Eric “ESAM” Lew, one of the first teammates when PG was founded in 2015. The widely recognized Samus/Pikachu main in Smash Wii U has blazed a name for himself with his high-level playing and personality. I got a chance to sit down and talk with Eric to hear his story and learn more about the PG vet.
Eric got his start into Smash just like most probably come into the platform fighter: his love for Nintendo. “I just played casually because I’m a Nintendo fanboy and I’ve owned every Nintendo console, so I had the N64 and I was like nine when Super Smash Bros. came out.” He would continue to play casually until Melee when Eric’s brother, Nick Riddle, convinced him to attend his first Smash tournament back in 2005. Nick had found a local tournament through Smashboards.com and invited Eric: “...He was like ‘Hey Eric you should come to this tournament’...and I’m like ‘Oh. Okay, yeah let’s go’”, and with that started Eric’s competitive career.
For a young Eric, the tournaments became an avenue to socialize and join a community. “I wouldn’t really go out on the weekends except with maybe my best friend at the time,” he says, “So these tournaments allowed me to socialize a lot with a bunch of different people...and it was really, it was just fun because video games are fun. Like that's the number one reason I play it like I feel like if gaming wasn't fun I would just go get a normal job.”
He would stay local for a while in the Miami scene, specifically the Aventura area: “I actually didn't start traveling to other things until like 2010, so it was a while. I was a local boy... I went to like my first tournament going to like even Orlando which was like a three-hour drive from where I lived in Miami [in] like 2008.”
Young Eric would go with his brother to these local tournaments for some time, getting rides from his parents or brother later on. “I mean granted I was really young because I started when I was 12, and in 2008 I was 15 or 16. I didn't have a car yet; at the very beginning, my brother didn't have a car either, so our parents drove us. But then once he got the car he would pretty much be like my ‘chaperone’ even though I didn't really need one,” Eric said.
Eric would also spend time playing with his local crew called Blue Bloodline which consisted of himself, Nick Riddle, Seibrik and RexxFalcon. Then, in 2008, he would move into the next installment of the Smash series with a new ,positive take on the game.
“So when brawl came out I kind of just I had more fun with it. The game made more sense to me,” Eric reminisced, “... Even though I played Samus in Melee… she was considered the lower end of viable and while I was very confident in my own skills I could just tell that some things were just really, really difficult... it wasn't testing the skills of mine that I wanted to be tested.”
In Brawl, Eric came into his own as a Smash player, feeling he was finally “able to show how smart I am in terms of the gameplay without having to have this ridiculous tech barrier or constantly fighting 6:4 65-35 matchups out of my favor to prove that I'm good. Like I'd rather not.”
In the beginning, the switch from Melee to Brawl wasn’t an instant success for Eric. “I actually started doing worse when brawl came out because obviously, new game new skills blah-blah-blah-blah. But at some point I started really flourishing when I actually put the time down and started testing and learning stuff...but that was a little bit when I got older and I was able to be like ‘Oh I should probably do this instead of just playing only for fun.’”
Thanks to a mod for Smash Brawl that showed frame-by-frame moves, Eric had an opportunity to learn new tech. “I was able to literally test things frame by frame and see if they worked and because Brawl had a buffering system of 10 frames a lot of things that were theoretically possible, were actually possible. There were only like one or two techniques the WHOLE game ever discovered that were like ‘too hard to apply’”.
Joining the Team
In 2010, Eric began traveling to major events including the MLG Pro Circuit, receiving mostly Top 8 placements along the way. Around this time ESAM met now teammate and best friend Jestise “MVD” Negron. The two became doubles partners and have received huge success with their team, most recently taking first in doubles for Smash Wii U at Combo Breaker this year. This partnership was also how Eric came to be signed as one of the first players for Panda Global in the summer of 2015.
Eric credits his friend for his start in Panda Global. MVD was the first official player on the org’s roster, and when team owners consulted him on who they should pick up next he pointed right to Eric: “So when they came to him they were like "Oh who else should we pick up?' And MVD was like ‘ESAM...free, like he's godlike' So that's pretty much how that happened was it was through MVD that I got on with Panda Global.”
From three initial players to 19, Eric has witnessed this team grow, and maintains a tight knit bond with all of PG. “It's really cool to see Panda as big as it is now like because like somehow the crazy thing about Panda is we have I think it's like 15 to 16 fighting players, we have three Hearthstone players, we've had Heroes of the Storm before. And literally any time I hang out with any single person on the team they're just... awesome and they're homies and they're just like really cool people there's not a single person on Panda I don't [like], I'm not saying this to save face or just to be like ‘Haha this is the correct thing.’” Thanks to great working conditions the owners of PG set to have, players like Eric feel they are right at home with a family of people all trying to push their competitive careers.
Eric also talked about his experience of being a player under Alan and David’s management, two very involved members of the FGC who are always giving that extra support to the members. With the owners initial goal of doing esports differently and humanely, Eric shows how it’s been working: “They're really understanding because obviously they were both competitors before this and so they really understand the mindset of you know: trying to win, putting your all into it, losing, being discouraged trying to get back up,” Eric also mentioned what kind of response he gets from the owners when he doesn’t particularly get the best results for an event: “They don't really come to us after a tournament and be like 'Hey man like you suck You should've done better. It's bad for Panda’” He says, “They would be like 'I know I understand. Like obviously it would have been better if you had won because, like duh. But you know we understand we're proud of you just get up and keep going.' It's never like a negative thing. It's always like I'm moving towards a positive.”
Presently, Eric is living out in Oklahoma with MVD, with the two practicing Smash and creating video content independently and as a team. Along with a list of other projects and commitments, the two have busy days of ahead of them. Eric, in fact, was in between editing a video for his Youtube channel and doing a Twitch stream. With content creation, traveling and practicing, Eric is adjusting to the workload: “So right now we're just kind of going into the swing of things of like our new channel. You know, I already have my videos that I have to edit, I stream, MVD doing editing and stuff as well, I'm trying to learn Photoshop, we're trying to go to the locals, all while traveling.”
Apart from that, ESAM and MVD both appear on the channel Friends Without Benefits and are working on their own channel called Games Over Easy featuring games other than exclusively Smash. Some playthroughs mentioned were Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Mario RPG, Undertale and Smash Brawl: Subspace Emissary. Once they get the ball rolling, videos will be uploaded twice a day during weekdays, Eric said.
As far as events go, Eric is looking forward to E3 where he was invited by Nintendo to check out the Super Smash Bros. Switch Invitational. For tournaments, expect him at Evo, Super Smash Con and Shine this summer.
Thoughts on Smash Ultimate
Fast forward to E3, Eric spent a lot of time checking out the upcoming Smash game. (You can watch his immediate reaction here.) It appears that many of his predictions about the game were right on the mark -- particularly his thoughts on Nintendo giving more support to the competitive end of things -- such as developers confirming things such as stage hazard toggles and even taking notes from the invitational for future adjustments. Eric also mentioned he wanted to see Ridley make an appearance and, well, he got his wish! It’s safe to assume that ESAM will still remain the Pikachu main you know him for after his Pikachu review and has some slight issues with Samus, notably mentioning her dash attacks being problematic, however, be sure to check out his Youtube channel for a video on Samus later on!
- Zackary Potter