Daniel “ChuDat” Rodriguez has been a competitor longer than most esports have been alive. Starting all the way back in 2002, in the very earliest days of Smash as an esport, ChuDat was not only a competitor — he was at the top level. For two years of the MLG era, ChuDat was the second best player in the world and for a wider stretch of about five years, he was consistently in the top 5.
Unlike a lot of Melee’s old school, ChuDat continues to write his esports history.
He stayed relevant in Melee’s revival era of 2013 and 2014, then soared back up to the top level with a breakout year in 2017. Right at the end of 2019 and the end of Smash’s last offline era, ChuDat was poised for another resurgence, getting an impressive 4th at Shine 2019 with wins over Fiction, Swedish Delight, and Moky.
2020 presented the hardest year for ChuDat yet. As the world’s premier Ice Climber main, the wobbling ban hit him hard. As one of the longest tenured Smashers still competing at the top level, Nintendo’s new wave of cease and desists hit him even harder.
The wide world of Super Smash Bros. Melee
To that, this interview is cut into two sections. This first section details ChuDat’s thoughts about the wider community. These aren’t just opinions about Nintendo’s recent actions and the #SaveSamsh movement, but about the community that has helped shape ChuDat’s life and identity.
Here, ChuDat paints a picture of a rich community of genuine friends and competitors. This is a place that gave him unique opportunities to see the world, form deep friendships, and explore all the depth inside a single, wafer-thin GameCube disc.
What is your favorite place Melee has brought you?
I wanna say it’s Switzerland. Because of Melee I was able to full-time stream on Twitch. Because of that I ended up getting a massive amount of donations and people wanted to send me out to places — Japan, Korea, London, Italy, Germany, etc. One of the places that I fortunately got to go to was Switzerland.
It’s a country where there’s sunshine all the time, the mountains are gorgeous, the grass is beautiful, the buildings are amazing, the food is great. That was the first time I ever travelled by myself in a foreign country. [...] It was just an amazing experience.
How many of your personal friendships came from or started in Smash?
I would say that a lot of my personal friendships and relationships that I have came through Melee. Melee is a huge part of my life. I have people that I’ve known since 2002, such as Chillin, and I have even newer people that I’m still meeting.
What do you think makes that community so enduring? Why do you think people stick around with Melee?
People stick around with Melee because of the community and because of the relationships and friendships that they made through Smash and Melee. You definitely develop a lot of lifetime friendships just by getting to know people through smash tournaments. [...] It’s for the community. We all love the community, we all love the people.
People are diehard Mang0 fans, people love Mang0. Even I love Mang0! I’m not a fan of Mang0, I just like his personality. He’s just a really nice guy. It’s strange and it's cool to see that all of our top players are awesome people, from what I’ve observed over the years.
In your eyes, what separates the Melee community from other esports communities? What makes it unique to you?
I would say it’s probably the longest running esports community that’s still active. [...]* I would say that Melee is definitely the longest run esport out of all other games. We’re still bringing in massive amounts of viewers, hundreds of thousands of viewers at majors. We’re still getting lots of sponsorships. We have so many companies that really love us and that really want to support the Melee scene, which I definitely appreciate.
You’ve been in the scene for a long time. Right now, is this the lowest point you’ve seen between Nintendo and Smash?
I would definitely say that this is the lowest point between the Smash community and Nintendo. Nintendo has continuously stopped us from growing. They continuously give us cease and desists. They put a stop to any type of growth or sponsorships opportunities with the Melee esports scene. [...]
I would like it if they would at least say something and try to better the relationship. As of right now it looks like Nintendo is trying to pretend the problem does not exist.
You started in Melee because you were such a huge Nintendo fan as a kid. What would it mean to you to see Nintendo really embrace the scene and embrace esports?
I think that seeing Nintendo embrace the scene and embrace esports would create a lot of appreciation for Nintendo. [...] I think it would be an amazing feeling to have Nintendo finally back us up and put us on the same level of playing field as another huge esport such as League of Legends or CS:GO. It would definitely solidify us as a community and as a game.
I definitely think that we can make that happen if Nintendo were to work with us. We could definitely have a lot more viewership, maybe even get to the millions of viewers. It’s just wishful thinking on my part, but I definitely want that to happen. The Smash community definitely deserves to grow.
[*Editor’s note: ChuDat makes it clear he’s talking about individual games, not franchises. So, CS:GO and Starcraft II wouldn’t necessarily qualify.]
What did it feel like to see Nintendo hinder the esport over the years?
It’s definitely really sad to see. We’ve been putting all of our hearts and our souls into Melee. We’ve been trying to get the scene to grow, there are so many fans. It’s kind of like Nintendo is spitting on our face every single time, that they try to stop us from succeeding, stop us from growing and stop us from live streaming an event.
It’s hard to witness this. [...] Us Smash fans, we all love Nintendo, we cherish the company but every single time that they keep pushing us down, it’s kind of like a one-way love.
What do you want to see in the future for Melee’s community and Melee as an esport?
In the future what I would like to see is a lot more sponsorships coming into Melee, a lot more opportunities. I would like for Nintendo to please let us work with other companies. [...] There’s a lot of companies out there and a lot of people out there that really wanna see Melee grow, they really love the game, they really love the community.
That would be my one wish from Nintendo, is for them to let us grow as an esport. If they were able to stop with the cease and desists, me and the rest of the smash community would definitely be very thankful and very happy with them.
Super Smash Bros. Melee and ChuDat: From 2002 to 2020
This section details ChuDat’s perspective as a competitor. In all of Smash — and possibly all of esports — you can find no other perspective quite like his. ChuDat has seen just about every stage of Smash as competition and done well in most of them.
In this section, ChuDat details the immense growth in skill Melee has seen, the unique ways he’s grown as a competitor, and how he plans to move forward in a world without wobbling.
Aside from winning, what gives you the greatest feeling in Smash?
The adrenaline that I receive when I’m able to outsmart my opponent. Even in micro situations where, let’s say I anticipate my opponent’s gonna do a roll and then he rolls like three seconds later, I get an adrenaline rush off that. Being able to read my opponent and guess where he’s gonna be is definitely an amazing feeling.
My specific style, I would say, is I try to wait until my opponent makes a mistake and once they make a mistake that’s when I get ‘em. That’s where I can get 'em with a 0-to-death punish. I tend to pray on people that make mechanical mistakes.
You’ve beaten players who don’t typically make a lot of mistakes. What do you do against those types of players?
Whenever I play people like Leffen or Plup, where they rarely make any mistakes, I have to play a style that’s very pressure heavy. I’ll be in their face, I will force them to do what I tell them to do. [Laughs]
Let me explain. So let’s say I’m fighting Leffen and he’s by the ledge. He only has two or three options when he’s by the ledge: he can jump over me, he can dash past me, or he can roll behind me. 9 times out of ten, most Fox players, they jump over me and I always catch them for that. That’s the type of pressure that I’m talking about.
It’s kind of like conditioning, right?
I think that your style in Smash is very hard to rattle and very patient and I’m curious, how do you maintain your patient approach and your gameplan in a match?
So I learned how to be patient through a game called Super Smash Bros. Brawl. [Laughs] In that game you were forced to play patient, if you weren’t patient in that game then you were gonna lose, there was no chance you were gonna win at high level.
I specifically learned that technique of patience through Mew2king, just observing him, playing against him over and over. Mew2king would literally just stand there, he would look at you and he would wait for you to choose an option or approach him. So I pretty much emulated that style and I kept emulating until I made it my own and I actually perfected that patient type of style.
So that’s pretty much where I get most of my patient style, it’s just from observing Brawl players mainly. It’s not just Mew2king it’s also every single other top Brawl player. I was just so interested in how they were so smart and how they were so patient so I kept watching gameplay footage. [...]
Back in the day, in Melee, I would say that pretty much nobody really played patient. Everybody would just approach. It was super easy to just fight people and not have to worry about approaching somebody. I would say late 2008, late 2009, they first started to learn how to camp, up to today. Now, even low level, mid-level players they all have started to camp, so I’m glad that I was able to pick that up in my Brawl days and apply it to Melee.
Do you think playing Brawl and sort of diversifying out into that side of Smash, did that help your later resurgence in Melee?
I definitely think that playing Brawl helped out my Melee game. I was able to move my patience game over to Melee. I have to thank Brawl for that!
Do you feel like the average Melee player has gotten better?
Maybe 100 times better, 1,000 times better. Back in the day — I was so good back then I was able to use low tiers and make it into winners finals or grand finals. There was this one tournament that I entered that I played in doubles with a level 9 Luigi CPU and I ended up winning the entire thing against some of the mid level players of my area at the time.
Nowadays, if I try to bust out my Pichu or my Young Link, people two-stock, three-stock me. It’s not even close. I can’t use my low tiers on people anymore. I have to try hard every single match. People camp the platforms, they do whatever it takes to win.
Since I have so much practice with people playing very campy against me, the mid and low level players are unable to actually beat me in tournament matches - but it’s still very close! Like Royal Flush, for example, in 2017 I almost lost in pools to a Falcon player. [...]
Back in the day, I was two and three stocking literally everybody, even the pros. I was actually thinking, “Why are people this bad [laughs] at Melee!?” There were only like 5 or 10 good people in Melee at the time. So I was thinking, “Man I wish there were more people that could give me a challenge so I could actually try against them.” Looks like my wish was answered!
How does it feel to observe that growth in Melee?
I think that seeing people improve and using Uncle Punch and all these other training mechanisms I think is a huge for the community. It definitely provides a lot of entertainment value. I’m really glad that people have really stepped up in their training to provide a good show. It’s awesome to see.
What has the online era been like for you?
The online era for me has been, I would say, rough. It’s been nationally stated in every single one of these tournament’s rulesets that wobbling has been banned. That rule right there completely nerfs my character. I’ve been playing with wobbling from 2014 up until now and it’s gonna take a lot of time to get back up to my old skill level. [...]
But I was good before wobbling was even a thing. From 2002 to 2007 I didn’t wobble at all. I did not like wobbling, I was not a fan of it. The main reason I did not like wobbling was because I was so tunnel-visioned on trying to get the grab and trying to wobble people that I lost a lot of tournament sets because of that. [...] I dropped wobbling and I started performing better. I was still second best in the world from 2005 to 2007.
I think I can do that again. I think I can still perform even without wobbling, it’s just gonna take a lot of practice. It’s gonna take some time but I definitely think that I can get back to that same level of skill that I was at back in the old days.
Do you see yourself picking up other characters, especially for those tough floaty matchups?
Yes definitely! There is no way that I’m going to be able to defeat Peach players, probably Jigglypuff players, maybe Marth players. Ice Climbers don’t really have that great of a punish game on floaties. However, the reason I think that I can get back to a top 10 level is because a lot of people play fastfallers and even without wobbling Ice Climbers can still 0-to-death fastfallers.
I will just have to pick up a new character, maybe Fox. I also have other pocket picks, I could try Marth, I have a Pikachu that I used back in the old days that I could bring out of retirement. So I definitely have options on what I can do in order to keep up with these floaties players.
Would you rather play Melee where Fox has six jumps, a Brawl where Metaknight has a rest mechanic, a Smash 4 where Bayonetta has a wobble, or an Ultimate with just one character of your choosing?
The least broken would probably be the Smash 4 Bayonetta with wobbling. Honestly that’s probably the least of my concerns. I think Fox with six jumps would be really bad to deal with. [Laughs] Smash 4 is the type of game where Sakurai changed the mechanics where you can’t really grab multiple times, so maybe that might mess up players trying to wobble.