When it comes to competitive Super Smash Bros., there are some players who become synonymous with the characters that they use. For Donkey Kong, that player is (the aptly named) DKwill.
For over a decade now, Will “DKwill” Walsh has competed in tournaments and represented Donkey Kong at the highest level of play across three Smash games: Brawl, Smash 4, and Ultimate. A longtime love for the game and competition had DKwill always ready to play, even when he went to college and before he entered the competitive scene proper.
“I was always the person who had the Wii in my trunk, with the CRT and all the controllers. Just ready to go” DKwill told ggn00b in an interview. Playing mostly Melee at the time, DKwill’s thirst for competition predated even the release of Brawl. It wasn’t until after the game was released in March 2008 that he was able to locate the resources that found him his first local tournaments.
“I didn’t even know MLG existed back in [my college] days. It was harder back then; you couldn’t be a part of the competitive scene, or even really know about it, unless you actively were searching for it.”
The…questionable quality of Brawl’s online mode—DKwill only played it a handful of times in the many years he played the game—was another push for him to find offline tournaments. A local card shop hosted events where DKwill would meet fellow competitors and lifelong friends Punishment Divine and KirinBlaze, the latter of whom would be DKwill’s doubles partner for years to come.
Soon, the crew would attend New Jersey events featuring the talent of the day such as Inui, Atomsk and dmbrandon, as well as “The Gauntlet” in Brooklyn, hosted by the legendary DA Wes. The same day that he went to The Gauntlet, DKwill was inducted into the DA (Deadly Alliance) crew.
It was through DA that DKwill would meet one of his greatest inspirations for pushing Donkey Kong in the meta: Bum163. The crew would often go to Bum’s apartment where they would train for hours on end.
“The biggest thing I took from him: he labs hard” DKwill said when citing Bum’s influence in his play. “Hitboxes, frames, everything. Being a math major, I was always into the numbers. And I realized through him how important they were.”
“Being a heavy character [like DK] who doesn’t have the best frame data, you have to know your numbers. You have to know how hard you can punish, and when you can punish these faster top tier characters.”
DKwill didn’t immediately make his mark, admitting that for the first little bit of his career he struggled with his skill plateauing. It wasn’t until he started traveling for tournaments that he exposed himself to the larger talent pool and he started to make waves as one of the top DK players.
“Traveling for competition is so, so important to taking your game to the next level. You might often play your friends or a closed circle of people, but learning how to fight against different characters, people who adapt at different speeds, etc.” DKwill explains. “Finding those people who can just 2 or 3 stock you can help push your game further and further.”
“There’s also those Smash philosophers at events when you travel; people who can articulate the game in ways you haven’t heard, and you can pick their brains for knowledge.”
Donkey Kong’s matchups in Brawl weren’t always the best, and many different players would’ve switched to a higher tier after a certain point. But DKwill is proof that the best character you can use is often the one that fits your personality.
“If you can imagine a character that is stubborn, that is Donkey Kong. And that is me; I am stubborn, I’m prideful, I’m loyal. I like to stick to my guns.” DKwill also admits that the unexplored meta of the character helped keep him around. More numbers for him to figure out, more ground for him to lead the way in discovering.
A longtime friendly rivalry with Cable, another DK main from the Tri-state area, helped push DKwill further and further up the ranks. After the MLG era in 2010, he began to solidify his spot as the best Donkey Kong player in the world. It all came together at SKTAR 2 in 2013, when DKwill placed 9th out of 141 entrants and defeated top players such as Salem and Mr. R, all with just DK.
DKwill looks back on Brawl fondly, both on the many friendships he made as well as the game itself, claiming it “felt more like chess than any other Smash game” to him. The importance of neutral exchanges in the game and the amount of thinking required made up the lack of extended combos and fast-paced style that one would find in Melee.
“I honestly owe everything to [Brawl]” DKwill says with confidence.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, or Smash 4, marked new beginnings for DKwill in several ways; it allowed him to enter a new Smash title as a strong, knowledgeable player rather than someone trying to learn the ropes, and it allowed him to build a following through his new Twitch stream.
Smash 4 had him briefly switch off Donkey Kong as his main in exchange for Sheik, due to DK being abysmal on launch. The character change worked, as DKwill was suddenly winning tournaments and taking sets off players who had long been his bracket demons. He was able to get ahead of the curve thanks to iQHQ, a Smash 4 crew consisting of top Tri-state talent.
“They were instrumental in training me early on—and mainly consisted of friends I made in the Brawl era. We were running the NY scene during the 3DS and early Smash 4 days.” DKwill says of the iQHQ crew.
The switch off DK wouldn’t last long, as he went back to DK when the Wii U version of the game released. A few weeks later, he would have the tournament performance of a lifetime, which also solidified his name as the face of Donkey Kong in Smash.
He made a run through the bracket which led to him fighting Smash legend Mew2King in loser’s semis of the tournament. Mew2King was using what’s now known as “pre-patch Diddy Kong,” an extremely powerful and effective top tier that some still argue was broken. DKwill, using the low tier DK, went on to upset Mew2King 3-2 in a breakout performance.
“Getting the win on Mew2King definitely kickstarted everything for my Twitch streams and my reputation as a Smash 4 player.”
As Donkey Kong improved with patches and DKwill continued to work on his stream, his fanbase grew, eventually becoming a Twitch Partner. A self-proclaimed “labber,” his streams garnered a reputation for being the place where Donkey Kong tech was discovered, tested and implemented into the meta.
A driving force behind DKwill’s stream was his girlfriend who goes by Ms.Saiyan, a competitive Smash player and Twitch streamer in her own right. Since 2016, they have been a consistent doubles team and practice partners.
“She was a huge part of my Smash 4 career because we traveled to many of the big majors together, was my consistent training partner, particularly in the Pikachu and Yoshi matchups, and was my static doubles partner for most of my Smash 4 career. We’re still static teammates to this day in Ultimate.”
She’s also been instrumental in the design aspects of his content creation, from Twitch layouts to emotes to YouTube thumbnails, and even appearing on his stream for doubles sessions and sparring. Her influence has helped turn the DKwill brand into something unique, something that players can identify with.
“She’s had a lasting impact on me and my Smash career, especially the way she’s encouraged and supported me to be the best content creator I can. Without her, the stream wouldn’t be where it is today.”
The growth of his Twitch stream and his tournament results would get him supporters from all around the world who would sub and donate to fly him out to more events. Many of the tournaments that DKwill was able to reach in Smash 4 came as a result of his viewers and fans chipping in to see their favorite DK player duke it out amongst the best.
Unfortunately the improvements to Donkey Kong later in Smash 4 also made his meta very linear, which went against the free-flowing and creative style that DKwill had enjoyed so much in Brawl. Add in the controversial character Bayonetta and the game started to become more of a chore than anything. In fact, he would actually take a year-long break from competition during the Smash 4 era.
Luckily, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was around the corner and although DKwill would make a return to content creation, his tournament attendance wasn’t as high as before, a conscious decision by the man himself.
“It’s hard to say it, but I can say it with more confidence: I am here as a content creator moreso than a competitor at this point.” he explains in regards to attending less events in Ultimate. “My thing is, I love to teach. I love to pass on the knowledge and experience I’ve acquired to a new generation of players.”
That’s not to say that he can’t still hang out with the best; at Get On My Level 2019, he famously got an upset win over MuteAce and ended up placing 25th out of 847 entrants. While Donkey Kong has some matchup issues in Ultimate, the less linear style of play allows DKwill to play more like he did during the Brawl era.
As for the future? DKwill plans to continue growing his Twitch and YouTube, solidifying his reputation as the DK labber, where everyone goes for the latest tech and exciting meta developments. He’s also been offering Smash lessons; he’s astounded at how popular they’ve become.
“A lot of people want to learn Donkey Kong.” He says with a laugh.
He’s also expressed interest in doing commentary, citing his experience with his stream as well as his ability to articulate the many concepts that go into competitive Smash as his strengths when he’s on the mic.
One thing’s for sure, even as he moves more into the role of content creator and less the role of a competitor, that itch to compete will always be there, just as it was when he was lugging around a Wii and CRT in his car trunk.
“If I go to an event for commentary, or just to see people…I still want to compete. You can’t keep me off the sticks.” DKwill says with confidence.
Despite all of his accomplishments in competition and in content creation, one of DKwill’s favorite moments in Smash came from a tournament loss: he flew down to a Brawl tournament in St. Maarten in the Caribbean, where he made it to the finals against Mew2King. Mew2King, using his infamous Meta Knight, was the clear favorite to win, but DKwill actually took a 2-0 lead in the set before ultimately losing 2-3.
That didn’t matter to the crowd though; local competitors as well as many fighting game players from the Dominican Republic were roaring every time DKwill landed a hit, and when the set was finally over, they picked him up and paraded him around the venue as if he had won the world championship.
Years later, DKwill flew to the Dominican Republic for a Smash 4 event at Fighting Fest 2016. When he showed up the tournament, hundreds of players came up to him asking for autographs and pictures as a result of that earlier Brawl event as well as his successful Twitch streams. His legend was cemented.
“Those are the types of moments that you live for.”
Be sure to listen to the whole interview here: