From ZeRo To HeRo: An Interview With SUPER SMASH BROS 4's Top Player

You can't talk about the esport of Super Smash Bros 4 without mentioning one of its most dominant competitors Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios. His dominance in the Smash 4 scene over the past few years have been nothing short of incredible with consecutive wins over some of the sport's best players without so much as losing a set often times. Now on the heels of a disappointing 2nd place take at EVO and a 9th place finish at Dreamhack Atlanta, ZeRo took some time to update us on his headspace in a less than an ideal start to the 2017 season and to give fans (and haters) of the sport a little more insight into his life:

EVO 2017 was a rough loss. Now that you've had time to process those final moments is there anything you'd like to say about the match?

Well it's one of those losses that can make or break a person's career. For some players, they'll never be the same again. For others, it's the fire that will ignite determination to keep going forward. As someone who makes a living with this, I can't let it stop me because I'm not quitting any time soon. So the only way is forward, with higher spirits this time around. At the end of the day, there's things I could have done better to take the win, and I'll make sure that is the case the next time.

You've been so dominant throughout your career in Smash 4 that there has to be a point where you feel like you have nothing left to prove. How do you stay motivated and determined heading into tournaments, and are there any goals or accolades you still are after?

I'd say that's one of my biggest issues. At times, I feel like I'm extremely unmotivated. I'll be direct with you, sometimes the motivation is simply the money. I grew up in a very poor household, and even to this day I support my family down in Chile, so I have to always make as much as possible to make sure my loved ones are comfortable. Sometimes, and much more often, my motivation is my pride to continue as the best player. I don't wanna give that spot to anyone else, and it's what keeps me playing a lot of the time. Other times, very rarely, I really don't wanna let certain people win, and if I have to keep getting up and up to at least say I tried my best to stop them, then that's fine with me.

You're one of the few Smash players in the sport to gross over 100k in winnings, yet I noticed on Twitter you mentioned the cost of a $6,000 medical bill being a big burden due to tourneys not paying up. Just to shed some more light on the issue, how much would you estimate you're owed and why aren't you getting paid?

I was owed approximately 20 thousand dollars or so. I've been recently paid, however, so I'm fine now. It took several months, however. It was taking a long time for me to get paid for a combination of reasons: People behind the events being very slow with communication, doing things slowly or their sponsors and partners straight up not paying them, and therefore, there's no money for me to receive. Sometimes because it's not their money, it's just not their priority to pay you quickly or as fast as possible, so they just don't care as much. You can tell because their infrastructure just isn't there to allow for quick payouts. I'd say this is one of the most annoying things about competitive Smash Bros: Busting your back for months to win a big one, and then getting paid 5 months later. It just feels awful, and it makes harder to do it full time.

You've spent 11 years in competitive Smash. Paint a picture for me on the scene when you first started vs. now. 

I've done it all in Smash. I've ran my own tournaments in Chile, I've produced content for years both in live streaming and videos, commentated, and been a fan and then a top player and world champion. I'd say the biggest difference is that the community was a lot closer back in the day, there wasn't social media, and there weren't sponsors or the opportunity to be in the spot light. A lot smaller and a lot less money, essentially.
One of the big things is the fact that there weren't many fans, it was pretty much all players in the crowds. You weren't scrutinized as hard or at all, and it was a lot different to interact with people. Nowadays it's all in the internet, back then it was all in person or most of it. I'd say back then it was a lot more fun in some ways, but nowadays having many more tools to make a living is indeed amazing. It's a trade off in a lot of ways.

Best Smash 4 player in the game right now (other than yourself)

Other than me, I'd have to divide them in categories. I think Ally is a brilliant mind, I just think his character is falling off in the current meta, Leo can play such a wide variety of characters, as well as Nairo, and Salem right now is going all out in tournaments. I'd say these guys are making or have made a big splash in the game for a long time.

Out of all the tournament wins you've had throughout the years...which is the sweetest or most memorable and why?

Winning my first big, big tournament in Apex 2015 was such a sweet feeling. It was like... 'FINALLY!'. Always a special one. I'd say my favorite one, though, was EVO 2015 where I won without dropping a single game. One of the few days where I've been super proud of my play all weekend. Plus, the combo in which I won the last game was one for the history books.

Who is ZeRo outside of Smash? Is there a ZeRo outside of Smash? 

Yeah, you have Gonzalo Barrios. A 22 year old that is obsessed with Yugioh, watches a lot of Law & Crime shows and movies, loves story driven games and rides dirt bikes whenever he finds the free time to do so. I've always enjoyed doing so many things outside of Smash. I've always thought that if I didn't go pro with Smash, I would have tried my best to do something with Motocross. That's always been something I love to watch and do so much. Nothing better than getting some dirt in the face or some air time.

What's the average amount of practice you put in weekly prepping for comp vs. just a regular week?

Depends... so if there's something like EVO coming up, I'm practicing like at least 5 hours a day. When there's more of a break, an hour or so. For smaller things, 2-3.

How long does this ride last? Do you ever think about hanging it up and retiring?

Sometimes I think about retiring and becoming a full time content creator and commentator. I think I could really shine there, I think I would really enjoy it personally. But my pride to be number 1 and remain in that spot always gets me to pick up the sticks and go back to my try hard self. I'm not sure how far this ride is gonna last, but I'll ride it out for as long as I can. It's what I shine at, and it's what pays the bills, plus I like it a lot, so it makes sense.

What has been your personal worst moment in eSports thus far?

The negativity and senseless hate I get constantly. I feel like there's a very big amount of bias towards my image, where a lot of people don't give me a chance, strictly because it's the 'cool thing to do' to hate on me. There's just always an excuse for it. It's either because I win too much, because I play some character that's perceived 'boring to watch', because of the way I look, or just some other random reason than actually because they interacted with me once. Sometimes I even see people make up stuff or lies to make me look bad, and it's just sad a lot of the time. I wish in that aspect things would be different, and I was given a fair chance like some of the other personalities, but it's been going on for years and only getting worse at times, so at this point it's just something I will have to deal with. I already grabbed my drink, so I'm ready for the ride at this point.

What music are you listening to right now?

I don't really listen to a lot of mainstream or popular music or artists. So whoever you like... I probably don't even know who it is or even like that genre to begin with. I listen to a lot of slow paced or relaxing music, sometimes mixed in with Japanese stuff, or instrumental. One of my favorites of all time are Hotel Dusk's Rainy Night and Phoenix Wright's Trial and Tribulations: Trial Theme. I also like Katy Perry's - E.T, and YuGiOh ARC V's Pendulum Swing and A Battle You Can't Lose. Just some examples.

Give some advice to the hopeful amateurs or low ranking pros reading this on what it takes to achieve what you've accomplished.

I pretty much sacrificed most things in my life to get where I am. Relationships with people, my comfortable life in Chile, my family, my time to do pretty much any other hobby I enjoy doing, and a constant lifestyle of commitment and dedication to an activity that either brings you extreme highs... or lows. So my life is pretty passionate and crazy, all things considered. Don't try to do this if you aren't ready to give up a lot.

ZeRo will be competing at the GameTyrant Expo. Pick up tickets and learn more about the event right here.