Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman has beaten just about every top Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the world. In his 11-year career, he’s defeated Joseph “Mang0” Marquez 23 times, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma 16 times, Kevin “PPMD” Nanney six times and Adam “Armada” Lindgren twice (one of which was a 3-0 sweep).
Mew2King has every reason to be one of the most confident players in the world. And he should have every reason to believe that he can beat the last obstacle on his path to becoming the best Melee player in the world, but he doesn’t. That’s because the last person standing between Mew2King and that title is himself.
"I don't think there's anybody I can't beat," Mew2King told theScore esports. "I definitely think I can win. I felt it when I played Armada. I can win. I'm good enough. I never think that [I'm going to lose] about myself, I always think I'm going to win."
M2K is one of the five gods of Melee. He's been playing at that top level for over a decade, placing in the Top 8 of at least one tournament every year since 2006. Mew2King is more than just a god of Melee, he's an institution. He's infamous for prolonged tears through the competitive scene after month-long slumps. His last explosion was in late 2013, when he won 17 straight tournaments after not having taken a Major in almost a year.
But below the surface, there's a different kind of Mew2King. There's the Mew2King who goes on Twitter to talk about how bad he was after losing a close semifinal set. The Mew2King who seemingly swaps characters at random, fumbling for the glory he had just minutes earlier.
"I think instead of focusing on the match in front of me I get distracted like, ‘Oh what if I lose,’ M2K said. “I just keep thinking ‘What if? What if? What if?’ and it's always something negative. These stupid things hold me back, and it's so frustrating."
There are two Mew2Kings, and there’s hope for the first one to come back.
Mew2King’s fans call the period between October 2013 and May 2014 “The Return of the King.” After an extended first place drought, M2K won 42 of the 45 tournaments he entered in those seven months, and placed second at the other three. But that was almost three years ago, and M2K has had trouble ever since.
Simply put, M2K is in a slump heading into EVO 2016. He hasn't won a major tournament since PAX Prime in August 2015, and he hasn't taken first place at a tournament with another god in attendance since Pat's House 2 in May 2014. Mew2King still does well and has only dropped out of the Top 8 three times in 2016, but he's cautious about how he evaluates himself on a day-to-day basis.
"I don't want to say I'm better than anyone in particular," he said. "I did 3-0 Armada, but I can't say I'm better than him, because it's obvious that he's way more consistent than me, and being consistent matters. You could say I'm a friendlies master, where I think in friendlies I might be the best in the world. But I can't say stuff like that because I haven't proven it consistently.
"And even when I do [win], I 6-0 William “Leffen” Hjelte here, I 3-0 Armada here, but I'm not doing it consistently. And I think a big part of it is mental setbacks and being distracted by other games, life stuff, sometimes I'm depressed sometimes I'm in a good mood. There's a lot of factors and they all factor into gameplay.”
There is one other factor that M2K likes to bring up. He talks about his controller a lot, and how Nintendo's newer Smash 4-branded Gamecube controllers don't cut it for high-level Melee.
"I like the older generation," he says. "The older models are better, they haven't made the new ones as good. Nintendo made it with like, plastic and stuff. I don't think they care too much because they know it sells to most people, but I like the older generations of controllers. They were made with more metal instead of plastic. I don't know all the differences, but they were made better in a few areas."
Mew2King says that Smash 4 doesn't require as precise of a controller since you don't need to move the stick as much or as quickly for certain maneuvers. If a controller gets stuck during a dash animation in Melee, that could cost you a stock. Mew2King says he has a handful of what he would consider good tournament controllers. Anything else isn't even good enough for practice, which is why he doesn't play very much Melee at home.
"I want to also preserve my hands and preserve my controllers. I'm very paranoid," M2K said. "I do better when I feel like I'm not being held back by something, but to be honest, I'd practice more if I had a bigger supply of good controllers. Let's say this controller has a few hundred hours on it, I don't want to just waste it.
"My best strategy is literally to ask people to buy controllers off them. Honestly, it only matters at the highest level. If you're not a Top 100 player in the world, then it's probably not going to affect you much. If you're not, and you're reading this, consider selling me one. I'm actually serious, this stuff actually matters. I don't want to be held back from my potential because the best controllers aren't in production anymore."
Potential is a word that Mew2King throws around a lot. He says that he hasn't reached his peak potential yet, but he also thinks that most of the world’s top Smash players haven’t either. But he also talks about how he has more distractions than anyone else. Those distractions aren't just out of the game either, they affect him in the middle of a match, whenever he's reminded that he too is mortal.
"I really feel that if I wasn't this pessimistic of a person, or this emotional, or whatever, all these things. If I didn't have these ridiculous things holding me back, I could play to my true potential more often, and it's way better than what people think it is to be honest,” he said.
That frustration keeps nagging at M2K. It's what leads him to performances like Smash Summit 2, where he beat Armada 3-0 in the winners' semifinal match in what can only be described as a stomp, only to fall 3-0 to Armada in the losers' finals after a loss to Hungrybox in the winners' finals.
Hbox versus Armada has certainly been the running storyline of the last few months, but Mew2King has always been there, just behind. While Mang0 was slumping and working on his comeback, M2K was always in the way, exploding for moments at a time before dropping back down, always defeated by what he calls distractions. At Smash Summit 2, M2K's Marth ripped through Armada, but he didn't pick Marth again in their second set. M2K's Marth is a product of his emotions and those distractions beat Marth as much as they beat M2K.
"I'm a very mental and emotional player. My Marth is good when I'm in a good mood," he said. "I can't play him for crap when I'm not in a good mood. I have to be calm, collected, in the zone, in the right mindset and all that to play him well.
"I was not in that condition after my mentality was lowered. I'm a very mental player. I usually play better in Winners' bracket or if I'm in the mindset of ‘I'm gonna do this for me, not for anybody else, just for me. To prove that I can.’”
But sometimes, M2K loses sight of that goal. It's been happening at just about every tournament he attends with other gods in the bracket over the last few months. It happened at Genesis, it happened at Smash Summit, it happened at DreamHack Austin and it happened at CEO. Lately, it's been Hbox handing M2K the losses, but Mew2King is confident in his ability to beat Jigglypuff, even if he thinks that no one else is.
"My ability to fight Puff with Fox is way better than what people think, because I haven't recently proven it,' he said. "I can't blame people for not knowing, I'm just telling them that they don't know anything compared to what I know about myself. And I'm just frustrated that I haven't been able to prove that recently, because I know I'm right. I'm like 99% sure I'm right. It's so frustrating when you know something, you're so confident in something, and you have not proven it yet."
Mew2King shows flashes of brilliance when playing against Hbox's 'Puff. Sometimes, he goes in and dismantles Hungrybox's defence with surgical precision — like he did in the first game of his set against Hbox at Smash Summit 2. But sometimes, he jumps across the screen and fires lasers almost at random, opening himself up to any number of counters. Sometimes, Mew2King gets distracted, and right now, it's what's holding him back from a second comeback.
"I have never overcome this in over a decade. I have made no progress and I have no idea what to do," he said. "It's not the answer anyone wants to hear, but it's just the truth. It's frustrating."
And yet, even though he has no idea how to fix things, M2K is unendingly confident. Whenever he looks ahead, even if only for a moment, the crowd always chants his name. Melee wants their king to make a comeback. He knows that one day he'll be able to blow everyone away and prove himself as the best. One day, the king will return to his people — but only after he conquers his own demons.
"Here's the thing: I don't think I'll always play to my ability, but I almost never think ‘I can't win.’ That phrase right there, that's not something I really think. I have faith in my intelligence and my potential. I think more people should have faith in themselves too.
"Most players don't have as many setbacks, and that's why they could be considered better. It comes down to consistency. But I'm talking about potential, not necessarily consistency. I'm talking about what I think. If these things were fixed, my peak ability could take down anybody in any Smash game. Except 64."
Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. He believes in everyone's Marth. You can follow him on Twitter.