In the aftermath of an exhilarating EVO 2014, ReadyUp Gaming met with Mortality eSports’s Jeffrey “Axe” Williamson to discuss his impressive performance at this year’s Evolution and his ambitions for the future. Axe is Arizona’s hometown hero and currently holds the title for best Pikachu in the world. A top 10 player and always a crowd favorite, Axe had a truly electrifying (pun intended) showing at this summer’s major tournaments, as he began to turn heads with his lightning fast play and aggressive edgeguards.
Let’s start at the very beginning. How did you get into Smash? How was your first tournament experience?
I started back in ’06 when I was a freshman in high school. At the end of that year, someone hosted a Smash tournament at the school, someone that a lot of people now know as Vectorman. So he hosted the tournament and I saw it, and I was like “I love this game! I’ve played it since the game came out in 2001. I’m gonna win.” So I entered the tournament and lost really badly.
I knew there was gonna be another tournament the next year, so I decided I was gonna practice and train to win next time. I started practicing, and over time I found out that there were other bigger tournaments, and I wanted to go to those too. I started going to all these tournaments and that’s basically how it took off.
Were you playing Pikachu back then?
I was, he was my starting character.
Speaking of Pika, it’s obvious that you’ve developed this sort of icon in him. You’re basically synonymous with Pikachu at this point, as far as Melee is concerned. What is your favorite part about playing Pikachu?
Well, he’s fast. And one thing I love about Melee is how fast the game is, and Pikachu is one of the fastest characters. He’s sort of like Fox, but with a better recovery and much less priority on his attacks. He’s also got sharper control than Fox, who slides a bit more. So I guess I just love all the control I can have over Pikachu. Pikachu is just the one character that fits my style a lot better than Fox does, or any other character for that matter. I do love playing other characters, but there’s something about how fast and sharp Pikachu is, I just love it.
Well your Pikachu has definitely been making some waves recently. What can you me about your practice routine? How often do you practice? For how long?
Well I don’t have a set schedule for practice or anything. I guess I just love playing, period. If I’m alone, I’ll play for at least an hour per day, so I do play every day. But if I’m playing with other people we’ll go all day, which happens once a week or so. But by myself, a lot of times I’ll just practice whatever I know I’m not 100% on. I also like to experiment with a lot of things, like going into 1 player mode and finding new things I can do there, or going on various stages and practicing different setups and stuff. Just experimenting with a lot of things is how I come up with new techniques, not just with Pikachu but with any character. I like to expand my Melee game as a whole, I love the entire game.
You were recently sponsored by Mortality eSports. How does this change the Smash experience as a whole for you?
Well, honestly the main thing Mortality has helped me with is flying me out to more tournaments. So because of them I get to go to a lot more tournaments, but other than that, my Smash game has been the same. Regardless of if I was sponsored by anybody or not, I would still try my absolute best to go to as many tournaments as possible and improve my smash game and keep rising to the top. Mortality helps me a lot. Not just financially, but they give me a big morale boost too. They’re always encouraging me to try my best. The CEO of Mortality is actually really supportive of me, he watches all my matches. At EVO he watched every single one of my matches and was always cheering for me, so that’s a big plus. Plus I get a lot of neat stuff from the people who sponsor Mortality, like Razer, Gunnar Optiks, and more recently Gamma Gamers and G-Fuel, so that’s awesome. But yeah, having a sponsor just helps me play more people, more often, and that definitely helps a lot.
At EVO 2014 this year you definitely turned some heads with a top 5 ranking at the largest Smash tournament to date, outperforming everyone but the Melee “Gods” themselves. What was your mindset going into the tourney? How far did you expect to make it?
The biggest tournaments this summer were MLG and EVO. So a couple of months prior I looked at both of them and said, “I want MLG Anaheim to be my tournament. I’m gonna practice hard and train to be on top of my game and do really well there. That’s gonna be my number one.” I went to EVO last year and basically all my friends were there, so last year we just partied, played Melee and had a good time exploring Las Vegas. Last year, I kind of wanted EVO to be my fun, kick-back tournament. But then, after my strong performance at MLG this year and then being sponsored by Mortality eSports, my mentality changed. A lot of people wanted me to do well, so I decided I was gonna sit down and keep practicing hard. I mean, I was gonna do that regardless, but for EVO itself I decided to take it more seriously than last year. So for that weekend I was banned from drinking, got a good night’s sleep and it all payed off, and I had a lot of fun the last day. So yeah, I wanted to be really focused for EVO and repeat my performance from MLG, which I pretty much did. I’m really happy with how I did.
What do you think was your favorite set at EVO?
Well I think that may be a little obvious…
(laughs) Yes! I also felt really good against Armada. Before top 8, there weren’t any sets against anybody that I was like, super hyped for. After I beat Plup I felt really good because I wanted top 8: that was actually my goal. I wanted to be on the big main stage; I’d never been on a stage that big and I was excited to be there.
That’s also why I wanted to beat Mango so badly, because the winner of our set made it to top 8 in the winner’s bracket. I wanted to beat him really badly to get there. I didn’t want to play any more matches in Loser’s, because then you’re in danger of being knocked out of the tournament. So I tried really hard against Mango, but I didn’t pull it off.
Against Silent Wolf, I really wanted to win. The first match we were totally even until the last two stocks where I was able to get him with really good edgeguard set-ups, and I two-stocked him. The next match we were going really even again, but he ended up getting me with some really solid hits and he two-stocked me. For the third match…I have no idea what happened. I really don’t know what I did differently. I wanted a more enclosed space, because he was using all the space on Pokemon Stadium to his advantage. So I wanted to take him to a smaller stage, but not Yoshi’s because I personally don’t like Yoshi’s. So I took him to the second smallest which is Fountain of Dreams, and I just made sure he couldn’t do anything, and it worked. The feeling of everyone cheering for me was phenomenal, I can’t explain it.
What was your mindset going in against Armada in Loser’s Quarters? You two definitely went back and forth.
When I was going in against Armada, I honestly I felt like I was gonna lose. I was like, “This is Armada. There’s just no way.” I decided I would just play my best, and play to entertain the crowd. I wanted everyone to have a good show; I didn’t want anything boring in top 8. I wanted to play my best, while still being entertaining. That’s kind of the style I’ve always had. So I basically did just that, and I ended up winning the first game. After winning the first game I started thinking I could actually do it, and then the next match he’s JV four-stocking me. The third match I came in with the same mindset and pulled out all the tricks. When it came down to the last stock, it hit me that I could actually beat Armada. That’s something I never thought was a possibility. The last stock I tried extremely hard, and I almost beat him, but he got me. But the feeling I had during that last stock against Armada and during my set with Silent Wolf, that feeling that everyone is cheering for you and wants you to win, and with the crowd supporting me even after I lost to Armada, it felt amazing.
Are there any names out there that you are eager to play, or even more specifically, eager to beat? Who are you looking to take out in the future?
My list of people that I want to beat, is everybody. I especially want to beat the “Big 5”, and also Leffen. I have a pretty bad losing record against him. So I especially want to beat him, but it really goes for everybody. I realized after both MLG and EVO that I have what it takes to beat all of them, which is mind-blowing.
What are your hopes for Smash 4? Will you play Pikachu?
Honestly, I’m not that hyped to play Smash 4 competitively. I think it’s going to be fun and I’m definitely going to get the game, but just by looking at it, it seems too slow and restricted to me. But you can never really tell until you have the game, so I’m definitely going to try it out. I’ll probably enter tournaments for a couple of months and see how I feel about it. As far as a character goes, I’m definitely going to try out Pikachu, but if he’s not the character for me, I’m not gonna stick with him. In Smash 64 I main Ness, in Brawl I main Toon Link. I play whatever character I like the most. So I have no idea about Smash 4, we’ll see.
Can you offer any tips for any newcomers to the scene who are looking to get started with competitive Smash?
Number one is, if you really want to get better, do not give up. Don’t be discouraged if you lose, because everybody fails at first. Well at least mostly everybody: I don’t know how Mango was. Keep trying and make sure to practice, especially by yourself. Practice your advanced techniques. Your L-cancels, your wavelands and wavedashes, all that sort of stuff. Practice your advanced techniques and use them in friendlies against other people. That’s one thing people don’t do. They play solely against other people. You will get better that way, but it’s a huge advantage if you practice by yourself too.
Any final shoutouts you want to give?
Number one shoutout goes to Arizona as a whole, because the whole Smash scene has helped me a lot. I definitely wanna shout out Mortality eSports for this amazing sponsorship opportunity, they’ve also helped me a lot. And shoutouts to all of Mortality’s sponsors: Razer, National Penn Bank, Gunnar Optiks, Maxx Integration, Evil Controllers, Gamma Gamers and G-Fuel!