REPOD S2E4 The King of Smash – Ken Hoang on Competitive Gaming

In season 2, episode 4, we discuss possible futures for competitive escape room playing with the King of Smash, Ken Hoang.

Ken was the world champion of Super Smash Bros. Melee for five years and helped create much of the high level competitive gameplay. Ken was also an extremely strategic player on Survivor: Gabon

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Smash Melee was originally designed as a party game, not for competitive play. However, by exploiting glitches and mechanics that were built into the system, whether intentional or not, Ken was able to develop an expressive and unique style within Smash Melee, and become a top competitive player. This same strategy of exploitation has caused much of the recent evolution in Survivor.

With this perspective, we discuss whether there is room for competitive play in escape rooms, and what that evolution could look like. Episode 4 is a bit of a smashup mashup, but it was fascinating to look at escape rooms through a competitive lens.

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Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Peih-Gee and Ken talk about how they bonded over Survivor and playing custom maps on StarCraft. [00:37]
  • David talks about how neither Smash Bros. nor escape rooms were created for competitive play, and yet the communities have turned them into competitive sports.
  • Ken explains what Smash Bros. is and how it works. [1:35]
  • Peih-Gee compares it to a challenge from Survivor China, then talks about how well known Ken is in the gaming world. [2:55]
  • Ken talks about how Smash Bros. started off as a party game, and somewhere along the way, it evolved into a competitive sport. [3:45]
  • Ken explains that the game was released with many glitches that the players learned to exploit, which allowed for more creative gameplay. [4:20]
  • Peih-Gee compares it to how Survivor wasn’t originally intended to be a strategically heavy competitive game either, but the players themselves managed to exploit the mechanics of the game. [5:56]
  • Ken talks about how the game needs to be played on CRT televisions (the old heavy style) because of lag, and talks about player idiosyncrasies. [7:12]
  • Ken discusses the difference between the West Coast and East Coast competitive scenes, and the different viewpoints on using items in game. [8:52]
  • David compares the luck of items to skill sets in escape rooms, and certain things like disc spinning or brute forcing a lock when you’re only missing 1 digit. [13:33]
  • David discusses puzzle bypassing when you can jump out of the sequence of the expected flow of gameplay. [15:56]
  • David and Peih-Gee debate competitive conditions for escape rooms. [17:09]
  • Ken talks about how the competitive scene in Smash Melee evolved over time and how the rules adapted accordingly. [19:05]
  • David talks about how George Mikan, a 6’10” basketball player in the 1940s, changed the rules of basketball with his unbeatable strategy – to just stand under the basket and smack away any shot that anyone made. [19:56]
  • Ken compares it to “planking” in Smash Melee. [20:55]
  • Ken talks about the schism between Smash Bros. Melee and Smash Bros. Brawl, and how Brawl removed many of the glitches that pro players exploited in Melee.[22:55]
  • Ken talks about figuring out how to game the glitches, and how different counterplays were created. [24:56]
  • David compares this to the escape room world and some of the different play styles within the industry. [26:04]
  • David, Peih-Gee, and Ken discuss the concept of the metagame and how game strategy evolves over time. They start by discussing how the meta for Survivor has evolved, and how even production has had to change because of people exploiting the system. [29:31]
  • David and Peih-Gee discuss changes in the escape room scene and how rooms have evolved over time. [33:10]
  • David says he actually thinks that the escape room scene has shifted away from a competitive meta towards higher entertainment value. He recommends puzzle hunts like the MIT Mystery Hunt for people looking for competitive puzzling. [35:29]
  • David talks about a few different attempts and approaches at competitive gaming for escape rooms, including Red Bull Mind Gamers. [37:52]
  • David talks about EGO—The Escape Room Olympics. [38:41]
  • David and Peih-Gee discuss again the need for a set of rules for competitive play within escape rooms, and Ken mentions that it took 15 years to finalize the rules for the competitive Smash scene. [41:29]
  • Ken talks about how for years, Smash was ridiculed as a party game, not a fighting game, and they eventually had to form their own competitive scene as a platform fighter. [42:26]
  • Ken talks about his strategy going into Survivor, and why it all went down the drain after meeting his fellow players. [43:03]
  • We discuss how one of Ken’s strong points is separating his emotions from his gameplay, and we discuss the mental game. [44:03]
  • Ken talks about his coaching career. If you’re interested, you can message him on Twitter @liquidken [45:42]
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Guest Bio

Ken Hoang is an American professional Super Smash Bros. Melee player and television personality. Ken plays Marth in Melee and is known for his comparatively aggressive style of play. His dominance with the character has led to his becoming the namesake of the “Ken Combo,” an effective combo used in gameplay. He also largely brought about the implementation and popularization of “dash dancing,” a movement technique involving rapid side-to-side dashing that has since become integral to all levels of competitive Melee.

Ken was the highest-ranked Super Smash Bros. Melee player in the United States. He was also the world champion for several years, having defeated reputable players from around the globe, including top Japanese players.

Ken possesses the highest major tournament win-to-loss ratio of any Super Smash Bros. Melee player from 2003 to 2007. His five years of dominance earned him the nickname “The King of Smash” within the community.

He was part of MTV’s True Life: I’m a Professional Gamer. Ken retired in 2006. In 2012, he officially returned to the Melee scene. In 2014 he and fellow Melee veteran Daniel “KoreanDJ” Jung joined Team Liquid as the team’s first Smash Bros. players. Ken was also a contestant on Survivor: Gabon, which aired in the fall of 2008. He was the fifth-place finisher and sixth member of the jury.

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