For Zain, success at Genesis has been integral to his rise

by Brian Bencomo

Zain “Zain” Naghmi is well aware of what another Genesis win would mean for his place in Smash Melee history. When the Golden Guardians player competes at Genesis 9 next weekend, he’ll be going for his third consecutive Genesis title, something only one of the Smash gods, Adam “Armada” Lindgren, has done.

“I try not to think about legacy right now while I’m playing,” Zain told Nerd Street. “But it would have like a really real effect.”

Armada, one of the “Five Gods” of Melee, won Genesis 2, 3 and 4. No other player has won more than one Genesis, which is one of the most prestigious annual Smash Melee tournaments. Even though he’s trying not to think about it, Zain is excited about the opportunity to achieve this legendary accomplishment, and even teased that he wants more.

“I wanna try and beat it too,” he said. “If I can go for six in a row, I’ll go for six in a row!”

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Photo credit: Mike Solinas

Even if Zain doesn’t win Genesis this year, he’s achieved enough to be mentioned in the same breath as the gods. Last summer he was ranked No. 1 in the official Smash rankings compiled by Panda Global. It was the first time somebody other than one of the Five Gods was ranked No. 1 in the official SSBMRank or MPGR rankings. He has a winning record against one of those gods, Joseph "Mang0" Marquez, and is nearly even against Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, the god he unseated with his No. 1 ranking last summer.

“Narratively, I don’t know what I fall under, like they were the Five Gods -- I know people label me and Cody [IBDW] as ‘Documentary Kids.’ Doesn’t sound as a cool as a Melee god, but I’ll take it,” Zain said while laughing.

Why Genesis is Zain’s signature tournament

Each of Zain’s previous two Genesis wins has been integral to Zain’s climb to become the world’s No. 1. Zain had already won one Major before winning Genesis 7 in 2020, but Genesis was his first Supermajor, a term reserved for only the most prestigious tournaments. He also beat Hungrybox twice at Genesis 7 after entering with a 4-17 record against him. Since Genesis 7, Zain has gone 16-4 against the melee god.

Zain got signed by Golden Guardians shortly after winning Genesis 7. After the tournament, Jacob Wolf wrote that Zain had ushered in a new era of competitive Melee with Zain leading the charge of young players rising up following Armada’s retirement. Of course, the pandemic would put a pause on this new era until late 2021 and early 2022.

The next Genesis, Genesis 8, wouldn’t take place until early 2022. It was one of the first big offline LAN tournaments since the onset of the pandemic, and Zain picked up right where he left off.

Read more: Top 10 best Smash Melee players of 2022

“Starting the year off with Genesis for me was really important, and I was proud of that because the narrative going into that year was that online Melee throughout Slippi wasn’t really legitimate,” Zain said. “So I went into Genesis just really hungry to prove that I could do it on LAN and just really satisfying to be able to do it.”

Photo credit: Mogul Moves

Following Genesis, Zain won Pound to give him back-to-back Major wins. Genesis also was the start of a year in which he finished no lower than sixth at any of the offline LAN tournaments he competed in. He rounded out his year with another Supermajor win later in the year at the Ludwig Smash Invitational.

Going for a three-peat

Heading into this year’s Genesis, Zain is preparing just like he has for any Major tournament: focusing on his matchups, scheduling practices and doing appropriate analysis. He’s also trying to take better care of his body so that he’s at “peak competitive form.” That includes getting enough sleep, watching his diet and working out more, in particular cardio.

Additionally, Zain said he wants to add a few new wrinkles to his playstyle.

“I feel like last year I played very by the book in terms of matchups and very strictly, which works well, but definitely want to play more confidently and stylishly in tournaments,” he said.

Of course, winning Genesis for a third straight time will be no easy feat. There are three opponents in particular whom he believes will be his toughest competition: Cody "iBDW" Schwab, Masaya "aMSa" Chikamoto and Mang0.

Zain and his signature Marth went 3-4 against iBDW and his Fox last year. He said that iBDW has “really revamped the Fox/Marth matchup.” Although he beat aMSa twice at the start of the year, aMSa beat Zain three straight times to end the year. It was a similar story against Mang0, as the melee god beat Zain twice in a row in the latter half of the year.

Read more: Golden Guardians’ new facility influenced by Warriors’ own new center

Photo credit: Beyond the Summit

His other big opponent might be the crowd. Zain thinks the audience at the San Jose Convention Center will probably be rooting for someone new to win now that he has two in a row.

“I want to play more sick and stylish this year, so hopefully I’ll get the crowd on my side,” he said.

Beyond Genesis 9

Zain is hoping Genesis will be the start of another great year for him. The two Majors he has his eye on later in the year are Smash Summit and The Big House. He hasn’t won an offline Summit yet; he finished 5th-6th at both Smash Summit 13 and 14 last year, which were among his two “worst” performances of 2022.

He hasn’t won any Big Houses yet either. Like Genesis, The Big House is another one of the Supermajors. Zain finished fourth at The Big House 10 last year.

Zain obviously wants to remain the top player in Smash Melee, but he’s trying not to focus on that as much this year.

“I think 2022 I was very fixated and obsessed with claiming No. 1 in the rankings,” he said. “That’s still my goal, but I definitely want to take a healthier approach towards that and not stake too much -- I just don’t want to stress myself out to an unhealthy degree about that.”

Smash Melee fans will be fixated on Genesis and Zain beginning Friday, Jan. 20.

Lead photo credit: Kenneth Rodriguez / @XenosMccloud

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