After a year of being forced to the sidelines and left watching his peers compete, William "Leffen" Hjelte has finally obtained his P-1A Internationally Recognized Athlete visa and is ready to jump back into the American Melee competitive landscape.
In between his visa rejection last October and now, Leffen’s presence was sorely missed at key Melee events such as Genesis 3, Battle of the Five Gods and Evo. However, despite his absence and lack of consistent training, his brief stint in Canada earlier this year showed that he’s still primed to win against top-level competition, most notably taking first at Get On My Level 2016.
Now that all obstacles are out of his way with a P-1A visa good until Summer 2019, how is Leffen looking to capitalize on his newfound freedom? Rebooting his practice routine and planning out his tournament schedule is a start.
The Big House 6
As soon as Leffen’s visa news hit the internet, the number one question on the community’s mind was: Is Leffen going to The Big House 6? After all, he preemptively registered for the tournament and a last-minute flight wouldn’t be out of the question.
Fans were able to deduce from a Snapchat post that Leffen was at the airport, leading him to release a YouTube video confirming that yes, he’s going to Big House, but he’s looking to take things slow. The vicious cycle of prepping for major tournaments and missing them due to unforeseen visa delays had all but crushed his motivation. He went from meticulously training, to avoiding watching Melee at all. How could he wholeheartedly chase after his dreams if they could potentially be erased by the whim of the government at any moment?
"In the beginning, right after I got denied entry, I kept up with practice, and kept preparing for the closest major thinking, ‘Surely I will get it in time for this one!’ As time went on and the visa kept getting delayed, all of those hours I spent practicing essentially went to waste. It felt like all of your heart, hopes and dreams were ripped right out of you, constantly, for a year. I simply decided that I would hold off on practicing seriously until I had my visa in my hand, and then go from there."
While in Michigan, he’s looking to commentate and possibly play crews, but mostly he’s attending The Big House 6 to breathe in the competitive atmosphere and get his body acclimated to traveling again. He understands that people may have expectations of him playing to win the tournament, but the likelihood of him choosing Marth, Sheik or Mewtwo instead of his main character Fox is all but guaranteed.
"I know many have high expectations. A lot of people have waited a long time to see me play again ... While I understand their feelings, I have never believed in playing for someone else other than myself. Who knows, there might be a small chance that once I get there I’ll feel like competing, but as of this interview, I don’t think I will be playing seriously."
Smash Summit 3 and beyond
Leffen may not be looking to play seriously at The Big House 6, but his first confirmed United States tournament is about as high level as it gets. Smash Summit 3, held November 3-6, is an invitational consisting primarily of Top 10 talent and six additional players who are at least Top 50 in the world.
Competing in such a tournament seems like a big ask, but with a month to train, the situation is comparable to the prep time he had in Canada between Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo and GOML 2016. It took a gargantuan effort for him to rise from seventh place at EGLX to consecutively defeating four of the five Smash gods in his GOML victory, though. Leffen is looking to take a more calculated approach while training with top-level North American players this time around.
"When I trained for GOML there were several days where I put in 14-plus hours, only stopping to eat and sleep. In the long term, however, I don’t think that’s too healthy, so this time I’ll probably attempt to focus on doing shorter trips (to the United States) before big tournaments, and improving my training efficiency at home."
While Leffen can’t predict how long it will take for him to reach prime form, his GOML performance has given him faith that it will only be a matter of time until he’s back to being a contender for best player in the world. Player and Smash analyst Tafokints also believes that he will be ready to do some damage come November.
As for the rest of the year? Leffen weighs in on his schedule.
"The current events I am 100 percent on going to are Eclipse, Smash Summit 3, Dreamhack Winter and Genesis 4. For the rest of the fall, I will have to wait and see how I feel after Big House before confirming too much … I don’t want to go from 0-100 and burn myself out. It takes a long time to get used to the lifestyle of traveling to four major tournaments a month so I’m looking to ease into it."
Beyond tournament schedules and performance predictions though, Leffen is glad to finally put this visa ordeal behind him and is thankful for those who supported him, both his fans and his sponsors. Leffen attending The Big House 6 adds an additional wrinkle to the last big American Smash major of the year regardless of how he performs; people are just happy to see him back, and Leffen is happy to press buttons in the game he loves most.
"It feels great to be able to compete again. It still feels quite unreal to me, and I can’t wait to get back out there again … There are several more events I want to attend, notably Canada Cup, but you guys will have to stay tuned for an update on that."
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