Friendlies: Zhu, the Friendliest Smasher

The recipient of the most famous combo of all time, Zhu’s most exciting moments are still to come.
Zhu, taking a trademark selfie with The Moon © Robert Paul/@tempusrob/rmpaul.com
By Barrett Womack

The Wombo Combo. Everyone knows it and loves it … the one notable exception being its victim, Zhu. But outside that one unfortunate combo, Zhu has been a force in the community for years, making big plays and, more recently, bringing the community together. A man of many talents, Zhu wants to leave an even bigger mark than the Wombo Combo did — and with his combined love of the game and drive to succeed, he just might do it.

Disciple of a soldier

Zhu’s first foray into the competitive world of Smash Bros. came years into his obsession with the game. “I played 64 with my middle school friends, and Melee with my high school friends. I got a few years out of casual Melee before I discovered competitive Smash.” At the time, he was beating friends by rolling and F-smashing with Falco, which isn't a viable strategy. So the first time playing against a true competitive player was shock. “I was bragging about how good I was when a friend of mine overheard me and challenged me. We met up, played Marth vs. Falco on Final Destination ... and she chain-grabbed me a bunch and basically I couldn't do anything. It was incredible! I never thought you'd be able to link moves together like that.”

It was shortly after that he was introduced to his first Melee idol: the Japanese Falco main, Bombsoldier. “I asked her where she learned this and she showed me the famous Ken vs. Bombsoldier sets from Jack's Garden Tournament in Japan. I eventually came to realize that Bombsoldier is basically the truth, and even though he lost those matches, he did tons of different things that looked very interesting to explore.”

Zhu, getting games in with Armada © Domiziana Suprani

To this day, Zhu considers Bombsoldier one of his greatest inspirations. “Bombsoldier is by far the most influential Falco to me. I still learn things from those sets even though they were played in 2005. 'Soldier of Fortune’ by masterwumpus is still one of my favorite combo videos as well.” And watching Zhu play, it shows: His back-air edgeguards, combos and even movement styles recall those old Bombsoldier videos.

Starting up

As Zhu learned more and more, he climbed the ranks of his local scene until he was near the top. “Eventually, there was a teams tournament at my high school where my training partner and I won. We also faced a competitive team for the first time, and the other team was impressed with our play. They told us about the Norcal Biweeklies at San Jose State University, which they discovered on Smashboards. I eventually found the thread, got permission from my parents to go, and haven't looked back!”

He quickly improved, but he also had the unusual distinction of taking combos particularly hard whenever his sets were recorded, the Wombo Combo being just one example of many. “GRsmash just put together a ‘Top 10 Poor Zhu Moments’ video, so me getting styled on is definitely a thing. I might have an explanation for this though! So during my four years of undergrad, I lived in SoCal, which is where Mango's from. Mango, who was pretty much the undisputed best at the time, was and still is a walking combo video maker.” By virtue of being a great player, Zhu often found himself in the finals of tournaments fighting against Mango, and as a result took many a hard combo.

But Zhu’s approach to the game was also partially to blame, he believes. “I think a lot of it has to do with my play-style and character picks. For a very long time, I'd say I focused more on technique than strategy or mindset. This would allow me to bulldoze many opponents, but if I encountered a style that I wasn't familiar with, I'd be clueless, and it'd show in my play. This led to me getting heavily exposed from time to time.” Zhu has the results to prove his worth, so these hard combos certainly don't define him as a player. But one has to must admit — even when cheering for him, watching Zhu get Zhu-ed is an entertaining experience.

Let me play a friendly

Zhu’s Falco is known for being one of the best around, but lately Zhu has started to find fame in other ways. His first community project was #FRIENDLY, a #SELFIE parody featuring top Melee players from all over the country. When it debuted at the Big House 4, it was an instant hit — and was just the boost of positivity Zhu hoped it would be. “I'm a crowd-pleaser at heart. I get a crazy amount of fulfilment from giving to others.” After #FRIENDLY, Zhu started to branch out into other community projects. His stream, Smash Practice, is another passion of his.

Zhu and Cactus run a stream that teaches players how to succeed in Melee. Their topics include fundamentals, match analysis and mental tips such as creating a proper practice routine. Zhu is also part of an upcoming community project, but he can’t give many details just yet: “There's an immense video project with an incredible team, Prog being the lead, with information to be announced soon. Keep a lookout!”

Zhu and Cactus have teamed up for Smash Practice © Moxie2D

All in

Zhu believes in Smash and eSports. “I actually quit my job at a software company to do everything mentioned above full time. It was an extremely difficult and honestly risky decision to make, but I think I made the right choice for me.” He’s not sure that it will pay off just yet, but that’s not important to him. What’s important is that Zhu has the commitment to see it through, whether he succeeds or fails.

“I am sure that I want to grow Smash and pursue eSports in the long term. I'm fortunate enough that I'm able to support myself through being a player, streaming and YouTube, and have tremendous support from so many people, in and out of Smash. I really do think Smash and eSports have enormous growth opportunity and absolutely want to be a part of that.”

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