothKen since middle school and everyone always says “that used to be cool back then, now it’s just annoying.” However, since I’ve retired, I’ve basically retired as SephirothKen, NEK-romancer is basically someone who brings the dead to life, and I of course will be putting a little style into that. Furthermore, it has something to do with corpses so therefore it’ll bring Fear to players for sure!!
MLG: Do you think the Smash tournament scene will continue to thrive after Brawl is released?
Ken: I thing that some people will still play Melee but it won’t be as big a community. Furthermore, Brawl will have even a bigger community and usually everyone always plays the new games anyways. Smash 64 is the same way right now, ever since Melee was released, there has been a smash 64 community, however smaller than the melee community of course. That’s how it’s going to be with melee and brawl.
MLG: Are you already beginning to witness an influx of newer players as the Brawl release date becomes closer and closer?
Ken: Not really sure, but I just know that out of all the pros now, perhaps two or three will remain top 10. This time, the new players will be better, stronger and have more of a passion to play.
MLG: You mentioned that Azen is supposedly coming to Champ Combo. You two have the longest coast-to-coast rivalry in the Smash community and it seems to get revived each year as each of you go in and out of retirement. Can you tell us a little bit about your history against him?
Ken: Basically, when I was the reigning champion of the West Coast, six months later Azen became the reigning champion of the East Coast. Of course people wanted us to duel it out and that never happened at TG5 (in 2003) since we never played. I then traveled to Game Over (big East Coast tournament in early 2004) and that was the first time I ever played him. I managed to beat him coming back from Losers Bracket in two sets and for some people I was known as the better player and national champion then. However some, mostly East Coast players who want Azen to have their babies, couldn’t handle it and the hate started to begin. Of course throughout my Smash years, he’s always going to be my rival.
MLG: When was the first time he beat you and did you avenge the loss?
Ken: The first time he beat me was MLG Atlanta 2005 where I had to fight him second round. I then worked my way back up out of Losers Bracket and fought him again in the Finals where I managed to pull a Game Over all over again. But the most-suffering lost was at MLG’s New York 2006 Playoff’s where I was up three stocks and he managed to come back and beat me. After that devastating loss, I decided to get my revenge at MLG Vegas and trained hard. During Vegas, I was well-prepared and was able to beat him, of course managing to tech five or six of his forward smashes in a row, which I thought was actually pretty cool. Oh yea, and of course I finished him off with my famous signature move, the Ken combo.
MLG: Last year at Vegas you took third place. Were you disappointed in this?
Ken: Nope, not at all. All the battles were very close and it could have gone either way. I thought Korean DJ worked very hard to earn his place that tournament, along with PC Chris so props to them. Moreover I was just glad I placed in the Top 3 to receive money. I had just turned 21 during MLG Vegas so I had tons of fun. I’ve only been disappointed in two tournaments in my whole life and that was TG6 where I placed ninth, since I wasn’t able to play in the Finals versus Captain Jack (Japanese player who was also at MLG’s 2004 Championship) for the first time and represent USA at MLG New York (playoffs) where I couldn’t pull it through Losers Bracket to make my way up to finals and play Azen again.
MLG: KoreanDJ essentially had your number last season. I talked with him a little recently and he was inconclusive about his attendance at Champ Combo. So, if he showed up, could you take him? He is the only player in your entire history that you have a negative record with.
Ken: Hmmm. It really depends; I’ve already made a promise to all the Ganon players out there along with Neo and Shaz that I’m going to use all Ganon and Roy for SCC. I really want to see how well I do with going all Roy. However, I think fighting KoreanDJ is way too troublesome, I’ll probably just end up giving up, so he’ll probably win it nonetheless. I think the reason I have the hardest time versus KoreanDJ is because I can’t really read him as well as the other pros out there. I can read ChuDat, Azen, PC Chris, Mew2King like pop up books, however, every time I open the book entitled “KoreanDJ” I always seem to get a paper cut. He is so random sometimes that it throws me completely off.
MLG: Before we finish up, is there anything else you would like to add?
Ken: Yea, of course I’d love to give my final shout outs. First shout out will go to my older sister Jenny, who’s probably my biggest supporter out there. Of course Manacloud and Arash for motivating me to make an appearance at Evo World. All my loyal fans out there. Papa DA Dave, just for being Dave. Also PC Chris for being such a cool guy and I respect him a lot. All the people who helped me train for Evo World, Rickeyty, Maple (Kyle), Bud, Kacey. Of course I can’t leave out SoCal. SoCal is just too good. Oh yea, The King. I need to buy him a Whopper for being so great. I’m sorry for missing anyone. Oh yes and to Milk Tea. Finally, too the noob who asked me the question 4 years ago, “how long is Marth’s sword.” It is exactly 36 inches long.
MLG: Thank you for your time.
Ken: See you at SCC.