In a pixelated world, video game characters fight to knock each other off the electronic arena.
Using the Luigi character, Stephen Abate, ’11, has received the top eight placement at the Big House 5 Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament in early October.
This marked a major achievement in Abate’s career, as well as an achievement for his character, Luigi.
Super Smash Bros. Melee is a Nintendo fighting game that Abate started playing in his first year at Lehigh. In the game, you can use characters from the Nintendo video games, like characters from the Mario Bros. world, The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon and Star Fox, to fight against each other.
He started playing with a couple of friends in Dravo, but it was never his intention to be at this level of play.
His success at the Big House 5 tournament elevated Abate to arguably be the greatest Melee Luigi player in the world. This also marked the first appearance of Luigi in the top eight for a national tournament.
Abate majored in electrical engineering and was also on the track and field team at Lehigh. He said that he spent the most time playing smash when he injured his Achilles freshman year.
Abate’s friend, Alan Freeman, ’11, recalled being introduced to the game by their mutual friend, Robert Fagan, ’11, who played Melee competitively before going to Lehigh. It was only a matter of time before Abate surpassed all of them.
“During my senior year, it was a good way to clear my head and get out of Packard Lab for a bit,” Abate said. “There is definitely a way to balance the things you are passionate about.”
For Abate, playing Melee while at Lehigh and still so today, is a social experience.
“Melee was always played on our downtime,” Freeman said. “It was a really social experience in the residence hall.”
There are different types of players. Abate explained that there are some players who analyze the game and take notes, while others, like himself, are more relaxed.
“I think what helped me the most was track,” Abate said. “You’re feeling a little nervous. People want you to win and people want you to lose but you have to stay level headed.”
Abate’s friend and fellow opponent, Aaron Beilstein met through the game 6 years ago at a national tournament in New Jersey. The two had to play each other and instantly clicked.
“Smash was one of the first fighting games that wasn’t put online, so it forces people to interact,” Beilstein said.
As the first Pittsburgh player to make it to the top eight, Abate has a huge following.
The pressure put on Abate during these high-stakes matchups is something that motivates him. Beilstein describes himself as the type of player to get more excited during these moments, while Abate is extremely concentrated.
Many players wear headphones to cancel out the turf wars happening behind them but Abate chooses not to.
“A lot of players can’t handle being rooted against,” Beilstein explained. “Abate plays a very unconventional player so he has a ton of support behind him. It’s comforting to have thousands of people and an entire region, rooting for you.”
Through placing top eight in one of the biggest tournaments of all time and being ranked No. 34 in the world, Abate has captured the attention of some sponsors. Most top players have corporate sponsors but he is unsure if he wants to go in that direction.
Abate was contacted by some sponsors and tournament organizers who are willing to pay for travel and housing costs to attend their tournaments.
“The thought of being able to travel and experience different parts of the world while doing something I love is amazing,” Abate said.
Despite this, Abate thinks that Melee will remain a casual hobby for him, as he plans to get his professional engineering license in the coming months.
“It is nice to feel like I could take a long break from Melee and still be accepted and welcomed back when I return,” Abate said.