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Super Smash Bros. 4's greatest champion might be the most dominant overall fighting game player in the world

ZeRo's competitive accomplishments, including his 56-tournament win streak, are unheard of in this day and age

Posted by Justin 'AdaptiveTrigger' Gordon • December 1, 2017 at 7:44 p.m. PST • Comments: 109

The very first Super Smash Bros. 4 tournament took place on June 10, 2014, during E3 at the NOKIA Theater in Los Angeles, California. This somewhat wacky event was hosted by Nintendo themselves, and invited 16 of the franchise's best players to compete before the game had even released.

Though the tournament didn't necessarily follow the format that most Smash players are used to, it may have been the most important competition in the history of Super Smash Bros. 4. The event's winner, Gonzalo "TSM|ZeRo" Barrios, has stated before that had he not won that day, he would have quit Smash as a whole.

ZeRo is not single-handedly responsible for the evolution of Smash 4's competitive scene, however, the magnitude of his impact is undeniable. We certainly would not have seen anyone replicate the run that he has been able to create over the last few years.

As of right now, Barrios is the only player that has earned over $100,000 by playing Super Smash Bros. 4 -- which is nearly double that of the second highest earning player. This in a scene that does not have a "pro tour" directly supported by the creator company, like other fighting game scenes.

His 56-tournament win streak for the game is a feat that has been recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records, and he has won nearly every tournament, major or otherwise, in the years of 2014 and 2015.

ZeRo's story is quite a fascinating one. Like many others, it has humble beginnings.

The initial commitment to play Smash Bros.

At a young age, Barrios dealt with a lot of bullying and family financial troubles. Kotaku recently detailed the severity and extent of his troubles growing up, noting such experiences as classmates attacking him when teachers weren't looking and an eventual drop out of the school system that lasted three years.

Despite the hardships, his passion for gaming on the Nintendo GameCube remained strong, and he was particularly fond of Super Smash Bros. Melee. After grinding away and developing his skills in the Nintendo-themed fighting title, ZeRo began competing in a tournament setting at the age of 11-years-old.

He saw a lot of success at local tournaments, and his skills at such a young age garnered dislike from many of the older players. ZeRo would go on to compete at a national event at only twelve-years-old.

Throughout all of this, his mother showed continued support. She would work extra hours in order to fuel Barrios' hobby.

At the age of 18, he decided that he would live and compete in the United States. If he wasn't able to make something of himself, he promised his mother he would quit, come back, and maybe go to college.

Once in the United States, he had a limited budget that was only supported by tournament wins. Taking a 12-hour ride in a megabus because he couldn't afford flights became a standard practice.

Over time, he would be considered to be among the best players in the world for Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and the Project M mod for Brawl.

Super Smash Bros. 4

Eventually, ZeRo's success would secure him an invitation from Nintendo themselves to play Super Smash Bros. 4 in front of the world before the game's official release. The rules of the tournament were very unique compared to what professional Smashers are used to.

It featured free-for-all matches, timed matches instead of stock, items, and was played on stages that had no chance of being competitively viable. Even when a player lost, they could garner fans votes to keep them in the tournament.

To close out the event, ZeRo faced off against Super Smash Bros. Melee champion Liquid|HungryBox in the finals. We didn't know it then, but there was actually a great deal riding on this match.

ZeRo had decided that he would only continue to pursue a career in competitive Smash Bros. if he won. History was made that day.

As a result of ZeRo's success, his YouTube channel saw a spike in popularity, and talks with sponsors and important people in the industry began. Clearly, ZeRo was now committed to seeing this through.

When the game launched, ZeRo's presence in the scene was unlike any other. It quickly became clear that he was going to be one of the game's top players.

Let's take a look at his tournament record from 2014 to 2015:

• 1st - Super Smash Bros. Invitational
• 3rd - Sky's Smash 4 Invitational
• 1st - UGC Biweekly #17
• 1st - Triumph or Die 2014
• 1st - Super Smash Weekend 12-6-2014
• 1st - Super Smash Saturdays 12-20-2014
• 1st - UGC Biweekly #18
• 1st - Double Vegas Down Attack 5
• 1st - SkillCon
• 1st - UGC Smash v2.2 Road to Final Battle!
• 1st - Warriors Path 1/4
• 1st - CLASH Online Invitational Finals
• 1st - Double Vegas Down Attack 6
• 1st - Final Battle
• 1st - Smash 4 Worldwide
• 1st - Apex 2015
• 1st - COTU VI
• 1st - Showdown VI
• 1st - Cyberzone 3/14
• 1st - The Gaming Zone 3/21
• 1st - Shockwave 22
• 1st - Aftershock
• 1st - Double Vegas Down Attack 8
• 1st - Come on and Ban #13
• 1st - NorCal Regionals 2015
• 1st - MVG Sandstorm
• 1st - Chokaigi 2015
• 1st - Fire & Dice Thur #9
• 1st - Smash 4 Oomba 5/1
• 1st - Fire & Dice Sundays #16
• 1st - Oblivion Tournaments Biweekly 5/5
• 1st - Fire & Dice Thur #10
• 1st - Fire & Dice Thur #11
• 1st - Smash 4 Oomba 5/15
• 1st - BESST 2015
• 1st - Double Vegas Down Attack 9
• 1st - Combo Breaker 2015
• 1st - Double Vegas Down Attack 10
• 1st - CEO 2015
• 1st - FC Smash 15XR: Return
• 1st - EVO 2015
• 1st - MSS 1
• 1st - Top Cut Comics 7/28
• 1st - Poplar 7/30
• 1st - Low Tier City 3
• 1st - Super Smash Con
• 1st - PAX Prime 2015
• 1st - Top Cut Comics 9/12
• 1st - Sunday Smash 34
• 1st - Top Cut Comics 9/15
• 1st - Poplar 9/17
• 1st - Rebirth V
• 1st - Smash 4-Ever #26
• 1st - The Big House 5
• 2nd - MLG World Finals 2015
• 1st - E2C 19
• 1st - Tipped Off 11
• 1st - iBUYPOWER Cup
• 1st - Northwest Majors: Drop Zone
• 1st - E2C20
• 1st - 2GGT: Fatality Saga

ZeRo had a 56 tournament win streak but this list only shows 53 of those tournaments.

Notice a consistent pattern? The number of times that ZeRo was able to score first place victory is, frankly, unheard of. 56 of these tournaments were all in a row -- a detail that can be found in the Guinness Book of World Records.

This achievement is even more impressive when you consider the number of entrants at many of these major tournaments. EVO 2015, for example, had 1,926 participating players for Super Smash Bros. 4 -- the second highest next to Ultra Street Fighter IV's numbers that year.

Meanwhile, Apex 2015 had 837 players gunning for the grand prize. Super Smash Con 2015 had 744 competitors participating.

Despite these numbers, ZeRo came in first place at all of these tournaments. In fact, he had done so over 60 times up until 2016.

"It takes a lot of sacrifice. I've pretty much sacrificed the majority of my life to maintaining my abilities and improving in Smash as a whole. I stopped doing many things and cut many activities (and people) out of my life to make room for Smash. So it's my main focus, and what I do. It's who I am, I'd say."
— Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios on the sacrifices he's made to play Smash.

Throughout the course of 2016, there would be a number of balance changes put into place by Nintendo that would not be announced ahead of time. ZeRo would often find himself switching his main character from Sheik to Diddy Kong and back several times with no appearance of it slowing him down.

"It takes a lot of sacrifice," ZeRo told us when asked how he's managed to stay on top of his game. "I've pretty much sacrificed the majority of my life to maintaining my abilities and improving in Smash as a whole. I stopped doing many things and cut many activities (and people) out of my life to make room for Smash. So it's my main focus, and what I do. It's who I am, I'd say."

ZeRo became so dominant in the scene that CEO tournament organizer Alex Jebailey and SmashBoards owner Chris Brown each placed a bounty on the Smash 4 champion. Whomever could eliminate Barrios from CEO 2015 would earn $500 -- $250 from each of the aforementioned gentlemen.

Naturally, no one claimed the bounty as ZeRo went on to place first at the major fighting game event.

ZeRo's success didn't come without a number of close calls, however. He was sent to the losers bracket early during The Big House 5 -- a prominent Super Smash Bros. 4 tournament.

He ended up taking out StaticManny, Wizzrobe, Ally, ESAM, Zenyou, ANTi, Dabuz, and TL|Nairo in that tournament as to protect his streak. It was evident that ZeRo wasn't going to give it up without a fight.

Eventually, It would be Nairo who would finally eliminate ZeRo at the MLG World Finals 2015 and end his 56 tournament win streak. Despite this, ZeRo would continue to nab first placements at tournaments for the remainder of the year.

Finger injury and forced hiatus

ZeRo participated in several tournaments in January and February of 2016. He of course, got first place at GENESIS 3 -- a tournament with 1,096 entrants.

Then suddenly, he disappeared from the scene. He wouldn't participate in another Super Smash Bros. 4 event until May of that year.

Apparently ZeRo had the skin from his finger surgically removed during a visit to a doctor's office. As a result of this, he was unable to engage in tournaments or even practice the game until his finger was healed.

While he was sitting out, the meta was evolving without him. The players he was able to consistently best in the past were still playing and improving.

An extended hiatus leads to ring rust, and for many professionals, this might've been a death sentence to their competitive career.

Despite this, ZeRo battled back and was able to make quite the recovery. He is still often recognized as the best Smash 4 player today.

Consistency in this day and age is especially impressive

There have been many notable top level players across a number of different fighters. Exactly what makes ZeRo so special?

FOX|Justin Wong, for example, is a player who has been entered into the Guinness Book of World Records twice. One for winning the most Evolution Tournaments of a single game (Marvel vs. Capcom 2) between the years of 2002 and 2010, and another for winning the most Evolution Tournaments of any game between the years of 2002 and 2014.

It will be a very long time before someone is able to take these records from Justin, as these are feats that most certainly cannot be overlooked.

Seonwoo "GRPT|Infiltration" Lee is another player who has shown exceptional skill in both the Street fighter 4 series and Street Fighter 5. During the 2016 Capcom Pro Tour, the veteran fighting gamer was nearly unbeatable.

He seemingly came to understand the game more quickly than the other top competitors. As a result, Infiltration's consistency was extremely impressive, though his streak of first placings ended well before the 56-win mark.

Dominique "FOX|SonicFox" Mclean has also displayed exemplary talent, and at a young age. With a staggering number of first place wins in games such as Skullgirls, Mortal Kombat X, and both Injustice: Gods Among Us and Injustice 2, we'll surly see him remain a dominant player for years to come.

At this point in time, the title of best Injustice 2 player is debatable. With Ryan 'Dragon' Walker winning Eleague, the War of the Gods Finale, and EVO 2017, there is a solid argument that he may contest SonicFox's crown.

Looking further back, legends such as LU|Alex Valle and CYG|Daigo Umehara secured their spots in FGC history with their exceptional skills and placings, and helped pave the way for the competitive scene we have today. The competitive landscape of Street Fighter has evolved greatly over the past two decades, and though they haven't seen as much success in recent times, they are two important players worth mentioning.

Photo credit - Stephanie Lindgren

For ZeRo to stay consistent in a game that is often criticized as being "inconsistent" due to the rage mechanic in this day and age -- an age where every match is uploaded to YouTube so that others may learn and scrutinize your every habit -- is simply amazing.

Time and time again ZeRo manages to prevail in such a way that sets him aside from his competitors -- talented rivals who are always gunning for him. Even when he is sent to losers bracket, it's almost like an entirely different player emerges and makes it back into the grand finals.

"Sometimes I'm just TOO focused," ZeRo says. "The willpower you can get to not give up, and pull off the amazing when needed, is something that is even hard for me to explain.

"I think the best way to put it, is that when you push certain people around to their limit, sometimes something will click inside of them, and they'll become a whole new person - for me, it's what you mentioned. For others, it could be anything else.

"The crazy part is that whenever I do one of those, I always say 'I can't keep doing this, can I?' and I keep surprising myself. It's exhausting, it gives me adrenaline, but it's what I live for. I'm addicted to that feeling, you can't get it anywhere else, it's special and it's what I fight for."

There even came a time in which ZeRo played out a special exhibition against nearly every player that's ever taken a set off him. Astoundingly, he beat every single one of them; all twelve pros.

These players were undoubtedly among greatest players in the world at Super Smash Bros. 4. To prepare for each player's unique playstyle, while each of them prepared for him, and then win every time requires a great deal of mental fortitude and energy, especially considering the fact that all of these matches were played in a row with basically no breaks.

"Well, it's my job to sell myself, so what kind of champion would I be if I can't sell myself a little here, right? I'd say so. Yes, I am! I mean, who's won 56 tournaments in a row and won an EVO without dropping a single game, right? In a time period where games are mainstream, and there's tournaments every weekend everywhere in the world? It's not a 'back in the day accomplishment' - it's recent, it's 2015!"
— Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios on whether or not he is the most dominant fighting game player.

Having a consistent win record against ZeRo is, evidently, extremely difficult as he has shown that he will put in a great deal of work to figure out how to approach the player match up next time, and forever after that.

So, does ZeRo believe he is the most dominant in the world?

"Well, it's my job to sell myself, so what kind of champion would I be if I can't sell myself a little here, right? I'd say so. Yes, I am! I mean, who's won 56 tournaments in a row and won an EVO without dropping a single game, right? In a time period where games are mainstream, and there's tournaments every weekend everywhere in the world? It's not a 'back in the day accomplishment' - it's recent, it's 2015!

It's way harder to win nowadays in competitive games. Information is always out there for people to learn, back in the day it was all closed circles with that. Now, 56 tournament wins, that's a year of going undefeated, with many patches that changed the balance of the game. And a lot of those patches usually hit the characters I played, so every patch I had to figure something new out.

Even then, right now, I'm still the #1 in Smash 4, 3 years in. I may not be pulling those crazy win streaks like before, but I'm still at the top after all these years. Top players have changed, rules have changed, and so has the game, but I'm still here, and I think that's very unique. To top it off, I was also solidly the best Project M player when I played, having won almost every big tournament when I competed in 2014, closing out the season as solid #1 in the world, even though I started out as some dude going 0-2 at locals, to then be solidly the best in the world in the same year is extremely crazy.

And when I played Brawl I was at some point considered the best as well, despite me coming into the scene years after and having no local competition to play (this is back when I played in Chile) and I think making it to a point where you can be in the conversation to be the best in the world when you live across the world, and your main practice is laggy Wii wifi matches and playing small 20 man locals 10 hours away from your house... I think that's something nobody else matched: My level of effort and dedication.

I pretty much raised from a nobody in some Latin American country, to be above Japan and the US at some point. I think that's extremely uncommon.

During all of this, I managed to return to such a brutal competitive game like Melee, where I managed to make it top 30 in the world in 2014 after not competing since 2009 and having 0 experience outside of the competition in my small country. I haven't dabbled in other fighting games at all, I'm just not very interested in many of them to play super competitively (I definitely understand and see the appeals others do) but if you ask me, who's the MOST dominant at a SINGLE game, then it's me hands down. I don't think anyone's ever done it the way I did."

Declaring "who's the best" in any aspect of life often differs depending on who you ask. However, ZeRo's world-record tournament win streak, ability to adapt and recover when the chips are down, and extensive knowledge of all things Super Smash Bros. 4 make a very convincing argument that he is the most dominant modern fighting game player in the world.

Other sources: ZeRo's YouTube channel, Smash Wiki, Red Bull.

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