The Greatest Matches in SpyParty History

by Chris Bowyer

Putting together a list of the greatest SpyParty matches of all time is challenging. Right off the bat, we can assume any number of tremendous matches, featuring incredible plays and dramatic turns, have been played privately, which means we'll never know about them. But we have a robust record of most public competitions: thousands of competitive matches have been logged, parsed, and analyzed, and hundreds have been cast. Restricting this list to competitive matches, apart from being unavoidable, probably makes sense anyway because the stakes of a match is part of its greatness. With that in mind, here are the general criteria I'm using:

  1. The competitiveness of the match. It's nearly impossible for either player to play so well and so creatively that their match can appear on this list if it's a blowout, or even a comfortable victory. Accordingly, no match on this list has a margin of victory above two, and all but one is a draw, went to some kind of overtime, or was won by the narrowest margin possible.

  2. The stakes. This is a tense game, and it's not unusual for players to see significant changes in their play from casual sets to competitive ones, so the circumstances matter. Performance under pressure is not incidental to SpyParty: it is SpyParty.

  3. The skill exhibited in individual games. There have been many close and important matches that were made up of mostly unremarkable games. Technically a match can have very high stakes, and be a dead heat, even if every single game ends with a clumsy bug attempt or clearly visible purloin. What we want are games where one player wins rather than ones where the other player loses.

  4. The underlying narratives. That is to say, players with a long history or rivalry get a boost, as do matches with dramatic comebacks.

On to the list:

  You've heard of the phrase “loser leaves town”? Well, this was “loser leaves Diamond.” Leaving aside that some may think of that as a bonus and not a debit, it's a big deal, particularly for two players who'd spent several consecutive seasons there. In the end there was only a loser in a technical sense, because the final score was 8-8 and bloom held the tiebreaker. We'll ignore the fact that he left SCL after and Magician was thrust back into Diamond's maw, since no one knew this would happen at the time.

Magician looked to have the match wrapped up, holding an 8-5 lead and needing just one more win to clinch, but he dropped his sniper game on Courtyard and his spy game on Terrace, leaving one final game to determine the outcome. bloom laid low, and after a Contact where only bloom and one AI (Cane) were talking, Magician seemed poised to hold his shot and take the victory. Then, just as the 30-second beeping began, this happened:

That's the only AI talking during Contact, one of just two highlights, and a character with the subtlest walking bug at the time, leaving for windows at 30 seconds before walking right by the Ambassador, cane-side, in the waning seconds of the climactic game. This is just when most spies would be trying to complete after failing to induce a shot. The timing on this AI's decision was remarkable, and it flipped the game, the match, and (temporarily) demoted Magician.

Allow me to set the stage: Opi had finished between 2nd and 4th in four consecutive Cups, and the lack of victories was starting to look conspicuous.

The last loss, a defeat in the 2020 Summer Cup Finals to DeathTacticus despite being a huge on-paper favorite, had happened just a few months earlier. In that match, Opi fell behind 5-0 before a late comeback, and it looked like he'd dug himself into an even deeper hole this time: YerAnd was up nine games. Opi seemed destined to fall short again. You've heard people say they can "count on one hand" how many times a thing has happened to illustrate how rare it is, but for something like this, it was the opposite: a fifth Cup failure was looming, and Opi was in danger of needing a hand's worth of digits to count his disappointments.

Instead, he turned them into a fist.

Opi roared back from a 12-3 deficit, and perhaps more impressively, from down 13-8 needing to win the last five games to force overtime. Two were on Teien, but he had to sneak a spy win on Courtyard in there, too, which he did via fingerprints. He won the first two overtime games on Balcony to seal the win, having taken 12 of the final 13 games. This would probably be the greatest comeback in SpyParty competitive history even without the stakes or the dramatic story playing out underneath it. Having all three together means it isn't even close.

That a quarterfinals match could be ranked here despite the moderate stakes says a lot about the match itself, which was an absolute slobberknocker. Other than the climactic game, no player was up by more than one until extra time, and each time someone won a spy game, the other player immediately matched it, three separate times.

The most improbable example was probably Moderne, which was Any 5/8 then and resulted in very few spy wins: 33% in all of SCL5, and under 25% in Gold and above. But both spies won on Moderne here, and in roughly the same way: going all-in on direct purloin frames. Somehow it worked both times, and the match was knotted at 5-5. Both snipers won their Courtyard games, forcing extra time.

Turnipboy lost the opening spy game of extra time, and the following sniper game after the AI put him in a ridiculous position: Orange Sari took Pofke's green purloin and then framed herself by picking up two fingerprints afterwards. The understandable civilian shot that followed put Turnip down 6-8...and yet somehow, he came back to sweep Veranda and tie the game for an incredible seventh time in the match. The dance finally ended on Ballroom, with Turnip taking both games and advancing to the semifinals.

In terms of stakes, it doesn't get higher: the championship match of the most prestigious and active event in the game's history, featuring two players who were widely considered the best in the game. Both players performed true to type: Caley's sniper was typically suffocating and KCM's spy was daring and creative. The highlight, you probably already know: KCM's maneuver on Veranda to try to fake overtime beeps with red time adds, which remains the most thrilling bit of competitive tech in SpyParty history. Imagine how crazy we'd all have gone if it had worked.

One of the reasons it didn't work is purely coincidental: a few months earlier a newer player invited Caley into a match, and accidentally spammed red time adds near the end of a Courtyard game. It sounded a little like overtime, and that memory helped him hold his shot on a maneuver he said in the post-match interview he would have normally "bit down hard" on. It ended up mattering, too, because the final score was 13-11. Could it be that an entire season came down to being randomly invited by a newbie one day or, for that matter, simply choosing not to leave an Away message on in the lobby?

After this, SpyParty went on Steam and the competitive scene exploded, and the Caley-KCM rivalry would reach new heights after (and because of) this match.

This match was cast live, back when that kind of thing was rare, and it was a perfect candidate for it. Apart from the built-in rivalry, this match also contained two incredible, highlight-reel moments in just a five-game span.

The first came on Balcony: some trouble with the Seduction Target led KCM to try a desperation twitch bug late in the game, long before twitch bugs had become commonplace. He'd clearly gotten away with it, but it happened with fewer than 10 seconds left, so overtime was forthcoming. Normally in that scenario the sniper would shoot one of the people who started talking late...but nobody was talking. Nobody you could shoot, at least: the party was listening in rapt attention as the Ambassador enthralled them with some cocktail party anecdote, probably about the time(s) he almost lost his briefcase.

When the overtime beeps went off, Caley, who sees a lot, showed that sometimes he can shoot for something he didn't see: he was able to infer what must have happened, like detecting the presence of a black hole based on the behavior of the space around it, and correctly shot the person who'd been next to the Ambassador. It was a tremendous volley: Caley holds, KCM gets away with a bug, the party gives Caley an opening with the lack of talking, and Caley takes advantage in a way many snipers would not. All in about 10 seconds.

Just three games later, KCM struck back. On Moderne Any 5/8, which was dominated by elite snipers, KCM's masterstroke of delegating to his own seduction target so he could squeeze in two flirts (and finish two missions) late won him the game despite an insane 8+ seconds of overtime. It was a virtuouso mission win during a long overtime against the best sniper in the league, on the venue toughest for the spy. Exhibit A for demonstrating that anything can happen in a given game.

It's amazing to think that, even back in season 4, these two were playing each other for the ninth time in league history, having risen together from SCL2 onward through Copper and Silver. At the time, Falcon had gotten the better of the rivalry: though they were 3-3-2 against each other, Falcon had won the matches that mattered, taking both division finals with room to spare.

They met in the Gold finals with Noob holding the tiebreaker, leading to a situation where both players went into the final game knowing that the winner would take the gold in Gold, and Noob finally broke through by holding his shot on Moderne. The match featured spies coaxing lowlights out of the sniper on the first four games, and an insane 10 spy wins overall, befitting the kooky behavioural meta and brinkmanship of such a long-running rivalry.

There aren't too many ways to beat Caley, but it's clear that your best chance is going shot-for-shot on sniper and reducing the number of pivotal moments in the match, and that's exactly how abearRAWR hung in here; snipers won the first 10 games. abear's sniper gave first, lowlighting Caley on Library, but he pulled even on High-rise, generally considered Caley's worst venue, and we seemed prime for overtime heading into Moderne until another lowlight led to a civilian shot and Caley emerged victorious, 10-8.

There was a high level of interest in this match, partially because it was the inaugural edition of the Winter Cup (an event specifically created to fill the dearth of competition at that time of year) and partially because abearRAWR had very little competitive history relative to their skill level. The curiosity factor was particularly high over how he might perform with so little book for his opponents to study. There weren't too many highlight reel plays (it was just solid play on both sides), but for my money abear's shot on Teien, seemingly for a flirt when it otherwise seemed as if he was about to lose, is the most memorable.

This is the first match I think of when I want to show someone how sniper-dominated matches can still be exciting. This match is full of solid spy games that snipers manage to counteract. The most exciting moment is probably Opi seeming to get away with a Bug and Purloin on Aquarium, only to be shot for a flirt at windows at the end. “How does Yeesh do this?!” DOWSEY asked on cast, vocalizing exactly what was probably going through most viewers' minds.

Yeesh's bug as Wheels on High-rise led to the only spy win of the set (and there weren't any timeouts, either: all Spy Shots), going a perfect 7-for-7 on the sniper side and setting an SCL sniper win rate record in the process.

The 2019 Summer Cup was special in that it featured nearly every top player in the community at the time: it included people who normally just played in the SCL, people who hadn't played competitively in years, and longtime players who never played competitively at all. The more people signed up, the more others wanted to get in on the fun. The event exploded, with the largest prize pool in the game's history, live group draws, opening and closing ceremonies, dozens of hours of casts, and a special awards show at the end.

It also featured an insane run of dramatic and competitive matches that may never be equaled. Eventual champion KrazyCaley played four consecutive nailbiters from the Round of 16 on, defeating yours truly (WarningTrack) 6-4, Lazybear in the semifinals by the same minimum margin, and OpiWrites in the finals 13-10. The best match during this run, however, was his Quarterfinals tilt against DOWSEY.

DOWSEY had quickly become one of the game's top players and a win here would've made him the tournament favorite. Snipers dominated, but Caley's standard Bug + soft tells win on Teien gave him the edge late. DOWSEY unveiled a devious Swap frame maneuver on Library to tie things up, and snipers traded wins the rest of the way. That trend continued in Extra Time with snipers winning the first six games (10 in a row overall). Then Balcony shook things up, as it so often does; in his final sniper game, DOWSEY had the spy in his sights, but waited for overtime to confirm the shot and mistimed the trigger pull. How close was it? The timeline tells the story: Sniper shot too late for sync. The only major competitive outcome that turned on network latency.

Oh, and remember the Turnipboy-Pofke match mentioned above? This was the same round, and in fact these two matches were cast back-to-back on the official SpyParty channel. Viewers (and casters) had no idea at the time that they were going to witness a fifth of this list in a single broadcast.

Time Add Trio vs. WarningCat, Pre-Beta Tag Team Tournament

This is the oldest match on this list by over four years, and because it predates spectation and replays, we have no record of the specifics. All we have are the memories of the competitors and the beta forum posts about it at the time. Thankfully, a lot of it's seared into my memory, because it was my first competitive event. UPDATE: Since this writing, I've uncovered a cast of the match recorded after the fact.

The Tag Team Tournament was run by canadianbacon in 2013 as a last hurrah before the closed beta opened up. Players were encouraged to find partners and form teams with a dedicated spy and dedicated sniper, though about half the teams consisted of single players playing both sides anyway. I joined one of my regular sparring partners at the time, jecat, even though we were both intermediates at best. He played spy, I played sniper, and we called ourselves WarningCat.

The tournament juggernaut right out of the gate was the Time Add Trio, a team made up of Virifaux and KCMmmmm. The team name was a humorous allusion to the fact that Virifaux had a well-known alt. When I saw the pairing, my heart sank, but I was slightly encouraged to note that KCM—who nowadays is known for his skill on spy far more than sniper—had chosen to snipe.

After a few rounds WarningCat met the Time Add Trio in the semifinals, and after regular time we were deadlocked, with both snipers going 5-1 against the spies. Each "overtime" was an additional three games: one player from each team would play all three, and then the other players would go in and see if they matched it on the other side of the rifle. Without spectation the other two players were resigned to waiting patiently in the lobby, staring at win count numbers and waiting to see which would increment.

The first two overtimes (six games total) were sniper sweeps, and we were still deadlocked. Finally, on the last game of the third overtime, stretching the overtime alone longer than the standard match format, jecat finished out a spy win on Balcony. With nothing left to do and confident no shot was coming, jecat whispered me in the lobby to let me know during the mission win countdown that it was finally ending.

That last match was, as far as I can tell, both the most dramatic competitive match to that point and the first noteworthy upset. But the result seemed less important than the realization of how much tension and drama could come from competitive SpyParty. The four of us were so effusive afterwards that there was no way to even tell who had won, and it didn't really matter. The genuine enthusiasm and graciousness of our opponents, and the camaradrie of my teammate, makes this one of my fondest memories of the game. In retrospect, it was the first look at SpyParty's competitive potential, realized in the rest of this list.

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