New York Melee revives Hax’s Nightclub sans Hax
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Fourteen Super Smash Bros. players made their way to Miss Korea to hang out and eat Korean barbecue at 1 a.m. after The Nightclub S1E1, New York City’s first big Melee local, post quarantine.

The group included top players like Cody “iBDW” Schwab and Toussaint “2saint” Turnier. There were also players on the Tristate power rankings who had once been the region’s young up-and-comers. This included Leighton “Leighton” Ivy and Kacey “Warmmer” Hicks. And then there were players like “Monday!,” who’d just gone 0-2 to place last at his very first local.

This sense of camaraderie among players of all skill levels is exactly what tournament organizers Justin “DarkGenex” Cohen and Nico “Ryobeat” Rodriguez are trying to foster through their newly relaunched tournament series The Nightclub.

“It feels like there is a community starting to grow again in New York that isn’t completely reliant on, ‘Do you know the top player from nine years ago when you were both going to locals in some basement?’” DarkGenex said. “I think that there are a lot of good opportunities for new players, and players who haven’t been super affiliated with New York City in the past, to start talking to one another and start building up this community.”

However, bringing back The Nightclub in 2021 meant bringing it back without the man responsible for its existence.

The birth of Hax’s Nightclub

Aziz “Hax” Al-Yami began the Hax’s Nightclub tournament series in September of 2019 to replace Nebulous, which had been New York’s main Melee local before it ceased operations in 2018. He partnered with Even Matchup Gaming and Andbox to host an event every week at Operating System NYC.

Hax’s Nightclub caught the attention of the broader Melee scene because of its emphasis on innovation. Competitors played on lagless monitors, rather than the CRT televisions that players had grown accustomed to in the 18 years since Melee’s release. They also used a “frozen” stage list, with hazards removed from stages like Pokémon Stadium and Yoshi’s Story. The tournament series even employed a modification that made it impossible for the Ice Climbers to perform their infinite wobbling combo.

By early 2020, Hax’s Nightclub had become one of the most stacked locals in the world. It frequently attracted Tristate regulars like Rishi “Rishi” Malhotra and Dawud “Aklo” Rahman, as well as out-of-state players like Kyle “Kalamazhu” Zhu. It had solidly cemented its status as New York’s premier local by the time the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to shut down.

Hax’s controversies

But, Hax has recently embroiled himself in controversies that left him ostracized from the Melee community. In 2, he accused William “Leffen” Hjelte of establishing a totalitarian regime within the Melee community, along with nine other core allegations. Hax later released 3, which presented many of the same arguments with tamer rhetoric.

In addition, Hax faced backlash for making a crude comment referencing iBDW’s claim that he had been sexually assaulted by his mother; the details of which iBDW admittedly exaggerated when he first told Hax a few years ago.

Hax apologized for the presentation of 2 — although not for its content — and for his crude comment toward iBDW. He also imposed a three-month suspension on himself beginning in late June. However, a number of TOs have since advocated for an indefinite ban, leaving Hax’s future with the Melee community uncertain.

The revival of The Nightclub

As New York’s Melee TOs planned to bring back an in-person local, they wanted to take advantage of the venue and branding that already existed for Hax’s Nightclub. As a result, DarkGenex went to Hax with the idea. DarkGenex said that Hax initially wanted to be a part of the event and asked for the series to keep its original name. But, the current TO team denied his request.

“The entire TO team basically said, ‘At this time, we’re not going to do that,’” DarkGenex said. “‘[Your] standing in the community is not acceptable right now and we need to make sure that, to run an event, people are comfortable with you being in a community leadership position.’ And at this point, he is not at that state.”

According to DarkGenex, Hax relented. He gave them his blessing to use his equipment and run more tournaments to keep New York Melee alive. Thus, The Nightclub was born with its inaugural event on July 28.

“It’s probably the best possible outcome we could’ve gotten,” DarkGenex said. “Granted, if he had said no, we would have found a way.”

New York Melee returns

Now, DarkGenex and Ryobeat head up a team of TOs, commentators and other volunteers that includes Jeremy “Jeremy” Blair, Shane “StatusKuo” Kuo, Andrew “Vino” Berger, Walter “turndownforwalt” Brandsema and Vin “UnclePunch” B., among others. While DarkGenex was previously one of the main TOs for Hax’s Nightclub, this is Ryobeat’s first time at the forefront of such a significant tournament series. Even so, it’s something he’s been informally preparing for since he began competing in 2012.

“I think something that’s very true of the Melee community, especially the older you get, is everyone has always had some type of experience in running tournaments because we’re so tight-knit and grassroots,” Ryobeat said.

Of course, COVID-19 precautions continue to be an integral part of how they run the tournament. The page for each event states that only vaccinated people can enter. Thus far, the New York Melee community has honored this requirement. In addition, the TOs are constantly monitoring the situation with the delta variant in order to make decisions about protective health measures and possible cancellations.

“We’re not going to run a tournament if it’s not safe,” DarkGenex said.

Each week, the energy in OS NYC during The Nightclub is palpable. There is a large TV that allows people in the venue to easily watch the streamed matches. Throughout every event, large groups of people have gathered to watch and cheer; even for slow match-ups, like Peach versus Jigglypuff, which many consider among the most boring match-ups in Melee.

The New York Melee team is also integrating players into the community before they ever come to the venue. Their reinvigorated social media presence includes a new Twitter account and a repurposed Nebulous Discord channel. In addition, they have considered running a netplay bracket targeted toward newer players.

The future of The Nightclub

Both DarkGenex and Ryobeat have the long-term goal of hosting a large-scale regional and, eventually, a national-level major. In the meantime, they aim to create the best experience possible for every Nightclub attendee.

“We want to make this a celebration of everything Tristate and everything New York Melee has to offer,” DarkGenex said.

The two of them would like to see Hax return to the Melee community eventually. However, they have their doubts that he’ll ever take a leadership position at The Nightclub again.

“I think that having a ban system that is understanding of people’s positions — and it does have a good path to redemption that’s clearly outlined — while also being fair to the people that were harmed or targeted in what he did, is very important,” Ryobeat said. “He probably wouldn’t get The Nightclub series back, but I would like him to redeem himself and play Melee. He’s been here a long time and I would hate to see a friend not change and grow. Obviously, if he doesn’t then he doesn’t, and there’s nothing we can do about that. But, I would like him to grow and I’m invested in his growth as well.”

In any case, Hax’s Nightclub will likely never exist as it had before. Without a central figurehead, The Nightclub has instead become something that every Tristate Melee player can claim ownership in.

“What we’ve seen when Hax steps out is that we actually have a really amazing core at the end of it,” Ryobeat said. “If Justin couldn’t host anything, we’d still be okay. If I couldn’t host anything, we’d still be okay.”

The next generation

This communal vision has influenced the TOs’ emphasis on retaining the next generation of Melee players. Take Andrew “Drew” Abreu, for example.

Drew began playing Melee online about four months ago. He had no interaction with the New York Melee community prior to his first Nightclub tournament. Nevertheless, DarkGenex heard about how good his Jigglypuff was from five different people by the end of his first event. Drew simply showed up and the New York Melee scene swiftly welcomed him as one of their own.

“I feel like our goal is to find those players like Drew,” Ryobeat said. “We need to find those people who…maybe they’re Slippi kids who just played over quarantine. They’re clearly out there; they just haven’t been to the local. And once we get them to the local, we need to show them just how much fun it is to be there.”

The sense of community The Nightclub’s TOs are trying to create has already taken root for many of its attendees. Multiple people, some of whom Ryobeat doesn’t even know, have arrived to events early and asked him how they can help set up. Their willingness to volunteer has then produced opportunities for them to start conversations and forge friendships with new people.

“It’s just sweet to see that people are making friends, having a good time and they’re really interested in contributing to the scene at large,” Ryobeat said. “It may seem small at first — just a little offer to put Wiis to the extension cord or whatever — but [it’s] just a sign that people are really invested.”

Dylan Tate is an alumnus of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a gaming journalist with a love for Nintendo esports, particularly Super Smash Bros. and Pokémon.