The ZeRo Popoff–Genuine Love for the Game

In case you were unaware, Team Solo Mid’s ZeRo is the best player in Smash 4. Like, he’s really good at this video game. He still holds the game’s longest win streak, has been first on every PGR, and continues to be the clear favorite at every tournament he attends.

Naturally, being the best comes with its own special brand of hate. Like the Yankees or the Patriots, ZeRo’s dominance paints a clear target on his back. It is often more fun for fans to cheer against the Chilean king of Smash than to cheer for him. While rooting for the underdog is perfectly normal, the hate against ZeRo has a unique, mean-spirited flavor.

Hate The Best

When someone is so uniquely dominant, the usual defense is for a critic to try and invalidate their success. You would say that the Yankees only win because they buy all the best players. Someone might argue that the Patriots can only win so many Super Bowls because their coach is a dirty dirty cheater. There’s a degree of truth to both of these claims, but the teams still have to go out and execute in order to win, so the teams still garner plenty of true, loyal fans.

The strategy most often used to attack ZeRo is slightly different. The most common criticism you’ll see of ZeRo is that his playstyle is boring. He camps too much, he doesn’t play with enough aggression, Diddy is a stupid character, etc. This is a fascinating circumvention of form. No one is actually trying to say that ZeRo cheats to win, or that he has some sort of unfair advantage. Few people even try to argue that Diddy is too powerful and he’s being carried by an overpowered character. Instead, the tactic is to invalidate ZeRo’s entire place within Smash because he is not entertaining. They say that he’s ruining the game, that he doesn’t respect his opponents because he just plays lame against everyone.

Smash is such an interesting sport in that so often a player’s persona is directly tied to their character and play in the game. Play a low-tier? You’re probably a fun person. Play Bayonetta? You’re probably a bad person? Play a super campy Diddy Kong? You’re probably a boring person. Today, I want to try and separate the in-game character from the human person of ZeRo.  To do that, let’s take a look at the way ZeRo pops off at the end of a set.

The ZeRo Popoff

There have been some truly great popoffs this year. We’ve had the unique….style of Dabuz, the raw emotion of ESAM, and the pure joy of HIKARU. However, the one that truly sticks out in my mind is ZeRo’s celebration at the end of Grand Finals at Royal Flush.

To set the scene, ZeRo had made it through the tournament in Winner’s Side. Mr. R came through the Loser’s Finals, and reset the bracket. His Cloud took ZeRo all the way to game 10 of the set. The last game went all the way to the final stock. Then suddenly, ZeRo was able to get Mr. R off stage and spike him at low percent, claiming the victory. The set is embeded at the top of this article. Go watch, and skip to about 36:20. Watch the way ZeRo reacts here. He immediately jumps up and is so excited that he rips off his jacket and slams it on the ground. It’s actually very reminiscent of ESAM’s Pikachu throw at Civil War. Such raw passion and relief.

However, ESAM’s popoff came as a result of finally conquering his biggest demon. He had a known Mario problem. Ally was a guaranteed loss when the two met in bracket. Down a game, having completely abandoned his main, ESAM took a risk with Samus and took out his greatest foe, and the player ranked 2nd in the world (at the time).  It was his greatest victory on Smash 4’s biggest stage–Civil War.

None of these factors were true of ZeRo’s victory at Royal Flush. It was a small tournament with very few top 10 players present. Mr. R and ZeRo have played many sets, but no one would classify Ramin as one of ZeRo’s “bracket demons”. Outside of Ally, ZeRo really doesn’t have any demons at this point. So if the tournament wasn’t that great, and the win wasn’t that big of a deal, why get so emotional?

It’s simple: because the set was good.

Love of the Game

These are the moments that make me such a fan of ZeRo. It’s the same pure joy and emotion you see in his interview at Frostbite after the finals against Tsu. ZeRo is a true competitor. He doesn’t want to be the best so that people will love him. He doesn’t want to be the best for the money. You can see from his YouTube, his interviews, and even his popoffs that ZeRo just genuinely wants to play great matches of Smash 4. You’ll always see him at his most excited when someone challenges him. When the set is close. When he has to come back from the losers side.

This is the last player who wants to ruin the game–he’s the game’s biggest advocate. Every weekend you’ll see ZeRo directly tweeting at Twitch’s esports people reminding them to promote Smash events. I’ll never understand the argument that ZeRo is a boring player, but that is subjective. What you find entertaining is entirely up to you. I happen to find precision and perfect execution beautiful, but that’s me. However, even if you don’t enjoy his play, you can never deny the genuine love ZeRo has for this game. You can’t ever say that ZeRo the player is boring–he has more passion for his play than you or I will ever have for anything.

I am a die-hard ZeRo fan. Not because he wins everything, not because he makes the flashiest plays. I love ZeRo because Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios inspires me with his passion, work ethic, and pride for his game. I see that in the way he celebrates his victories. I feel his joy. It makes me want to celebrate with him. It makes me want to cheer for his victory so that we can celebrate again.

ZeRo will always receive hate. Most of that hate will be disproportionate, hurtful, and genuinely mean. It is an unavoidable by-product of being the best. However, my hope is that more people will come to love the man behind the wins, see the human behind his monkey avatar, and celebrate his success as a person. Thanks for creating so many awesome moments, ZeRo. Thanks for being the reason I’m part of the Smash community at all. Keep grinding, and those of us who recognize your passion will continue to support you and be inspired by you.



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