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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

My Panda Cup Online Qualifiers 2022 Experience

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - And what made it different than the NintendoVS North American Online Opens.

As of Sunday, the full set of Panda Cup (2022) Online Qualifiers are done! This was one part of the larger Panda Cup circuit ran by eSports Panda Global, officially licensed by Nintendo That's not a sponsorship—Nintendo isn't providing the $100,000 prize pool. But they are providing “logistical support, some production support, along with general support for some of the events that have been part of Panda Cup.”

What being a circuit means is that there are a whole bunch of independent (physically held) tournaments for both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate throughout the latter half of 2022 that allowed winners. Panda also administered a whole set of online-specific qualifiers just for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which is more inclusive of those that can't make it out to the unevenly distributed locations of the qualifying physical tournaments, or are like me and really shouldn't be showing their face in a human event on Earth. While the independent tournaments have their own entrance fees and prizes (money/trophies/medals) besides the qualifying spot, the online qualifiers are exclusively to qualify for the Panda Cup Finale in December. They're also free.

There were four qualifiers in each region of North America (divided into eight regions) and a final regional qualifier made up of the 32 best-performing people in the four qualifiers. The one winner of that final regional qualifier would be the one who qualifies for the Panda Cup Finale—and no one else. I'll let you know how I did, but first, you might wonder how the qualifiers were overall compared to other Super Smash Bros. Ultimate events I've wrote about in the past.

The Panda Cup Online Qualifier Experience VS NintendoVS North American Online Opens

I've covered the entire series of NintendoVS Online Opens on KoopaTV since 2019. The most recent was in April 2022. Those have been official Nintendo of America-sponsored events run in coordination with eSports platform Battlefy, which means Battlefy provided the matchmaking/bracket platform and extensive operational support, while Nintendo handled marketing and the prizes. Nintendo's prizes tended not to be cash, but instead merchandise, Nintendo eShop credit, fancy trophies, and in the earlier days, flights to events. Because Nintendo put marketing behind those (social media, emails to their database, news releases and their events pages, and they live-stream the finals), they got thousand(s) of registrants and players across a very wide spectrum of skill. Nintendo settled on a “ladder” matchmaking format to act as a seeding process, which means that while only the top cut of participants could advance to a bracket, people of all skill levels could keep playing even after losing and have fun eventually being match-made to players of their skill level.

Panda's online qualifiers were very different. Nintendo did not help market these—word got out through Panda's own, significantly less capable marketing machine. As a result, not a single one of the 32 qualifiers got over 100 registrants, and there were also plenty of disqualifications on the day of for people who didn't show up. That means it's far less impressive to get far in a qualifier than a bigger tournament. That said, because Panda, an eSports organisation, was the one marketing it, the player quality tended to lean much more competitive than the casual + competitive mix in the NintendoVS events. However, they didn't get too competitive—because the Panda Cup online qualifiers didn't have actual prizes (only a possible spot into the Panda Cup Finale, which DOES have a substantial prize pool... but it's not immediate cash), if there were other Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments happening at the same time as a qualifier (and there often were, since it's a very active scene!), very competitive players tended not to show up to the Panda Cup event and instead go to those other events and try to win something at those.

This website is very well-known for providing Fighter Usage stats of all of the characters used across the NintendoVS events. (The most recent one being from April 2022.) Those are stats you won't find anywhere else. The reason I haven't and won't do the same for the Panda Cup Online Qualifiers is because the sample size is tiny and insignificant. It's not a representative cross-section of the online metagame. The Fighter Usage Stats is supposed to represent a broad cross-section across North America and across all skill levels, and Panda Cup just ain't that, since it's quite skewed. Also, exists and does this already for events on (automatically, as far as I can tell). I even have a page on there now.

Online Qualifiers 1 through 4

Online Qualifier #1

The first qualifier I was in had 90 registrants (I was seeded 86th)... and I only got 17th place. I got pretty far—Winners Round 4. However, this was only because my first THREE matches had my opponents disqualify for not showing up. Then I went to fight Pokelam's Bayonetta and he 2–0'd my King Bowser and Ludwig. Then I dropped to losers and lost 1–2 to Lee's R.O.B. (which I beat) and Joker (which I lost to twice) with Jigglypuff. My set versus Lee was very winnable but I choked. I really need to stop inappropriately using Rollout. I have a lot of Joker match-up experience because of him being the most popular character online for a very long time (per the Fighter Usage stats), but, eh, pressure and stuff. I'm not good under pressure.

Online Qualifier #2

There were only 36 registrants in the second qualifier I played at, and I was seeded 34. That meant while most players got a bye in round 1, I had to actually play. But I won my first round match against Pound's Mario with my King Bowser, 2–1. Then I passed Round 2 versus Scot, who DQ'd. Remember Scot's name, though. In Round 3, I won versus nightmare 2–1. He's a Yoshi player—so Jigglypuff was out of the question. I won with Ludwig in game 1 but lost in game 2, so I switched to King Bowser and clutched out a victory. I defeated Jamesmah in Winners Round 4 2–1. He is a Lucina player. My two wins were with Ludwig and my one loss was with King Dad. That got me into top 8 on winners side!

Which only got me to fight Armadillo, the eventual winner of the qualifier. He's said to be the BEST LUCARIO ON THE ENTIRE EARTH. And I got utterly wrecked, since what do I know about playing Lucario? He's barely used by anyone:

As I later learned, Kalos Pokémon League is Lucario's best stage due to Lucario's semi-unique wall-cling and wall-jump capabilities, so counter-picking Armadillo there was a terrible idea. Perhaps even worse of an idea was, uh, my attempts to fight Gaius in losers bracket:

The replay misses my first game with Ludwig against his Ken, but I got obliterated. Then you can see my Jigglypuff got 3–0'd very quickly, despite me purposefully picking Town & City for its high ceiling. Someone on the Twitch chat was claiming Jigglypuff has an even match-up against Ken, and I wanted to prove them wrong. As in, I'm well aware that she does horribly against Ken and I threw a match away to prove that. You're supposed to grab Ken and forward-throw him off the stage, but how am I supposed to get close to him without getting destroyed? I couldn't. And then Gaius switched to Marth for some reason in Game 3 as I picked King Bowser on Lylat to try to screw with him. And I actually did somewhat respectably. Does Gaius use Marth? No. But he still won anyway. Still, fifth place is good, even if I look like a fool on stream. Much better than #1 where all I did was coast on DQs and then lose.

Online Qualifier #3

The third qualifier had an abysmal 33 registrants...and my seed was an abysmal 29th. Fortunately, I didn't have to play in round 1 (the only round 1 match had both people DQ anyway). I passed round 2 with a DQ against Anarchy (also remember that name). Then I got to fight Jamesmah's Lucina... AGAIN. And I won 2–1 again, going all King Bowser. In Round 4, I lost to Tai's Sephiroth 1–2, going all Ludwig. I fell to Losers Round 5 and fought Swampboyblack's King K. Rool with Jigglypuff, winning 2–1. I tried to time him out but then decided against it. I got into top 8, losers side. And then I fought Scot (or Scoty, as he chose to be known)—you may remember I beat him via DQ in qualifier #2. Now he's back. He's a professional very good Luigi player. Here's me losing to him and then getting 7th place:

Yes, I actually won a game on stream, which was super exhilarating and gratifying. Nevermind that I lost all of the games after 1–3. See, I know Luigi is very good at grab combos, which assume that you have 0% in order for the combos to properly link together. But if I take damage from his fireballs or holding a Mechakoopa, I can screw that combo up. Unfortunately, Scot, as a very good player, knows how to use Luigi on a fundamental level and doesn't have to rely just on those combos to win. ...Also, Luigi can do some very mean things with his Luigi Cyclone. It gets FRAME 1–7 INVINCIBILITY IN THE AIR. THAT'S SO MUCH AND SO EARLY. He clearly got using to fighting Ludwig, so in game 4 I switched to Jigglypuff. And it was close (and I could actually get sort of physically close to Luigi, unlike Ken)... But, yeah, seventh place.

Online Qualifier #4

I did significantly better in my fourth qualifier—5th place out of 54 attendees! (At seed 30.) I beat Spade 2–0 with King Bowser (beating his Pokémon Trainer and Lucina) and then passed through round 2 via my opponent disqualifying. My opponent would've been Pelca—who is a very high-performing Snake player that I've lost to before in one of the NintendoVS events. In round 3, I beat KingKirb64 (a Kirby player) 2–0. Game 1 with Bowser and game 2 with Ludwig. That second game was...controversial. Here's a replay of it:

Yes, I timed him out. The best way to deal with Kirby is to not approach him, because he gets his damage via grab/throw combos into a bunch of aerial attacks. If you camp Kirby, he can't grab you. Unfortunately, KingKirb64 thought that at the end, HE had the lower percent. (That's how time-outs are decided: if stock count is tied at the end, whomever has the lowest % wins.) Fortunately, I saved the replay, rewatched the entire thing, and screenshotted the very end of it for the moderator to declare me the winner.

Panda Cup Online Qualifier Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Kirby Ludwig Von Koopa TIME stock timeout Kalos Pokémon League
The damage margin here was closer than my Election 2022 picks...which tended to lose miserably.
(Except Raphael Warnock the Warlock. He's doing fine. SO FAR.)

Following that, I beat Swampboyblack's King K. Rool 2–0 with Jigglypuff (I actually THREE-STOCKED HIM, so a good improvement from the previous qualifier) and got to be in top 8 winners side! And then I got absolutely trashed by Axiom XL (who'd win the whole qualifier) in winners side by his Kazuya Mishima Wins—I have absolutely no idea how to fight against Kazuya Mishima Wins, and regularly lose to random no-names online who happen to use him. Then in losers bracket I got 3–0'd AGAIN, this time by KingKirb64. He obviously was looking for revenge, and surely didn't want to be timed out on the Panda Cup stream. And he...humiliated me on-stream with Inhale shenanigans that totally tilted me.

Still, that was good enough for 5th place!

Online Regional Finale

Getting 17th, 5th, 7th, and then 5th place was good enough to be 9th on the regional standings. That's within the top 32, so I got to play in the online regional finale bracket—though my rank didn't translate to my seed, so I was given a mere 15 seed. All matches in these were best of fives, unlike the qualifiers, where they were best of three until top 8, when it was best of five. In Winners Round 1, I had to fight Tito, a Palutena player who also got fifth place in the fourth qualifier. The mods actually asked us to go on the Panda Cup Twitch stream (unlike the other qualifiers where they only streamed top 8, for the regional finale they were streaming matches throughout from the start). I actually declined because, hey, I've gotten 3–0'd in four of the five sets I've been on stream for, and 3–1'd in the fifth set. I suppose I do better off-stream. But I got 3–0'd by Tito anyway, and in quite embarrassing fashion. Like, I somehow failed to make it back on stage while edgeguarding as Jigglypuff. JIGGLYPUFF. WITH FIVE JUMPS. It's because I air-dodged inappropriately.

Now is a good time to mention that I had not played Super Smash Bros. Ultimate between Qualifier #4 and the Regional Finale, which is a span of about two months. That's largely due to me doing nothing but playing Splatoon 3 in that time. I don't regret that since Splatoon 3 is fun, but... I probably really should've practiced a lot more. Anyway, since I lost in round 1, Tito told me to have good luck in my losers run. I told him I'll try to win a game.

I got through Losers Round 1 by my opponent, Teffty, DQing. I think I would've beaten Teffty even if they hadn't DQ'd. I don't know anything about them, but it seems like they DQ'd a lot or all of their sets in the previous tournaments, too. In the next round, I fought Jamesmah...AGAIN. For the third time. King Bowser 3–0'd his Lucina, as even though I haven't fought Jamesmah in a long time, I suddenly remembered his habits almost right away. His main option from the ledge is roll get-up, which is VERY punishable. So I exploited that a lot and knocked him out of the tournament.

My next opponent was Tai, who you may remember I lost to before in the losers qualifier. He's a Pichu main, but he beat me then with all Sephiroth (who he doesn't usually play as). Game 1 he won with Pyra and Mythra, defeating my Ludwig. In game 2, I switched to King Bowser and beat his Pyra and Mythra. In game 3, we both switched characters—me to Jigglypuff and him to Pokémon Trainer. He doesn't play as either Pyra/Mythra OR Pokémon Trainer according to his records, but he still beat my Jigglypuff, and on Town & City. (I keep trying there because it should be good for Jigglypuff, and yet it doesn't seem to work out in practice...) On game 4, I switched back to Lord Bowser and beat his Pokémon Trainer. With a 2–2 situation, does he switch to Pichu, a character he actually uses? No, he picks KIRBY, a character he still doesn't use. I'm still using Bowser, but we're playing on Kalos Pokémon League. You can scroll up to see my Kalos Pokémon League vs. Kirby experience, so I did much the same strategy of playing keep-away and avoiding his grabs, and win, getting my revenge on Tai (who was favoured to win over me). I'm going to include our entire match chat here, and you can decide if his end quote was appropriate:

Tai has joined the room.
Koopa#5969 has joined the room.
Tai has joined the game lobby.
Koopa#5969 has created the game lobby.
Tai has reported the game.
Koopa#5969 has verified the game results.
Koopa#5969 has reported the game.
Tai has verified the game results.
Koopa#5969 has reported the game.
Tai has verified the game results.
Koopa#5969 has reported the game.
Tai has verified the game results.
Koopa#5969 has reported the game.
Tai has verified the game results.
Tai has verified the match.
Tasks have been updated to reflect moderator score changes
Koopa#5969 has verified the match.
Fortunately I have match-up experience with KingKirb64. <.<
I...dunno why ya did that all.
you are annoying and talk too
talk too much
Was Tai throwing against me because I tilted him by... conversing with him? I also used the match chat with him in our first set in the third qualifier, though he didn't complain then. I try to talk with everyone. I don't think I'm annoying...

Finally, to get into top 8, I had to win in losers round 4 versus Snake player winters. He was a really decent guy. We played in the Pilotwings version of Final Destination the entire time, and I picked the Worthy Rival music from Culdcept as the background music. Normally, Snake players like dark-coloured stages like Final Destination and Pokémon Stadium 2 because it's much harder for players to keep track of Snake's C4 mine and Grenades, because those are dark-coloured objects and they can camouflage with the stage. Final Destination Pilotwings has a bright yellow platform to fight on, so it's quite easy to see things. winters expressed that he has trouble seeing things on regular Final Destination, so it worked out and was a fair fight. ...So I ended up 3–0ing his Snake with King Bowser. I got in top top 8!

And then I lost to Unleashed's Banjo & Kazooie 0–3 in Losers Round 1. He's normally a Sora player, but the bracket had a very Banjo flavour at that point for some reason. I used all of King Bowser, Ludwig, AND Jigglypuff, but couldn't win once. Despite this being top 8, it wasn't streamed.

Armadillo would end up defeating Unleashed in the Losers Semi-Final, while Gaius beat Armadillo in Losers Finals. (I thought, upon playing him, that Armadillo was going to win the entire thing.) Anarchy's Greninja then beat Gaius in the Grand Finals, and so Anarchy gets the spot for the Panda Cup Finale (see next section) in December and a chance at the giant prize pool there. Ah, if only Anarchy didn't DQ before in the third qualifier... I would've certainly lost to him!

What happens next in the Panda Cup?

This weekend there are two different events where one player can qualify. For Super Smash Bros. Melee, there is Saving Mr. Lombardi 3 in Irving, California. For Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, there is Port Priority 7 in Auburn, Washington. Then on the weekend of November 18–20, there is Dreamhack Atlanta (in Georgia), for both Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and two players can qualify there for each game, on top of a $2,500 and $10,000 total prize pool, respectively.

And after that, there's the free-to-enter Last Chance Qualifier on December 15, 2022, in Los Angeles, right before the actual Panda Cup Finale event at the same place from December 16–18. Panda really wants you to know it's free-to-enter (besides lodging and airfare) and there are all sorts of side events besides the actual Finale that you must qualifier. They see it as a Super Smash Bros. celebration more than anything, and I feel like Nintendo likely had a partnership and logistical hand in helping make that possible.

I won't be there, but I hope anyone who does go there has fun! I had fun trying to qualify for it, even if, realistically, I didn't have any chance of winning. I was easily the closest one to being the “casual” player out of the top-performing players in the online region. Still, I did way better than I or their tournament organisers expected! I just wish Jigglypuff and Ludwig had better win rates... too bad there's no more buffs coming.

Were you impressed with Ludwig's performance? It's way better than his on-stream losses would suggest. Are you annoyed by talkative players in multiplayer games? Are you upset that they constantly represent Ludwig as Bowser Jr.? Because Ludwig is. Feel free to comment on those questions or the many other possible topics that this article might've inspired!


  1. This Tai guess is he's just salty because he thought he could flex on some noob, even in a 2-2 bracket situation but the some noob turned out not to actually be a noob. There's just no accounting for some Smash players' egos.

    1. I dunno what he's thinking or why he exclusively went as characters he doesn't use, even back in qualifier #3 when he faced off against me for the first time.

      Like, maybe he was just using these matches as opportunities to train up characters he doesn't usually use because he's interested in them? Because even when he got 3rd place in Qualifier #3 overall, he didn't use Pichu in Losers Finals.
      He clearly wasn't taking it seriously, and that's fine not to take it seriously, but then he also shouldn't be annoyed with dialogue. <.<
      Like, casual players should like talking.

  2. so you lost to the cute pink puffball.

    1. After beating Kirby, I then lost to Kirby.
      Related to that, every time I used Jigglypuff (or Ludwig) in the qualifier finals, I lost that game.


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