In Conversation: Smash Commentator Max Krchmar on the Future of Online Gaming & Making Smash a Safe Community

Max Krchmar aka Juice Doom aka Max Ketchum scoops me in Harlem before driving me to his New Jersey crib for the day. Max and I go way back about a decade now. We originally met at Fordham University where I sold him two Panic! At the Disco tickets that a friend at school in Massachusetts could not attend. An instant connection of weirdo energy and similar interests, minus his obsession with cats, would make us lifelong buddies despite our very different upbringings. 

Max is a somewhat handsome, somewhat broody type of guy. I’m not saying he is average, but he’s not giving off exceptional Robert Pattinson vibes; however, Max has a talent that many people believe they have, but don’t really. See, Max is a very, very good gamer. Particularly Max is a great video gamer. Specifically, Max is a fantastic Super Smash Bros player, and wildly he is still not good enough to be a professional, but he is, however, good enough to make the Smash Wiki. As the dude who could always beat my brother and friends playing as Samus Aran growing up, playing against Max and his once a top player, but still very good friend Joe, I learned I was not shit at the game of Smash. 

I would be lying if I said seeing how good Max and friends were at video games did not put me off to the idea of video games entirely in undergrad. As a man of culture, I tend to stick to my bread and butter. I only do what I know I am capable of greatness in, and gaming is certainly not it. Luckily, interviews are and a local Smash legend is ready to sit down and address the fallout from sexual harassment within the community. 

As I enter his bedroom, I am floored by Max’s nerdiness that has only doubled down since college. His walls are filled with video game characters, anime references, comic book villains, and of course The Notorious B.I.G. When he’s not playing games or skating in the park across from his house, he is recording some pretty damn decent rap songs. I encourage him always, knowing if he put the same time into working on music as he did playing video games he could land somewhere between Asher Roth and Mac Miller, and that is a hell of a compliment to be honest. 

Watching Max grow from a hardcore gamer who would do Smash tournaments on the weekend for fun to getting a paid gig to becoming a commentator for these tournaments has been one of the proudest moments of any friendship I have. As ESports continues to grow, more and more people like Max will be able to follow their dreams to make video games their income stream and avoid the mundanity of the standard 9-5 office gig. An active Tweeter, he often goes viral and holds important conversations on his timeline that gamers across the world engage in. Max was even kind enough to speak to my students on career day about ESports when I still taught in Harlem

Check out our interview below where Max and I discuss the history of organized Smash, how to make the community safer for underage people, and the future of online gaming.

GSC: Who are you and how do you identify?

Max: My name is Max Krchmar. I am a Super Smash Bros competitor, tournament organizer, and commentator, dude in the community. If you’re asking about gender I identify as male. And I mostly am just a gamer, I guess. Not in the sense that a lot of people would consider themselves gamer, like I don’t play a lot of games, but when I pick up games I try to push myself to my limit in them and compete seriously and learn very deeply about a select few games. 

GSC: How did you get involved in the Smash E-Gaming world?

Max: I always liked playing the game. Played it on N64. Played Melee when it came out on Gamecube. I had a friend who had an older brother who was 4 years above us. He would just whoop us in every game. He had a computer in his room. He was playing games on a level that we weren’t because we were little kids. One day I asked him about Sonic 2: Battle on Gamecube, how to get to all the Chao pet guys that I wanted and he pointed me to this site called GameFAQs. I went on there to learn stuff about Sonic, but I learned Melee was the other most popular game for GameCube on the site at the time. I started reading the forums and walkthroughs for both games and I realized how people play Melee in tournaments and compete around the world and there’s lists of who the best players are and advanced techniques. I also found a site called SmashBoards through a post on GameFAQs. That was like completely specialized for Smash. 

So I became aware of its existence, but I was like 9 or 10 at the time. I didn’t really do anything with it. I just tried to learn how to play the way that other people were. I couldn’t see it because YouTube didn’t exist so I had to just read it on text based forum posts and make my best guess on how to do it and take it to games with my friends. 

GSC: How many hours do you think you’ve spent playing Smash in your life? How many hours are necessary to become one of the best?

Max: Definitely I’ve played innumerable hours. I have no idea what I would put on it. I think to become one of the best it’s a lot less about hours and a lot more about how you approach the game and give it critical thought and shit. I think anybody that becomes really good has to play a lot because you have to test your knowledge and theory in the field, but a lot it is people having good intuition and becoming very good very quickly. Very rarely do you see someone show up to their first tournament ever and perform well cause you see there’s a separation of skill level between tournament players and non-tournament players. Just knowing the general vibe of what’s good play and knowing what to do. I’ve seen people get insanely good in 6 months and I’ve seen people with slow burns and get good in their third, fourth, fifth year of competing. I’ve seen people play forever and not really crack into that upper echelon. Very difficult to answer.

GSC: Has there ever been a dark horse that came out of nowhere and was good off that bat like, “who the fuck is this person?”

Max: Yeah, definitely. The current best player in the world in Ultimate, the newest Smash game, is this kid MkLeo from Mexico. He was like fourteen years old at his first real international competition. It was in Mexico. The person who placed second at EVO, which is considered the World’s Final for Smash, went to that tournament in Mexico and lost to MkLeo really badly. Huge upset. Nobody knew that this kid would come out and body everybody. He had a character that was pretty uncommon and not considered to be the best as well. It was very impressive and five years later he is now unquestionably the best in the world. 

The Best of MkLeo’s Joker

GSC: What region of the world develops the best Smash players? 

Max: Right here, man. The Tri-State area for Ultimate at least the best players are mostly concentrated here and the greater Tokyo area. 

GSC: So this Mexican kid MkLeo is an anomaly?

Max: Yeah, there’s two Mexican players in the top ten right now. One and number six are both Mexican and they’re both from the Mexico City metro area I’m pretty sure. I don’t think they came up together because MkLeo, everyone started to realize he was good, and the other guy is named Maister. He got good traveling to Chicago in the U.S. and showing up and playing well and playing a lot online. Playing online has allowed a lot of people regardless of location to get really good. 

Maister vs MkLeo at the Frosbite 2020 SSBU Grand Finals

GSC: How has the Smash Community evolved over the years?

Max: A lot of different ways. In terms of the structures of tournaments, everything began like, “hey my parents’ have a pretty big house, I can fit 30-100 people in my living room, or basement, or preparation area. Come through.” That was how the very first ten to twenty tournaments that had happened. As people began to see the community develop and people have interest in flying out to tournaments, in the early 2000’s in Melee, it became more possible to rent out venues like Knights of Columbus or VFW Hall where you could fit like 200 people. Have them pay a door fee to make up for the rental. Still tournaments and houses or smaller game stores with a big back area or something would have stuff. Now I think in the last 10 years, but more prevalent recently, people are renting out real venues like convention centers and hotels with ballrooms and block room rates. It’s feasible for people to stay at the event. The actual venues and spaces and production value of events has changed a lot. Now they will livestream at pretty much every tournament, even small ones. You can follow live on Twitch. They upload the videos and all that. It was still common back in the day to record the matches and upload them, but not to have a whole production team on hand to make it pop and feel like a real broadcast. That’s a big way in which things have changed.

Also, now everyone is connected online. It used to be more fringe like GameFAQs or Smashboards where people would talk and now it started to evolve. Now everyone knows each other from seeing all the other players at tournaments. They’re friends on Facebook and then Twitter has kind of taking over as the place where the Smash conversation is taking place. So that’s very different and now the outside world is seeing what happens in Smash because everyone has Twitter or anyone can use Twitter. 

Then people have had to evolve into different leadership roles and working roles in the community. Now you do need a production team to run a tournament. It’s not a fifty person event in your house anymore. You need a whole team to get the brackets done, have matches reported to them from players on the floor. Streaming is big now, you need commentators. People to manage the team. Now there’s sponsored players pretty commonly. It used to be very rare that people would get picked up and paid just to represent an organization. 

GSC: What about you?

Max: I’m like leadership of the Even Matchup Gaming team. I’m not paid to be on a team. Like Joe and I operate even matches gaming, but I don’t take a salary. In the future if we get a nice deal, a nice buy-out which is something we’re working on then the salary becomes possible. What I get paid to do in Smash is much different. I actually have to work for a company rather than representing a team. Same concept, like representing the company you work for, but I’m not a sponsored athlete or something.

GSC: Recently there has been controversy in the Smash Community with several high profile members being outed as abusers. How are Smash Leadership and community influencers responding to these stories and ensuring to avoid any scenarios like this in the future?

Max: So I think this is all within the last three weeks to the day. It’s kind of just that initial shock period settling down. There’s been a lot less talk about structural reform than just the shock and outrage about it happening. Encouraging people to share more stories. A rip the bandaid kind of thing. Also, again people dealing with the emotional fall out of this. A lot of these people were close friends of mine, close friends of many people in the community, and have known each other over ten years. Even people that didn’t have interpersonal relationships with them, their family. They’re fans of their steam, or gameplay, or commentary, whatever it may be. It’s been that shock period just kind of settling in. 

I’ve talked a little bit myself about what can be done. I don’t think there’s really any clear cut solution that fixes everything, but ideas that have been tossed around are making tournaments 18+ to get in, or you have to bring a guardian. Some kind of method of at the very least keeping kids safe. Having age divisions at tournaments, but this is also kind of super controversial, like MkLeo coming up at fourteen years old. If he was not allowed to compete for another four years who knows if he’d even get to the level he is at if he wasn’t playing against the best players in the world or mostly adults. It’s very complicated and layered and Smash culture has always kind of been, “hey regardless of your age if you’re nasty at this game you receive merit and credit based on that. It doesn’t really matter how old you are,” but when it comes to stuff about sexual abuse and all that shit, I feel like keeping people safe is 100% the top priority. I’d rather see some kid’s success story get a little bit neutered because we were taking precautions to protect the whole community and all the kids. 

I’ve seen players who are that age now. There’s another very young Mexican player who is I think 14 or 15 and he’s starting to become one of the best in the world. He said on Twitter if tournaments become 18+ or if there are age divisions that he’s just going to quit Smash. It feels like you’re punishing the kids who are the victims in all this for no reason. And some that are not at risk or nobody’s been trying to groom or anything. It does feel unfair to kids, but of course safety is the priority. And then the other side of things is we definitely need a cultural shift in the community. Stuff you can’t really enforce or codify like you should just not be hanging around minors if you are an adult, straight up. You got a friend who is like 17 and you’re 19, whatever, but clearly if there’s an age or power dynamic at play you shouldn’t be hanging out with people like that or sliding into the DMs and trying to be weird and shit. It should just be unspoken stuff that everyone should know already, but keep social circles safe for all parties involved like normally. Don’t keep feeding alcohol to your underage friends. Don’t be the provider. Stuff like that. Separate the worlds of romantic pursuits and the gaming community. You know I get it. You have a lot of mutual interests in common, but kind of keep that separate. Don’t be in the community to find a partner. 

Again, this is all weird cultural shit you can’t write into law, but I think people are now kind of realizing let’s keep these worlds separate. You’re there to play Smash. You see a cute girl? She’s there to play Smash. Keep it to that and let everybody feel comfortable and have a good time. 

GSC: Which is the best Smash game? Why?

Max: Best Smash game is definitely Melee. Definitely no way around it. The most fun to watch. Has the highest ceiling for gameplay. People are still not anywhere near the limits of the game nearly 20 years after it’s been out. It’s like the longest living ESport of all time. Survived three sequels. Still massively popular. Some dude from California literally made his own client of being able to play the game and immediately connect with people to play completely liveless immediately. It just came out a couple weeks ago and that changed the game. Now anybody with a computer can play Melee and hop online and immediately it’s like they’re in person. 

GSC: Is that Slippi?

Max: Slippi yeah that’s it.

GSC: Do you enjoy Slippi?

Max: *laughs* Hell yeah, I fucking do. I’ve been playing it every day or like most days. 

How to Set Up Slippi Online

GSC: Why do you think Nintendo has been so bad with online play?

Max: There’s a couple theories. One is a YouTuber named Maximlian who went into this on his stream awhile ago and basically said there’s a mantra in Japanese game development circles and other businesses  called ‘not invented here’ which means if the guy who figured out good online is American and you’re a Japanese game development company you’re almost not willing to admit that this invention from somewhere outside of your industry is good enough to replace your stuff with. Like “no we are going to keep the Net Code that we have and not use this that was invented by some other guy who has nothing to do with us.” I’ve heard that’s a prevalent way of thinking amongst Japanese game developers. 

Probably something to do with that and also they don’t really fucking care. They don’t have to care. They got a money printer in the Nintendo Switch and the online that you now have to pay for the first time on a Nintendo console. Doesn’t matter if people are still going to buy it. So what Ultimate online is lagging? Who is actually going to cancel their subscriptions? Even if every competitive Smasher canceled it, we are a small blip on the radar compared to their consumer base. 

GSC: What predictions do you have for Esports in the next decade?

Max: I think currently it’s the fastest growing entertainment sub-industry. Fastest growing branch of entertainment. Pretty sure that’s a correct statistic although I’m just going off memory. I think it’s on a great path, but there’s also probably a bubble that’s going to burst. Like a lot of companies have thrown some huge weight behind these Esports recently and I just don’t know if the way in which they are doing it is sustainable or even if the amounts they are sinking in is going to be worth it long term. It’s possible it could just not make you any money and they want to leave or not renew any contract. There is that potential bubble, but I think it’ll eventually kind of settle down. Be on a steady path. Entertainment is a huge booming industry all the time. People are always looking to eat shit up and consume content. The gift that keeps on giving. You see Esports is tied into other platforms that are clearly successful like YouTube and Twitch. Those are things that are only going to get more popular and make more money as time passes. 

GSC: What advice would you give someone who wants to make Esports their “career” or source of income? Particularly a Smash Bros player.

Max: I would say don’t for one. If you’re looking to get into Esports to make a living your last focus should be to do it as a professional player. You have to, I’d say, branch out within the space as much as possible. At no point was I only ever in Smash to become one of the best players, and I never became one of the best players so thank fucking God I had my hand in other pots at the same time. Run some tournaments. Help out with your local. Develop some organizational skills. Run a stream either in your house or help the guy who streams your local tournaments, something like that. Develop skills you can put on a resume and get a job with. I would literally never be able to get hired anywhere saying I was the sixth best player in New Jersey ten years ago in Brawl. That stuff won’t get me hired, but now I have event organizational skills, magenement, logistics, all this shit. I know how to run a broadcast at a pretty amatuer level, but I can do it and I can get somebody set up. Public speaking. I’ve spoken to crowds albeit digitally to tens of thousands of people. 

GSC: Be a part of the community?

Max: Yeah, on the back end. Make sure you do more than just post on Twitter and enter brackets. 

GSC: What character do you main? 

Max: Melee I play Sheik and Fox. In Ultimate I play Lucina, Wolf, and Inkling

GSC: Do you have any back ups?

Max: For Melee, Luigi and Jigglypuff. Probably just those two. 

GSC: Have those always been your mains? 

Max: I mained Falco at the beginning of Melee. I just thought he was so cool. I neve even played Star Fox, but then I got more serious about Melee, even later, not just when I started going to tournaments, but when I picked Melee back up in between Brawl and Smash 4 coming out I just used Sheik. It felt right and I stuck with her with her ever since. In Ultimate the game is only a year and half old. I started with Lucina. She was main in Smash 4 before that. I like Wolf and Inkling, new additions. 

GSC: Any least favorite characters? 

Max: Fucking hate Sonic the Hedgehog, man.

GSC: Why?

Max: He has a playstyle people would call uninteractive. He spends a lot of time sitting right out of your reach, waiting for you to try and swing at him, and then he moves so fast with his spin dashes or runs right over you and hits you for swinging at the open air and it’s really fucking annoying to him. He can always get right out of your space and then right back in it. 


GSC: Any character you would still like to see in Smash who hasn’t made it yet? 

Max: Yeah, I got a couple. The character I wanted the most was Cuphead. They added him in as a Mii costume so it’s not really Cuphead, just make your Mii gunner look like him. I would like to see him be an actual character. There’s a bunch of Pokemon I think would be really cool in Smash. Doctor Doom would be a pipe-dream. So fucking cool and my gamer tag use to be Doom, but they only add characters who originated in video games. Goku, Dr. Doom, Magneto. No shot. Viewtiful Joe. Amaterasu from Okami. Albert Wesker from Resident Evil would be so fucking sick. 

GSC: What is your dream online play set up/feature list?

Max: If I could make online Smash exactly as I wanted I would add a ranked ladder. There’s no ranked ladder built into Slippi, but that’s something they’re working on already on so you can go against someone at your skill level. If you beat them you advance further on the ladder. Gives people incentives to grind and show where you’re at as a player. I think that’s the biggest one. Would love to see Ultimate’s online be better. It’s kinda fucking dog shit. I don’t care too much about online play as long as I can play it. Slippi is exactly what I need right now. I don’t even care that there is no ladder, but if I were to change anything it would be to have one.

GSC: Who are your favorite pro players? Who are the players who got you into the competitive scene?

Max: MkLeo for sure. Best in the world for Ultimate. For Melee, Hack who is also my boy. 

GSC: Who are the players who got you into the competitive scene?

Max: I found the competitive scene myself and I couldn’t really watch back in the day, but I knew I was interested in it. Mew2King was someone that I actually talked to before anybody else about the game. He had this website where he posted all this data and shit pre-YouTube days again. He was one of the only people doing hard science on the game and he said on his website, “hey this is my AIM if you want to hit me up and ask any questions. I’m always down to talk about Melee,” so I hit him up and talked to him a little bit before I even knew he was Mew2King. He went by a different name, Video Game God, back then. I just shot the shit with him a little bit. This was like in 2004 years before I ever went to a tourney and he was actually at one of the first tournaments I went to. It was super cool. By then he was already established as one of the best players in the world. 

The only reason I really got to stick with Smash is because my first tournament I met a dude, his name is, or his tag is Rhyme, his name is Hax. I was only 14 in high school at the time. I couldn’t drive. Our friend’s parents brought us to the tournament and this guy who had just graduated high school, had his own car, all that cool shit. We became friends, started talking on AIM every now and then. He lived somewhat close to me. We were both in the middle of nowhere. He’d like drive over, met my family and shit. He later became the guy who drove me to tournaments. Without him I’d definitely not have gone to compete every weekend in my first year of the game. 

GSC: What have you been doing to take care of your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic? Max: A lot of different stuff. Trying to keep myself occupied. Spent a lot of time and money decorating my room and covering it with shit that I like so I can be like, “oh yeah, I like this thing. Now I’m happy by default.” I’m playing games. Playing piano. Kind of basic shit like that. Something that’s fun as frequently as possible. Fortunately I have two roommates who all have similar interests to me. We kill a lot of time together hanging out playing games.

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