Nick Yingling on his record-breaking journey to Smash Summit 11 – and why he’d never do it again

Super Smash Bros. Melee’s viral upcomer tells The Loadout about his Smash Summit 11 experience and record-breaking campaign

Nick Yingling looks across at a Smash idol, Hungrybox, at Smash Summit 11

Before Smash Summit 11, Nick Yingling was a name only known to Super Smash Bros. Melee community veterans. Over the past six years, he’s been a regular in the Arizona scene, best known as a tournament organiser for Smash Camp. That all changed recently, when the 23-year-old found himself sharing the spotlight with top players like Zain Naghmi and Juan ‘Hungrybox’ DeBiedma after pulling off the most successful Smash Summit voting campaign in history. 

Smash Summit voting season sees the community decide who will take up six spots on the event’s competing roster, with others either qualifying or receiving invites. Naturally, it sparks online campaigns to drive votes to secure a spot at the elite Melee competition, with even known quantities like Hungrybox livestreaming subathons to earn votes this year. As the first offline Melee event following the pandemic, where results online haven’t always favoured the best players, emotions felt particularly heightened for gaining entry. 

While those voted in are usually featured in the top 100 global rankings, Nick Yingling has become the first in Smash history to buck the trend. Yingling received over 176,000 votes, more than any other player campaign ever. How did he do it? It was your typical blend of SpongeBob SquarePants, ratio memes, publicity from top players, and campaign support from close friends.

“I opted-in slightly as a joke, but also slightly because it’d be really cool to get in,” Yingling tells The Loadout. “I tried to buy a VIP pass and they sold out within a minute, so at that point I was like: ‘Well, I guess we fully go with [campaigning for votes] at this point’.

“I never felt like there wasn’t a chance but I definitely felt like my odds were a little lower than everybody else’s, because at the time I only had like 700 Twitter followers. I only had people that were my friends and people who knew me through Smash Camp, really diehard people. I was definitely thinking like this is probably close to impossible but maybe we can make it happen.”

With help from friends Mikey ‘The Cheat’ Iosue, Eric ‘Violence’ Lee, Jack ‘Jackzilla’ Harmening, and Jake ‘Chroma’ Robins, his team used various methods to score votes. The most successful was their social media meme campaign, including reaction videos where Yingling is seen dunking in basketball against The Cheat, with the tagline: “You just got ratio’d by Air Yingling.”

“I was kinda scared the bits weren’t going to hit or they weren’t going to be as funny, but for some reason everybody just loved everything we were putting out,” Yingling says.

As his notoriety grew, community members began adopting his profile picture, a shot of Norton from SpongeBob Squarepants, and changing their usernames to “I am Nicholas Yingling”. This eventually rolled into mentions by top players with huge followings like Hungrybox and Joseph ‘Mang0’ Marquez, sending his voting chances sky high.

It was a huge achievement simply getting into Smash Summit 11 for Yingling, describing it as the “biggest of my Melee career at this point”. Once he was locked in however, he was under no illusion that he would be a potential rival to the top players (he finished 13th overall). Instead, he went in with the mindset of learning from the players he’s always looked up to.

“I don’t think any ranking I’ll get will ever outdo just getting to be at Summit,” Yingling says. “I always just did it so I could get better, so I could play the game with all these people.

“Something people don’t understand about the Melee community is, at [other] big major tournaments, there’s no time nor enough setups to play with these great players. They’re either talking to fans or they’re trying to play tournament sets, or trying to have time to themselves. One big thing about going to Summit [as a competitor] is that I got to meet all these people and have the time to actually talk and play Melee with them.”

Yingling got to play against the likes of Zain, Zachary ‘SFAT’ Cordoni and Kurtis ‘moky’ Pratt, learning the dark arts of Melee from them in the process.

“Summit is probably the greatest event I’ll ever attend in my life,” Yingling adds. “I guess Summit and a Major are two different things, like a Major brings big crowds of people watching you play, but as someone who’s there and wants to get better at Melee, [Summit] is the perfect event ever. It just knocks everything out of the park.”

A big part of Summit’s appeal are the skits filmed by event organisers which punctuate the Twitch stream. Yingling’s involvement proved especially popular in a short opposite Hungrybox, leaning into his all-conquering campaign by having multiple versions of Yingling stalking the pro player in comical fashion just so he could play another match.

The skit itself spans two minutes, but took four hours to film. “It was worth every minute,” Yingling says, recalling how it almost panned out very differently.

“There were two skits I thought were going to be cancelled, one was involving Zain and one was involving Hungrybox. They had something planned and so they were going to replace Hungrybox with SFAT, and I can’t even envision what the skit would have looked like with SFAT in it instead of Hungrybox.

“I kinda didn’t get [the idea] at first but after the first scene, I was like alright this skit is going to be amazing. This is like the coolest thing I’ve ever gotten to be involved in.”

Following his experience at Summit, Yingling is keen to chase his competitive ambitions more than ever. He’s planning to continue coaching lessons from William ‘Leffen’ Hjelte, and has signed up for all the major upcoming tournaments, including Mainstage 2021 and Genesis 8.

Whether he can reach the heights of his Melee idols remains to be seen, but one thing’s for certain – he definitely doesn’t want to campaign for Summit again.

“Definitely having the most votes in Summit history is something I don’t want to ever crush. I just want to let it sit there forever and not think about it,” Yingling says. “I don’t think I ever want to do another campaign again. If I didn’t get in, I would have felt really bad because of all the money people spent, that would just make me overthink a lot. I don’t ever want people to spend money if they don’t get what we’re trying to accomplish, so I don’t think I could do it that way.

“But I’d love to buy a VIP pass or just qualify myself. I hope to just keep getting better faster than everyone like I’ve been planning, and now with all these Majors it will definitely show. The next few months are going to be pretty crazy for Melee, and I can’t wait to perform at those events and just see how I am compared to everybody.”

Asked what he’s taken from this whirlwind experience, Yingling has a surprisingly selfless answer, despite his record-breaking feat to get to Smash Summit 11.

“My main takeaway is that I am grateful for all the amazing people we have in the scene,” he says. “Seeing the behind-the-scenes work at Summit, it just made me so grateful that there are so many people willing to put all their time into this one event. People are just willing to go so far just to come play this game.

“I have so much respect for everybody in the Melee scene. I did before, but just seeing everybody’s gratitude and whatnot, it made me have so much respect for everybody.”