By Brendan “Bean” Murray
In the basement of Nebulous Gaming NYC, the location of New York City’s weekly Super Smash Bros. 64 tournaments, I sat down on a stiff couch next to a thin, freckled 24-year-old man with a shock of red hair and a close-cropped beard to match. His name is Dave “Firo” Eisenberg. By day, he is a computer programmer for a company called “Google,” but by night, he is the best Super Smash Bros. 64 player in New York City — no small feat, for the largest city in the USA. He was ranked the 25th best player of 2016 on the Super Smash Bros. 64 League Rankings, as well as the low-tier player of the year by The 64 Story, and has graciously agreed to be the subject of a Player Profile for The Smash Writers.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for the sake of continuity/comprehension. By that I mean I interrupted way too often and had to cut that shit out.
Brendan: First of all, where does the tag “Firo” come from, if you don’t mind me asking?
Firo: Yeah, of course! I made it when I was 12 or 13. My first usage of Firo was — did you ever play Paper Mario for the Gamecube? Thousand Year Door? You hatch a little Yoshi egg in the third chapter, and mine was red, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll think of a name, maybe related to fire. Firo, that sounds cool.’
B: Speaking of being thirteen years old, when did you first get started in Smash? I know you’ve been playing for a really long time.
F: When [Smash 64] first came out, in 1999, I saw a commercial for it, and I was like, ‘This is so cool.’ I was 8, just on the cusp [of being able to remember the ad], and I was super into games at the time. So I saw the commercial, I was like, ‘Oh man, this rocks,’ and then played it at a friend’s place before getting it myself. For a little while, I only played casually with friends. Then Melee came out, I was like, ‘This is great,’ and I tried to get seriously into Melee, started following all the top guys. It was 2001, 2002, and I was a huge fan of Ken. I was also a Marth main, so, you know. I really wanted to go to tournaments so I could test my skills, but I was 12, 13, so that was on the sidelines for a little while. Then a friend was talking about how you can play 64 online, and I thought that sounded really cool.
B: Were you aware that there was a competitive scene? Was there a competitive scene?
F: There was one online, but there wasn’t a console scene at all. Online, you would log on and there would be about a hundred people playing, so pretty popular. Some of the same guys as today, like Fireblaster, SuPeRbOoMfAn, and some other guys who aren’t around anymore, and that’s how I got really into [competitive 64].
B: And Melee just fell by the wayside?
F: Yeah, some of the first 64 tournaments I entered, I also entered Melee, and I just got destroyed, and I figured I should focus my efforts on one thing, so I decided to go with 64.
B: And when did a console scene for 64 show up?
F: One of the first big tournaments for 64 was Apex 2012 or 2013. People were like, ‘Apex is having 64, this is huge.’ There were people like Sensei, Jimmy Joe was there — I didn’t know Jimmy Joe at the time — and I got ninth place at the tournament. I lost to Sensei in a close Ness vs Fox match on Hyrule*. That was when I was in college, and I started playing with some of the Chicago people — I went to college in central Illinois — people like Bloodpeach, Han Solo, BattleCow, and we played on console a lot. Then Apex happened again, and the console scene exploded after that.
*This happened at Apex 2013.
B: And then you moved to New York City and started coming to Nebulous?
F: I’m originally from Westchester, but when I first moved to New York City, there was no 64 scene, it was just getting started. A lot of the time it was just me and Jimmy Joe playing, we would do ‘Jimmy Joe and Firo Mondays,’ we would just be at his place and play, which was a lot of fun. And then KillaHertz started getting into 64, he wanted to start some 64 weeklies, and next thing you know, Nebs starts up. I haven’t done too much [for the scene], not as much as people like Dark Gentleman, KillaHertz, or Jimmy Joe, but it was pretty nice timing to be around for that, maybe about two and a half years ago.
B: Earlier, you were talking about a close Ness vs Fox match you had with Sensei. When did you choose to main low tiers, and why?
F: It’s only sort of after the fact that I was known for maining low tiers. At [Apex 2013] I played Falcon in the earlier rounds. I started off as a Samus main, on keyboard, then I moved to an XBox 360 controller, still with Samus, still online, and I played some Falcon and Fox. Then once I started playing with a 64 controller I started messing around with Ness, and I just happened to be good with him so I just rolled with it. There weren’t many Ness players, even back then, and I found out that I had pretty good technique with him, since I hold the controller in a pretty weird way, which is horrible for your hands. I do get hand pains if I don’t take breaks, and I’ve had pretty bad cramping at tournaments before, which is freaky.
But yeah, Ness seemed fun, he fit my aggressive, in-your-face style, he’s got cool ‘boes [combos], and 64 is all about the ‘boes, that’s what I come for. Come for the ‘boes, stay for the ‘boes, that’s the motto. I do like playing everybody, though, except Pikachu and Kirby. And I don’t really have much desire to play them, I don’t find their ‘boes very interesting. They’re not very technical, I like technical characters, where I get to press a lot of buttons, and characters with a good sense of flow.
B: We may have already covered this, but why 64 specifically?
F: I play 64 for the ‘boes — the combos, to clarify. The ‘boes in 64 are so cool, watching some sick Japanese [players], like, Prince ‘boes or Ricky, RickySSB, whose account got deleted off YouTube which was the most horrible thing. That was a pretty dark spot in Smash 64 history. I just love seeing sick ‘boes, I get so much satisfaction out of a good ‘bo.
B: Did you ever try Brawl or Smash 4?
F: I tried to get into Brawl when it came out, my freshman year of high school. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna get into it, I’m gonna be good,’ and I played for about a month and just didn’t like it at all so I just went back to 64. The online experience wasn’t good, 64 online was much better, no ‘boes, so I just didn’t like it. I played a little bit of Smash 4, it’s a little bit better, there are some ‘boes but there’s no creativity, it’s just the same strings over and over again. Not really interested in that.
B: What are your thoughts on the 64 scene recently? What does the community need to do to keep it sustainable?
F: It’s definitely growing, which is good. I think, because people are mostly playing in tournaments, there is tendency for people to not experiment or do fun stuff. Back in the online days, everyone played everybody, not many people stuck with one character. Now Top 8s are mostly just Pikachu, which isn’t surprising but, to me, it’s not that fun. But the fact that people are playing on console is great, that’s always better than playing on an emulator. It’s great to see the scene growing, especially at a place like [Nebulous], which is super convenient for people to play every week. I’m excited for the growth, I think it’s a game that shouldn’t just disappear. It’s a ton of fun, so I’m super glad that more and more people are playing.
B: If you’re not at Nebulous, how do you play or practice? Do you still play online?
F: Nowadays, I don’t really play outside of Nebs, but the real way to get good, at least for me, was to play online. For a while in high school I was playing pretty much every day, at least a couple of hours every day. I’ve played a lot of top players, you play SuPeRbOoMfAn for a couple of hours, or Fireblaster or Jaime or even Isai, you get exposed to a ton of different playstyles. If you’re trying to get better and you’re willing to get your ass kicked, then I think you can do it pretty fast [online].
Another thing I would do when I was trying to get better was watch a lot of videos. I would watch videos of myself playing and every time I got hit, you stop the video and think, ‘What did I do wrong? Why did I get hit?’ Also watch videos of really good players and then right before they do something, try and predict what they’re gonna do. If you got it right, that’s great, if you got it wrong, and they did something better, ask yourself why, why did I not think of that. And then a lot of messing around in Training Mode. So much of the game, in terms of getting better is being able to move quickly, understanding something like how high to jump in certain scenarios, a lot of these things that you don’t really focus on in the middle of the match. You gotta go into Training Mode and keep making sure your combos connect, that’s something you can really practice. If you’re on an emulator it’s much easier since you can use save states right before you want to try a combo and get it down, watch that combo meter and make sure it’s actually connecting.
B: When you play in tournaments like Apex, are you more focused on winning, getting the best placing possible, or are you okay with not doing as well if it means you stuck to your character and your playstyle?
F: I don’t really have much desire to be the best. If I wanted to be the best, I would play Pikachu or Kirby. I like the idea of pushing a character to their limits, and I think there’s a lot to be said for having character diversity, to me that’s just more fun. I don’t really enjoy watching a Top 8 set that is two Kirbys that goes for seven minutes. To me, it’s a nice tactical spacing battle but I don’t really find it that exciting. If being the best means playing like that then no, I don’t want to be the best. It is always nice to do better, though. I will go to a tournament and want to do well, but I don’t play enough to really get to the next level, like people who are at the SuPeRbOoMfAn level. In order for someone like me to catch up to them, I would have to play much more than them, and that’s a lot. At some point it becomes asymptotic. And stuff like school, work, other social stuff gets in the way. Trying to come [to Nebulous] once a week has been a good balance of doing this and doing other stuff. The days of coming home from school and playing until dinner are over, which is okay.
B: Do you have any players that you look forward to playing against in bracket? Players that you’ve cultivated a rivalry with over the years?
F: There are people I play who continually beat me, people like Revan, who I’ve lost to a few times. There’s people that are fun to play that are around my level, like Fireblaster, he’s always a fun person to play against. We have had a long history. Last time we played was at SuperBoomed and I took that match, but before that I have lost, and every time I was counterpicked to Peach’s Castle, and someone like Ness is just horrible there. But for a long time, up until a couple of years ago, you had these levels, Kongo Jungle and Peach’s Castle, and I would get counterpicked there quite a bit, which was unfortunate.
B: Why is Kongo Jungle bad for Ness?
F: Ness can’t really get up to the top side platforms, the only way he can get up is if he goes onthe little rotating platform then jumps over again. He can use his double jump but then he has touse his full circular jump. It’s just a very bad stage. The edges mess up his double jump cancel so he can’t really DJC [double-jump cancel]. It’s nice to not have those stages anymore, and I think my tournament performances have improved since that’s been the case.
Anyways, people like Nintendude and I used to have a nice rivalry back in the day. He beat me at one of the Apex’s, and also at Zenith one year. Those players are not necessarily rivals but it’s always fun to play them.
B: You and Nintendude team together, right?
F: Yeah, Nintendude and I think about the game very similarly, so it’s fun to team with him and I always cheer for him in Melee.
B: Who does he main in 64?
F: He mains Mario and Pikachu. Ness-Mario is usually our team, which is a fun team. I can get healed, got that action in there. Ness is a lot better in doubles than he is in singles, that’s for sure. I like doubles a lot too, I think it’s kinda nice that we have the OC [overclocked] consoles now, so doubles on console is a real possibility, even though there is still some lag, even with the OC. Before OC, doubles online was just a better experience, it didn’t have lag. It’s nice to see that we can do a lot of doubles in person. I think doubles is a really underdeveloped area of the game, it’s hard to get double the amount of people at the same time to play. It still doesn’t get much stream time [as singles], but it’s growing.
B: Ban Pika/Kirby?
F: Well, I think there’s a couple different answers to the question based on what you want. Do you want to see the best possible way you can play Smash 64? If the answer is yes, then you shouldn’t ban them. Do you want to have the most fun? If the answer is yes, then I think you should ban them. Personally, I don’t find them fun to play or fun to watch. A lot of people disagree with that, they have every right to, but if it was me, I would encourage aggressive play as much as possible. I think this game suffers — at a high level, it has the potential to be very campy, very slow. It’s not as fun to watch or to play, personally, as opposed to a battle that’s very explosive, aggressive, people doing sick ‘boes everywhere. You have to be much better than your opponent to get away with something like that [aggression], but when two people are evenly matched, it’s going to be this slow, slow campfest.
Luckily now, we have a timer. One of the matches that forced us towards a timer was my match with Wizzrobe at Apex 2015*, or something like that, which was the 13 minute Kongo match. And it was just ridiculous, I just got really frustrated after that match. So he wins the first match, it was an 8 minute match on Dreamland, he’s playing Yoshi — and this was when Wizzrobe was not known as being good at 64. So, it’s my Ness versus his Yoshi, and that match was very campy. He just stayed under the side platforms, and it’s really hard for Ness to approach a Yoshi like that, because his back-air beats everything Ness has. Then we went to the second match and that was around a 10 minute match on Dreamland, I did win that one, and then he counterpicked me to Kongo and that was a 13 minute match.
So the three-set match took forty minutes, and it was a complete endurance match. I found it to be one of the most un-fun matches I had played in a long time. And at that point there was no Everdrives, and that’s another big thing that has really changed the scene is availability of the Everdrives and timed stock matches. Once we had the ability to do timed matches, a lot of that has gotten better, and then we banned some of these more campy stages, which is good. I like that we have a timer now, though sometimes I think it could be even shorter to force people to be aggressive and go for the kill.”
*This match happened at Apex 2014.
B: You also have an experimental ruleset, don’t you?
F: [Laughs] I do, I proposed it right after that long-ass match. I only brought it back up since Dark Gentleman was talking about how we can experiment with different rulesets. Part of the reason that ruleset existed is because the assumption was that we could never have a timed stock match on console. The idea was to move to a time instead of stock.
The ruleset is: three five-minute rounds, the person with the least deaths wins out of those total three rounds. In that ruleset, I did allow for multiple stages, it was Dream Land and Hyrule, and whoever played the character lower on the tier list got to choose the first stage. That was pretty controversial, because people were like, ‘you’re using the tier list to decide who picks the stage’ [Ness is third from the bottom on the current Smash 64 tier list].
My counter to that was, I really think character diversity is a huge thing, so if we give the lower characters an advantage by having stage choice I think that is a way to make up for them. The ruleset never caught on, probably for the best, but it was an interesting way to get rid of the campiness. But I was also a bit bitter after that super-long loss.
B: What tournaments are you going to next?
F: I’ll probably be at Smash Con, but I haven’t registered yet. Unfortunately, I’m gonna miss Let’s Go, but that also looks to be a good one. I’m excited for Smash Con, last year was really fun, playing people like Kort, we did a lot of Link matches. It’ll be cool to see all the international people, should be a fun tournament.
B: What other games do you play?
F: I play a lot of other N64 games. Mario Tennis, on N64, I think I’m better at that than I am at Smash. There’s not that big of a scene for that game, and you can’t play it online, up until recently, since the graphics will get all fucked up. I saw some people with tier lists of characters that were completely wrong. Mario is the best character. He’s got no flaws. He’s powerful enough to hit winners from the back, he’s got enough finesse to handle drop shots, he’s pretty fast, and he’s got a good serve. He’s got everything.
B: So who do you play Mario Tennis against?
F: Junior and senior year of college I played every day, I lived with three other guys and we played 2-v-2. 2-v-2 Mario Tennis is amazingly fun, and recently I’ve been getting my older brother into it. We’ve found Mario Tennis to be a great way to compete against each other. He’s never been able to beat me but he’s come pretty close, he’s getting pretty good. Besides that, there’s Mario Kart 64, I’m pretty good at it. For me, I’ll play people after telling them I’m good at Mario Kart and I’ll see them miss a mini-turbo, I’ll tell them and they’ll say, ‘that’s not a big deal,’ dude you gotta know exactly how many turbos you gotta do around the entire lap. Or you have the people who play Koopa Troopa Beach and they don’t go the other way to get the extra turbo, that’s just, come on, you’re gonna lose. So that’s really fun.
I’ll play some newer games too. I don’t really play too many single player games, I mostly like multiplayer, competitive stuff. I played some other fighting games for a little while, in college I played Street Fighter, some Marvel, which was fun, but nothing really to the same level as Smash. Also Mario Party, on the N64, Mario Party 2, some Rocket League, which is fun, has a very Smash-esque feel to it. But nothing really to the same level as Smash, Smash is definitely a different league.
B: Any other thoughts?
F: The game is just super fun, I wouldn’t be playing it for this long if I didn’t think it was incredibly fun. I’m gonna be playing it forever. Smash will go on — the ‘boes never die. The game might end but the ‘boes will live on. There’s one thing I don’t like about this game. I think DI [Directional Influence] — I like it as a concept, but it’s horribly implemented. If I could change stuff about this game, that would be number one. It should be, you have a standard amount of DI, maybe you can just hold it, you don’t have to mash. I don’t like mashing as a skill, don’t think that’s a good skill to learn. Having said that, so many people just don’t DI in the right way. When you’re in a combo, you have to know, every combo, every move, which way you’re DI-ing. One way to get good, if you’re in a combo, somebody combos you, and they ask you, ‘tell me which way you DI-ed every move of that combo,’ you should have an answer. Even a simple case, like Falcon’s up-air, up-air, up-air, up-B, if you’re near a platform, you try to DI to the platform, if you’re a heavier character, you want to start DI-ing down, but if it looks like they’re keeping up with you then you want to start DI-ing up — especially on their last hit, before they try to do their up-B, you want to DI up as much as possible because then you have a chance of being too high up. In general, DI up is the way. If you want to get good, DI up. That’s my advice. It completely shuts down characters. A character like Ness, if you DI up, he’s half as good. Every combo I got at [Big Apple Smash], I would not have been able to get if the person DI-ed up. So know which way to DI. Unfortunately, you have to be good at DI to be good at this game. And you’re not going to see that from watching a video, you don’t really notice the way they DI. It’s an important part of the game that you need to actually be playing to figure that out.
I also highly encourage people to try new characters, I find it so much more fun when you play other characters besides the top guys. And you can win by playing anybody. You might not be the best in the world but you can make Top 8s, you can make a name for yourself. You could either say, ‘I’m a really good Pikachu player,’ or ‘I’m the best Samus player.’ To me, that’s much cooler, you get known for it. There’s, like, three competitive Ness players in the world that actually main Ness, and you wonder why. I think a lot of people could play really well with Ness or these other [low-tier] characters. And these new players, they don’t know how to play against characters that aren’t at the top, so you pull out a Ness and you can just tell they don’t know the matchup at all, which really works to your advantage, especially with all these new players coming in. I don’t think I’ve gotten much better than when I played in 2010, 2011, but I think the new players coming in just aren’t used to [low-tiers]. A lot of these players that play online, like Lowww Power, we’ll play and it’ll be super close, or he’ll win. I’ve started playing Link against him and he’s like, ‘okay, I play against Link all the time.’ Experiment with new characters, do some sick ‘boes, that’s what the game’s all about.
Brendan Murray is a smasher from NYC who joined the scene in mid-2016. He mains Samus, which he regrets every day. You can find him on Twitter at @EatDrnk_BMurray