2/2/2019 update: Two days after the publication of this article, Magi defeated Joseph “Mang0” Marquez at Genesis 6. Catch the VOD here.
Since the first SSBMRank, Super Smash Bros. Melee’s annual rankings have largely featured a perennial crew of veteran competitors, many of whom began their careers long before the game blew up in 2013. But this year, an unprecedented 20 members of the Melee Panda Global Rankings are newcomers, a renunciation of the old guard that indicates that new blood may someday form the majority, not the minority, of Melee’s best and brightest.
Each of these recent arrivals had to fight tooth and nail to make their way into the top 100, but among them stands one individual whose path to success was complicated by an adversity quite unlike any of her peers’—and whose inclusion in this year’s rankings is historic for more reasons than one. That player is Sasha “Magi” Sullivan, the first female or trans player to earn a spot within Melee’s highest echelon.
Magi, who is ranked No. 97 on this year’s Melee Panda Global Rankings, is known for her stylish and effective Falco play. But years before her competitive journey began, she gave her Melee disc away to a friend.
“I even remember saying to myself, ‘I'm not really worried about giving away Melee, if I were to try and get serious in Smash, I would play Brawl anyway!’ recalled Magi.
Indeed, growing up in Louisiana, Magi’s interest in competitive gaming was primarily rooted in Yu-Gi-Oh and speedrunning rather than fighting games. However, as the hype surrounding Super Smash Bros. Melee’s inclusion in Evolution Championship Series 2013 grew to a fever pitch, individuals throughout the world of gaming turned their attention toward the beloved platform fighter. Intrigued, Magi tuned in for Melee finals at EVO 2013.
“But I actually didn't really get hooked after watching the EVO top 8 for Melee,” said Magi. “I just didn't really understand what was going on, I didn't even understand why they were playing Melee over Brawl, and why was everything they did so impressive to everybody else?”
Through speedrunner and Melee enthusiast Narcissa Wright, Magi watched The Smash Brothers documentary—and something clicked. “I can easily say that the documentary changed my life, and suddenly all of my attention went towards trying to play ASAP.”
Without a copy of Melee, Magi turned to Project M in order to scratch her competitive Smash itch. And scratch she did, practicing her movement, spacing, and advanced tech until she felt ready for tournament play.
“L-cancelling felt amazing and just being able to move around like the players I saw in the documentary felt so good,” said Magi. “It was literally like a whole new world opened up for me.”
At Winter Con 2014, Magi played her first-ever tournament set—and won.
At the same time, a very different world was beginning to open up for the young Louisianian.
“I had been experimenting with presenting female since I was 10 (in secret, of course), and I frequently had some suspicious thoughts throughout my life, such as being extremely jealous of boys who were forced to wear makeup and dresses by their sister and her friends, or fantasizing about being completely alone in a mall with access to all the girl clothes I could ask for, or just laying down in bed one day and telling myself, ‘Huh, I think my life would be a lot cooler if I was the exact same person except a girl.’” said Magi. “But throughout my childhood, I unfortunately was taught that boys who wanted to be girls were just fetishists or ‘freaks,’ and so that's how I viewed my feelings for a long time.”
Though Magi’s parents backed her interest in competitive gaming wholeheartedly—“I was supported by my parents every step of the way,” she said—their prejudice against homosexuality and trans identities led Magi to repress her feelings of gender dysphoria for years. As her family’s “golden child,” replete with good grades, polite manners and a great parental relationship, Magi was afraid that a misstep would rock the boat and make life more difficult for everyone.
While she grappled with her gender identity, Magi was rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in Smash. Learning about Louisiana’s competitive scene through a chance encounter with a member of the community in a Baton Rouge card shop, Magi made the jump to Melee in August 2014, initially choosing to dual main Ganondorf and Falco. After suffering a few blowout losses as Ganondorf, she realized that the bird was definitely the character for her.
“It was from that point on that I was pretty much all Falco for the rest of my career, and I'm honestly very happy with that decision,” said Magi. “Nowadays I feel like Falco really feels like the character that complements my style/mindset the most in Melee.”
In December 2014, Magi earned her first big win in Melee, defeating James “Citrus” Krause, a Jigglypuff player who had debuted as an honorable mention on the Southern Louisiana power rankings earlier that year. A few months later, she celebrated her own debut, coming in at number 10 underneath established players such as Lee “Lee Martin” Martin and Taylor “TaylorHJ” Tonguis. “That was when [I began] the full journey to become the best player in Louisiana.”
Magi had achieved a measure of success in competitive Smash, but her struggle with her assigned gender remained one of her deepest secrets. Soon, however, these two foci of Magi’s life would come crashing together.
“It wasn't until October of 2016 that I would have any sort of breakthrough in my gender,” said Magi. With her parents out of town and her brother sleeping over at a friend’s house, she decided to spend one week learning how to do makeup so that she could try to present female, “one last time. During that week of learning, I started considering one word that I ran into a bunch, ‘transgender.’ It wasn't the first time I ran into that word. I was silently extremely supportive of them actually, but whenever I tried to associate that word with my experiences I would turn on those defensive mechanisms and move on.”
“But when the day actually came,” said Magi, “everything changed. It was the first time that I truly felt completely free to express myself, without any fears of being caught, without any defensive mechanisms butting in to tell me what I'm doing is weird or wrong. I looked in the mirror and felt true gender euphoria. That was the night where I decided that I would research further what being transgender really was.”
Despite this internal breakthrough, Magi remained closeted around other Smash players for months. The facade began to fall that April, at a tournament called Southern Louisiana Major 2017.
At the time, Magi was considered the second-best Melee player in Louisiana, outranked only by TaylorHJ.
“I ended up barely losing in game 5 against Taylor,” said Magi, “and had to battle it out in loser's bracket. That's when I had to play against Espeon in loser's quarters.”
Though Jeffrey “Espeon” Carradine was then considered the third-best player in Louisiana, Magi was easily the favorite to win their set. But to her chagrin, she lost to the Fox main in a five-game nailbiter. “That was the first time I ever threw my controller out of rage, and luckily I had enough self-control to shake his hand afterwards and apologize for doing that. I then proceeded to stomp outside and cry for about half an hour. Melee really was the only thing in my life at the time, and whenever I failed at that I felt like I failed as a person.”
Crushed by her disappointing fifth-place finish, Magi’s stress levels were at an all-time high, the ignominy of defeat mingling with her latent feelings of gender dysphoria. “I was still struggling to accept my identity at the time and I got really stressed. ‘What if I have to transition? How will my parents feel? What about my friends? What if I really am just a freak?’ It was a really dark time and I didn't know what to do.”
Fraught with emotion, Magi pulled out her phone and began to compose a message to her three closest friends, all members of the Smash community.
“I just fully let it out, everything. I did it to let it out of my system and I didn't really plan on sending the message, but once my head was clear and everything was typed out I sat there for maybe 15 minutes thinking about hitting send. I had endured all of this by myself up until that point, and I think I realized while typing that I couldn't do it alone anymore. So I hit send, and they've been some of the closest allies in my life ever since.” One of them, Howard “Bonsai Warrior” Tsai, is more than just an ally: he’s since become Magi’s coach, doubles partner, and boyfriend.
Shortly after Magi came out to her friends, she decided to bite the bullet and do the same for her local community as a whole, explaining her situation in a Google doc that she posted in her scene’s Discord channel.
“I expectantly came back to complete support from everyone...I've only had amazingly positive experiences with people online who have found out, and I've received loads of support from women and allies alike,” said Magi.
With her community’s support behind her, Magi began to ascend the rankings more rapidly than ever before. In late 2017, she traveled to Texas and defeated Albert “Albert” Luu, who was then considered the fourth-best player in the Lone Star State. In January 2018, she surpassed TaylorHJ to officially become the top-ranked player in Louisiana; that summer, she beat Connor “Bananas” Lamb, Oscar “Uncle Mojo” Malherbe, Ammon “Ka-Master” Styles and Ryan “La Luna” Coker-Welch in the span of two months, earning herself a spot among the year-end top 100.
This year, Bananas took sets over Mang0, Plup, and Mew2King. At DIME 25, he lost to Magi.
“[Coming out] has connected me with so many other girls in the community that understand what I'm going through and has helped me immensely,” said Magi. “I try my best to cope with it in positive ways too. In my streams I have a subgoal that says, ‘start transitioning,’ and it's always like we're one away from hitting the goal. Whenever someone subs to the channel, I say "Thanks for subscribing, welcome to the Closet!" Then I increase the goal number by one so that we never hit it, and it's just kind of a funny inside joke that represents how I feel about it. It's always like right there and it feels like it's gonna happen any second now, but it's always just a little bit off.”
Magi’s home life is still somewhat complicated. Her parents are incredibly supportive of her Smash career; last year, her brother shared a video of their mother experiencing paroxysms of stress while watching Magi compete on stream. However, per Magi’s pinned tweet, she remains unable to reveal her gender identity to her parents, asking commentators to refrain from using female pronouns during her matches in case one of her parents tunes in.
“My Dad really does love me and care about that version of me,” said Magi. “It's probably the most painful part about all of this, my parents do love and care for me so much.”
But despite these roadblocks, Magi’s outlook is bright. Over the last year, she’s come out to her brother and sister, receiving warm support and acceptance from both. “The three of us have all grown a lot closer because of it, and honestly part of me still thinks that they will be a big part of the reason why the family might make it through all of this.”
It’s only a matter of time until Magi is able to move out of her home and present as the woman she knows herself to be. And once she does, she knows that her Melee game will benefit immensely.
“I'm very happy with the things I was able to accomplish up until this point with the situation I am in, but I understand that I need to really change things around if I want to see my best play and my best self,” said Magi. “As far as concrete goals go, this is the summary: Get in the top 50 in the world. Grow my Twitch channel and hopefully get sponsored by a team that is willing to support me. Set myself up to move out as soon as I can, and of course, TRANSITION. ASAP.”