Photo courtesy of Robert Paul for EVO.
William “Leffen” Hjelte is known for two things: speaking his mind and playing Smash. The Melee player for Team SoloMid made a name for himself speaking out against unfair prize pools, player egos and poorly run tournaments, often making himself into somewhat of a heel. But this past weekend, Leffen fulfilled a two-year promise to his fans: he won Smash Melee at Evo. Shortly after his victory, we talked travel woes, why he doesn’t fear speaking his mind, Octopath Traveler and would he leave Melee for Smash Ultimate or Dragon Ball.
GINX Esports TV: So you predicted 2 years ago on Twitter you were going to win EVO, and now it’s trending on twitter because you won EVO! How does it feel to fulfil that promise?
I will win Evo.
— leffen (@TSM_Leffen) January 27, 2016
Leffen: It feel really really great. I remember the first EVO and I think it was 2013, and I had a pretty good performance, where I got 9th – and I wasn’t expecting to get 9th. And then I said I was happy but I wasn’t satisfied, and I couldn’t be satisfied until I won one. And I kept going back, and I kept having disappointing performances, getting 9th, getting 5th place to Plup. I feel like the best I could say it is I’m happy and satisfied.
You’re not from the States. When you travel for these events, I know that there is a big issue sometimes with the VISAs, but physically and mentally travelling must be draining. How do you stay performing at a top level when you’re not putting your body in such a great condition while travelling?
I try to make a real effort to sleep well and eat better, because I’ve got to give it as good a boost as I can to deal with all the stuff. Mentally, it was easier for me this time because I played a lot of Nintendo Switch – I was playing Octopath Traveler. It made the trips a lot easier, because it was just an excuse to settle down a little bit, don’t think about the internet, social media, and play a video game for a couple hours. In general it’s rough, and jet lag can happen, and sometimes it really sucks for me. But it’s just another problem, it’s just another task that you have to beat, and everyone deals with problems in some ways, but it’s just dealing with them in better ways than everyone else. In some ways the match starts way before the tournament even starts.
You’ve been playing a lot of Dragon Ball lately; you even went to Summit of Power. When it comes to preparing for an event like EVO, it’s a long event. Obviously you won Smash, but do you think that having two games hurts your performance or hurts your ability to succeed?
Especially if the schedule is too bad, or if I practiced too much Dragonball, logically it should hurt at least in some way. But for this tournament I really focused on Melee. There’s a lot of Melee events both before and after, like Smash Con and Low Tier City. So it just didn’t make any sense to focus on Dragon ball, so for now it really helped me in many ways. I’ve always had troubles with the ways that FGC runs some of their tournaments, and through Dragonball, I was able to go to a lot more of them, and actually got adjusted in some ways. And it was just like a fresh experience, learning a new game – took a couple things, learned a couple things. I played Melee rusty through some of the year; I realized I needed to have a ‘rusty’ or B game, and during a Top 8 in EVO you won’t be playing perfect, so it really helped me actually.
Speaking about practicing, what is the average Leffen day? Do you wake up, eat, Smash, Lunch, Smash, bed? How do you break up your time?
That’s very close to it before a big tournament. I try not to play straight, it’s bad for your hands. I’m not the kind of player who can play 12-14 hours, Armada is kind of that player, he wants to play as much as possible. I do better when I play 8-10, but take breaks pretty well through the day. I think I play maybe a little less, six hours. Six focused hours is better than 14 for me. I’m honestly just playing, taking a break, clearing my mind, what should I play next.
In many ways I’m just living Smash 24/7, the sleep is to play, the food is to not be terrible, but you have breaks, where you get the food, and you’re doing it with the other Europeans at the time, and you always have friends, and meet new people. And you do travel to new places, it’s not all work really. Every time I had to go to bed at 10, because I had to wake up at 6 for pools, I tell myself it’ still a better job then bagging groceries.
You’re kind of a heel in this mass community, especially on Twitter you’re very outspoken. How much of that is you noticing that the community expects it from you? Or is it all you?
I think some of it is that first part, but most of it is just how I am, and who I want to be. And I think a lot of people will tell you to to just be a player or just win and that’s all they care about. But to me, Melee is just one of many outlets. I’m not just Leffen the Melee player. I care about politics; I care about what happens in my country; and I care if the tournaments run badly, because not everyone is a top player. I care if Smash 4 is run badly; I care if BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is ran best 2 out of 3. It’s just something I personally will always be. I will never not say what I do because I’m in this position because of Melee, but I also think think that if I don’t say anything if I don’t things are going wrong, I’ll just contribute to the fact that I let them keep going badly.
In a hypothetical world where Nintendo says that they will only support Smash Ultimate and not support Melee anymore, would you pick up Ultimate or just switch to full-time Dragon Ball?
If they didn’t support us, I don’t want to be mean to Nintendo, but it wouldn’t change as much as you’d imagine. I would probably still keep playing Melee; I would still want to be the best player of all time. I might also put focus on Ultimate or Dragonball, but I don’t think there’s any way I’d quit Melee fully at any point in my life until I can’t play. I can’t see a future in which I’d quit it.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans after winning this EVO?
I’m sorry it took so long. [laughs]