Winning one tournament makes you good.
Winning 54 tournaments in a row after that first tournament victory? That makes you a king of your craft.
Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios grew up in the South American country of Chile. His love of gaming began as a young child with him watching his sister play games like the Tomb Raider series. When his older sister wouldn't allow him to play her games, in fear he'd break the console, Barrios tried everything in his power to get his hands on a video game. Finally, after cutting his sister's console's wires to get back at her for not letting him play, their mother decided to buy a console for her son as well to stop the all-out war in her house.
"One day my mom came back from shopping and she had bought us Smash Bros.," Barrios said about how he was introduced to the series that would eventually shape his adult life. "[My sister and I] played it nonstop. We were all about Smash 64. She would bring her friends from school to play. I'd bring my [own] friends from school to play. The house was pretty much all Smash."
The household became a den for Smash between the siblings. The addiction to the first installment of the game transferred over to the second iteration, Smash Bros. Melee, as Barrios started to take the game more seriously. Although he didn't have any idea of what an "esport" was, or any concept of the competitive scene, he still tested himself to get better at the game that had taken up a large portion of his life.
"In 2006, I learned about a local tournament near my house," he said. "That's exactly when I got hooked up with competitive Smash. Just the notion of having tournaments never crossed my mind. I never thought they would host Smash tournaments for this video game. I was like, 'This is crazy. I need to be a part of this.' And that's how it all started."
Barrios' interest had been piqued, and from that point forward he actively competed in his home country's local scenes. This continued throughout his childhood and up through 2011, when Barrios experienced his first real breakthrough as a professional player. "I ended up winning a national tournament for [Smash Bros. Brawl] ... Then I decided to compete in Apex 2012. That was a big international tournament, like the world championship for Smash at the time."
One of his first adventures outside of Chile didn't culminate in a storybook finish. Barrios was only able to grab 17th place in the Brawl tournament during Apex 2012, falling well outside the placement he would have needed to get any prize money. Back then, the winner took home $3,600, and the players tied for seventh only walked away with $200 apiece. He returned home empty-handed, except for the international experience that would shape him as his then-fledgling career continued to mature.
"My life has always been a little difficult simply because I had a lot of medical problems growing up," Barrios reflected, describing how his family reacted to his determination in becoming a professional gamer. "I was also dealing with a lot of depression problems [as well], so school was very difficult for me. My mom was always very supportive. My parents actually split up very early on in my life, so I ended living with my mom instead of my dad...I actually had to deal with extended periods of actual poverty, and my mom was always [there] to help me do anything that made me happy.
"So when I presented to her the idea of me competing in tournaments, she was never concerned about the money or anything. She just wanted to see me do something I was passionate for and happy for."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Barrios' father saw his desire to be a competitive gamer as something he'd eventually grow out of. When his sister -- the one that helped him get into gaming -- passed away a few years ago, it was his relationship and bond with his mother that helped Barrios become the talent that he is today. If he needed someone to support him through the tough and uncertain times, his mother was there to be his pillar.
"I [saw] people talking about the Smash 4 trailer coming up on stream," he said, remembering back to when he first heard of the game that would take his career to the next level. "[Me and my friends] ended up watching it in class...We almost got kicked out of school because we were so loud and out of control. Mega Man was announced [for the game], and we were just so happy about everything."
At that time, Barrios was known as the top player in the modification of Smash Bros. Brawl known as Project M. After becoming the best at that game around the same time as the launch of the fourth installment, he decided to move on to the game that had initially gotten him so excited that he had almost gotten suspended from school. Barrios picked up the 3DS version of the game right when it released in Japan, and moved onto the console version when that version was released not too long after.
Smash 4 turned Barrios' dreams of being a full-fledged pro gamer into a reality. In the nine tournaments he competed in during the early days of Smash 4 in 2014, he won eight of them. His domination only continued from there, piling on the victories across the United States and around the world. Apex 2015, the tournament from which he went home with nothing a few years earlier, became a location for his coronation as the greatest Smash 4 player in the world. Barrios took home the first-place prize and $6,000 that came with it.
The winning streak had commenced.
"Before EVO , I was on a big tournament winning streak -- going over 40 something tournaments," told Barrios on how he was picked up by Team SoloMid. "I ended up winning EVO without dropping a single game...For me, it was the biggest accomplishment in my Smash career. Both [Andy "Reginald" Dinh and Leena Xu] were at EVO with [William "Leffen" Hjelte] at the event doing some stuff with him. So after I won EVO, I was contacted by another company, HTC, and they put me in contact with TSM's management, and they were interested in talking to me."
New Orleans, Louisiana would be the site of the streak's end. 55 tournament victories finally came crashing down when Barrios' biggest rival, Team Liquid's Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada, ultimately took him down in the finals. All the pressure of having to win every tournament in front of him had been taken off his shoulders -- for better, and for worse. Barrios was no longer flawless, but it allowed him to breathe for the first time in almost a year.
"The year 2015 was extremely stressful for me," said Barrios on the end of his historic run of tournament wins. "I had the tournament win streak going on. I had my contract with TSM. I had my engagement going on. I [also] had my YouTube channel. It was just too much stuff going on at the same time ... and to be honest with you, being able to win everything all the time, being always able to perform 100 percent every single time, every major [tournament] gets harder after the last one. People try harder. People have new footage to study. People definitely don't enjoy the fact I win as much as I do, so they try their best to beat me."
Barrios knows that the toughest thing about sports isn't winning a championship -- it's constantly defending it. He admits that he tried his best and Nairo beat him fair and square, but losing helped him learn from his mistakes -- and it only pushed him to become a better version of himself. Be it in growing Barrios' brand as a YouTuber, or as a competitive player for TSM, the 20-year-old known as ZeRo wants to be the best at whatever he does.
"My goal this year is to take everything one at a time," Barrios said, considering how his perfect 2016 would play out. "I don't like [putting too much pressure on myself] because you can psyche yourself out...I'm going to take everything properly, seriously, calm, and one at a time."
His current streak of tournament victories is at 10.
One game at a time, the King of Smash 4 is getting back to where he left off.