Alumnus “smashes” competition in esports tournaments

By Steven Richtmyer

College educations are infamous for sapping its students of not only their severely limited finances but also every ounce of spare time they could muster.

Not only is Chris Reubel a graduate student at Rider University, a former athlete on the Rider Men’s Track and Field team and a loving boyfriend, but he is also currently ranked amongst the top 10 players in New Jersey for “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.”

Reubel has a degree in psychology and is pursuing a graduate degree at Rider in school counseling with a side certification in life coaching. He explained that he would much rather work as a life coach so that he can be his own boss while continuing to sharpen his skills at “Super Smash Bros.”

“I’m going to be a top player, I think I’ve pretty much already decided that at this point,” Reubel said with poised confidence. “When I get out of school, I’m probably going to go full force at it and see what happens because I don’t really want to be floating around trying to wonder ‘wow, what if I just did that instead of going into a job’ so I’m just going to do it.”

Reubel’s interest in competitive gaming began when his brother showed him tournament footage of “Marvel vs. Capcom,” which inspired him to experiment with multiple fighting games until he discovered his passion for the “Super Smash Bros.” series.

“I started playing more fighting games like ‘Tekken’ and’ Marvel,’ and then I got into ‘Smash’ and I was like ‘wow, this game is really good,’ and I had played it all my life but I started playing it more than anything else,” Reubel said. “I went to my first ‘Smash’ tournament in 2016, and I won, which is crazy.,”  

Ever since his first win, Reubel has entered over 120 “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” tournaments of varying sizes including Super Smash Con 2019, in which he ranked 65th out of approximately 2500 players, which included some of the best players in the world.

“At this point now, I’ll just go to anything that’s available,” Reubel said. “Anything that is available and anything that’s open, I will 100% just go to because I don’t care who is there. I don’t care if they’re novices, I don’t care if they’re the best, I don’t care if they’re middle, I just go because you’re getting practice.” 

Reubel (left) enjoys playing at esports tournaments, and other players see it as an opportunity to beat him and climb the ranks.

One of the tournaments that Reubel has left in absolute tatters, again and again, is the Stronghold biweekly tournament held at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). Ryan Sterenkowski, the original founder and operations manager of the club, is thankful for Reubel’s consistent participation in the event.

“We love having Chris come out as a top 10 player because our players are motivated to play him,” Sterenkowski said with enthusiasm. “They’re super excited, and they learn a lot every time.”

According to Sterenkowski and Shaun Cardone, the current chief executive officer of the event, Reubel has yet to lose a single time whenever he has entered in one of their tournaments. Gary Lee Smith, one of the few participants at Stronghold to win against Reubel in a tournament, is blown away by Reubel’s dedication to practicing “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.”

“He’s crazy, so if he loses, or a set is close, he will go ahead and rewatch it,” Smith said with a touch of disbelief. “He is a dude who studies footage nonstop and he will take constant notes. That’s why he went from being some random guy to top 14 to top 10. Not everybody has that much passion for a game.”

But Smith is not the only player to give Reubel a run for his money. Evan Neeld, another player who has met Reubel countless times in a tournament setting, has observed Reubel’s playstyle and is practicing ways to counter his approach.

“Part of the problem with trying to beat him is that he makes me play so patient,” Neeld said. “When I play against him, I have to be way more patient than everyone else and if I approach him and get frustrated, it’s over.”

Like most competitive esports scenes, players often go by alternate names while playing in tournaments, and Reubel is known by most players in the “Super Smash Bros.” Community as “Strawhat.” 

“So, my name used to be ‘King777,’” Reubel said with a reminiscent tone. “I actually had a mentor called Biddy, who was top seven at the time, and he told me, ‘yo dude, just change your name, because who is going to remember King777.’ So, one day afterward, I ended up going to Epcot in Disney, and in the Japan section, I found a straw hat, and I bought it and that’s how I got the name ‘Strawhat.’”

The straw hat that inspired Reubel’s new nickname at “Super Smash Bros.” tournaments.

Reubel also plays as Young Link, a character who is widely considered in the “Super Smash Bros.” community to be effective, but extremely difficult to play at a high level.

“It’s just years of fundamentals with that character type,” Reubel said. “When I saw Young Link get dropped in ‘Ultimate,’ I was like, ‘holy snap!’ He fights you really fast and he’s a mix of both big Link and Toon Link, so I was like, ‘this character is about to be dumb, crazy good.’”

Using the counseling skills he has developed at Rider, Reubel also coaches people online using his Stronghold Discord to help other players improve their gameplay by giving them tips, or pointing out the aspects of the game that they struggle with.

“People come to me for advice and stuff, and that’s kind of like, why I made my Stronghold Discord,” Reubel said. “It’s got a lot of people in it now, and I’ll give advice to people on improving, like for Smash improving, or if you just want to do something to make your life better than it was the last day, and we’ll just talk about stuff like that.”

Because of this, Reubel is extremely respected beyond his consistent performance, Edward Bannister-Holmes, another regular participant at the Stronghold tournament at TCNJ, sees Reubel not only as a fierce competitor but as a friend.

“He’s somebody that pretty much anybody would want to invite over to their house,” Bannister-Holmes said with appreciation.” He’s super positive and always trying to help someone better themselves whether it’s in ‘Smash’ or just life in general.”

During his time as an undergraduate student at Rider, Reubel was a passionate member of the school’s track team. Most “Super Smash Bros.” players who aspire to best him admire his confidence, his perseverance, and his morale and Reubel credits those traits to his time running track.

“People wonder why I’m known as the person with a really good mentality; it’s because of what I went through in track,” Reubel said. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Published in the 3/11/2020 issue of The Rider News.

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