Interview with Isaac Boldarini - Smashing Continental Competition

The European Smash Crew Invitational, or ESCI, is an international event organized by the European Community of Super Smash Bros. which aims to unite all of Europe together for some incredible fighting action. Amongst the 24 countries, Malta has been invited to compete from the 27-28th of June. Therefore, we sat down with one of the competitors on the national team, Isaac Boldarini, in order to learn more about himself, the title and the scenes, both local and international. 

Note that the following is an interview conducted prior to the event - we'll potentially get in touch for post-event content too!

1. Hi there Isaac! To start, please introduce yourself to our readers by describing your personal life a little: your profession, hobbies, lifestyle etc. – we want to get to know you.

Hi, I'm Isaac Boldarini (HoneyWobbles is my gamertag), I'm 25 years old. I'm a competitive Super Smash Bros Ultimate player who also organizes tournaments here in Malta. I work as a game designer and most of my time is spent in playing video games.

Whether it's practicing Smash Ultimate, or playing games in my free time, I'm usually always found with a controller in hand if I'm not at work.

2. In terms of gaming, where did you find your beginning in fighting games? Did you always have a liking to the genre and if so, why is that?

I fondly remember playing Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64 back when I was around 10 years old. At the time it never really struck me as a fighting game, so I'm not sure if it counts. But my love for the fighting game genre started when I picked up Street Fighter 2 back on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

I wasn't any good, but I enjoyed it a lot, to the point where I wanted to check out other fighting games. This is where I started to truly appreciate fighting games. I heard about M.U.G.E.N, which is a fighting game that allows the player to create their own custom characters. I suppose this is where my roots as a game designer also begun, as I started experimenting with different values to create move sets for various custom characters.

But overall, I think at the time Smash 64 and its mechanics were so ingrained into my mind that it was hard not to stick with the series, so here I am still playing Smash Bros 15 years later.

3. What moment specifically, marked your decision to take it to the next level and begin competing? Since that moment, what have you managed to achieve?

Well, after being exposed to the competitive scene with the help of the Smash Brothers Documentary on Youtube (I recommend everyone who is interested to watch this), I really wanted to give competitive Smash a shot. But there was no scene here in Malta at the time, so I partnered with my friends in the group “NGM” (Nintendo Gamers Malta) to organize Smash tournaments for the public.

While I did take part in these tournaments, at the time there weren’t many players that were familiar with the competitive scene, so I didn’t quite face the challenges I was looking forward to. These tournaments I'm talking about are ones that my team and I organize at Malta Comic-Con and a few other events in Malta when Smash Bros for the Wii U was the most recent title.

So I decided to try traveling and competing internationally, and every time I traveled my love for Smash grew stronger.  My best showing was at “Valhalla 2” in Copenhagen, where I finished 65th out of 238 players; it doesn’t sound like an amazing achievement, but it's the first time that professional players started to take me seriously.

4. Now, as the ESCI is set to take place imminently from June 27-28th, what are your thoughts and how are you preparing for the competition ahead of you? How does it feel to be representing Malta?

The ESCI tournament will be in Crew Battle format; basically 5 players on each team compete in 1v1 battles until the last member of a team is eliminated.

So this is a group effort, as we need to strategize our lineup and who plays in which order, and which character to play for the most optimal matchups. We’ve got 10 players participating; 5 on the main team and 5 reserves, so we need to decide carefully.

This is not the first time I'm competing against other high ranking players, but it's pretty exciting to try and get Malta on the map in this invitational. Me and my teammates are hard at work practicing daily together and trying to gain as much game knowledge as we can, as we will be competing against some of the best players in Europe, and the competition is going to be very fierce.

5. Jumping into international competition may be quite daunting for some – first though, I’d like you to describe the local community here in Malta. Is there room for improvement in any way?

I've been cultivating the Smash scene in Malta for years and since Smash Bros Ultimate came out on the Nintendo Switch in 2018, interest in the competitive scene has increased and local players improved exponentially.

I'm quite proud of them!

Though with that said, we're still pretty small in numbers, as we have only around 12 to 16 active players. But because of this, everyone is friends with each other and we all help each other to improve. That is something I truly love about being part of a community of this scale.

6. Do you have any specific goals in mind for ESCI? Apart from the event, do you have any other goals for your future as a competitor?

No specific goals in mind apart from trying to win the invitational. But after getting to know my teammates better, I want to try and take them with me for a regional tournament abroad once the COVID-19 pandemic is over and tournaments start popping up again.

Though for me personally, ever since the last few months of Smash Bros for WiiU, I stopped entering local competitions in order to take on a more administrative role for organizing tournaments. But nowadays, thanks to Smash Ultimate, there seem to be a lot more skilled players that are interested in the competitive scene, so I might start to compete locally again.

Besides, it's perfect practice for whenever I go abroad in the future.

7. Does the event being online benefit or work against you as a competitor? Will it lessen the pressure or affect the gameplay?

Unfortunately, Smash Ultimate is notorious for its horrible online implementation.  Sometimes it’s so bad that the lag makes you play the game completely differently as precise inputs are pretty much out of the question.

It's something that even top players have addressed and sadly it seems that Nintendo aren't willing to fix it for now.

8. Let’s zoom out a bit and take a look at the fighting game genre. In your opinion, what makes competitive fighting games different from all the other esports? Moreso, what makes Super Smash Bros. Ultimate different to other titles?

Well, fighting games in general offer a way to interact with your opponent that you can't find anywhere else. How you have to condition your opponent to react to your moves, and all the nuanced mechanics that can be found in each fighting game, make it even more special to me. It feels like a faster paced chess.

What's different about the Smash Series is that it uses platforming elements and combines it with fighting game mechanics in an intuitive way that everyone can simply pick up and play. In regular fighting games, you usually have to reduce their health to 0, but in Smash, your goal is to knock them out of the stage.

You do this by racking up damage so that you could throw them away from the stage harder. This can set up to very interesting interactions between players and it excites me to see that a game can end in seconds, or taken to sudden death.

9. To conclude: I’d like you to offer some advice to our readers who may be novice fighting game players themselves – what does it take to compete and perform well in the fighting game scene? Do you have any tips on how to progress as a competitor?

Just play. It's that simple.

Most beginners feel discouraged to continue playing usually because they end up losing to the more skilled players right when they start. If you press on and try to learn how to overcome that obstacle, you will improve and in turn enjoy the game even more!

This sounds like some sort of life advice. If you are already a competitor and want to improve, save your replays. We live in an age where most games have a replay function. There is so much information that you can learn from watching your past matches and it can help you notice some bad habits in-game that you might not be aware of.

Honestly, the above responses from Isaac are simply fantastic, especially considering how quickly he delivered them to me. Anyways, there's a lot to chew through here. 

First off, his comment of describing fighting games as 'faster paced chess' is incredibly clever and accurate too - many undermine how complicated the in-game mechanics and mental game is when playing such titles. His advice for novices is also extremely applicable to all outlets of life - just as he said - because the ability to overcome our difficulties extends way beyond just competition. 

With regards to the comments about the local scene, it's certainly a pity that the community is small, but perhaps it will grow in time. 

GMR would like to thank Isaac for the wonderful responses and wishes his team the absolute best of luck in the upcoming ESCI event! 

Posted by Gabriel Sciberras on 26th June 2020, 19:05

I'm Gabriel - 19 year-old dental student attending university working as a part-time esports journalist. I've been doing this for 3 years now. Having worked with GMR Entertainment in the past, I've come on board to write some articles this summer :).

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