"A player like Sparg0 being just 14... Then after one year online, becoming possibly a top 3 player in the world is just… dude. I can’t even compete against that. I did my thing, but I think that’s way more impressive. So I’m looking forward to that. I do think this guy’s going to be the best, 100%.”
Leonardo "MkLeo" Lopez Perez said that at Smash Ultimate Summit 3 and he was right. After his rampage through Wi-Fi tournaments, every fan and pro player had already acknowledged that this teenager might be special. And at Smash Ultimate Summit 4, as well as the months preceding it, Edgar "Sparg0" Valdez made it a certainty.
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Sparg0's career trajectory took him from a wild card to an expected finals presence within months, so while his victory at Summit 4 was monumental, it wasn’t surprising. With the string of top 3 runs at almost every major he’s been two these past two years, it was inevitable.
On the surface, his Summit 4 championship wasn’t a storybook finish. He didn't claw tooth and nail through the losers bracket, clinging to his life in a series of game 5s. His victory was clean, almost boring in fact, as he bulldozed everyone in his way. He played just a single game 5 in the entire tournament, a comeback from 1-2 down against Paris "Light" Ramirez's Fox in the winners final.
It was poetic, though, and not only because of some well-served runbacks. The performance he had at Summit gives a perfect representation of how far Sparg0 has come. The matches he played there were against some of his most storied and influential opponents. Every stage — from groups to grand finals — was a testament to his prodigious nature.
Group stage: A breeze-through formality
Like its predecessors, all the top talent was present at Smash Ultimate Summit 4. MkLeo was still cruising as the best player in the world, with Sparg0 right behind him. Naoto “ProtoBanham” Tsuji was one of the top threats from Japan, and Gavin “Tweek” Dempsey was hungry for a win after his rough showing at the Smash World Tour 2021 Championships. Sparg0's fellow top seeds were no easy conquest.
The group stage, though, became a bloodbath and a culling of titans, and fame and accolades would not shield the top brass. ProtoBanham and Tweek lost two game 5 sets. MkLeo lost a game 5 to William "Glutonny" Belaid, and got swept by a nuclear Paris "Light" Ramirez.
But Sparg0 stayed Sparg0. He didn’t lose any game 5s because nobody could take him there. He went 9-1, barely bruised.
This consistency had come to define Sparg0's career. Even before his first major win, the only player that could arguably rival him in that regard was MkLeo. Every other player had some duds. Of the 12 events he's attended since late August 2021 — the majority of them Majors — Spargo's placed top 3 in each and every one.
Including online events since his 25th place finish in mid-April, 2021, he placed top three in 29 out of 31 outings. The placements outside that were in sixth and fourth! On top of that, Sparg0 has winning matchups against almost every top player in the world.
"I always try to be as optimistic as I can to avoid nerves. My mindset is always that if I play at my best, I can beat anyone,” Sparg0 said in a tweet, and watching him play on stream or in tournaments, this is made very clear. He rarely gets emotional while playing: a calm expression on his face, Airpods plugged in his ears, blasting K-pop. Even when winning high-level sets, he most often treats it like another day at the office, maybe a fist bump to the crowd and camera but not much else.
Behind the calm demeanor, however, lies an aggressive style and a player, who's unafraid to take seemingly big risks. It’s almost as if he’s always lucky, keeping on pressure like a fire hose and taking stocks in the blink of an eye. The matches are always in his favor, driven by his elite-level spacing and conditioning and the way he pushes boundaries with how a character like Cloud recovers.
So when a pitch-perfect, stone-cold Sparg0 arrived at the Summit 4, he turned Pool B into a charnel house. Even though he faced names like Matt "Elegant" Fitzpatrick and Takuma "Tea" Hirooka, each set was a one-sided affair and a straight ticket to the winners quarterfinals.
Sparg0 vs. Chag
Sparg0's first bracket stage opponent — countryman and doubles partner Santiago "Chag" Perez — is an integral player in his story. Chag's mere presence at Summit 4 was proof of Mexico's dominance as an emerging Smash Ultimate region. Not traditionally known as a powerhouse in Smash, the country has already produced half a dozen of top players without many of the advantages other regions enjoy. On the contrary: competing at Smash as a Mexican player comes with the added challenges of lacking travel support from teams, as well as difficult visa requirements, as Enrique "Maister" Hernández Solís pointed out.
Sparg0 faced all of those and more. As he discovered competitive Smash around 9-10 years old and aspired to become a top player, Sparg0 found himself geographically isolated. He was in Tijuana while players like MkLeo were in Mexico City. Big tournaments were scarce where he lived and traveling was off the table because of his age, even within Mexico.
The solution? Grind with what he had. Sparg0 began attending locals, and played constant For Glory matches online. Though the locals weren’t as stacked as some in the US, and his very bad internet exacerbated the already poor experience of playing on Wi-Fi, Sparg0 improved.
By the age of 11, he had won his first tournament. By 12, he had made it to the top.
“The best player in my region was like top 10 in Mexico. No one knows about this, but I always beat him. In the end, I was the best player in my region, I was like a hidden boss in Mexico. Everyone knew about me, but I didn’t have a chance to travel,” Sparg0 stated in an interview.
"I am very clear about my goals and I have the necessary determination to achieve them," Sparg0 further told this fan, who asked him how to solve the online chasm. "When I started, I still played with a very bad internet. Online and some locals were the only ways I could practice, but it never stopped me. Go local if you have the option, and don't give up."
Sparg0's momentum from local play transitioned over as he switched to Ultimate. He started traveling to his first Supermajors, posting top 50 finishes at GENESIS, CEO, and EVO throughout 2019. When the Smash scene switched to online in reaction to COVID-19, Sparg0’s growth sped up, him already intimately familiar with online play. He practiced with some of the best players in the world, received coaching from Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman, and was a regular contender for top online competitions.
A story like this would make the reader believe that Sparg0 is a natural Smash genius. He isn't. In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell writes that “Even Mozart, the greatest musical prodigy of all time couldn't hit his stride until he had his ten thousand hours in. Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good.”
Sparg0 is the same. He worked very hard — and very smart — to become the best.
“When analyzing top-level sets, I always try to understand the why of each interaction/decision, and think about all the possible options that could have been taken in such a situation; that would have been better. I also try to notice habits/patterns in the game plans," Sparg0 stated in a tweet.
His play against Chag is a great example of this. Sparg0 revealed that when he lost to Chag at a Mexican tournament, he responded by reviewing the VODs, and writing up 48 pages of notes on what went wrong and how he could do better.
It’s that dedication that allows Sparg0 to level up after every tournament, and grab revenge on any player he loses to. The reason Chag qualified for Summit was because he had earned an upset on Sparg0 at Mainstage 2021. Though Sparg0 had the most recent win on Chag going into Summit, he couldn’t be discounted. Chag was someone that had a respectable record against Sparg0, and understood him well, and such knowledge in the hands of a good Palutena player is always dangerous.
Watching the set, though, Sparg0 was in complete control. His movement and positioning look so effortless, and his switching is the best of any Aegis player. Watching the first stock of the game, Sparg0’s in a situation most players would die. Instead, he avoids losing his stock four different times because of his awareness and spacing, and is able to take the first stock. So it’d go for the rest of the set and on to winners semifinals Sparg0 went.
Sparg0 vs. MkLeo
MkLeo might be the most impactful player in Sparg0’s career. Not only because he’s been the tallest wall at every major he’s wanted to win, or because they're both prodigies hailing from the same region, having achieved amazing things with lower-ranked characters (or that they're both big Twice fans).
If it wasn’t for MkLeo, there’s a good chance Sparg0 wouldn’t be competing.
Losses used to have a big impact on Sparg0's mentality earlier in his career. This came to a head at Smash World Tour: Central America Ultimate Regional Finals: Sparg0’s first tournament with a crowd and one of the few he couldn't place top 2. A top 6 finish was a solid spot, and still in the money, but Sparg0 was more than disappointed.
In the Larry Lurr interview referred to several times in this article, Sparg0 admitted that not getting a podium finish at the SWT Regional Finals almost made him quit after Smash Ultimate Summit 3, the very next event he was supposed to attend.
"Smash World Tour was a few days before Summit, so I was pretty sad. I did pretty bad. I mean, I placed like fifth. And then I went to Summit with no expectations because I was like, 'Okay, I'll just play it, and then I'll quit. Because I don't know. I just don't want to play anymore.'"
MkLeo changed Sparg0's mind. Offering his countryman much-needed encouragement ahead of Summit 3, MkLeo convinced him that he could beat anyone so instead of a defeatist mentality, Sparg0 brought out his best. Some of the best players in the world fell to him, Tweek, Michael "Riddles" Kim, and Sota "zackray" Okada among them. MkLeo finally ended Sparg0's surprising run, but offered his support nonetheless.
“Even after I lost to Leo at Summit, he told me the only reason he won was because of experience,” Sparg0 told Inven Global.
Although today Sparg0 approaches them with much more determination, losses still hurt and he's experienced some of the most heartbreaking tournament losses of the year, many of them at the hands of MkLeo. The reigning #1 had been by far the biggest obstacle between Sparg0 and a Major win and one of the very few players with a positive record over Sparg0.
MkLeo was there to bar Sparg0 from Summit 3, Port Priority 6, and Mainstage 2021 triumphs, even though the teenager pushed the veteran to game 5 sets at every encounter. The Mainstage 2021 grand final in particular became one of the best sets of the year — a feast for the crowd, but a nightmare for anyone in Sparg0's position. After an upset loss to Chag, Sparg0 had gone on one of the most impressive losers brackets runs in recent memory, winning seven sets in a row to make it to grand finals. MkLeo was waiting for him on the winners side but with wicked momentum, Sparg0 won the first set 3-1.
MkLeo’s experience and poise shined as the second sent went to a deciding game 5. Sparg0 played the game well and managed to pull ahead in stocks, inching closer to a storybook victory, but MkLeo had other plans. After evening it to one stock each, his Byleth landed a painful to watch spike, that will forever remain one of the most soul-sucking ends to a Smash Major.
A week prior, Sparg0 was ready to quit Smash. Ironically, the Mainstage loss — as brutal as it was — had taught him how to turn defeats into motivation.
“I would lie if I say I’m not devastated at that loss. But it is not time to be sad, it is time to practice and improve.”
Sparg0's and MkLeo's rematch happened at the winners semifinals of Summit 4. Sparg0 was up 2-1. As the game played on, it looked by all accounts to be going to game 5 — a scary proposition given MkLeo’s reputation of winning clutches. On his last stock at over 100%, Sparg0 charged the limit break to get the max up-B for recovery. A well-timed cross slash lifted him high enough for an air dodge.
A moment later — in very similar fashion to MkLeo’s win at Mainstage — Sparg0 landed a back air to connect with a forward air spike, come back and close the game. Victory for Sparg0. Poetry, pure and simple.
The #1 player in the world would be eliminated by ProtoBanham in the losers bracket shortly after. As for Sparg0, only two more matches — and only one opponent — remained.
Sparg0 vs. Light
Even with his most terrifying opponent out of the way, Sparg0 could not rest for a moment. He had to face Paris "Light" Ramirez in winners finals. With wins at CT Gamercon 4 and Super Smash Con: Fall Fest, Light had proven that when he was "on", he was almost unbeatable. This was one of those tournaments. Light’s Fox was as fast and fearsome as they came.
Despite how great Sparg0 looked all Summit 4, Light came in charging. He played a risky style, which sometimes got him in trouble, but more often pushed him ahead. The two played a close series and Sparg0 turned around a 1-2 deficit by a hair to make grand finals once more. Sparg0 was yet to lose a set, but Light wasn't losing any motivation, nor did he intend to lose on the rematch.
Though the games were close, Light brought himself a 2-1 lead. Sparg0 maintained his poise, however, and managed to win the next two games — both by a hair.
Grand Finals — back once more. Though he had yet to lose a set, history seemed to be repeating itself. Light wasn’t losing any motivation. He made quick work of losers finals, and swept ProtoBanahm to meet Sparg0 again, a mirror of Super Smash Con from October prior.
Though Mainstage was Sparg0’s most heartbreaking loss, Smash Con remains a close second. It was again Sparg0’s tournament to lose. Previous demons like MkLeo and Tweek were absent so he was pegged as one of the favorites to win.
But down in the losers bracket, Light was playing the tournament of his life, winning game 5 sets one after the other. When he eventually made it to the grand finals, he swept Sparg0 in a quick 3-0 to reset the bracket. Light didn't back down, even for a second. Under a constant barrage of hits, the pressure and the crowd became too much for Sparg0 and on their last stocks in their last game, Light emerged victorious.
That night, as I walked out of the venue as the crowd inside celebrated Light's championship, I spotted Sparg0 at the entrance, sitting by himself. He was dejected (who wouldn't be?) but at the same time, he held his head high. I could see he craved another round in the ring.
In no time, he was back.
The loss to Light at Super Smash Con, like any other defeat, was a learning experience for Sparg0. At the Summit 4 grand finals rematch, there was no game 5. There was no second set. Sparg0 had his hands on Light's neck and choked him until he tapped out in game 3. After all the heartbreak, and all the near-misses with calling it quits, Sparg0 had finally won his first Major.
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Though Sparg0 isn’t the definitive best Ultimate player, he is now a contender and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. At 16 years old, this may only be the first jewel in the crown of one of the greatest talents the Smash franchise has seen.
Pop off, Sparg0. You earned it.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.