POTSDAM — As an aeronautical engineering student in his senior year at Clarkson University, Riley G. Newcomb, 21, doesn’t have a lot of time for games.
Still, the Albany native is the best Super Smash Bros. Ultimate player in St. Lawrence County, and he has the hardware to prove it.
Mr. Newcomb, or Liyrex as he is known in esports circles, was the gold medalist in Smash Bros. at the 2020 Empire State Games on Jan. 31 at Paul Smith’s College.
Mr. Newcomb’s teammate, Zachary D. Kinnally, a 19-year-old environmental health science major from Brewerton, took the silver medal and is otherwise known as 12er.
The bronze medal was won by SUNY Potsdam esports gamer Theo Cannamela, who plays as Kurlz, and is a freshman chemistry major from Potsdam.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a Nintendo product during which players use characters from within and without the Nintendo universe in a multi-player fighting game. Unlike a lot of games used in esports, Super Smash Bros. is best played with the individual players together in the same room.
The St. Lawrence County Power Rankings, where Mr. Newcomb is ranked No. 1 and Mr. Kinnally is No. 4, is a measure that was set up and has been maintained by Mr. Newcomb since 2016.
“Smash, as a game, is very grass roots,” Mr. Newcomb said. “We are used to just pulling from the community, gathering resources.”
Locally, Mr. Newcomb and his fellow Clarkson gamers host a weekly event in their game room in the basement of the Clarkson Student Center. It is open to the public and attracts up to 30 players every Friday night.
In a more populated area, events can get very big.
“I’ve been to a few majors,” Mr. Newcomb said. “They get on the order of over 1,000 competitors.”
Even the big events, Mr. Newcomb said, have a homegrown feel.
“It’s just all the same thing usually. It’s just people with a passion for the game,” he said.
Unlike many esports games, Nintendo doesn’t financially support or run a lot of tournaments.
“One of my favorite things about Smash is that you have to look across at your opponent,” Mr. Newcomb said. “We fist bump, we shake hands prior to every game and at the end of every game. There’s that interaction dynamic that make things very interesting.”
Both Mr. Newcomb and Mr. Kinnally have been playing one version or another of Super Smash Brothers since their preteen years.
When competing, Mr. Kinnally plays the character Inkling, which comes from the game Splatoon and Mr. Newcomb plays as Roy from the game series Fire Emblem.
“The beautiful part of the game is that we have like 70 characters,” Mr. Kinnally said. “A lot of them can be viable for a tournament. Even if they weren’t, someone just learning the game can pick a character they like and still learn the fundamentals of the game.”
Mr. Kinnally said he learned the game playing as Donkey Kong.
“Donkey Kong is not a good character,” he said. “But I could still learn the game and have my fundamentals and enjoy what I am doing.”
While interacting with friends on campus the pair are known by their given names, but once they turn on their game consoles they are almost exclusively known by their tags, which many players choose when they are very young.
“Because so much of the video game culture is on the internet, it’s almost like it’s your real name when you are talking to people in the same community,” Mr. Kinnally said.
He chose the name 12er when he was 6 or 7 years old, he said.
“It was a completely random choice because I was young and I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I just really like the ring of it and it feels wrong when I am in that tournament environment and someone calls me Zach.”
“Tags are a very interesting way of separating the player and the person,” Mr. Newcomb said. “I know a lot of people, myself included, where their bracket persona is very different. Not intentionally but because in the bracket, I am there to compete, I’m there trying to win.”
Mr. Newcomb’s tag, Liyrex, comes from the video game Kingdom Hearts, which he played when he was young and also is an anagram of his first name with an x added.
Next up for Mr. Newcomb, aside from the weekly campus events and finishing his degree, is Frostbite 2020, a three-day tournament in Detroit with 1,270 people competing in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Brainless eSports, an esports video production company is providing him a partial sponsorship for the event.