Dabuz's odyssey: A king's journey home

October 27 2023

The Liquid Review

Look, I know my audience. If you saw the title of this article and you clicked it, there’s a high chance you know who Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby is. He’s the King of New York, baby! He’s one of four players with perfect Top 50 attendance - every PGR, OrionRank, UltRank, and LumiRank - since the very first Smash 4 PGR back in 2015 (the others being Leo, Marss, and Tweek). His legacy is truly staggering,
and he’s got an argument for a spot in the Top 10 best Smash players of all time. (For the new titles, at least.)

On the complete opposite end of the competitive scale: Hi, I’m Hugh-Jay “trade war” Yu, and like Dabuz, I’m a Rosalina player. Unlike Dabuz, however, I famously am a player with an absolute dearth of notable wins during my three years of serious competition. 

The part that kills me is the “no” in all caps

Despite the extreme difference in win percentage, Dabuz’s story in Ultimate has always resonated with me. I think there’s something so universally compelling about seeing someone get as close as Dabuz has for so many years straight, and how his earnesty and love for his craft continue to motivate him despite heartbreakingly close calls. 

You see how much he cares about this game, and just like that: you get it

But then, a lot of players have love, earnesty, and endurance in the face of setbacks. It felt like there was something else, even deeper, there in Dabuz’s story. This year especially, his journey felt distinctly exploratory and challenging. From San Jose to Osaka to Vancouver to Chantilly, it feels like he’s been wandering the world, lost and searching for something. Akin to a king wandering the world, trying to get back to his throne…. 

Then it hit me. Dabuz is Odysseus. 

Winning The War:

King Odysseus of Ithaca (the Greek island, not the Upstate New York town) was called upon for a great war between the Trojans and the Greeks. A lot (read: LOT) of things happened during the Trojan War, but at the end of the day, it was Odysseus’s idea to use the wooden horse to infiltrate the walls of the city. His intellect — not his strength — was what won him the war. 

Dabuz was like a Smash 4 Odysseus, using strategy to win great wars. At 2016’s 2GGC: Civil War, Dabuz found himself the winner of one of the most important events in Smash 4 through his unchallengeable consistency. At a tournament where every other top seed got upset, strategy, not strength, was what it took to win. Dabuz showed that if you can win the matches you’re supposed to, you can avoid the cascading domino effect of everyone else getting upset, and by the end, finish a champion. 

But that was then, and this is now. It’s been seven years since that great victory and Dabuz has suffered numerous heartbreaker grand finals sets, fallen out of the top 10 for the first time in years, and lost his crown as the King of New York for the first time in, well, ever. Like Odysseus after his greatest success, Dabuz has desperately been trying to get back to his kingdom on Ithaca and reclaim his crown, but he’s angered Poseidon, the god of Smash Bros. the sea, who has gone out of his way to make his journey as hellish as possible. 

This year, however, Dabuz might be on the verge of return and our story, quite fittingly, begins at Genesis.

Genesis 9, Collision, and The Lotus Eaters’ Temptation:

Our hero arrives in Oakland, California on a chilly January afternoon. Dabuz is no stranger to the storied GENESIS tournament series — he’s attended every iteration of it since its modern rebirth at GENESIS 3. After losing in winners to a demon of his, Tea, who broke his spirit at Crown 2 half a year prior, Dabuz was slated to play against Marss for 13th.

Tyler “Marss” Martins, like Dabuz, is a legacy player from the Northeast, so they’ve been battling each other for eons. But to call them rivals wouldn’t be an accurate description of their sets; Dabuz had Marss figured out for years. In particular, Dabuz won their past six sets straight, a streak that spanned back to 2019. 

Part of that comes down to the matchup. Across those six duels, Dabuz met Marss’s Zero Suit Samus with Olimar — the character that launched Dabuz’s career in Brawl, and a matchup that challenged both ZSS and Marss. 

Marss is very vocally not a fan of Olimar. There’s a million Tweets like this; I just chose the best one.

Dabuz had bullied Marss so thoroughly that he had given up playing Zero Suit in favor of trying a Joker counterpick, a Hail Mary strategy that did not pan out. But this weekend, Marss was in his Genesis form. Marss is pretty famous for channeling “protagonist energy” and no place on planet Earth contributes more to Marss’s plot armor than Oakland, California — where he famously dumpstered peak MkLeo in Grands to win Genesis 7. And on the other side of the setup, Dabuz, was lost at sea. 

 “Genesis [...] it was definitely a moment in time where I had difficulty keeping up with people in general [...] a super-burnout phase. As a result, though, I was trying to catch up with people that improved. 

I remember playing that set versus Marss, and I felt like I could win the neutral, but I couldn’t get anything significant off the hits. And even though Olimar should win that matchup in theory - and I have historically won that — I just feel like the character can’t keep up with people…getting better? and it was really noticeable in that set. 

[...] I was angry I lost - it had been years since I lost to him, and losing a game 5 set always hurts, no matter what. It’s one of the worst feelings. But like he, just played it so well." 

But much like Odysseus, Dabuz’s journey was only beginning. A storm was brewing, and its epicenter was in  Parsippany, New Jersey, for March’s Collision 2023. Not far from Dabuz’s home — though Dabuz still felt far from at home.

“I didn’t enjoy myself at the event - not because of the event itself, I just wasn’t enjoying myself - so I was just in my room chilling, and the venue didn’t have many setups, so practice was hard. I wasn’t super motivated at that exact time. I was not playing good that weekend in general; I was also super negative on all my characters at the time too.”

Still, Dabuz’s Collision started off with the best possible opponent he could have gotten at the top of Round of 64: Juan Pablo “Skyjay” Lozada. Skyjay was (and is) the best Incineroar player in the world, but at the time, that didn’t mean too much. Incineroar was widely regarded as one of the worst characters in the game — too volatile and inconsistent — just the type of character to fold to Dabuz’s stratagems.

In fact, Dabuz and Skyjay had played once prior, at July 2022’s Smash Factor 9. In Game 3, Dabuz put on, as far as I can tell, the worst ever single-game beatdown in top level Smash history. Through the entire game, Dabuz took a grand total of 17.8%. 

For context, Silent Wolf deals 59% to Axe in their set. You know the one.

But during their rematch, the fates aren’t in Dabuz’s corner and this time, he’s a chapter in someone else’s epic. Skyjay reverse-sweeps Dabuz and goes on a Cinderella run all the way to 2nd place of a supermajor, while Dabuz was sent to losers staggeringly early.

“Let me say this right now: when you destroy someone really, really badly in bracket, the way I farmed Skyjay, it’s really hard to have a plan and make adjustments for the next set. [...]

I had no idea that Skyjay was going to turn into a monster. He made every adjustment. He timed his counters perfectly during my juggles, he chased me down in disadvantage really well, and his ledgetrapping was much better. I won the first two games, but in games 3-5, I felt like I wasn’t pushing my advantage state well enough. Losing that one felt like not only my play being bad, but his play being a significant level up that nobody expected. 

That was a [painful] one, that was like a: Damn, I f***ing lost that one.”

From there, Dabuz lost to fellow New Yorker and low-entry cryptid Quidd. Quidd’s no slouch – in fact, he’s a major winner — but normally, players of this level enter Dabuz’s zone and they totally break. They may take a game, but from there the adjustments roll in and you watch in real-time as another regional champion collapses against Dabuz’s strategies. 

However even kings and strategists lose their edge. King Odysseus’s story begins on the Island of the Lotus Eaters, a land where the primary food is a narcotic lotus fruit, that induces the inhabitants of the island into a peaceful apathy. Odysseus’s crew indulged and forgot why they were even trying to go home in the first place. That general sense of finding bliss through forgetting what drove you in the first place is, at the end of the day, a deeply human experience, especially for competitors.

Similarly, Dabuz’s lows in the first half of the year came from a sense of apathy. Both Marss and Skyjay were players that Dabuz was, by all conventional metrics, expected to beat. He felt no need to re-evaluate his play, because as long as he continued going through the motions, he should end up just fine. After a rough first few months of the year, Dabuz realized that he was asleep at the steer and it was time to wake up. 

Only, he wouldn’t wake up in North America. 

Golden Week, Kagaribi 10, and the Cave of the Cyclops:

In NA, there was still a sense that the old guard reigned, but on the other side of the Pacific, a drastic powershift was occurring. The quarantine grind chamber of Smashmate, Japan’s Wi-FI matchmaking ladder, spit out two teenage players who would upend the entire culture of competitive Ultimate and shift its epicenter across the ocean - acola and Miya.

At this point, Japanese talent had more than proven themselves in North America, but the question at the forefront of everyone's mind was the inverse: how would top North American talent do at these Japanese events? 

So Dabuz, along with a smattering array of top level North American talent, booked a flight to Japan for the first week of May. In Japan, the week of April 29th - May 5th has four important national holidays all in a row, and so across the country, Japanese students and workers get the full week to celebrate. This is referred to as “Golden Week”, and naturally, if everyone’s got all of that time off, they’re going to want to play Smash Bros. This year, the nation hosted three distinct supermajors during that week - MaesumaTOP#12DELTA #4, and the biggest event of them all: Kagaribi #10. 

Dabuz registered for all three. Instead of aiming to conquer these events, he looked to learn.

“Honestly, I thought I was going to get destroyed in Japan.  In Japan, all three of my characters are more common. Their fifth best Min Min is still probably better than any Min Min anywhere in the world. So I can’t go Min Min against Japanese players. Olimar - their Olimar is our R.O.B! You look at any Top 96 and there’s like 7 Olimars. And Rosa - between Yuzu, YamaD, Kirihara in the past, they have a decent amount of good Rosas in Japan. I’m going to be fighting people who know how to fight my characters better than in America. 

But going to Japan, my big goal was to figure out how to get somewhat better at the video game, because that was going to be my best chance to fight people who not only knew the counterplay to my characters, but know the answer to the counterplay.”

Dabuz’s first trial for the week was at MaesumaTOP#12 in Osaka. There, he’d lose to Doramigi, a teenage Kansai Min Min upstart like Miya and Acola, and Sigma, Japan’s long-time top level Toon Link. Dabuz had lacked any resources to get comparable matchup experience against either of these characters in North America - a trend that would follow at DELTA#4 in Tokyo, where he’d lose to two more Japanese hidden bosses in Mao and Eim. Both times, Dabuz placed 33rd. Dabuz’s greatest strength was his unfaltering strategy and consistency, but it appeared he had lost his way. The hero, at this point, had reached his low — even his consistency and strategy seemed to be abandoning him. Japan had broken him down to his core — but it also woke him up. 

After DELTA, Dabuz Tweeted this out. 

Dabuz knew something needed to change, and it needed to change fast. In true grinder fashion, he sought out practice in the venue and by pure accident, ran into someone who would fundamentally change his approach to Rosalina. 

“After those events, I sat down and played friendlies. You know me, I practice all day if I can. I run into a Rosalina in friendlies, and I 2-0 them — but the games are close! I remember he was doing a lot of the attack cancel tech, the combo stuff — but he was doing it all while de-tethered the whole time. I’m thinking to myself - this shouldn’t be closeI should have just farmed this guy. This is a random mid level Rosa with good tech! 

I found out MUCH later [that] this guy is actually YamaD, who’s, in my opinion, the best Rosalina in Japan. This singular best of three friendlies set put me on a voyage where I was like, “Wait, if their random mid-level Rosas are giving me trouble, I need to watch what their Rosas are doing to see how they’re even surviving in Japan.”

And I notice watching every Rosa - yuzu, YamaD, even the random Rosas - they all play heavily untethered. They shoot Luma, space with Luma, and do all the tech with Luma de-tethered. I’m already getting farmed and destroyed. There’s only one thing left to do, which is throw my playstyle out the window, try and de-tether Luma, and see if I can make something work with that on the fly.” 

If all this talk of “tethers” reads like Greek to you, let me explain: Rosalina is a fighting game archetype known as a puppet character. But also, she’s even weirder than regular puppet characters, too. The traditional puppet character is like Guilty Gear’s Zato-1; his puppet, Eddie, is a separate entity designed to specifically execute commands given to him, and when not deployed, has no utility. Every decision Eddie makes is distinct from what Zato is doing. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a puppet character can be designed like Smash’s other puppeteer - the Ice Climbers. Nana is less of a puppet and more of a mirror - she will execute commands that Popo does, just timed at a slight delay. For the most part, you aren’t really “puppeteering” Nana - you’re putting in a single set of inputs, and seeing them come out for both characters. But you can desync Nana so that her inputs differentiate from Popo’s — which opens up a combo game so cursed that it’s given the character touch-of-death grabs in all three Smash games.

Rosalina is special in that she can exist in both of these states. When Luma’s at her side, tethered to her - Luma will just perform what Rosalina does, on a staggered timing. (Luma desyncs are on the table too.) Having Luma tethered makes her moves safer and bigger, and massively ups her combo potential.

But Rosa can also play like Zato, shooting out Luma and having it replicate her inputs across the stage. This is called “untethering”, and when Luma is let loose, it can control a sizable amount of stage on its own. This approach to the character is much more of a traditional puppet - you’re standing on one edge of the screen, challenging your opponent to figure out how to get around the wall you’ve shot out. You can also cancel Rosalina’s attacks but still execute Luma’s attacks - these techniques are usually called attack cancels. 

It’s tempting to keep Luma at your side; after all, if your opponent can get around Luma, Rosa is just a huge, floaty character with stubby buttons in disadvantage. You typically aren’t advised to untether Luma unless you have a super specific intent behind it. 

But, if you can combine these two aspects - massive untethered stage control while keeping a comparably strong punish game to tethered Rosalina, you might have something on your hands. 

“So after that, I basically spent as much time grinding as I could. Shuton’s house is insane. I got to play with so many great players. I told myself I’m going to play as much as I can when I’m not doing Liquid stuff, practice untethered, and see what happens.

Dabuz was fundamentally re-inventing his strategy with Rosalina just before the biggest event of the trip - Kagaribi. Before then, he’d get some testing in at TOKYO SMASH BOOT CAMP, an unranked, BO3 invitational where’d he meet two key players in his journey - Miya and Riddles. Miya, in sharp contrast to Dabuz, is the epitome of a zoomer. A young Wi-Fi G&W specialist, he had quickly risen to prominence in Japan over the past year, and this would be his first time getting to play against Dabuz. And for the first time in months, Dabuz does what he’s famous for: he walls out and dismantles the rising champion.

But with the set being unranked, Dabuz knew not to take the results at face value. Miya was studying Dabuz as much as Dabuz was studying Rosalina. 

“I felt like at TOKYO SMASH BOOT CAMP, he was feeling me out. It felt like he was testing the waters a lot more, whereas I was more confidently just playing the matchup. I beat him and it was like “that was easy enough”, but also: I don’t think it’ll be this easy in the future. He didn’t care as much, because he got the data he needed.” 

At the bootcamp, Dabuz squared up against fellow Liquid teammate Michael “Riddles” Kim in losers. Riddles and Dabuz have had intertwined destinies - at Smash Con 2019, Riddles upset Dabuz in a career establishing win (and an equally iconic pop-off). Since then, Dabuz had a nasty losing streak to Riddles, and even worse - he had yet to even take a single game off of Riddles’s most recent development - his Kazuya. 

This is all despite Dabuz playing Min Min, a character widely thought to be one of Kazuya’s worst matchups (although Dabuz vehemently disagrees with this assessment). Dabuz starts the set playing the matchup; he picks Min Min into Kazuya and takes his first win against the crouch-dashing Mishima. But then, Riddles switches to Terry and cleans up the best of three. 

“I will say that our sets: even though the set record is heavily in his favor - and this is really frustrating - the actual game count is close. I’m pretty confident that our sets consistently go to game 5. Riddles is a player who generally picks who he’s more comfortable with, so if he’s not feeling Terry that day, he’s not going to go Terry. After TOKYO SMASH BOOT CAMP, I was like “Yeah, we had a close set, I could get cornered less”. At Kagaribi, I’m expecting the Terry counterpick every single game.” 

At the end of the week came Kagaribi 10, again in Tokyo. This event was massive on a scale that no other event in Japanese Smash history had ever been. This was showtime. With all eyes on Japan, Dabuz understood what he needed to do to win. Unfortunately enough, proving that would be hard - he took an early upset loss to Taikei, one of Japan’s best Sonic players, in his first set on Day 2. Dabuz’s fate for the tournament - and perhaps, his entire ranking season - looked to be sealed. Dabuz was now playing for 65th place

“I lost that game 5 set [against Taikei], and I told myself - “you know what, I’m not playing assertive enough in advantage state, and this is looking like a 65th to cap out the week. At that point, I pull out all the stops and say “I’m going to play much more risky in my advantage state than I ever have, and I’m just going to full commit to playing untethered and trying something new, because I’m going to lose [anyways].”

With the pressure on and his back to the wall, Dabuz did what he does best: he slowed the pace down. He zoned, whittled down, and frankly, camped Kinaji, M0tsunabE, Abadango, HIKARU, DIO, Hurt, and Paseriman, all strong players in their own right. After a marathon through losers, including six game 5 sets against some of the most defensive characters in the game, Dabuz made it into Top 8, where he would finally encounter his first North American opponent: Riddles, loser gets seventh. 

Riddles vs. Dabuz - Kagaribi 10

Dabuz tries Min Min into Riddles again for game 1 - but this time it doesn’t work. Riddles finds his opportunities, and takes down Dabuz cleanly. At this point, Dabuz makes a call he’s never made against Riddles’s Kazuya before: he switches to Rosalina

My Min Min was super rusty. If I lose a game with Min Min, I don’t like staying her, since that means the opponent found the tempo on how to get in. It’s better off to switch, especially since I have so many characters. My thought process was that: I messed up, I’m not warm with her, but my Rosa’s very warm: let’s just try her! There’s a good chance I lose with this but I know I can do it, and I’ve also been making a lot of playstyle adjustments that might work really well.” 

The decision, shockingly, works well. Riddles is getting clipped by Luma, and because Rosa is all the way across the stage, he has no way to punish the slowly accumulating damage. Still, Kazuya is Kazuya, and Riddles narrowly closes out game 2, bringing the count to 2-0. In Game 3, Dabuz plays even slower, circumnavigating Hollow Bastion to chip away at Kazuya until Dabuz wins the game by barely letting Kazuya play it. 

Here’s where the problem area emerges: Town & City. The game count may be 2-1, but now Riddles has one of Ultimate’s largest and flattest stages to work with. And if you’ve ever played against one in bracket, you’ll know that Kazuya loves flat stages due to their ability to provide unimpeded combos. Game 4 starts, and within the first minute Riddles is up three stocks to one, on Dabuz’s tournament life. This is the worst place to be against Kazuya; a superheavy with touch-of-death combos gives Riddles infinitely more leeway for mistakes. The more Kazuya gets hit here, the angrier he gets. If Smash were a purely strategic game, they would tell you that there’s near nothing Dabuz can do in this situation. Eventually Dabuz would need to take a risk to pull the game back, and he’d get blown up for it.

But humans, not gamestates, play Smash Ultimate. 

“I always tell myself. If someone can be up three stocks to one versus me — it means I can take two stocks without losing one. This set is proof of it! I also know that Riddles wants to end the game. He wants to finish me. I know the longer the game goes, the worse for him it gets. Kazuya is going to take damage over and over again from projectiles and random pokes. That means that even in a situation like that, as long as I keep my gameplan and burn the timer, I’ll eventually get damage. [...] I just started figuring out ‘if I jump in these spots he can’t hit me. If I don’t challenge this spot, he can’t electric me.’”

Dabuz pulls off an impossible comeback in game 4. Then, still on Town & City, he clutches out Game 5, taking his second set against Riddles ever. 

“After that, I for sure felt better about Rosalina into Riddles. I didn’t feel great about it, but I was like, ‘this is doable. [...]  When Kazuya/Rosa is fully optimized - Kazuya gets fully circle camped, and he can’t play the game.” 

Dabuz’s run continued against Hero, Japan’s Bowser specialist. In some ways Dabuz and Hero mirror each other — keeping a mid tier character alive in their region, finding success despite a meta stacked against them, and approaching the game as a field of study. (Hero has memorized every single characters’s ledge getup animation.) 

But for the first time all week, Dabuz was able to reverse his matchup-knowledge based misfortune. In Japan, there are no other Bowsers close to Hero. However, being from Tristate, Dabuz has played plenty against NA’s greatest Bowser, David “LeoN” Leon, and thus, he quickly 3-1s Hero, steadfast with Rosalina, despite normally employing Olimar for that matchup.  

Finally, he’d advance to Losers Semis against another Westerner - Edgar “Sparg0” Valdez, Cloud extraordinaire and initial favorite to take the event. Just like Dabuz, Sparg0’s been through hell and a whole Losers Bracket to get here. He’s also been fighting the entire year to be the number one player in the world — a king of kings. Dabuz might be at the apex of his own story at the moment, but Sparg0 overpowers him, hungry to run it back with his rival acola on his home turf.

Dabuz gets 3-0’d, and finishes Kagaribi 10 at 4th place, a massive resurgence after repeat 33rds. Prior to Kagaribi, he hadn’t even made a major top 8 that season, but when all the odds seemed stacked against him, he took his strategy, his experience, and his mentality, and he found a path back to his old power. 

Here’s where we loop back to the Odyssey. After leaving the island of the Lotus Eaters, Odysseus and his crew found themselves on an island full of rich meats and cheese - but this was the home of the cyclops Polyphemus. Polyphemus returned to his cave, sealed off the entrance, and began eating Odysseus’s men. Odysseus, however, devised an escape plan: he identified himself as “Nobody”, ensuring that Polyphemus would eat him last. After Polyphemus went to sleep, Odysseus stabbed the cyclops’s eye out with a wooden stake. Polyphemus cried for help, but the other cyclopes refused to help him, thinking that they were being tricked and that “nobody” had actually attacked him. The Greek hero then had his men tie themselves to the underside of the cyclopes' sheeps to escape without detection.

Dabuz does not style himself as nobody, but he recognizes that he’s fallen closer to being one and that he has much to learn from the players that most of us sleep on. It’s here where he meets with YamaD, believing him to be a “nobody”, and with it, he fundamentally reshapes his Rosalina. Dabuz and Odysseus utilize anonymity in diametrically opposite ways; Odysseus used his “nobody” disguise as a way to isolate Polyphemus, but YamaD’s singular set against Dabuz as a “nobody” helped spur him to reach out to embrace the community around him.

Both Dabuz and Odysseus still find their way through dire straits not through strength, but through strategy. The similarities don’t end there. Both Dabuz and Odysseus would get so close to the end of their journey — so close to return — only to be pulled back by a mix of bad luck and a change in the winds.

CEO 2023, and the Winds of Aeolus:

Upon leaving the island of the Cyclops, Odysseus prayed to Aeolus, the god of the winds, who took pity on Odysseus and provided him with a bag of winds that would safely return him home. As Odysseus almost returned, his crew mutinied; they thought he was withholding gold from him, and opened the bag while he slept, sending the ship careening back. 

Dabuz has always wanted to win a major in Ultimate. He’s come close an obscene number of times — twelve, to be exact. Dabuz has made twelve Grand Finals and gotten twelve silver medals at majors, usually in heartbreaker sets. But Dabuz would never get closer than at CEO 2023 - an event, ironically enough, that found him taking the gold.

Hey, Dabuz has the third most major grand finals appearances of all time. That’s definitely an impressive stat - if the second shoe didn’t need to drop. 

CEO has had a storied history; it’s mostly a “fighting game major”, sure, but it had been there for Smash for eons and has pretty much always been generally considered a major. This past year, though, UltRank (now LumiRank), the leading body behind rankings and analysis for Ultimate, has designed an increasingly granular and statistical way to designate what is considered a major. This time around, CEO just barely fell short of major status. 

For context, the major cutoff is 3000 points.

In fact, CEO is currently the closest event to being a major that isn’t one already. The most edge of edgecases. Of course, it would be the tournament that Dabuz won.

Dabuz took down three top level players in Jake, ApolloKage, and Yaura to get to the winners side of Grands, where he’d face his starcrossed rival, Riddles, for the final set. Riddles cleaned house against Dabuz in a 3-0 to reset the bracket — Kazuya/Rosa, of course. Most people in Dabuz’s shoes would fall back to Min Min, especially given that Riddles took the first game of the reset too. But Dabuz still believed that Rosa had the tools to overcome the tier gap. And frankly, the release of Street Fighter 6 meant that his secondaries had atrophied. 

“When I was playing against Riddles in that set, I saw a lot of places to improve in each game. Also, I’ll keep it real: Street Fighter just released. I played very little Smash between Japan and CEO. With that perspective, my Min Min is super crusty. Even if I’m down 0-5, I only have one realistic matchup. And once I took the one game, that’s a huge momentum shift. I’m finally getting the edgeguards and punishing him; now I can win the set easily. Kazuya: he’s broken, but he has limited options. Once you figure out how to cut down his options, he’s - well, he’s still broken, but he can’t do much compared to what a character like Rosa could do.” 

Just like that, Dabuz had done it. He won the next three games and with it, CEO 2023. If just one other top player hadn’t DQ’d, if one other notable name had entered, Dabuz could claim his first Major title. Just like Odysseus - Dabuz had done everything right, and had come so close to getting back to his throne. He beat everyone else in the venue - but the winds turned. And even though Dabuz could basically call it a major win, he wants something “inarguable.”

“I want to win one that’s, like, officially labeled a major. Everyone knows I won basically a major. I’ve been saying that I “won a major event.” With that said, I still just want to win one that’s inarguably a major, just so people can say ‘he actually did it, shut the f**k up.’ ”

Still, CEO showed the world that Dabuz was no longer content with the plateau. Major or not, winning an event of this scale was a massive confidence gain. When most would have wavered their faith in their mid tier, Dabuz trusted in his adaptation and took the entire tournament home. Just like Odysseus, pushed back to the starting line, Dabuz was ready to restart his quest with a fresh mindset and a new stable of strategies. 

Dabuz began the year the farthest away from his goals he had ever been prior. He was burnt out and felt blockaded by the rapidly evolving meta around him. It took him a journey around the world to find the answers — to fundamentally rebuild his play, to figure out how to take down a gallery of legends, and to motivate himself to face a set of new threats. 

And to think: all of these shifts came through trusting in Rosalina! At the start of the year, Rosalina was perhaps the singular character in Dabuz’s lineup he had the least faith in, the “worst” character he played according to the official tier list. But after his trip to Japan, Dabuz’s outlook on Rosalina had shifted — and Rosa had shifted Dabuz’s outlook on the game.

“With Rosa, I’ve got a lot of confidence. There’s so many things I can work on with her - strategies, combos, tech. I’m still learning things now. Ultimate’s entered a spot where I think now where the characters that are stagnant are showing. Even if they’re strong, if they’re limited in their options, it’s really noticeable. I feel comfortable with [Rosalina], since she exploits the game’s systems, it’s just hard. But it’s doable. Rosa is a character with infinite room to grow, so as the game gets older, she can keep up with the meta and will keep pushing past characters in a time where it feels like a lot of the roster is getting tapped out."

I accepted I’m playing a difficult road with my character choices. It is what it is. I have to deal with it, but there is a way to make it work by going the path less traveled - by going the Rosa route. I can always be playing better.” 

Dabuz’s journey hasn’t stopped either. Since CEO, he slew a plot-armored Marss and a seemingly unkillable Miya en route to another silver at Super Smash Con. Normally, he’d get memed on for another silver, but he earned it at the year’s largest event and one of the hardest events in Ult’s history. With it, he earned himself an invite to take back the throne at, well, Watch the Throne. 

He’s been finding ways to beat players he has historically been strongly favored against too, taking his first set over Light in three years at the “Lit”vitational (Yes, that’s the real name of the event. Quotes and all.) It seems that with every event Dabuz enters, he pushes himself closer and closer to that major win, to that crown. This weekend’s Luminosity Makes Moves Miami is no exception. 

Just like Odysseus landing on the sandy shores of Ithaca, Dabuz is returning to the east coast to fight for his throne at a bonafide North American supermajor. At LMMM, he’ll have steep challenges to overcome - a new generation of threats alongside an array of demons who have haunted him for years, not to mention a young, hotblooded R.O.B main that has taken residency as the new monarch of New York in his absence. But if the past year has shown us anything, it’s that you shouldn’t count Dabuz out. There’s a reason he’s floated near the top of every New Era Smash title. And if it doesn’t pan out, if there are still more trials in front of Dabuz — no worries. It’s all data, all strategies for the next battle.

Besides, I think the crux of why I’ve always felt so compelled by Dabuz’s journey through Ultimate is that fallibility; is because kings aren’t gods - they’re humans. Odysseus and Dabuz falter, they experience loss, and they grow as individuals as a result of it. They’re leaders, regardless of whether they control armies or Lumas, but they aren’t divine. 

Odysseus’s struggles are compelling because everyone can relate to trying their hardest, only to fall short, to feel cursed by divine forces, and to feel powerless to combat them. It is, at its core, a human story. With that said, though, Odysseus does find his way back to his throne, a mere mortal beating the odds, and so, driven by his journey around the globe, I have tireless faith in the Galaxy Brain himself to get back to his. 

Writer // Hugh-Jay "Trade War" Yu
Graphics // Stacey "Shiroiusagi" Yamada