Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios is one of the most accomplished Super Smash Bros. players of all time, but he left that legacy behind when he retired from competition in January after over 10 years of serious play. With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate out now, however, Barrios is ready to return and begin taking names all over again.
Barrios first started playing fighting games competitively as a “very poor kid in a third-world country” with Super Smash Bros. Melee and traveled abroad for Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournaments with help from Los Angeles-based sponsor vVv Gaming. But it was the 2014 release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U that turned him into a legend. Barrios threw himself headlong into competition, winning a staggering 56 tournaments in a row before finally placing second at the Major League Gaming World Finals in 2015. His success led to a sponsorship with esports organization Team SoloMid.
Few competitors achieve that level of success without making sacrifices, and Barrios found himself burnt out by 2015. Constant travel, harassment and physical injuries took a toll on the Chilean player, who had just turned 20, and his results began to falter. Where before it was rare to see Barrios outside of the top two at any tournament he attended, he began to slip further and further down the placements. The worst showing of his career came in 2017 at 2GGC: Civil War, where he bowed out in 49th place.
“I wanted to quit back in 2015 when I was at the peak of my game,” Barrios told Red Bull eSports soon after retiring this year. “And I’ve forced myself to play more than ever and I’ve realized there’s something wrong here; I’m not having fun.”
Barrios has been very public about the hardships he experienced trying to make Smash competition his livelihood, making his time away especially important.
“The main thing I got out of [my hiatus] is my health,” he told Polygon. “It’s much more important than most gamers realize to get those extra hours of sleep, solid food, and exercise to play good on the day of the competition, [rather] than squeezing those extra hours of gaming at night.”
Although Barrios made something of a resurgence in 2017, he took a break from competition in early 2018 to focus on his streaming career. He found new success playing Super Smash Bros. matches live on Twitch after stepping away from the competitive community, averaging over 120,000 new followers a month. But Nintendo’s surprise Super Smash Bros. Ultimate announcement changed everything. The developer held a special invitational tournament shortly after fully unveiling the game at E3 2018, inviting Barrios to participate in his first public event in months. He won that tournament, and in November, Barrios announced his return to serious competition with esports group Tempo Storm. The pro team has sponsored successful Melee players Jeffrey “Axe” Williamson and Johnny “S2J” Kim since 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Despite little indication from the developers that they plan to continue supporting the community, Barrios is optimistic that there will be a symbiotic relationship between Nintendo and the competitive scene. Where the developer used to just ignore the most diehard fans, it has taken steps to become more involved in the scene over the last few years, for better or worse. While it has supported a number of major tournaments, Nintendo has also thrown its weight around when it comes to broadcasting rights and even the types of controllers that can be used at community events with which it partners. Competitive gaming thrives on developer support, and as someone looking to make Smash a career again, Barrios will need Nintendo to play ball for his return to be fruitful.
Barrios says there’s no way he can skip out on Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competition, and it’s easy to see why. Ultimate is the biggest Smash game to date, and as one of the best players in the past two installments, Barrios is sure to have a leg up in professional play.
“[Super Smash Bros. Ultimate] is shaping up to be the most ambitious and biggest Smash title to date,” Barrios explained to Polygon. “Simply because of the scope of the game and the success of the Nintendo Switch, this is going to be one hell of a ride. I felt it was simply not a wise decision to skip on this one.”
He’s excited to jump back into competition, but won’t be going as hard as he did in the early days of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. He still plans to focus on his burgeoning Twitch career. When asked what his overall goals were for Ultimate during a Reddit AMA, Barrios said he was going to be the best “on my own terms.” This means traveling to major events, but also making sure he isn’t away from home at a tournament every weekend. Barrios is very much focused on keeping things “chill” and competing in a way that doesn’t “ruin every other aspect of my life.”
“I managed to be the greatest [Super Smash Bros. for Wii U] player of all time while only focusing on that,” he told us. “Now I’m handling top Twitch and YouTube channels and taking care of my brand on a new level. Can I still manage to be the best while doing all that? Let’s see. It’s gonna be much harder, but I think I’m up to the task.”