A Super Smash Bros. Brawl legend is ready to extend his legacy into another game.
Vishal “V115” Balaram is a world-class Brawl player, and has competed in multiple Smash games for almost a decade. A constant presence in the Southern Ontario Power Rankings across three Smash games, he can be fierce competition in any title; but it’s Brawl where he’s tops.
“Brawl was the first game I really got into competitively” V115 told ggn00b in an interview. “I think the first game that draws you in can really shape your tastes, and how a competitive game ought to be designed.”
Whereas Melee players coming to Brawl would be turned off by the stronger defensive options, the slower movement and the reduced (or lack of) combos, V115 viewed it differently: as a competitive world unexplored.
“The way I see it, there’s two types of competition: interactive and non-interactive.” V115 explained. “Non-interactive meaning that how you compete is independent of the person you’re competing against. Take the 100-metre dash; while you are racing against someone else, your result is only dependent on your own performance.”
“Brawl had a huge focus on interactive competition; everything you did in that game, whether right or wrong, was always dependent on what your opponent did. That’s what I loved: the decision-making. [Follow-ups and combos] were based on figuring out what your opponent liked to do in given situations and taking advantage of that information.”
His love of the game fueled his quick rise to the top of his local scene; after attending his first Brawl tournament in June 2011, he was placing top 5 at his local events only three months later. By the end of 2012/heading into 2013, V115 had solidified his place as the best player in Ontario, as well as one of the best Zero Suit Samus mains in the world.
Breaking onto the world stage, however, proved difficult; V115’s first major tournament outside of Ontario was Apex 2013, which ended with him placing 97th. The following year at Apex 2014, he placed 33rd, losing to Larry Lurr and Salem.
But in the final year before Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was releasd, V115 earned his spot as a world-class player with multiple strong placings, including a top 8 finish at SKTAR 3 where he got a revenge win on Larry Lurr. Getting to that level to go toe-to-toe against top players took a different approach in mentality.
“When I was getting better at Brawl, I had to convince myself that I could be as good as these people.” V115 said in regards to how he approached dealing with top players. “I just had to boil it down to: it’s a video game. Anything that they can do in this game, you can do too.”
Since Super Smash Bros. for Wii U was released in late 2014, Brawl tournaments have been few and far between, kept alive by the Brawl Bois Community. Despite not playing the game outside of the handful of Brawl tournaments he can attend, V115 has continued to hold his place as one of the best Brawl players in the world, and currently ranks 5th on the SSBBRank.
And although he isn’t as active in Brawl as he is with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, he fully believes the meta for Brawl never came close to its peak.
“The idea that we figured everything out in six years is ridiculous.” V115 explained. “What if someone had perfectly implemented Diddy’s infinite? What if the Japan meta (where Fox and Peach were considered much stronger than in North America) had more chances to influence us?”
“I definitely think there is a lot to be learned about Brawl. I just don’t know what kind of interest still exists to push the meta. But it’s definitely not a ‘solved’ game.”
With regards to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, V115’s results continued to show promise; he scored wins over players such as Mew2King and Zinoto, and continued to hold his own in Ontario. But the game was a big change from Brawl—not in a way that he enjoyed—and it coincided with a rough patch in his life.
“I was working a kitchen job I didn’t like, my mental health wasn’t the greatest and I had a lot of things going on.” V115 recalls during this time. “That plus how I felt playing Smash 4; where I wouldn’t feel anything when winning and would just get frustrated mid-match when losing, and it was an overall dark chapter in my life.”
In order to get back on track, V115 took a year and a half break from competition, returning in 2018 when Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was on the horizon. While the years around Super Smash Bros. for Wii U were tough for him, V115 says that he’s ultimately grateful for it all.
“The shift from Brawl to Smash 4 was a lot, especially from interactive to non-interactive gameplay. In a way, I’m glad I was able to experience all the mixed emotions and get all my frustrations out with Smash 4, because now I feel ready to start again in Ultimate.”
V115 has a renewed passion with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate; he’s looking to not only reclaim his spot at the top of Ontario’s Smash scene, but also to reestablish himself as a world-class talent as he did in Brawl. Originally a solo Lucina main, he’s picked up his old main Zero Suit Samus to go alongside her in Ultimate.
“For some people, a character just becomes part of their identity.” V115 says with a laugh.
He’s enjoying the game far more than he did with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and it’s fueling his drive once again. While he still has some gripes about Ultimate, such as the buffer system and the quality of the online, he says that the general gameplay feels like a nice middle ground to Brawl and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
V115 is even planning to begin streaming to dive further back into the world of esports. “I’ve made some investments; I have a new computer, a dual monitor setup.”
“I’d obviously like to play Melee and Ultimate, but I’m also looking into streaming chess, competitive Pokemon, and other Switch games.”
But at the end of the day, competition is still the driving force behind V115, and he wants to climb back to the top in a new game. In Brawl, he was featured on the big stages, fighting against the best players in the world.
“I want another shot at that.”
Be sure to follow V115 on Twitter!
This interview has been edited for clarity. For the full unedited conversation, check out this video!