Kelsy 'SuperGirlKels' Medeiros is one of the most dynamic players in Super Smash Bros. 4. Whether it's her skilled play as Sonic the Hedgehog (often seen as a hated character in the game), her active presence on social media, or her role as a Canadian woman playing at a high level, people can't help but take note.
2016 has been a huge year for Canadian Smash. With two of Canada's best players—Ally and Holy—unable to play as often in the local scene because of various other commitments, it's fallen to SuperGirl Kels to carry the torch for the country.
I caught up with Kels at Nexus 2, a Smash 4 Major—which takes place in the nation's capital of Ottawa, Ontario. Although she didn't clinch the top spot, she did take the silver medal—and her Sonic play was exciting as ever to watch.
"It's awesome that people think I'm some sort of representation for Canada now. I want to do well at that and inspire players in my region to play better for themselves," said SuperGirlKels. "I didn't really expect the captaincy. I think because of the consistency I've had this year and the coaching I've been doing, it made sense for me to do it in order to make my players feel calm."
At weekly events in Montreal, people wait in line for up to an hour to play friendlies against SuperGirlKels, and there's a reason for her notoriety. Along with her strong tournament placings, she maintains a steady presence on YouTube and Twitch which keeps her advanced Sonic play in people's view. She also has a spot as the only Canadian signed to Circa eSports for Smash. As her presence at the forefront of Montreal Smash grew, she became the obvious choice to lead Quebec in its crew battle against Ontario.
The crew battle took place on the last day of the tournament once the singles bracket was complete. It was a 10 vs 10 affair and saw Kels' and a team of hand-picked smashers facing off against the number one player in Ontario, Toronto's Aaron "Blacktwins" , and his squad. "Kels is always traveling to tournaments, and that helped me realize I need to do the same thing. She's the next best person starting to travel and put Canada on the map after Ally," said Grandison-Vargas.
The tides started changing for Canadian Smash at the country's largest major event, Get On My Level 2016, where Ally took on all comers. After that, SuperGirlKels stunned the internet by placing in the top 5 at Apex in New Jersey and taking a set off of Mew2King, one of the 5 gods of Super Smash Bros., Melee, who's been proving himself in Smash 4. To top it all off, Ally went on to take the top spot in this year's Smash 4 bracket at Evo, becoming the first Canadian player to win on the world's largest stage for fighting games.
SuperGirlKels plays against Mew2King at Apex 2016
"I don't think there's a single doubt in anyone's mind that Kels is number one in Montreal," said Mike "PND" Bosak, head of 613Smash (Ottawa's competitive Smash community) and organizer of the Nexus major tournament. "She carries a lot of responsibility in what she represents and you can tell by her constantly upbeat attitude. She represents Montreal, Canada, female gamers and gamers in general. I can't think of anyone better to be the face of Canadian Smash next to Ally."
Representing women in competitive gaming wasn't Kels' goal when she started, but she ends up doing it anyway. Though women have participated in competitive gaming for years, these spaces are still largely male dominated. As a result, it's hard for SuperGirlKels to do interviews that don't focus on her gender because, for some outlets, her status as a woman overshadows her skill as a Smash player.
"I understand that people ask me those questions because there aren't many of us. I wish it didn't have to be asked, but, I'm a girl and I love being a girl. Hopefully it's just motivating girls in general. If they're asking the questions over and over and it reaches out to other women to get them involved in Smash, then I don't mind," said Medeiros.
"I'm an entertainer at heart. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to entertain people. Being on a stage playing Smash and seeing the reaction from the audience is a feeling you can't describe." -- SuperGirlKels
Kels also has to deal with the fact that she is now a draw. With the abundance of Smash tournaments available for fans to watch live on services like Twitch, big name attendees help viewers choose one stream over another. While this benefits her by having organizers request her presence so they can exploit her name for stream views, there have been instances when the intentions of the organizers have been up for debate.
She recalled a tournament, Orbit 2016 in Québec City, which she had been invited to but was uncertain if she could attend. It was the same day as a major in Ontario and she hadn't made up her mind, so when organizers asked if she would go she responded, saying she was open to the idea'. According to Kels, the organizers must have taken that as a yes. Kels alleges that they made a post saying that people should come out to the event and "see some fine ladies." In a since removed comment thread, she claims to remember seeing someone ask 'which ladies will be there?' to which an admin replied 'just SuperGirlKels, but isn't that all you need?'.
"At first I thought it was a misunderstanding. But I read through everything and realized it was legit. They're telling everyone that I'm going when I'm not and they're using me to attract people like they can come get me in a sexual way," Kels said. "I was definitely offended and I commented right away saying 'this is wrong'. Sex sells, but not like this. Sell the game, not me. I'm an entertainer at heart. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to entertain people. Being on a stage playing Smash and seeing the reaction from the audience is a feeling you can't describe."
I reached out to Raphael Curadeau, owner of Helios Gaming, which ran the Orbit tournament, to ask for his point of view on the situation. He attests that the post actually read 'nice girls' instead of 'fine ladies' and that the commentary was removed within minutes, but people are still talking about it.
"We want to expand eSports in Québec and they [the local eSports scene] saw us as a threat to their community. For them, we're strangers and they had some fears, so adding more fuel to our mistakes was something defensive for them." said Curadeau.
For Kels, dealing with people trying to use her for her profile is part of the growing pains associated with becoming an eSports star. She doesn't have much time to dwell on the missteps though because there's always a new event coming up on her schedule.
And now, SuperGirlKels is taking her skills even further from Canada. Earlier this month, she traveled to Virginia to compete in Super Smash Con, where she placed 33rd out of 1272 entrants in singles, eliminated by Japan's Abadango. Her highest placing of the weekend was 9th of 284 in the doubles bracket she participated in with her brother Jayy.
Kels still has her eyes on getting a top spot outside of Canada and will continue her tour by attending the upcoming Shine tournament in Boston. It will be a historic event, it's Boston's first major tournament, and will mark a continuation of Kels' status as Quebec's ambassador on the international stage.
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