Not everyone in the upper echelon of Super Smash Bros. Melee plays the game full time. In this third episode of The Meta’s community-fueled Smash interview series, we sat down with NorCal Sheik main DaJuan “Shroomed” McDaniel to discuss juggling work and Melee, high-level Dr. Mario, hot dogs, music, the presidential election, and much more.
This interview has been lightly edited for readability.
Justin: How was your day, sir?
Shroomed: So far so good, you know? I’m just at work, getting the daily grind on, pretty much …
Right, you work full time, so that’s my first question: what do you do, and how do you balance that with Smash?
Okay, yeah, so I am a software QA engineer at Nvidia. I work on our software, our GPUs, and our devices, making sure all your games are running well, there’s no bugs or errors in any of our software.
Oh cool! So when I get my little notification that’s like, update your drivers, that basically has your signature on it?
Yeah, pretty much! That means I signed off on it and said “This driver won’t break your games!”
So how do you balance that with Smash?
Still haven’t gotten 100% where I want to be, but I’m a very active guy. I kinda consider downtime wasted time, I always like to be doing something, so if I’m not at work I like to exercise, or practice Melee, or play some sports, or something like that. I like keeping busy, so having two professions is a positive for me. I enjoy it.
How much would you say you usually practice?
Nowadays, not nearly as much as I used to. I’m still kind of getting adjusted to this job; I’ve only been here about four or five months. Typically, I try to practice at least three times a week, but I’m looking to shift gears to, you know, a little bit every single day, an hour or two every day after work.
If the money were there, would you consider playing full time?
I’ve been back and forth with this, and I actually … I actually enjoy my work, so I don’t think I would commit 100%— Maybe, actually. Actually. (Sucks air through teeth)
It’s a hard question, right?
It’s a very difficult question. If there was a ton of money in Melee … hmm, that’s really tough. I probably would … if Smash could sustain me full time, I think I would do it, then come back to this career later in life.
“If Smash could sustain me full time, I think I would do it.”
Do you think it’ll happen? Smash is growing so fast right now…
In order to support my current lifestyle … I think it’s a pretty low chance. Unless I’m the undisputed best, and I’m winning all the tournaments, and my stream is the biggest, and stuff like that … which, you know, Mango’s got quite a streaming head start on me, so I don’t think that’ll happen any time soon. (Laughs)
I’d watch your stream, dude!
I’m definitely trying to get back into streaming soon. I’ve been looking for another place, you know, to make my commute not so bad, and then I plan to return to streaming in force. So be on the lookout, man, that’ll be around soon!
It seems like streaming Melee can be kind of a pain. I know Axe has been having trouble with capture cards …
Yeah, and you can’t really play online with your subs, or if you do it’s not the same as playing in person because there’s a bunch of lag on the netplay, so. Melee itself is kind of difficult to stream full time just because you need someone to play.
So if you don’t play netplay, what’s your practice routine?
Currently I live with a couple Smashers, with NMW, Laudandus, and Nhat. We haven’t played as much lately, but we live together, so whenever we’re not busy with our own personal endeavors we’ll turn on the setup and have a quick two hour session.
Awesome. Okay, so, bit of a different direction here, but people want to know if you’ve ever been angry before? You always seem so happy. I guess there are two questions: whether you get mad in real life, versus in the Melee context.
I would say … in my life, of course, yes … let’s just say, when I’m actually angry it’s a really terrible sight to see. Everybody sees me as so happy all the time: just imagine that, but change the happiness to anger. And so when I’m angry, I’m really really angry. It takes a lot to get to that point, so it doesn’t come out often, but when it does there’s always a story afterwards.
I’m a little afraid to ask, but … can you give me an example? What’s the maddest you’ve ever been, and what provoked that?
Maddest I’ve ever been is—probably for reasons we’ve all been angry, relationship stuff.
As for being angry in Melee, I actually had my most upsetting defeat this year, in 2016, against PewPewU. I had killed myself at zero on Battlefield, like I had a stock and a half lead, and I ended up losing the game, and that was probably—no, that was for sure the angriest I have ever been. It took a lot not to break my controller, my glasses. Kinda just got away from me. I went outside the entire event and kept to myself for like thirty minutes and just wallowed in my anger and disappointment.
Wow, yeah. Were you able to shake his hand?
Oh, yeah. I always shake hands, you know. I do that first, before I even let the anger wash over me. But the second the handshake is over, I unplug my controller, and just let out to wallow in my anger.
So it sounds like you weren’t happy with your results at that tournament, but are you happy with your results overall? Happy with where you are in the scene?
I wouldn’t say I’m happy, mainly because I’m about at the same level that I’ve been for the past couple of years—I’ve kind of just grown at the rate of the meta, so I stayed in the same spot, but I haven’t improved fast enough to get a higher ranking. I’ve been rank number 10 for two, three years now? And while I’m proud of that, it’s good, I still—I dunno, I want to improve, I want to be progressive, at all times.
“I’ve kind of just grown at the rate of the meta”
What’s the next step? What do you need to improve about your game?
First step is, you know, I definitely need to practice more. Because the people ahead of me, aside from Hungrybox, they all do play full time. I’m sure they practice two, three, four times as much as I can. The only way I’ll be able to exceed them is to increase my practice regimen. I can’t practice as much as them because of work, but if I’m able to reach tenth with as little practice as I do now, who’s to say I couldn’t get number one if I just upped the amount a bit, you know?
I’m a little curious if you have specific areas in mind—if you were going to immediately spend a full week working on one specific thing—
My tech skill has always kinda lagged behind. I attribute that mainly to being a Doctor Mario player when I started the game; he is not a very tech skill-intensive character, so I didn’t need to learn that side of the game very deeply, and now that I’m playing Sheik—she’s not Fox or Falco or anything, but she takes a lot more inputs than Doc did, so it feels like I’m playing catch-up.
Speaking of putting a lot of inputs into the game—have you ever had hand or wrist issues?
I have not, and I think it is due to the fact that I played Doc for so long and didn’t need to make a ton of inputs. And I also feel like being physically active and exercising and everything has just kept my, you know—I stretch often, so I think my hands are pretty well-kept.
Do you think you could outlift any other top ten Melee player?
Any other … let me see. Right now, no. Give me a few months to get back into real shape—right now I’m just in maintenance and not actually, you know, lifting and working hard—I kinda just put quite a few things on the backburner as I adjust to this job, and my commute and everything—but, give me a few months, and I don’t think anybody can outlift me. Maybe Hungrybox, he’s got some weight on him, but other than that … (Laughs)
Do you think you’ll ever bring back Doctor Mario, even if only for certain matchups?
I’ve been back and forth about it. At this point I’m leaning towards no, because Sheik covers every Doc matchup pretty well, and aside from that I play a lot of Marth. I haven’t busted it out too much in national-level tournaments. I remember I played Armada at I’m Not Yelling, with my Marth, and we had some pretty good matches … I took a game from Mango, in the one game I went Marth, at Shine 2016. At this point I’d say I’m leaning more toward Sheik and Marth than the Doctor.
What about for the Hungrybox matchup? I’ve heard that Doc does pretty well against Jigglypuff.
It seems like he does, but it’s pretty difficult to land a kill, so I don’t think—my problem right now with Sheik is killing Puff, and I feel like I’d run into the same problem with Doc, but also have a worse neutral game. Because it’s pretty difficult to land the forward air, since it has a lot of startup time and ending lag, if I miss—and Doc’s other kill move would be Down Smash, and Hungrybox does not play against Doc on the ground very much. So I don’t think Doc is a very good solution to Jigglypuff.
How about some broader thoughts on Melee, how many characters are viable? You have folks like Hax who say there are only a few characters that are viable, others like Leffen who say there are a lot—
I think the top ten to fifteen characters are viable, but not so much as solo main characters. I think dual or tri-maining is the optimal way to play the game, because you get certain counterpicks that are so strong. But I wouldn’t say that most members of the cast are completely unviable, they just definitely take a little more work than the top tier characters.
Got it. Alright, I’ve got some matchup-specific questions here. Number one is: why did you take Hungrybox to Dreamland at EVO?
Okay, so the story is—I had beaten Hungrybox on Dreamland in our past two or three sets, so I felt like that was an advantage for me. I kinda like the space against Puff as Sheik, because I know I’m going to have to play neutral game a million times before I can kill him, so I have more space to protect myself.
“I think dual or tri-maining is the optimal way to play the game”
How do you plan to overcome SFAT?
Well, I’ll say that SFAT and I have had a rivalry for a long time. And I’ve always had the upper hand, until maybe the past year, year and a half, where he’s been putting in a lot of work and improving rapidly. I haven’t quite figured out how to deal with a Fox that knows me. I feel like he knows my style really, really well, so it’s difficult to bait him, or punish him, because he knows how I like to punish as well. So I’m actually thinking of playing Marth, and that way the matchup is—Marth/Fox seems way more cookie-cutter in the neutral game than Sheik/Fox, and it takes fewer tricks and baits because Marth can outrange Fox. So I’m thinking about starting to play Marth against him, even though he has a lot of PewPewU practice.
Right, the old PewFat duo.
Yeah. But Marth is a character that’s very—he has a lot of freedom in the way he can be played. So while SFAT’s good against Marth as a character, Marth can be played in so many different styles, because of the way his combo game works, and I think I’ll still do really well.
What do you think of Mango Marth?
I think it’s both amazing and terrible. He does so many good things, and then he’ll do one bad thing that’ll get him punished to death or something, just because he’s not a true Marth main … so I think he has a ton of potential if he keeps working on it. It’s already really good, because he’s Mango. But once he learns the intricacies, I think he’ll actually be—I think his Marth could surpass PPMD’s.
Let’s do some random questions! Is a hot dog is a sandwich?
A hot dog is definitely not a sandwich. A sandwich requires the bread to be in more of a top-to-bottom scenario, not a side-by-side… deal? Which is what hot dogs are? So I do not consider them a sandwich.
They’re more like a sub.
Do you have any dental hygiene tips? How do you keep your teeth so white?
Uh, I’d say brush your teeth once every three days. And use mouthwash.
(Incredulous) Once every three days?
(Laughs) No, okay, in all honesty brush it morning and night, and I use whitening strips every six months or so.
That might be the secret, right there. We’re getting some excellent scoops here, in The Meta.
I don’t want to give away all of my tips—keep my nice smile all to myself.
What if everybody shows up at the next Melee tournament and they all have just laser-blasting white smiles?
(Laughs) Then I won’t be so special with my smile any more!
What are your top five musical artists?
Okay, so, I have a wide range of musical interests. I’ve never really—I don’t have favorite artists, I just have songs that I like, but I can say the genres that I really really love. One and two—these are interchangeable—are 90s and early-2000s R&B and hip hop—
Hell yeah—Sir Mix-a-Lot?
Yup! So those are one and two, and then after that I want to say—I don’t really know what the genre is called? It’s like electronic hip hop. Trip hop, or something? I don’t really know what it’s called. There’s a song by Blackbear, called “Idfc—Tarro Remix.” I don’t know what I would call that genre, but I like music like that.
(Listening) This is kinda chill.
Yeah, it’s super nice. I just have songs that sound like this, but I’ve never categorized them. So whatever genre that would be, and then after that I want to say EDM/trance—that kind of music. And then just new-school hip hop, mainly Drake. Drake and Kendrick.
While we’re talking about media—what about books, movies, TV shows? What’s your preferred type of entertainment?
I am a huge movie buff. I’m just a 90s kid still, I really enjoy the 90s animated series, like Justice League and stuff back then. The old Spiderman animated series, and X-Men. Comic books turned into shows—those are big for me. I’m kind of a huge superhero nerd.
Do you read comics?
I haven’t really gotten into them. I’ve mainly gotten everything from the animated shows. But I’ve started dabbling in a couple of them. Spiderman, and I like Miles Morales. I wanna see the new Captain Marvel, too.
Considering the fact that we’re thirty minutes away from its broadcast, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask whether you’re going to watch the debate.
I—it’s tonight, isn’t it.
Yeah, it’s in 30 minutes, dude! Are you interested in politics?
Ah, yes. This election for sure, it’s way too important to not get involved. I’ve definitely been keeping tabs on what’s been happening in the political climate. It makes you wonder about this country. I don’t know, I’m just fortunate to live in the Bay Area, where it’s very progressive, where people value individuality and freedom a lot. But I guess I just never understood how widespread some of that thinking was in America.
“I only have a Twitter because of Smash.”
Your Twitter bio says you’re a hippie. Why do you consider yourself a hippy?
I’m probably using that term incorrectly. I went to school in Santa Cruz, and it’s a very environmentally conscious area, so they care a lot about wildlife and the ocean and everything like that. So going to school there I really got a newfound connection with nature. I love hiking in the woods, going to the beach and hanging out with friends, and animals, and all that.
That’s all I’ve got. Anything you want to say to your fans before we cut this off?
Something I’ve always felt that I failed to communicate is that I don’t use social media very often, but that’s because I’ve never used it in my personal life. I only have a Twitter because of Smash. I only really use Facebook because of Smash. So I feel like my fans think I don’t care, and that’s not true, it’s just that social media is not the way that I know how to show that I care. And I wish I knew how to communicate that more. When I was streaming, I was talking a lot more to my fan base, and being way more interactive, and it’s just—something I’ve been trying to fix. I do want to connect with my fans.
Oh, actually, I just thought of one more question—if you became a Melee God, which god would you be? Like from Greek mythology, Norse mythology, your mythology of choice—
I would be … hmm. I think I would be Goku, in Super Saiyan God form. That would be great.
So you’re a Dragon Ball Z fan?
I am. I haven’t dove into Super just yet, but I plan to soon.
That seems to be a real unifying factor in the Smash community. Everybody loves Dragon Ball Z.
Yeah, I mean, you just got that Goku motivation to play Melee. That’s the only way you can become a real Melee player!
Thanks to /r/smashbros users LucarioSkywalker, Shuawuzheer, coffeeb1ack, coriamon, anonymousjosh, Im-in-line, TricksterNo1, Infinite901, SSBM_DangGan, MageKraze, perklekranian, simsims2822, TheFriendlyFire, RobGetLowe, daesab, and others for submitting the questions that formed the basis of the interview above.