By Brendan “Bean” Murray
In 2016, one of the top Smash 64 players announced via Twitlonger that he was quitting the game and moving on to play its sequel. Despite being ranked 10th on the 2016 SSB64 League rankings and earning The 64 Story’s “Best Sportsmanship Award,” he decided to retire, citing his isolation and the game’s meta as the driving forces behind his decision. He would compete in one last tournament, Genesis 4, before hanging up his Hori for good.
Nine months have passed since Genesis 4. In that time, Joey “KeroKeroppi” Speziale has posted about Smash 64 on social media and played friendlies with other players, but has not competed in any tournaments (excluding Let’s Go!, where he competed in doubles). It seemed that Kero was truly set on retirement. Then, in the span of a month, he moved to New York City to work, started coming to locals, and re-entered the competitive Smash 64 scene. Kero was gracious enough to sit down with me and discuss the rollercoaster of a year he has had, as well as his journey to that point, his competitive mentality, and his impressive rise to the top echelon of players.
Note: This article has been lightly edited for continuity.
Brendan: First things first, where did your tag come from?
KeroKeroppi: Yeah, I don’t tell people that. I wouldn’t call it a secret, it’s just not something I go around talking about. There is this Japanese anime frog that, I guess it’s called Kerokeroppi, so I’m not denying that that exists. The thing that I got my tag from very well may have gotten it from that frog — I mean how many fucking things are called Kerokeroppi? So realistically that’s where that came from, but the thing that I got [my tag] from isn’t specifically from the Japanese frog.
B: So you’re not very into Japanese wildlife?
K: Nah, I actually f*** with Japanese wildlife.
B: And where did the “Koroshiyo” clan originate?
K: So that’s me, my brother Stranded, Czar, Maliki and Skyfire. Maliki’s my cousin, he lives like 45 minutes away, but we all pretty much live…for all of us to be playing in a room on a weekend, it wasn’t unheard of. And that’s just something we called ourselves.
B: When did you start playing Smash 64, just in general?
K: I mained Yoshi when I was ten, and I would beat one-player mode every day before 4th grade, or whatever grade you’re in when you’re ten. Then I got the game [again] in tenth grade, and me and Skyfire would just dick around and play because we were friends from school. And we both were trying to one-up each other, but we didn’t know about anything, we didn’t know about Z cancelling or short hopping or anything, we were straight scrubs.
And then one day we discovered Z cancel. We just googled ‘Smash 64 techniques’ and found Z cancelling, and we were like, “Yo, apparently people actually play this game.” So I googled “Who is the best Smash 64 player” and Isai’s name came up, and I saw the word Smashboards and I was like, “Oh shit let me check out this Smashboards place,” and I found out there were all these players and there were more techniques that weren’t Z cancelling. It was crazy, I will never forget that day. I will never forget…it was, like, 7 PM on a Tuesday night and I was like, “Yo, this is crazy!”
B: When did you write that Smashboards post that called Isai out, saying you could beat him? Was that post and that day the beginning of your competitive career?
K: That was the same night, 7 o’clock on a school night. I looked up Isai’s YouTube videos, I found Smashboards, and I thought, “This guy Isai doesn’t look that good.” And I was talking to Skyfire and I was like, we can beat this guy. Let me just call him out and we will expose this fraud and we will be the best. And it obviously didn’t happen like that.
B: So that was when you discovered a larger Smash world. Did you start going to tournaments? Were there tournaments to go to?
K: This was in September of 2011. When I called out Isai, people said, dude, you’re probably, no, you’re definitely garbage. But if you are interested there’s this tournament coming up called Apex 2012. You’re gonna get beat down but if you actually care about the game you might stick with it. And nobody thought I would because at that time so many people think they’re the best players in the world, then they show up and they get beat down and they leave. So nobody expected me to turn into this actual player.
So I go to Apex 2012, I get thrashed by literally everybody. Dude, I distinctly remember Clubbadubba 5-stocking me with Jigglypuff over and over, it’s one of my memories from that tournament. And it actually became one of, probably my favorite weekend ever, up to this date, was Apex 2012, because everyone said that I would leave and not play once I found out I sucked, but I knew how much I cared about the game and I knew I was still gonna want to compete.
B: And you were in high school?
K: Yeah, I was a senior. So this was after I figured out that Isai was really good, and SuPeRbOoMfAn was a really good player, so I kinda went in [to Apex 2012] accepting my fate.
But at this point, Isai and Boom were kinda my heroes, and they still are, you know, and I remember playing Isai for the first time, playing Boom for the first time, and I remember playing all these people that I looked up to. And the crazy part is that I am better than a lot of them now, but they are still, like…I will never forget meeting JimmyJoe for the first time, or JaimeHR for the first time. It was just a really special weekend.
B: And after that it just took off? You were practicing, grinding, going to as many events as you could?
K: What happened was, I played the tournament, everyone was like, this kid is not gonna come back. I knew I would, but they didn’t. I was going away to [college], Apex  was in January, so that upcoming August I was going away to school and I didn’t go to any tournaments between Apex 2012 and Apex 2013. And I met Czar at school, the first week of freshman year, and we started playing together, and nobody knew I had played, and I showed up at Apex 2013 after grinding super hard for a year, knowing I would come back. And I remember I beat BattleCow in a $50 money match, and I ended up getting like 17th, which was super good considering everybody thought I would suck. And since Apex 2013, that’s when I actively started going to locals and seriously competing.
B: You’re from upstate New York, which is relatively isolated compared to some other regions. How did you manage to improve if there weren’t that many people to play or events to go to?
K: My parents are from upstate but it’s not crazy upstate, so I can still go to Nebulous. My freshman and sophomore years I would come home fairly often, and I would be able to go to tournaments here and there. But during my junior and senior years, I pretty much never came home, for various reasons, so I would only play Czar and Skyfire. Those are really the only people I played, along with my roommate, he played too. I would only play at majors and play my friends. And towards my senior year it started to get really hard, because that’s when this whole revival of 64 happened, and my school was super isolated. To get to my school you have to drive an hour without cell service, that’s how isolated it is. I used to be afraid that my car would break down and I would get eaten by wolves on my way home. So it sucked watching all these people go to locals, it was hard.
B: So there was a level of competitive isolation you experienced?
K: Completely. And in my apartment at school, playing online wasn’t a thing unless I went out and got my own internet, but I didn’t have the money to do that. I couldn’t play online, couldn’t go to tournaments, the only thing I could do was play my friends. It got hard.
B: Was your brother there, getting good at the same time as you were?
K: Tommy couldn’t drive at the time so he was in his own sort of isolation, though geographically it wasn’t as bad as mine. He pretty much was doing the same thing I was but he was only playing Maliki. So we were both kind of isolated in our own ways. And we played each other on holidays but me and Stranded would go five or six months without playing [each other], which I think not a lot of people realize. We’re brothers, people assume we came up together, we played and trained, but we didn’t really play that much. I’d come home for Thanksgiving and I’d be like, “Let’s sneak in some Smash before our cousins come over,” but we really couldn’t play that much.
B: So since you were so far away from most regions, so isolated, it was tough to stay motivated. Did you know that you were getting better compared to everyone else, even though you were in a pretty remote location?
K: Well, there was a switch, right? I ended up leaving the game, which you’re probably alluding to. Junior year and senior year were the same, I was extremely isolated, but the mentality was different. Junior year, I knew I was getting better, I didn’t really mind that I was alone since I was doing my own thing. But I could only take so much of that. So senior year, it just became too much for me. I’m extremely competitive, by nature, and it got to the point where I was playing Smash 4 with my roommate over Smash 64 because I was like, “I can’t play level 9’s anymore!” There was one period where I went 4 months without playing a human being, because at this point, the other kids who I would play 64 with, Skyfire was playing Overwatch, Czar was playing Smash 4, and I went 4 months without playing a human. I thought, “This is awful,” so I started playing Smash 4 just to have that competitive feel, and I hated Smash 4.
So that’s when I decided that I was just going to play Melee. One of my good friends at school, coincidentally, actually was a Melee player. We didn’t even meet through Smash, he was just some kid I knew in the math department, then I just started playing Melee with these guys. I loved 64 with all my heart, but the community wasn’t where I needed it to be to fit my needs, and it sucked. I was either going to pick up another game entirely, or…I felt out of options, and it was a really dark place for me.
B: So you decided that Genesis 4 would be your last tournament?
K: Yeah, Genesis 4. That was in January [of 2017], and honestly, in early 2016, March-ish, I’m thinking, that’s when these first thoughts of quitting came. But I was like, “No way, this is Smash 64, I love this game.” And then, after about six months of battling this [loneliness], I thought, “I’m doing this.” Sometimes I would wake up and be like, “F*** this, I’m playing Melee,” but then a week later I would think that I was being immature and salty. And I remember one time, I really was just feeling down about 64, and I woke up the next day expecting to feel guilty for feeling that way, and I didn’t. And I thought, this needs to happen.
So after about six months of battling this whole “quitting 64” thing, I finally said that Genesis would be my last tournament, in January 2017. And I was so nervous going into Genesis. At the time, I thought it was my last 64 event, and I needed to go out with a bang. I got fifth place and I was so pumped. I got fifth place, only losing to Alvin and Boom, who got first and second, and I thought, “I will take that.” I was so happy with that, and I just decided to start playing Melee.
B: It’s interesting that you had those feelings of frustration and isolation while still being a top player in the United States.
K: Yeah, Isai wasn’t playing and I was consistently beating Wizzrobe at the time, so I was one of the top players from the United States. But honestly — and I never really thought about this — I never realized that despite me being better than all these other people, I was really unhappy. A lot of people said, “Why would you quit, you’re so good,” but I was miserable. I was so miserable.
B: Right, because for every tournament where you beat all these top players, you would go months without playing anybody?
K: Dude, before Super Smash Con 2016 and Genesis 4, I think I played another human once, in that six month period. That’s insane, this is crazy. And I ended up getting so angry, I started regretting [so many things]. At this point, I’m in my senior year, and I’m thinking, “I shouldn’t have gone to this school, I should have gone to school in New York City.” I was so angry, and it ended up pushing me to leave the game, like I said. It was tough.
B: But now you’re back! You’re in New York, you are in New York City.
K: Yeah, so what happened was, I won’t go into the backstory, but I found myself living in the city. All those years for me in Oneonta, thinking that I should have lived in New York, wishing I could go back and change what school I went to, and now I was finally at the place I wanted to be.
So at first, I lived here for like a month before coming back, and I was playing Melee. And one day I was like, “What am I doing?” For so many years I wanted [to live in New York City]. The only thing stopping me from coming back at this point is pride. I would be lying if it was anything other than that. I told people I wouldn’t come back, and I wanted to stay true to my word, but this is such a good opportunity to pursue something I’m passionate about, and I would be a fool not to do it. And I knew I’d get shit, because I said I would leave and then I came back and everyone knew it. But despite the trolls and people telling me that they told me so, this was a golden opportunity and something that I wanted for so many years. And now I have good internet and I can play online and it’s the fuckin’ best.
B: And at the end of the day, you have to make decisions based on your own feelings, not what other people may think of you.
K: Honestly, that was half of it, and another thing too. When I was playing Melee, I never had a goal, which I think is a dangerous mentality. Ever since I started playing 64 and found out I was’t the best, I wanted to be the best, that was the thing driving me. But I would play Melee, and I would go to a tournament, I would get bodied, I wouldn’t care. I’d go to my friend’s place, get bodied, I wouldn’t care. I didn’t want anything out of the game.
And it all hit me one day. I thought, “What am I doing, dude?” When I was battling whether or not I should come back [to 64], I realized that I would rather take a set off Boom than win Evo five years in a row for Melee. It wouldn’t mean anything to me if I won Evo for Melee, it would mean nothing. Taking a game off Boom is the greatest feeling in the world, let alone taking a set. I feel like I would actually cry. And I thought that on paper, Melee was always the better option. I should have played Melee, but I was passionate about 64. And I was finally in a city where I could do it, so I would have been foolish not to pursue it.
B: There’s an emotional investment that has to be there.
K: Yeah, I wasn’t caring about Melee. It felt like a chore, and when I lost, it didn’t drive me. I didn’t care. I didn’t lose sleep about going 0-2 at a tournament.
B: Now that you’re back, what are your thoughts on the state of competitive Smash? What do you think about how much it’s grown in the past few years, what it needs to do to keep growing and be sustainable?
K: To be honest, the state of the community meant nothing in my decision to come back and I hadn’t even thought about it until this moment. I thought Smash Con 2017 was a complete success, and I think it was really good for the community. It was one of the best Top 8’s we’ve had. But [the state of the community] wasn’t in the back of my mind. One of the reasons I hadn’t thought about [the community], and I’m not sure how this will come out, is I think one of the things that drove me to unhappiness was [that] when I was in my isolation I used to argue a lot. Because I couldn’t play the game, I was like, “why don’t I just go [online] and argue with people about four stocks, single Pika-Kirby, whatever,” and the game became political to me, it was too much. So I told myself when I came back that I wouldn’t care about rulesets, which characters are good, which characters are bad, y’know, Shears could tell us we are playing 7 stocks with items on, I’m not going to argue. I am just playing the game because I love it at this point. I am not trying to be, I’m not going to make ruleset posts or anything like that. I’m just playing the game because I love it. And I think that will bring me a lot more happiness. Although I’ll still argue with people about matchups all day. Some people have no idea.
B: Do you have any personal plans for the future?
K: I am actually super pumped moving forward. I gotta say, I am at the best possible place I can be in my Smash career. In terms of how I’m playing, I’m not playing great, because I haven’t seriously put time into the game in nine months. So my actual play is not the best. But everything else — and this will eventually make me play better — everything else is the best it can be. I’m finally in the city I wanted to be [in], I can go to weeklies every week, I can play online, like I said, I stopped caring about this whole political section of Smash, like rulesets and stuff, I can play console with people, I’ve honestly been working on, I’ve been putting a lot of time into a certain character that I’ve kinda wanted to play for a long time. And it’s been bringing me a lot of happiness, too.
B: Is it Samus?
K: [Laughs] Dude I’m just in a really happy place. I think about how I think about the game now versus how I thought about the game my senior year of college and they are so different, dude. I, I just can’t wait for the future. It finally feels like everything is where it needs to be, and I think I’m going to see more growth now than I ever have. I’m really happy about the future.