Young Swedish gamer Leffen shakes up world of ‘Super Smash Bros. Melee’


Leffen is jet-lagged and running a little hot on a humid Toronto afternoon, a wave of hair tumbling across his face.

The air conditioning in Red Bull Canada’s funky downtown office is not handling the heat that well. Neither is Leffen’s sponsor-laden jersey.

The ingredients are all there for the bad boy of “Super Smash Bros. Melee” gaming to act up. But Leffen — real name William Hjelte (pronounced Jel-tah) — is open, thoughtful and ready to share.

Leffen’s reputation precedes him. A 2015 article on the Kotaku video game website was titled “Meet the ‘Villain’ of ‘Super Smash Bros.”’

Even sponsor Red Bull plays up the image, although looking to soften it in an article headlined “Leffen, Smash’s Loveable Villain.” His image problem was slightly more serious than that in the past, however, with fellow gamers banding together to ban him from competition for a while.

“I was forced to take a timeout,” he acknowledged in an interview for a documentary called Cultivation Leffen: Resurrection (available on YouTube).

The 22-year-old Swede, in Toronto to defend his title at the Get On My Level (GOML) tournament that kicks off Friday at the International Centre, acknowledges his bad-boy reputation.

“I’m still like that sometimes, pretty childish. Sometimes I can be rude,” he said.

“Even in Sweden, I’m like the odd one out,” he added. “Everyone’s so nice. I want to be a rebel, be very blunt and open. I know that’s not going to sit with everyone. And although I don’t have that much actual drama with other people any more, I still like to trash-talk. I like to stir things up.

“Because I think if everyone is super good friends, there’s no real good stories, there’s no intrigue, there’s nothing behind the matches. I guess I just enjoy a bit more drama.”

According to Leffen’s mother Jeanette Hjelte, he started gaming at about age three.

“And he was really good at it from the beginning.”

And while other parents drove their kids to soccer tournaments, the Hjeltes took Leffen to gaming events. He’s been playing “Super Smash Bros.” since 2010, making it a full-time gig in early 2015.

While he has excelled at other titles, he focuses on the “Super Smash Bros.” fighting game.

“No other game comes really close to the amount of freedom and high-paced action that you can really get from this game, in my opinion,” said Leffen, who plays using the high-risk, high-reward Fox character.

Because the game is largely not played online, it also brings gamers together — creating a strong sense of community.

“Super Smash Bros.” play was long dominated by players named Armada (also a Swede), Hungrybox, Mango, Mew2King and PPMD — together known as the Five Gods. One by one, Leffen beat them to earn the nickname of the God Slayer.

But his career took a nose dive in late 2015 when he was denied entry to the U.S. with customs arguing he needed a work visa. He found himself in a catch-22, having to argue that esports was indeed legit. Plus working for an American sponsor complicated matters.

Not needing a visa to come to Canada, he made his North American return in Toronto at Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo (EGLX) in April 2016. A tense Leffen finished seventh, throwing himself on his Twitter sword in the aftermath. But good news followed hours later with word that his U.S. visa application had finally been approved.

He won the Battle of BC in Vancouver and then took GOML in May 2016, beating Mew2King, Armada, Hungrybox and Mango.

“Welcome back,” said Mango as the two embraced after the Toronto final.

Leffen, a member of Team SoloMid, sees Canada as “like the U.S. but a little bit less extreme, and with hockey instead of football.”

These days, Leffen hits the road regularly. And when things go wrong, he is not afraid to share on his YouTube channel.

“Sometimes I just have really poor self-control,” he said with a laugh. “But I also think it’s worth sharing the lows and the struggles and the hardships…. It’s really heart-breaking if you lose. Sharing that is just a part of who I am. I don’t like to not show the entire picture.”

According to, Leffen has some US$80,000 in career earnings although he says it may be a little more.

“The reason I don’t count that is I don’t depend on it. And the reason I don’t depend on it is because I have sponsors.”

He says these days it often takes some time after a tournament win to realize that he also won money. “Because money truly has very little to do with actually winning.”

The name Leffen has no meaning, he says. He adopted it and “for some reason it just stayed on.”

He recently spent three weeks in Los Angeles “bootcamping” for a tournament in Las Vegas. After that he returned to L.A. for a sponsor’s event. Then it was back to Sweden for a few days before heading to Canada.

He returns to Stockholm — where he lives with his girlfriend — on Monday for a week. His schedule then calls for the U.S., home, England, home, two weeks in the U.S., home for two weeks and then back across the Atlantic.

“It’s a lot of travel, safe to say,” he said.

Leffen, GOML tournament organizer Joe Cribani, and Canadian gamers None, Kirbykaze, and Kage will be showcased in a three-part docu-series from Red Bull eSports called “A New Level,” which will be available to stream on YouTube in the fall. 


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