Leffen blames Nintendo as he steps away from Melee to focus on Guilty Gear & 2XKO

Virginia Glaze

I sat down with Smash pro Leffen to discuss his withdrawal from Melee in favor of focusing on titles like Guilty Gear Strive, as well as his plans to play 2XKO in the future.

William ‘Leffen’ Hjelte might be known for his prowess in the Smash Bros scene, but he recently announced plans to put Melee on pause to focus on Guilty Gear Strive, instead.

In a thread on Twitter/X earlier this month, Leffen claimed that he would be stepping back from Smash to concentrate his efforts elsewhere, saying he “hates playing multiple games and constantly being rusty.” He also claimed he’ll be focusing solely on Riot’s upcoming 2v2 fighter ‘2XKO’ when it releases in 2025.

I got the chance to speak with Leffen about his forthcoming break from Smash at the Arc World Tour Finals and why he feels the need to turn toward other fighting games at this point in his highly-decorated career.

Leffen explains “emotional” decision to part ways with Melee

“For me, it doesn’t feel like a full retirement thing, because it’s more that I don’t have time for it right now,” he explained. “Maybe things change in the future, but I didn’t really think about it too much, because it’s been going through my mind for a while now.”

“I haven’t really been grinding Smash for a long time. In my day-to-day, I don’t really play Smash. It’s basically about a couple of times during the year, I’ll play it for a week before a tournament. So in that way, it doesn’t really change my day-to-day that much, but it’s pretty emotional, you know? If this is the end, then yeah, this is kind of sad, but I still did what I wanted, and I still have a lot left to do in other games.”

There’s more to Leffen’s decision to focus on other titles than finding the time to grind Melee, though. It’s also a matter of money, and considering Nintendo’s strict guidelines regarding sanctioned Smash tournaments, the scene is in dire straits where cash is concerned as opposed to other circuits like the Capcom Pro Tour, which recently awarded Taiwanese pro ‘UMA’ with a whopping $1 million.

“I think most people understand that, unfortunately, Smash doesn’t really have big sponsors,” Leffen admitted. “Because of Nintendo’s involvement, or lack thereof, it’s really hard for someone to actually get out of the state it’s in, and a lot of these forces are gonna be betting on the ‘potential.’ You know, ‘What if this became huge? Maybe even bigger?’ And I think Smash unfortunately has a ceiling. And because of that, it’s really hard for me to be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to fully focus on Smash as a super NA-based seed.”

Uncertainty with developers “sours” Leffen’s competitive experience

While Leffen will be spending more time with Guilty Gear for the time being, he wants to be a single-game player for Riot’s 2XKO in 2025 — something he opened up to us about in our discussion.

Leffen claimed that he prefers Riot’s transparency with players as opposed to the comparative lack of communication from Japanese companies, arguing that the way other fighting games operate at a development level “sours” things for him.

“I’m obviously excited for 2XKO, and Riot is obviously a huge company,” he told me. “For me, it’s not even necessarily about their size, but also about the fact that I met the people who work on the game, and their approach is very different from a Japanese company.

“They’re very open to criticism. They’re very transparent with what they’re doing. I feel like that’s one thing that really holds current fighting games back, is that there’ll just be random change that just happens, and no one knows why, and no one knows how long it’ll be. You don’t really know when a patch is coming a lot of the time.

2XKO is Riot’s upcoming team-based fighting game set to release in 2025.

“That uncertainty really sours things for me, at least as a competitor. I mean, there’s always going to be elements of randomness — who gets nerfed, and who gets buffed. But the fact that you don’t even know when that’s gonna happen is definitely annoying. Outside of that, I’ve played 2XKO and I really enjoy it. I really believe it’ll be successful.”

Leffen is heading to the Battle of BC to duke it out with other Smash players as part of his last ‘hoorah’ in Melee before turning his focus on other titles in a major shift that’s got the entire world watching. Given his undefeated run in Guilty Gear Strive at EVO 2023, it’s clear that he’s got what it takes… We’ll just have to see if this pivot pays off in the long run.