EVO 2017 (And Everything Before)

EVO will always hold a special place in my heart. 2015 was the year I decided to start really focusing my energy on improving in Melee and striving toward becoming a top player, and EVO 2015 was my first out-of-region tournament ever. Despite having entered tournaments since 2005, I only entered tournaments in MD/VA. With the *POUND* series, I got a decent exposure to majors but never really started pushing until 2015.

At EVO 2015, I believe I placed 97th. Some sources state that I placed 65th, but I actually think there was a mis-report somewhere that had me beating Squid, when, in fact, he beat me. I beat Alan at this tournament, and that was my first “big” win because it was out-of-region (I’d earned a few bigger wins against local and out-of-region players at Xanadu).

I remember being absolutely drained throughout the day at EVO 2015. I had to take a breather in a corner of the ballroom to charge my phone and recover. Since then I’ve learned many lessons about stamina and staying healthy in order to survive tournaments like these, so it’s pretty amusing to look back on that experience.

Unless I’m misremembering, the next out-of-region event I went to was Shots Fired 2 in spring 2016, and then it was EVO 2016. By that point I’d started making a name for myself, rising in the local ranks and performing well at Pound 2016. And you guys know all about EVO 2016. If you don’t, let’s just say it was a roller-coaster, and I’ve written quite a bit about it on this bl0g.

EVO 2015 was the first big crowd I was in for a Melee top 8. I’d never been on my feet cheering like that before. It’s probably what big sports fans feel at their first game. Man, was it a roller coaster. I remember feeling so defeated when Mang0 got knocked out. EVO 2016 raised the bar on the spectacle, and I had my unforgettable near-win against the previous year’s champion.

So yeah, EVO will always feel like a larger-than-life experience to me. It’s the pinnacle of fighting game esports, regardless of how well smash gets treated there.

EVO 2017, for no single reason in particular, was probably my favorite EVO so far.

In the past year, I’ve done a great deal more traveling due to a far more flexible schedule as I got my graduate degree. I traveled to AC for Olympus, Chicago for Eden, California for Genesis 4, Pennsylvania (twice) for AEX and Smash Valley V, Orlando for CEO Dreamland, and Wisconsin for Smash’n’Splash 3. Comparatively, I hardly entered anything in 2016. Traveling has broadened my horizons, exposed me to more playstyles and players, and shown me my strengths and weaknesses. So I was more ready for this EVO than the last two, in more ways than just gameplay.

Honestly, a big part of it is just familiarity with other smashers. The interactions I’ve had with new smasher friends over the last several months have been a big highlight of my esports career. Having never really traveled prior, it was usually just me, lloD, and whoever was there from our region. But now I look forward to seeing people that I actually hang out with. It really makes smash feel more like a lifestyle than a hobby. That is a big contributing factor as to why I enjoyed this EVO so much.

Let me back up a bit before I get into the actual event.

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A significant portion of the last several months has consisted of tech practice and optimizing my gameplay. I’ve found, however, that not tending to my mindset was having an effect on my tournament play. I noticed it first at Smash’n’Splash where I felt myself get disheartened mid-game against Kels. That feeling affects your decision-making and gameplay. I re-read some of my older posts to get an idea of how I used to think, and came across a passage where I described myself as “mentally tough when I’m in the zone.”

I thought to myself, “Would I still describe myself as a mentally tough player?” The answer was, “Not with that much confidence.” I’d gotten a bit distracted with the details of the game and forgotten how important it was to sharpen one’s mind, as well. I think practicing tech and optimizing your punishes and grinding are all valuable, but when you’re thrown into the Summer of Smash, you have to prioritize your time. I decided to re-order my priorities.

I started reading a book called How Champions Think. The author is a sports psychologist who has worked with several athletes and successful people, but mostly focuses on golf. Regardless, the lessons are applicable in any walk of life in which you desire success.

He talked about some fairly simple concepts, such as visualization, confidence, and positive self-image. These were prominent themes in the first third of the book, and I decided to explore them a bit. He described something called “the virtuous circle,” in which you visualize yourself playing confidently, which produces good results, which reinforce your confident image, and so the circle is formed.

I realized that my self-image was often fighting an uphill battle against certain opponents and matchups. What if I really put effort into visualizing myself beating opponents, capitalizing on my strengths, making comebacks, and getting wins? Then, when faced with an actual uphill battle, I can draw upon my prior visualization and make it happen.

What I found interesting were the similarities between this book and Inner Game of Tennis. Notably, they both state that the self-conscious mind is superior at controlling motor functions than the conscious mind (IGOT describes this as “Self 2”). And they both talk about letting your conscious mind (or “Self 1”) take a backseat so that you can play naturally and to the best of your ability (“peak performance”).

I should also mention that I got a bit distracted with the whole arduino situation. I was on-board with the mods and started re-learning how to solder before building a few of my own. I got frustrated with all the drama, and realized I was so distracted by the politics of it that I stopped focusing on my gameplay. I immediately stopped talking to people about arduinos, and started studying and practicing again. Following a couple of mediocre local performances where I lost to lloD for the first time in a while, and to Zain for the first time in a year, I buckled down for the regional we had coming up. There, I lost to Junebug 2-3 in Winners (a much better set than we’d had previously), and after a shaky start in losers, I 3-0’d both lloD and Zain to lose another 2-3 set with Junebug (though I had a fat lead 2-stock lead on game 4 on set point, and I threw it away). Even though I got 2nd, I acknowledged it as a concrete step up from my performances in the prior couple of weeks. It was also my first tournament as VGBC | Rishi.

I felt good about my practice following the event. I was back on track, no longer overly distracted, and had my eyes on the prize at EVO.

Boss Rush

The weekend before EVO, I was graciously flown out by SAKGamingTV to Arizona where I entered two tournaments: their Friday weekly, and Boss Rush, a monthly tournament where they feature a top player – July featured me. The timing was a bit unfortunate, so the tournament was not huge, but it featured me, Axe, Medz, and a few other strong AZ players. Sometimes I write events out of order, so let me clarify that this was actually the first tournament I entered after beginning to read How Champions Think, so it was my trial run for a refined mindset.

The Friday weekly was fun, and I won relatively easily. The next day is when the other top players showed up. I made it through Winners unscathed, defeating Medz 3-0 (with a satisfying 4-stock on game 3) in winner semis. I lost to Axe 0-3 in Winners Finals. I had been studying the matchup a bit, but I still have work to do. My edgeguards were almost completely ineffectual, but my juggles and neutral are relatively strong. I need to clean up his stocks better, because the longer he lives, the more at risk Marth becomes. Hopefully I’ll chat with Moon soon – I think if we combine what we’re doing, we’ll both become pretty strong in the matchup.

In Losers Finals, I had a rematch with Medz. He ended up beating me 2-3, although I almost made a sick 3-stock comeback on Dreamland game 5! I remember the whole weekend missing the timing on my SDI off Fox Uthrow Uair when I was at 120%+, and I made mental notes to delay my timing very slightly. I landed the timing right when I needed it against Medz on my last stock, so that was a good feeling. Even though I lost, I felt that it was matchup weakness rather than my getting nervous or distracted or not being in good shape to perform. I will never feel too bad about those losses, because in cases like this, I can isolate the causes of loss to what happens in the game. And that leads to concrete next steps.

Thank you to the AZ smash scene for being gracious hosts, and for showing me a hype melee scene. Special shoutouts to SAKGamingTV for flying me out, and to Taj for hosting me for the weekend!

I got home on that Sunday night. The flight out to EVO was Thursday night, so I decided to do what I did to prepare last year for EVO. Not overly worry about in-game details. Instead, I would just play a bit everyday, and generally stay healthy. That Tuesday night I did play for a few hours with Zain to brush up on my Marth ditto, because I knew I had Moon in my projected bracket. But I didn’t go too hard in-game that week. I tried to wake up at reasonable hours (on Pacific Time), to eat on a normal schedule, and stay relaxed.

Now, 1700 words later, let’s jump into the actual event: EVO 2017.

Friday

Two years in a row, I ended up with the earliest time-slot for round 1 pools. Last year, however, I was up at 5:30am for my 8am pool. I went for a run, showered, warmed up in the room, etc. But this year, the earliest pool was 10am, so me, my brother, and Mike were all up around 8am and played for a bit before heading over.

I honestly don’t remember too much of my pool, except the match I played on stream, after which people told me Scar was “going in” on me. I actually watched the video and thought the commentary was pretty funny and ironic – basically he was 1) surprised that I used a roll-in setup to space a tipper Dsmash on Puff, 2) annoyed that I changed my tag, and 3) upset that I called him out on Twitter after he and Mang0 trash-talked me and Milkman on commentary during our set at SSC15. I have to say I thought it was ironic because he was upset that I called him out for not talking about the match, but talked about this during a match. I really want to clarify that I’m not salty about this at all (I was definitely salty about the SSC15 thing – I was a young smasher back then, with only so much mainstage experience… plz no judge), and I think the commentary for the match was really entertaining. Sometimes you have to make the best with what you have for round 1 pools where it’s just top players beating newbies.

And as a show of good faith, I’ll reveal that I’m 0-1 versus Scar, lifetime. I’ve definitely mentioned this story before, but at Pound 4 in 2010 I had an extremely close set versus HugS – last stock last hit, Luigi versus Samus (I was a Luigi main at this point). After I lost, I was ready to play the REAL beast in our pool: Scar. He was also Pakman’s training partner (another Luigi). I got wrecked.

But I digress!

I liked the scheduling this time around far better than last year, where I was up at 5:30am and had round 2 pools at 8pm that night (where my first round was Armada). This year, I was done with round 1 before noon and could relax the rest of the day. I checked out the vendors and booths and watched other games, and played a bit in my room with Mike and Cactuar. I finished off the day with Mike at ‘ONE by Cirque du Soleil,’ which was a Michael Jackson-themed show. It was awesome. Last year we saw ‘KA’ at the MGM, which was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Definitely check out any Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas.

Saturday

I got up at 9am and grabbed breakfast to-go for myself, lloD, and Mike. I brought it up to the room where they’d finished getting ready and we warmed up for a bit. Round 2 pools started at noon. The night before, and the morning of, I was mentally preparing. I was using visualization exercises and thinking positively. Then just let myself wander until I needed to play and get in the zone. It’s good to practice this.

In the past, I’ve talked about an “unsustainable mindset” where you work really hard to lock yourself into the “champion mentality” for long periods of time. Then, I tried something more flexible. This time around, I think I found a better balance. I’d written on my phone home screen: “Balance relaxation with concentration.” It’s okay to relax, because I’m confident and because I know I will access my peak performance when I sit down to play.

My first opponent was OkamiBW, a Sheik that I had been told was very good. I’ve dropped sets to many Sheiks seeded below me. But I was going into this set confidently. I knew that even if I went down 0-1 and got pushed to my last stock, my speed, punish game, neutral game, and edgeguarding were strong enough to win me the set. I took game 1, barely lost game 2, and won game 3 pretty solidly.

Next I played Moon on stream. That set is online for anyone to watch, and it’s pretty entertaining so I suggest checking it out. I think both Moon and I had some weaknesses in the matchup, but my weaknesses led to me getting Fsmashed and gimped, so despite a very strong opening game 1 from me, I lost a close set. Like my set with Medz, I felt that I could isolate the contributing factors of my loss to in-game interactions only. So I acknowledged the loss, rallied my senses, and hurtled into losers bracket.

My first match was actually against another Marth named Umarth. I felt myself get slightly distracted, and perhaps a bit overly cocky in game 1, and let him come back on me. I was down 0-1 in losers bracket. But this really didn’t faze me. I jumped back into it, once again achieving a balance of relaxation, concentration, and confidence. I believe I won games 2 and 3 with two 3-stocks.

My last opponent in the pool was Drephen. There was a part of my brain that had been worried when I saw him in my projected bracket. If there were ever a Sheik player with very strong strengths and very weak weaknesses, it’s him. But I didn’t feel worry when I went to play him. Rather than think about what could go wrong, I was thinking about what I could be doing right to counteract his strengths and abuse his weaknesses. It was game 3, but I ended up winning. Later, when talking with lloD and some others, I described it as “winning pretty convincingly.” lloD said it wasn’t that convincing… perhaps my mindset colored my perception of how close the games actually were.

In any case, I was happy to overcome both Sheiks in my bracket, even though I was seeded to beat them both.

Prior to EVO, I’d briefly looked over my projected bracket. Sometimes I make a point of not reviewing the projections at all, preferring to “be prepared for any and all opponents.” But there are numerous things outside of my control, such as others coming to me and talking to me about my bracket. So I decided to look over my bracket, acknowledge the possibilities, and move on. The most important thing I can do, in any case, is work on myself rather than worry about my opponents.

I’ve always said that it’s better to study matchups than to study players, and I think this is true in most cases. In some cases, where there is tons of footage of a player, it can be valuable to study them. But if your ability to keep track of a player’s habits while juggling the ins and outs of a matchup is subpar in any way, studying a player could harm you more than it could help you. I had this conversation briefly with Drephen later in the day – he mentioned that he saw me in his projected bracket and studied my sets against Plank, HAT, Junebug, and lloD’s Sheik for a couple of weeks. My argument against that was that you never know what sort of preparation your opponent has done between the time of the recording and the time you play them in person. If you are overly focused on a few habits you’ve picked up from recorded video, you might not be paying as much attention to what’s actually happening. Drephen’s defense was, “I believe players always revert to old habits.” This is fair enough. Like I said, the answer to whether or not it’s worth it to study opponents depends a lot on the opponent and the player (e.g. it makes sense for Armada to be studying Hungrybox versus Fox).

Back to the point – when I looked at my projected losers’ bracket, I saw both Ice and Silent Wolf. But I didn’t give it much thought, because I knew anything can happen. Lo and behold, anything did happen. Rather than facing a losers bracket of top Foxes, my first round was Blea Gelo, who had defeated Ice and lost to Swedish (if he’d lost to Ice, and Ice had beaten Swedish, I would have played Swedish for the 8th time this year). He was the first person I’ve played against that also uses a direct-feed game audio setup (I started doing this the week of Smash’n’Splash 3). We had some audio issues at first, but fixed it. I defeated him 2-0.

On the other side, I played winner of Nintendude and HMW. Where was Silent Wolf? He’d been defeated by Brandon. Like I said, looking far ahead in your bracket is only so useful. Mike beat Brandon, and he and I were slated to play each other… AGAIN! At EVO 2016, we played together the whole weekend, roomed together, then played in round 1 of losers top 32. This was the exact same round in the exact same scenario, ironically enough.

I’ve talked a bit about my experience against Ice Climbers. I started learning way more about the matchup when Mike still lived in Maryland and we played sporadically. I talked with dizzkidboogie about the matchup last fall, specifically about Marth platform camping. I felt like the way I played it and the way he started to play it made the matchup feel too even. So I did more analysis on Ice Climbers movement and frame data and started to abuse their weaknesses harder. This was all after dizz 3-0’d me at Genesis 4. Since then, I beat ChuDat in 2 sets to 1, and at this year’s EVO I beat Mike 2-0. That leaves me and Mike at 1-1 at EVOs. Hopefully that doesn’t happen again, or we’ll end up in a tiebreaker scenario.

After beating Mike, I Was faced with yet another Marth. This guy is pretty good: PewPewU. When he sat down, he made a point to pronounce my name correctly (Rishi rhymed with ‘fishy’), which I appreciated.

Like in my set against Moon, I started off very strong. We played two games on Yoshi’s Story. After my strong start, however, he heavily abused my drift and “coming-down” habits. My edgecancel Dairs were Utilt’d, my shield drops were Fsmash’d, and so forth. I lost 2-0. This was another loss in which I felt I could identify what happened in-game that I needed to work on in the future. It was humbling.

I want to shoutout both Moon and PPU – they’re both extremely nice guys with great mindsets. I know I’m close to being grouped with them as a top Marth. I think I’m still a small step behind them, along with my buddy Zain. Although Zain and I have both shown we can play on the big stage and take names, neither of us has yet to make any top 8s or even top 12s at a major. But you’ll see us there soon.

And so I finished off EVO 2017 at 17th place. 17th is my highest placing at a major, and this is the 3rd 17th placing I’ve earned. All three were in 2017: Genesis 4, CEO Dreamland, and EVO 2017.

The rest of the evening was pretty relaxed. I played friendlies with people, did some teams with lloD, dizz, and Colbol, and watched top 8. Here is the highlight, though:

I was standing around with lloD and got a notification on my phone that Alliance followed me on Twitter. I said to my brother, “that’s weird.” Then this guy I didn’t recognize came over to me and said, “Armada would like to play with you, could you come with me?” So I went over to the station and warmed Armada up for Mew2King (I later noticed that the reason Alliance followed me is because they DM’d me asking to meet him).

This was the first time Armada and I had played since EVO 2016. I will not try to extrapolate off of the friendlies that we played, but I can tell you what happened. I sat down and said, “You have Jason?” He responded, “Yup, the classic.” I said, “I’m way better than him at this matchup anyways.” Our games were relatively close, though I didn’t take a game. I could feel when I got close, he would turn up the jets. Again, I will not, and nor should you, extrapolate any meaning from these friendlies. We were both just playing the matchup to warm him up for his important, upcoming match.

He asked me, “What about fighting lloD is harder than fighting me?” I told him I was finding hits easier in neutral. I also brought lloD with me to observe, and lloD talked with us about the matchup as well. If you guys notice, Armada almost always takes port 1. Following lloD’s advice, however, Armada played port 4 against Mew2King. As lloD explained, Peach’s Dthrow Dash Attack works on a wider range of %s when Peach has higher port.

It’s interesting how well Mew2King does in the Peach matchup despite not using all of Marth’s tools – I hit Armada with a few pivot Fsmash tipper kills, but we both knew that wouldn’t be an issue against Jason, because he doesn’t believe he’s capable of executing it. I think he can, but perhaps it’s a mental block.

I should also mention that M2K sought lloD’s help on Friday night, and has asked me for tips in DMs occasionally, but lloD was playing PM bracket and it’s easier for me to give tips in person. For the record, I almost always help people when they ask, as long as I am not otherwise occupied. I’ve always admired M2K’s willingness to ask for help, though he doesn’t always do so in the most convenient ways. This was the first time Armada had asked me or lloD for any help, and we were both happy to oblige. It’s not everyday you get to play with the #1 player in the world, after all.

I don’t want to get too off-track, but I want to say I have the utmost respect for Armada as a player. He advocates for the Melee community, he takes his work very seriously, and he is a genuinely nice person. Shoutouts to that guy, a true champion.

The night ended with the Wavedash Games party, where I had VIP Access, which means I got to try Icons: Combat Arena. I’d had a couple opportunities in the past to try the game, but scheduling never worked out, so this was my first exposure.

I have to say, the visuals and sound seemed a bit clunky to me. But I often feel that way with new platform fighters, and I’m sure it would just take getting used to. I saw there was a sword character, so naturally I gravitated toward her. My first game was against Bladewise and we did a Zhurong ditto. The movement felt good in terms of dash-dancing and wavedashing, but I would trip over myself when attempting to JC grab as it would turn into a SHNair. I finished the game with a Ken Combo. Classic.

I played Kidd a bit, too. I don’t have too much to say. My first impression of the game was decent. There is a lot of work to be done, and it seems to me that the devs are taking the feedback seriously. To give any meaningful feedback, I would need to sit down with the game for at least several hours. I hope to do so in the near future.

Sunday and Monday

The tournament was over for me and Melee, but one of my favorite parts of EVO is the spectacle of finals, so I didn’t want to miss it. We went to watch sm4sh. I was surprised at the huge crowds leaving the arena before sm4sh started – the arena was not very full. If I’m being completely honest, I was mildly bored with the gameplay, but still invested in Salem who I was rooting for (and Nairo, until he got knocked out). It’s kind of weird rooting for someone and getting hype when they win, but being bored most of the match. I appreciate the intricate conditioning he does and the swift shifts between defensive and aggressive play, but sometimes it just isn’t that entertaining to watch.

If you kept track of my tweets, someone behind me was woken up by a security guard and told it was his “second warning” – he would actually be kicked out if he fell asleep again. His response was, “This game is so boring.” Damn.

Later, a second guard told him, “No yawning!” I’m really, really not joking. My best guess is that they know people are drinking in Vegas, and if someone passes out due to alcohol or drugs, that’s a liability on the hotel and arena event staff. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

lloD and most of the VGBC crew left after sm4sh, but Mike and I stayed to watch Street Fighter. I actually left before the very end because I was getting pretty exhausted, but I love watching SFV. I noticed a significant shift in Punk’s demeanor for Grand Finals. I’ve always associated him with happy-go-lucky play, and lightheartedness. CEO was the perfect exhibition of this. But his eyes were set, his forehead creased, and he was sweating. He was really serious, and I think it affected his gameplay. He seemed to care more about this title than any of his other numerous wins. Ultimately, I think that’s what undid him. He really wasn’t playing like himself. Tokido smelled blood in the water and went in for the kill.

The next day, lloD and I had a chill day in Vegas. We ate good food, saw David Copperfield, and our flight left Vegas at 11pm.

Looking Ahead

Big life changes in store for me in the near future. That means I won’t be at GOML. I will be at SSC and Shine, but won’t be able to focus on smash as much in general around these events. I’ll be doing my best given the circumstances, regardless. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated.

Thank you as always for supporting me in this crazy journey, and thanks to everyone who takes the time to read these light novels I call “bl0g posts.”

 

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EVO 2017 (And Everything Before)

Brief Musings as Summer Begins

This post will provide brief thoughts on a few topics. I wrote it today on the plane back from AZ. It’s a quickie. Here goes.

VGBC | Rishi:

First things first – I have officially changed my tag from “SmashG0D” to just my first name: Rishi. It rhymes with “Fishy.” Tell your friends, spam it in Twitch chat. The most common pronunciation mistake is “ree-shee,” but if you remember “Rishi Fishy” or something like that, it should be easy.

Why have I changed my tag, you might ask? Some have speculated that the name change was contingent on my signing with the pro team at VGBootCamp. On the contrary, Aposl encouraged me to keep my tag as “SmashG0D,” and GimR had no real preference. Changing my tag to Rishi was something I had been considering for a while, and I thought that my signing with VGBC would be a good opportunity to take advantage of a moment’s publicity to spread the word.

My main reason is practicality – people misspell “SmashG0D” as “Smash God,” “SmashGod,” and “Smash G0D.” I’m pretty picky about the exact spelling, but I can’t control how the name ends up on social media, so it became harder than necessary to find me. I want to streamline everything moving forward. Some people suggested that I just change my name to “SmashGod” and drop the 0… but that’s a dumb tag, right?! The zero makes it way cooler. Definitely.

In any case, I am officially Rishi (like ‘Fishy’) now. I’ll miss the SmashG0D memes and copypastas but I’m sure you guys can come up with new ones :P.

I’ve been a free agent for a long time now. I signed with Haven eSports a couple of years ago, but it was a start-up that never really gained any ground and ultimately evaporated. So for all intents and purposes, this is the true start to my esports career. What this means for me moving forward is a better ability to travel to events and support my smash career. The added legitimacy and exposure of VGBC will help keep me top of mind, which actually matters. The more well-known you are, the better practice you tend to get. It’s just kind of how things work. Just like everything in life, networking is how you get anywhere in life. I’m definitely glad I held out until now – I’d had a few other offers on the table, but recognizing one’s own worth is important, and ultimately pays off.

SSBMRank Summer 2017:

I stated in my Yahoo Esports (RIP) interview with Tafo that one of my goals this year was to establish myself in the top 40, and break into the top 30. As of today, I am officially (barely) top 40, which is pretty cool. But to anyone that doesn’t know my opinion on rankings like this, I would refer you to an earlier post on this blog where I talk about SSBMRank 2016 (https://supersmash.blog/2016/12/29/ssbmrank-2016/).

The gist of it is that I view rankings as a summary of your results up to a point. I think Tafo’s system works pretty well, but there are always biases when you have panelists. At the end of the day, I trust the SSBMRank more than I would a Glicko or ELO system, because it’s hard to account for a lack of overlap in results. But some players will inherently be overranked or underranked due to exposure bias. The classic example is West Coast bias, which does not actually mean that West Coast panelists are overranking their own players – it means that West Coast players tend to be more visible in the smash scene for whatever reason. But that’s just an example. It happens in both directions all across the board.

Honestly the best part of the SSBMRank update is that I can now lay claim to the title of #1 Brown Smasher, a title formerly held by Prince “Farming HugS86” Abu. I didn’t even notice until he messaged me about it. Kappa. And shoutouts to the other smashers in MD/VA who are on that hard grind: lloD, Zain, Chillin, and Junebug. The former three landed spots in the top 50 as well, and Junebug will be a household name once he’s attended a few majors this year and early 2018. I guarantee it. In fact, I predict, if Junebug attends SSC, Shine, BH7, Genesis, and a couple others, he’ll be in contention for top 50 by summer 2018 at the very latest. He probably already has the skill level for it, but it’s easy to say that about a lot of players. The fact of the matter is that you have to make a couple upsets before you get decent seeding at any major, and then you can go far enough to make a name for yourself and get the exposure you need.

Summer Events:

I was sad to miss out on Royal Flush, as was lloD. He was graduating from college that weekend, which is cool I guess. At least we both made it to Smash’n’Splash. It was a slightly underwhelming tournament for me. It was run well and it was fun, but I didn’t make any big wins that I wanted, and lost early in losers to Kels. Kels is really good, and the fact that he’s my “worst” loss at a major isn’t too shabby for 2017. But I said the same thing about Colbol last time! Can’t let myself slip. Time to get back on top.

It’s okay though. I got to let lloD and Zain have their time to shine. lloD had a close game 5 set with Axe, and I honestly thought he was going to win. If he’d beaten Axe, his next opponent was Duck. Not to take away from Duck’s skill or preparation, but lloD has beaten Duck the last two times they played, so the odds would be slightly in his favor. But alas, lloD lost to Axe, then beat Android before losing to Wizzrobe in losers. He actually played sick against Wizzy. I’ve typically considered lloD to be weaker at the Falcon matchup, but he beat Smuckers earlier this year (apparently Smuckers doesn’t really lose to Peach players), and the practice showed through in his play. I have the recording on my phone… I suppose I should upload that at some point.

Zain beat Leffen, too. I guess that’s pretty cool. Heh. We all knew he could do it. Zain is a monster versus spacies. My heart stopped when Leffen shined Zain last stock on game 5, but some miracle brought Zain back to the stage. Chillin finally broke his rough streak, too, getting some wins on the board after a shaky start to 2017. He just beat dizzkidboogie again, followed by a victory over his brand new teammate teammate (yes, I meant to say that twice) ChuDat. Hoping to see that momentum carry through.

Next up for me is EVO. After that, everything is TBD. I have to make a major-ish life decision tomorrow (more on that later) that will significantly affect the course of my next few months. As of now, I’m certainly hoping to get to SSC and Shine. GOML is looking less likely at this point, unfortunately. Definitely BH7. Man, there are too many majors.

That’s all for now. Short and sweet. I’ll talk more about my actual gameplay and preparation and such in another post after EVO, probably.

 

Brief Musings as Summer Begins

My 2017 Goals

They say you should always strive toward the top. I always used to gear my decisions toward reaching #1, but a brief conversation with Ice last year led me on a path to believing that may not be the best way to improve. Ice suggested setting frequent, achievable goals, rather than playing for years and never achieving your goal of “being #1.”

I first tried this out at Genesis 4. Instead of telling myself “just place as high as you can!!”, which is only moderately rewarding if you place well, I told myself: “get top 32.” I was coming off my above-average performance at Eden where I beat DJ and Prof, so I felt that it was a goal I could achieve if I really played well. Lo and behold, I ended up defeating Swedish and Prof in winners, before being knocked out by Westballz and dizzkidboogie at 17th place. And I have to say, it felt very good. I remember looking at Genesis 3 results for SSBMRank 2016 and being impressed by anyone who made it into the top 48. But to get 17th?! It was a good feeling.

I told myself that my goal for the remainder of Q1 was to maintain. If I improved and did even better, then that’s great. But the thing about Melee is that, oftentimes, your success can greatly depend on your bracket. The same player can get top 8 at a national, and 65th at a super-major. This is also why we look at Wins and Losses so carefully. There are 26 characters in the game, and players of all different backgrounds and styles. I was coming off a top 32 placing at Genesis 4, but I knew that maintaining that level of play would be a challenge in itself as I entered more tournaments throughout the Spring season. So although maintaining the sort of Win/Loss level I started off with at G4 seemed like an unambitious goal, I think it was no easy feat.

For the most part, I believe I accomplished this goal. The first big tournament after G4 was Smash Valley V in Pennsylvania, which featured players such as Lucky, MikeHaze, Swedish, Duck, KJH, and MD/VA threats like myself, lloD, Chillin, Zain, and so forth. Fun fact, it was also scary Jerry’s first tournament besides Xanadu (though he didn’t perform nearly as well as he did at Royal Flush). At this tournament, my first big match was against Colbol, which I only found out minutes before I played him. I chose not to examine the projected bracket before this event, because I occasionally overthink the matches I have upcoming, and get in my own head.

I’m glad I didn’t overthink. I played extremely well versus Colbol – I moved nicely, got a lot of openings, had decent punishes, etc. I ended up defeating him 3-0. My next round was against MikeHaze. It was an extremely sloppy set (in all fairness, it was sloppy on both sides). I dropped guaranteed punishes, didn’t move as nicely, got gimped a few times. But that’s how the game goes sometimes. Mike ended up defeating me 2-3 (and went on to perform very well the remainder of the tournament).

In losers, my first match was against Duck, who defeated my 0-3. The games were close-ish, and he stole away one game on Yoshi’s with a sick gimp. I received some notes from a fellow Marth in the R&D Discord which, upon reviewing that set, will be very helpful for my versus-Samus game in the future. My set with Duck occurred pretty early in bracket because Duck was knocked out of winners early by my brother lloD. I believe it was a reverse 3-0 in their winners set… but I could be wrong.

I believe I placed 9th at that tournament. Not too bad. I solidly beat Colbol, and lost to MikeHaze (arguably top 30), and Duck (definitely top 20). Though one of my goals currently is to start consistently top-8-ing events of this caliber – both Eden and Smash Valley V top 8s were a meager one win out of my reach.

A few weeks later, lloD and I would travel to NYC to compete at Apollo III. More travel experience, more experience competing in unfamiliar environments, etc. I wanted to keep doing this sort of thing, and I’m glad I did. In singles, I was seeded 3rd behind Swedish and Slox, and right above lloD. I made my way through winners pretty unscathed, defeating Slox 3-0 in winner semis for the first time. Slox actually beat me twice in 2016 – once at Pound, and once at Olympus. Both times he used Sheik. This time he played Fox. I think he’s been committing harder to Fox, and perhaps realized that my versus-Sheik game improved since I beat Swedish at Genesis 4. One way or another, I ended up getting a rematch with Swedish in Winners Finals. I’m not really happy with how I played against him that set – there were a lot of mess-ups from my end, and despite winning game 1, I lost 1-3. I beat lloD pretty convincingly in Losers Finals (he beat iBDW and… someone else to get there – iBDW beat Slox in Losers’ Quarters). My second set with Swedish looked very similar – I won game 1, but lost the set 1-3. I actually played significantly cleaner in that set, so I was less unhappy with the loss.

This was also a decent teams tournament for me and lloD. At Smash Valley V, our teams synergy was all out of wack. This time, we did pretty well. We played all Peach/Fox until we were down 0-2 against Swedish and Slox in grands… my Fox ran out of steam and I was getting destroyed. We switched to Marth/Peach and played significantly better, but ended up losing. Since then, I’ve worked a bit more on Marth in teams, and we’ve experimented with both teams.

The following month, I entered CEO Dreamland. This was probably my worst performance of the Spring season. I played Colbol in pools, where he beat me 2-0. I knew he was in my pool ahead of time, and was trying to approach the stage with a different mindset. I think, ultimately, I didn’t do a good job of accessing my “peak play” when I was in the moment. Perhaps I was too caught up in things that didn’t matter. I dropped some easy stuff, and Colbol was playing amazing. He landed huge punishes off openings, and had an extremely good read on my recoveries. Like, extremely good. Nobody goes that deep for shinespikes. He also went on to thrive in the Marth gauntlet, defeating both Zain and The Moon before finally falling to PewPewU. What a legend. Colin is ballin’.

I had a close call in losers with Uncle Mojo. This set was a bo5, and every game except game 5 was a last stock scenario (I won game 5 by 2 stocks). I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep on Mojo, so I’m glad I didn’t.

My next match was against Swedish. I think I played pretty well against Swedish, but, again, lost 1-3. If I had tuned a few things up, I think I could have taken the set. But no major complaints about that set regardless.

I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get to run into more players at that tournament – I had beaten Colbol already this season, and that was my 4th set against Swedish at a big tournament. There were plenty of other players there that I wanted to add to my list, but that’s how it goes.

That was my last big tournament of the first third of 2017. I think Colbol was my “worst” loss, which, to be honest, is not an awful worst loss to have, because that guy is pretty damn good. The rest of my losses were all top 30 players, and I’d racked up several good wins. I think I achieved my goal of maintaining.

As for in-region events, I don’t particularly care about those as much. As far as I’m concerned, in-region events are training grounds for the events that really matter. At least when it’s against the same people I play all the time. The biggest blemish on my in-region record is my history with Junebug in 2017 – I think he’s beaten me four times. He actually mentioned to me yesterday that he hasn’t lost to a Marth in 2017. Hopefully I can change that soon, heh. Besides that, I have a decent or good record with everyone.

Chu came to one Xanadu when he was campaigning for Summit votes, and I beat him in Winners Finals, lost Grand Finals set 1, and won the tournament over him in the second set. I was undefeated against lloD in all of 2017 until last Saturday, where he took the first set of GFs over me before I won the tournament in a 3-0 on set 2. He also, beat me in Losers Finals at The Cave on Monday night, but I have no-sleep johns…

I graduated with my M.S. on Monday morning, but unfortunately only slept three hours due to the early ceremony. I took a brief nap in the afternoon, and woke up at 6:30pm, having to make a split decision on whether to attend The Cave. I decided to swallow my ego and risk my local win-streak of the past week in order to experiment on how I’d play in tournament on limited sleep. I’m glad I went, because against the same opponents in a local environment, I was able to pinpoint exactly how limited sleep affects my play. The answer basically lies in mental capacity – I could feel that my mind was less flexible in adapting to my opponents, and less willing to move on from mistakes. It’s pretty interesting.

Zain actually beat me in Winners Finals of that tournament, beating me in a Marth ditto for the first time since June 2016. I remember when he beat me for the first time last June, I was pretty salty, but after 2 or 3 back-and-forth sets, I stopped losing to him, period. That continued throughout 2017, and I beat him 3-0 at the Xanadu monthly on Saturday. When we played on Monday, though, I felt like he had reviewed our previous set, because the stuff I kept doing that usually worked stopped working (I confirmed with him after that he did, in fact, review our set). His punish game was also way better. So he came prepared. I was down 0-2, then won the next two games, but lost pretty solidly in game 5.

I’m holding both my L’s against lloD and Zain, though, because it was my decision to enter and compete. You’ve got to leave your johns at the door, and the only reason I mention them here is to talk about how I learned from the experience. Zain, lloD, and I all competed at the last three locals in our region (Xanadu weekly, Xanadu regional, and Cave weekly), so it was a good way to do an experiment.

So here we are. I entered at least one big-ish tournament in January, February, March, and April. May has been hectic due to finals and graduation, and I missed Royal Flush because lloD graduated college that weekend. But Smash’n’Splash 3 is next weekend, and I’m confirmed. It’s time to think about my goals moving forward.

There is going to be a top 50 SSBMRank update at the end of this summer. I think, currently, I have a strong argument for top 50, considering my only losses are in the top 30 (knock-on-wood) and I have a plethora of good wins across the top 100 list. I really want to establish myself in the top 30, but with only a few tournaments left before the top 50 comes out, top 40 might be more realistic. That being said, it’s impossible to know how data will be interpreted, and because the ranking period is so large, I can’t base my goals for Smash’n’Splash 3, EVO, and whatever else, based on how they’ll affect my overall rank.

I will set more specific goals for myself as brackets become clearer for these events. But in general, my goal is to take a solid step forward from what I’ve established for myself so far in 2017. That means if I’m back at Genesis 4, and I’ve beaten Swedish and Prof already, I’m ready to defeat Westballz and dizzkidboogie. I’m ready to get that next win. If I’m at Smash Valley V, I’m definitely stepping into top 8. The list of players I beat at each event is going to get longer and longer.

I also have to figure out how these goals will fit into the rest of my goals, such as working on my career now that I’ve graduated. I also aim to be signed by a team. The sooner I get signed, the more events I can enter, and the more rapidly I can improve.

In the meantime, I’m studying videos, practicing on my stream (which is now Partnered on Twitch! Shoutouts to the #G0DSquad – twitch.tv/smashg0d), and bettering myself. Time to make moves!

Thanks for reading – I know it’s been a while since my last post. I’ll be updating the bl0g with how the summer is going.

Ciao, for now.

My 2017 Goals

Genesis 4

What an electric start to 2017 this tournament was! I usually organize these posts in loose chronological order, and sprinkle the content with digressions. This post won’t be any different. I’m always open to criticism on the format of these posts, but for the most part, it seems that people are happy to read from beginning to end, so they don’t miss any of the content I throw in.

The Weeks Leading Up to Genesis

When you reach a certain level in smash, it’s easy to fall into the habit of not practicing outside of tournaments, or maybe outside of fests. You kind of assume that after 10 years, you’ll be able to execute most of your actions properly, and so daily practice isn’t really necessary. When reviewing my own matches, I started noticing simple mistakes that would cost me in matches. For example, while dash-dancing and wavedashing with Marth, I would occasionally do a horizontal airdodge instead of the intended wavedash. This halts my momentum in movement, and gives the opponent a brief opening. In a matchup like Marth versus Sheik, that brief opening is all it takes to get hit by an Ftilt. That one missed wavedash at 80% gets Marth hit by an Ftilt, which leads into Fair. Then, from a strong position (dash-dancing versus Sheik), I end up in an awful position (getting edgeguarded versus Sheik).

Looking more carefully at this sort of mistake helped me more fully understand why I wasn’t seeing success despite feeling like I had a strong theoretical grasp of certain matchups. Let me emphasize that this isn’t the same thing as having a problem executing a punish game or knowing the best way to recover in a matchup – this is as simple as landing a wavedash when I want to wavedash. Other similar mistakes include missed wavelands on platforms (accidental airdodges), tournament-winners (ledge-jump, which is extremely unsafe and always accidental), and so forth.

What’s the solution? Practice everyday. Or almost everyday. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I began regular practice once the new year began – either by going to a tournament, inviting people over and streaming a fest, or practicing by myself for 1-2 hours. If I practiced myself, I would tell myself I’d only play for 30 minutes, but I always found something I wanted to practice more, or discovered something new to start practicing.

Let me contextualize the narrative a bit. My first tournament of the year was at the Fantastic Store weekly in Virginia. This tournament included local talent such as Zain, Junebug, Cool Lime, and so forth. Zain beat Junebug on the opposing side of bracket, and so I played Zain in Winners Finals. Zain beat me for the first time last June, and we went back and forth for a few weeks, but he hasn’t beaten me since then. Our sets are usually pretty close, though. I beat him in Winners, then I try Fox in set 1 of grands and lose, but I 3-0 him in the next set with Marth. It looked like his punish game off throws was a bit weaker than mine, and in classic Zain fashion, he very quickly started compensating for an identified weakness (which made for great practice in the coming weeks).

The next day, I went to Xanadu, where I got 2nd place to Plank (losing 2 sets to him). This was unfortunate considering, just the week before, I made a troll post on the MD/VA Melee Facebook page calling out Maryland for being bad after VA had seven players listed on the SSBMRank Top 100 (if you don’t know me very well, you might be surprised to learn I have a bit of a trolling streak… but now you know). Plank has been one of my demons in MD/VA, and we go back and forth all the time. He’s extremely good at the Marth matchup, and our sets have frustrated me time and time again. Part of the frustration was the fact that I would win anytime I decided to commit to Fox for the set. This led me to question whether I should be bothering with Marth versus Sheik at all, and whether I should just stick with Fox. The downside to that is I would have to worry about ensuring my Fox was warm anytime I had to play against a Sheik.

That weekend, I hosted a big fest at my place and continued my daily practice. The next week at Xanadu, I was looking very, very clean. The practice clearly paid off. The night before, I also did a Marth versus Sheik analysis on my stream, and mixed it in with actual practice. It felt good to be immersed in the game, and have my daily practice show through in cleaner gameplay. Unfortunately, Plank was not in attendance at this Xanadu so I couldn’t get the runback. I lost to HAT in winner semis, but committed to a losers run, where I 3-0’d him in the runback, and took two sets against Zain to get 1st.

The next day, Chillin came over and we played for a few hours. That was some much-needed Fox practice. Living in Maryland lets me enter more tournaments, but I lose access to our good Fox players who all live in VA (except for Obi, who is on the rise but not quite yet as good as Chillin, Redd, and Milkman). The day after that, I played with Junebug to practice for AEX, a regional event in Philadelphia the next day (exactly one week prior to Genesis 4). This was going to be my last time competing before Genesis – I wanted to relax a bit the week of Genesis and let my prior weeks of practice sink in. So after two weeks, I struggled with and worked at the Sheik matchup, and wanted to see if I could take AEX home. Here, I got my rematch against Plank in winner semis. And I lost. It was literally a last hit scenario on game 5, but I lost. Those scenarios are really tough versus Sheik due to the fact that all of her moves lead to a kill, and Marth completely loses kill setups when Sheik is at high % – he needs a stray hit. And then in losers, I lost 0-3 to Junebug, who hasn’t beaten me in quite some time. Needless to say, I was discouraged. In fact, I tweeted out that it was time to stop being so stubborn about Marth versus Sheik. Why not just play Fox when that is clearly an easier matchup? My Fox is also very strong, in my opinion. So that was the tone for the day.

Three things happened that day that significantly affected how I would approach my G4 bracket..

1) I began thinking about my set with Plank relative to how I played against Sheik previously. I felt far, far better about my gameplan in the matchup. I deeply studied PPMD videos, and a couple other Marth versus Sheik videos, and felt my grasp of the “goals” Marth should aim for at each stage in the matchup was much more solid. The progress was clear, and despite the loss, I began to see a path to success.

2) Pools were released for Genesis 4. As a top 64 seed, I was floated past round 1, so it was easy to see my projected opponent: Swedish Delight (assuming I beat Nightmare). In my head, and in the minds of many others, Swedish is a top 10 player (despite what SSBMRank says). He is known for the “touch-of-death” on spacies. Did I really want to forsake my weeks of practice with Marth against my hardest foreseeable matchup at G4? If I switched to Fox at this point, I would, in a sense, be “cramming” for that match. My Fox is good, but can be hit-or-miss, and I had spent most of my daily practices playing Marth.

3) When I got home, I decided to message PPMD asking for advice on a few points for fighting Sheik. I played Overwatch for a couple hours, then came back and checked Smashboards again… only to discover that not only had PPMD responded, but he had written on my profile eight hours before I messaged him. Apparently he had been watching my set with Plank, and offered me a brief, one-sentence criticism (he’s an expert at this). Following our brief exchange, I felt more confident about what needed work in my gameplan.

Every once in a while, you have to ask for help. Asking for help makes a big difference. I’ve asked for help before (this wasn’t the first time PPMD and I talked about the matchup), but I was still only as good as I was. Maybe I would find a greater benefit from asking Sheik players for advice, rather than just Marth players.

Let me now give a shoutout to Captain Faceroll. The losses I’d suffered to Sheik over this period of time included a ton of getting “stairway-to-heaven” tech-chased on the platforms. I sort of assumed that Sheik could always get grabs, so I picked “optimal” tech-rolls and tried to take as little damage as possible… I decided to DM Faceroll and ask if he had any tips for getting out of this. He taught me that tech-in-place buffer-spotdodge beats waveland grab (but loses to aerial). This was huge for me. It’s not an end-all solution, but I now had a mix-up game on the platform. I had more options, and more ways to escape being combo’d or tech-chased by Sheik. If I’d never asked Faceroll for help on that specific scenario, I still would be tech-rolling every time.

I then asked Plank for help. Despite a fun rivalry over the past few weeks (Plank was fired up from my post calling out Maryland), he was, of course, very willing to help out. He came over to my place the Tuesday following AEX and we played for a few hours. I still wanted to take it easy on the days leading up to Genesis, but I thought training with a Sheik who really knew the matchup would be worth it. Prior to practicing with Plank, I reviewed my notes over the past year – I noticed that, after not playing a matchup for a while, it’s easy to fall back into poor habits and forget the notes you’ve taken. This is why it’s important to not only take notes, but to study your notes. But I digress. We played, and I felt like I was finally playing the matchup. It also didn’t hurt that Plank excels in the matchup relative to most Sheiks I’ve played.

That was essentially all of my practice leading up to the event, so let’s talk about the event itself!

Genesis 4: Day One

I flew to California at 7am EST on Thursday morning, landing at about 1pm PST. I took it easy most of the day – walked around a bit, explored local food options, picked up my badge, and made sure to sleep extra early.

The next morning, I headed over to the venue to enter the teams tournament with Nintendude. I found out about a week prior that Nintendude retired his Ice Climbers in teams, and now plays Puff. He’s got a solid grip on Puff’s gameplan in teams, but I think our chemistry was a bit lacking. It definitely showed when we got opened up by FatGoku’s Fox in winners finals of our round 1 pool, and ended up getting knocked into losers 0-2. A good litmus test for teams chemistry is the ability to handle a fast opponent who knows how to target-switch well, which FatGoku was. We weren’t prepared.

After Melee teams, I had my sm4sh pool. I didn’t prepare at all for sm4sh. I play no more than once a month since I retired last spring, but I still find it fun. I find Kirby to be especially fun, and he is one of the characters with whom I really feel I can be creative. Over the course of my sm4sh career, I have co-mained Kirby with one other character, and that other character changes from season to season. Most people know me for my Corrin play, when I almost took out Ranai last spring, but I’ve also co-mained Rosalina and Robin. I retired Corrin because I thought her meta became boring at high level (sideB!!!).

There was a brief period in October where I started playing sm4sh again. I played Kirby, and tried picking up Sheik. Sheik wasn’t working out too well, so I tried Lucario. Then Lucario didn’t work out so well. I lost to people I would normally never have lost to when I used those characters. At Olympus, I nearly beat Larry Lurr with Kirby. I 2 stocked his Fox, after which he switched to DK. I played well, but, unfortunately, DK kills Kirby off a grab at 50% on Town & City so I quickly lost my lead. Then, on game 3, he switched to Metaknight and swiftly killed me off top with Dthrow Uair Uair Uair UpB. I nearly came all the way back, but lost. I realized I was playing far better with Kirby than with any of my other characters while in retirement, and the meta evolved to the point where I simply couldn’t pull out pocket characters if I never practiced the game. So I decided to play only Kirby at Genesis.

And then, at Genesis, I was reminded of why I use co-mains. Kirby has a couple of awful matchups, and more often than not, opponents will see my Kirby on the character select screen, and auto-lock one of those awful matchups instead of playing their main. In any case, I lost in winners to 2GG’s very own BAM. He beat me with Sonic in a tight, and fun, set. That said, I don’t think I should have gotten as close as I did to taking game 3. I feel like Sonic should always be able to react to Kirby’s approaches, and pick safe options. Pretty much all of my openings were hard reads on movement or baits on approaches, but it wasn’t enough. In losers, I lost to a Rosalina player (I don’t recall his tag). I swear I was destined to lose this match. We were on game 3, both above 120%, and I hard-read a roll. Somehow, my Usmash connects with the week hit, and it doesn’t kill. Fine. That’s cool. I get him in a tech scenario, read the tech and go for Dair Dsmash. As it was happening, I see that the Dsmash it going to be a week hit, but Rosa should die at 130% anyways, right? If only. So she loved. I got her offstage, without a jump. I read the recovery initiation, and the angle, and come down on her with Kirby rock. That will DEFINITELY kill, right?! Well, Mr. Clutch-Master & Luma techs the hit off the wall and lives. At that point, I was laughing, and I think I got Usmashed out-of-shield for some stray aerial. I walked away from my bracket in good spirits, conceding victory to the true g0ds of Smash.

The rest of this day was really fun. This was a huge benefit to getting floated out of round 1 pools. I didn’t have to worry about reserving another 2-hour spot to play singles, and I could focus more on enjoying the event and the tournament. I tried to meet new people, I checked out all the booths, I played some Rivals of Aether, and so on. I was also on standby for Melee Crews (which turned out to be an unpopular event?) because I was the alternate for Nintendude’s crew. The whole team showed up, though, so I could just sit back.

The highlight of the day was actually the series of money matches I played on TukHouseSmash’s quad-stream. I played with a few guys I’d never met, but who were pretty good. Then, I saw Rudolph. I really admired Rudolph’s play at The Big House 6, so I had to see it firsthand. I sat down to play, and we decided on a best-of-5 set for $5. When I picked Marth, he picked Sheik. I knew he played all the high tiers, but I hadn’t seen his Sheik before. I wasn’t complaining, of course, because I needed Sheik practice for the next day. Even though I had a good grip on what to do in the matchup at this point, it’s important to let your body feel what it’s like to actually execute what needs to be executed.

I can’t remember the exact details of the set, but I believe it started off 1-1. He took game 2, and I counterpicked him to Yoshi’s Story. He switched to Marth, which got me pumped because I knew he was an awesome Marth player. I beat his Marth convincingly, after which he switched to Sheik and I won the set 3-1. Before the second set, he asked my name and I told him who I was. He got really excited then, which was cool – apparently he had heard of me and recognized my face but didn’t put two and two together. He also complimented me on my Marth versus Sheik play (I couldn’t help but laugh given my state of mind only six days prior). I told him that, if he wanted, we could play another best-of-5, and he agreed.

He took some time to think and take notes. Here and there he would take a couple minutes to think between games, as well. I reviewed my notes as well, while there was time. He beat me in the second set 1-3. Naturally, we had to do a tie-breaker! In the third set, I beat him 3-0. Now, I can’t remember if he played Marth again in the second or third set, but it was on FD and I beat him again. Overall, it was a really fun experience and I love playing against his playstyle. He’s not overly technical, rather he’s solid all-around. He will make conscious adjustments in his gameplay, and you have to be on your toes. His playstyle reminded me a bit of Cactuar, with whom I also love to play when I get the chance.

So that was most of day 1. Once again, I headed for bed early.

Genesis 4: Day Two

Teams was first thing in the morning. Nintendude and I played a little better, but we couldn’t really settle on a team between my Marth/Fox and his Puff/Peach. We beat Eikelmann and his partner, but got absolutely decimated by Professor Pro and Silent Wolf’s double Fox team.

The whole weekend, Remzi and I had been lightly trash-talking each other in anticipation of our ARMS money match. In case you didn’t know, Nintendo was sponsoring this event and they brought Nintendo Switch setups fully equipped with ARMS. The line was short, and we jumped in to play. Unfortunately, he beat me, but I will get my revenge!! Nintendo really wasn’t lying when they said the game finds its depth very quickly, but is also easy to pick up. You control both arms independently. At one point, I just alternated punches on Remzi’s defense, and it seemed like there was no response. Later, though, I realized that he could decide to clank punches on one side, or block with one arm, and then pick another option. Plus, every character has unique passive abilities, such as an invisible air-dash, or healing on block. I think it would take some time for me to get used to the motion controls for movement, but the Switch seems cool regardless.

A few MD/VA smashers, plus a couple others, went to get some amazing food at a ramen place down the street, after which I headed to my room to collect myself. I meditated a bit, and lay down, then slowly warmed up. I played for about 40 minutes before heading to the venue to start singles bracket for Melee. I tried to find a setup to play on until I’d get called, but every single friendly setup was taken up by the smashgg ladder. This was pretty frustrating for players who had to play in bracket and had nowhere to warm up. So instead, I just hung around. I was waiting on Nightmare’s match, which he won, and then played him off-stream. Prior to this, I was trying to get myself in tournament mode. This was one of the downsides of being floated through round 1 – my first actual bracket match was going to be difficult. I needed to make sure I started on point, because I couldn’t afford to work up to it in bracket. In doing so, I may have overshot a bit, and ended up feeling really nervous throughout my set with Nightmare. In the end, I sort of brute-forced my way to a 2-0 victory. He’s a solid Marth player, but my punish game was a bit more polished, and that was enough to net me the win.

My match against Swedish Delight was slated for stream. I couldn’t find a Sheik player to warm up against, at first, but I wandered over to the stream warm-up area. There were a lot of top players there, plus the TOs and streamers, and some other guys who seemed to be there to just hang out. I think the “warm-up” aspect of this area could have been executed better, because with extra bodies there who were not actually going to be playing on stream, it got a little cramped. That said, everyone was respectful if you said you had to warm up for a match, and they would move and let you play. Mew2King and Mang0 were playing and I sat down asking if I could get next. The match they were playing, Sheik versus Falco, ended with Mang0 walking off and killing Mew2King with a sideB spike, in classic Mang0 fashion. He left after that – this kind of worked out for me. What better Sheik to play against before Swedish than the #1 ranked Sheik player in the world?!

We actually only played three games. The first game, he beat me and I was reminded what a really, really good Sheik player’s punish game looks like. Game 2, I beat his Sheik. Then he switched to Marth and beat me (I knew I couldn’t convince M2K to play Sheik if I asked him to). In any case, that was all the time I had, and I was up against Swedish.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but the week leading up to Genesis, I had been reading “Inner Game of Tennis.” I may delve deeper into my thoughts on IGOT, but my basic takeaways were the following:

1) Achieving “peak performance” consistently is a tangible goal. One must find the best ways to access the state of mind that allows a player to reach that state. IGOT proposes that this state is one of “relaxed concentration.”

2) Recognizing the difference between your conscious, thought-forming “Self 1” and your physical, action-executing “Self 2” is important. Then, one must recognize that it is Self 2 who actually plays the game, and who allows a competitor to access “peak performance.”

3) There is a relationship between Self 1 and Self 2 that must be developed. One’s ability to manage the relationship is a trainable skill.

In just the first couple of chapters, IGOT had been outlining ideas just like what I’ve talked about on this bl0g, but better articulated. It was amazing. This tool had been at my disposal all along, but I waited more than 10 years after starting competitive smash to pick it up. If you’re reading this, and haven’t read IGOT: don’t wait. Well, maybe wait until you finish this bl0g post. After that, go get the book and read it. Or at least skim it.

Put simply, the mental practice and pre-tournament preparation (I didn’t go into this too deeply, but if you read my post on Eden, you can get an idea of how I prepare for big tournaments) allowed me to access peak performance versus Swedish. Game 1, I barely lost after making a small comeback on Battlefield, after which I made a strong statement with a 3-stock on Yoshi’s Story. I banned Dreamland, of course, and Swedish took me to Fountain of Dreams, of course. I played well, stuck to the gameplan, got my punishes, and got my edgeguards. Full disclosure, when I was up a full stock, I started to lose touch with my “peak performance” side. At this point, actually, I came up with the idea to retweet the tweet I made seven days earlier saying I was going to drop Marth versus Sheik. And then Swedish killed me, and I thought to myself, “How many times have I been in this scenario where Sheik gets a grab and makes the comeback on me?” I knew it was possible. So I did what I had to do, and transitioned my mental state back into the game, and won the game.

It’s a good feeling to win a big set in front of a huge crowd, especially when pretty much the entire world expects you to lose. This was a big payoff for me, having worked my butt off for so long in the matchup that had plagued me, and still plagues me. I knew there would be time to celebrate later, though. I decided against reading through my Facebook and Twitter notifications, instead opting to make a plan for food and prepare for my top 64 match, Professor Pro. I got a hot dog, a banana, some water, and pulled up my set versus Prof from Eden, where I beat him 3-1. He actually came up to me while I was eating and watching, congratulated me on the win, and as we were talking he noticed the set playing in my lap… it was a smidge awkward, but mostly hilarious. “I was watching that set earlier too,” he said. We agreed to “give them a good match.” Prof is a cool guy.

We played on the TukHouseSmash stream, which was so cool by the way. I loved the feel of crowds packing in tight to get a good view for hype sets, of which there were multiple side-by-side. The set actually looked very similar to our set from Eden, but with different stages. He destroyed me game 1, then I won two close games, and won game 3 convincingly.

I had seen this bracket path before, and tried not to get too optimistic, but if I won my next match, I would be up against… Armada.

If you’ve kept up with my bl0g posts, you know I still think about my set with Armada all the time. I’ve gotten better at it over time, but it honestly still haunts me. I think about what it would have felt like to make the right move, to be a little more aggressive when he was asserting center control with his float, to have taken a more aggressive stance when I knocked him off-stage on his last stock. I’ve only been able to watch the whole set maybe two or three times since it happened. Unfortunately, to get to Armada, I would have to get past Westballz.

Falco also proves to be somewhat of a challenge for me. Unfortunately, I don’t have much access to good Falco practice in MD/VA, so I can’t practice the matchup on a regular basis. At one point, I decided to do a close match analysis and figure out a gameplan. I think the stream and analysis was successful, and I came away with a solid gameplan.

Words, however, do not necessarily translate to actions. In other words, Self 1 having a gameplan is not the same as Self 2 being able to execute those actions under pressure. I thought that I could mentally recite the steps to beating Falco in neutral, and then beat Westballz with my punish game. Taking this approach, however, inhibits the flow of Self 2’s actions. This approach did not allow me to access “peak performance,” and Westballz is an extremely good player. He outplayed me solidly. Walking away, I actually felt good. I had a decent ideas of where I made mistakes (outside and inside the game), and felt a fire to do better next time.

In losers bracket, I was waiting on the winner of dizzkidboogie and Ice. My good friend dizz took it, and we ended up playing. This is another matchup where I tried the “Self 1 takes the wheel” approach, because that has worked for me in the past. At Olympus, in October, I helped dizz out a lot in the Marth versus ICs matchup. I taught him some crucial things in the matchup, such as when certain things are safe in the neutral, and that Fthrow pivot Tipper is never guaranteed. In exchange, he gave me a few tips as well (dizz will always, always help you out if you ask for tips).

My gameplan was basically to camp platforms, look for openings, and punish hard. It was an okay gameplan. Dizzkidboogie is a fast learner, and utilized what we talked about really well. Plus, he showed me some wobble setups I’d never seen before. I tended to lose the lead, and then claw my way back to an even game, but he would clutch it out. A huge difference-maker was my inability to negate the effectiveness of his SoPo. I need to brush up on fighting slidy, floaty characters like SoPo and Luigi – he got far too much damage and I struggled to kill him. In the end, he beat me in three close games. It’s hard to be sad when you lose to a friend and you know he deserved the win.

And that was that. I got knocked out at 17th! This was the best performance I’d made at a national yet, and technically I was the highest placing Marth (PewPewU and I tied, but he played two games of Sheik versus Swedish in losers – we take those!). I’m always aiming for the top, but after a chat with Ice several months ago, I realized there is merit to setting multiple, reachable goals over a period of time (rather than just always living by “aim for #1”). You can track your progress better, and there is great benefit in simply feeling like you’ve achieved something. Of course I want to do better. Of course I wish I had gotten top 8, or top 3, or 1st place. But I told myself top 32 would be a good accomplishment for this event. I got top 32 at EVO, but I think this tournament was more stacked than EVO. So when I got 17th, I felt good. My goal for the near future is to maintain or improve this level of performance at big events.

Genesis 4: Day Three

My flight was at 7:30pm, so I had to pack this morning and be out of the hotel. I stored my luggage and headed to the venue. Played a couple money matches, and generally hung around. Eventually we got food and headed to the top 8 venue to watch the end of sm4sh. After sm4sh, I had to leave after one set of Melee doubles to get my luggage and head to the airport.

I’ve got to say, it took so much self-restraint to not argue with my Uber driver on the way to the airport. He asked why I was in town, so I told him about Genesis and Smash Bros., because somehow he’d never heard of Smash Bros. We danced around the sports versus esports argument. I really didn’t want to engage, but I did my minimum duty by asking “Why?” when he said “They are just different.” If you’re an esports fan, I encourage you to do the same. It’s hard to convince people away from closely-held beliefs, but you can at least start asking people to explain what really, truly makes esports different from sports. In my mind, it’s all about the competitive environment, the communal aspect, the culture surrounding the game, and so forth. On almost all counts, the esports industry looks like the sports industry. The basic differences is that the requirements to play the games are different, and esports games are owned by companies.

I won’t get political on my bl0g posts, but starting a sentence with, “I’m all for women’s equality, but…” is usually not headed in a good direction. Dear Uber driver, I understand why the girl you drove the day before got upset when you told her “women doing certain things that men do is just not ladylike.” That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

In the airport, I was streaming Melee doubles and singles on my phone. I had a brief flight to Phoenix, on which I got access to plane Wi-Fi. The connection was awful, and I switched quality to “Mobile.” You can check my Twitter media – the picture actually just looks like blobs. Without game audio, I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the sets. But it was better than nothing, and I’m a die-hard fan. I spent almost all of my 2.5-hour layover in Phoenix watching singles finish up, and it was awesome. I was really bummed that I couldn’t be at the event in person, but thank goodness for Twitch. The ability to bring hype content to all the viewers at home is really amazing. And huge shoutouts to the production guys at VGBootCamp for maintaining their high production standards.

I landed back in D.C at 7am EST. Took a 3-hour nap at home, then started my first day of classes for the spring semester!! What a saga.

Thanks for reading this far. Since Genesis, I’ve taken a bit of a break, and still am on that break. I’ve entered a couple weeklies but haven’t really gotten into the swing of things yet. I’ll be entering the Xanadu monthly next Saturday, and Smash Valley V the weekend after, so be on the lookout for me!

I’ve got big things planned in the future, and Genesis 4 was just the start. Looking forward, and I’ll talk about this more, I really want to focus on how competing at the top level forces me to bring out the best in myself. It requires me to be healthy, focused, relaxed, confident, prepared, and the list goes on. Finding success in esports, or in anything, requires more than being a couch potato. You can’t play the game for 10 hours a day and just get good. You have to find the best parts of yourself and show it through your gameplay.

That’s all for now. Again, thanks so much for reading, as always. Happy smashing!

Genesis 4

SSBMRank 2016

Brief context for anyone out of the loop: at the end of every year, the list of the world’s top 100 Melee player comes out. It is decided upon by a group of over 50 panelists, and the list is released over the course of three week. Here are spots 70-61, released on the day of this post: https://www.redbull.com/us/en/esports/stories/1331835584967/ssbmrank-2016-70-61-red-bull-esports. I was ranked #62.

I had a feeling my placing on SSBMRank would be released today, and drafted this post last night in my head… let’s see if I remember whatever I came up with. My thoughts were not dependent on where I ended up on the list, but now that my ranking has officially been released, I can comment on my placing as well.

Any player who is on the come-up that doesn’t make the top 100 list will feel snubbed. I read somewhere on Twitter that “more than 100 people feel like they deserve to be on the Top 100 list, so of course people will feel snubbed.” I think that’s pretty true. I definitely felt like that last year.

I don’t like nitpicking over minute details when it comes to rankings, but that is the reality we face. In an ideal world, we compute these lists using computers and algorithms, but the data simply isn’t there. That’s why we use a panel. When I first got my hands on all the data provided to panelists, I immediately formatted it to see what insights I could gain through data manipulation. I tried giving each player a score based on their placing at every event, weighting events with more entrants more heavily. I did this by dividing the number of entrants by the player’s placing, then adding up those numbers and averaging that score. Unfortunately, that algorithm doesn’t properly account for player skill depth at an event, and some players landed criminally low or uncharacteristically high. The more I finagled with the data, the closer I came to ultimately accepting that there simply isn’t enough data to “accurately” rank 100 players.

This goes back to my previous point – if you feel snubbed and really want to be ranked, make it impossible to argue against your placing. After the 2015 list didn’t include me, I felt motivated to build up a resume that was rock-solid. If I enter enough major events, take down enough names, and placing consistently well, who is going to keep me off the list? Besides the MIOM illuminati, of course.

In any case, here we are. I’ve been ranked the #62 Melee player in the world. My conservative guess for my own placing was ~65. I think it’s important for players to recognize that they aren’t being ranked at their peaks; a focus on one’s own peak rather than a holistic view of one’s performance over the year is often what leads to people feeling snubbed. I feel good about my year, overall. I think I’m the only newcomer on the list to get top 32 at two majors this year. I consistently outplaced my seeding at regionals and nationals, with the exception of SSC. After placing top 32 at both EVO and Pound, where I definitely exceeded expectations, I was extremely hard on myself for a 49th placing at SSC16. Going back to my philosophy of “making it impossible to argue against your placing,” I felt my sub-par performance at SSC opened a hole in my resume.

Then I was offered a ballot for SSBMRank 2016, and I saw everyone else’s placings. That’s when I realized that there are very, very few consistent players. Almost everyone has at least one stain on their record this year. The players that don’t have inconsistencies are easy to rank – lloD is a good example of that. He consistently overcame his seeding, and pretty much only lost to top 30 players. That, in my opinion, gives him a strong case for top 50. Another example is dizzkidboogie – he consistently beat highly-ranked players, and rarely lost to anyone seeded lower than him, which is why you’ll see him in the top 20 or 25 this year.

I would definitely be ranked higher had Eden counted toward this ranking period, with my win over Prof and additional win over DJ. Syrox would be higher as well. But I was oddly relieved to hear that Eden wouldn’t count toward the 2016 SSBMRank, despite the fact I’d been planning to place well there to boost my exposure and rank. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders – I’d done all I could for 2016, and all I had to do at Eden was play my best, rather than “play my best… so that I can be ranked higher.” It was also a nice reminder that whether I am ranked 100 or 10, I can still place well at tournaments. The rank is just a reflection of the past year, and not necessarily an indicator of my future improvement. I hope other people have this realization as well – I found it quite liberating. You will definitely see me continue to work hard and play my best. This remains unaffected by SSBMRank.

It’s strange. There is no good way to statistically calculate the top 100 players in the world, given the enormous gaps in data. The panelists were presented a prompt: “Given the quality and quantity of work in 2016, if everyone entered 100 tournaments, who on average would place the best?” The criteria used from panelist to panelist varied based on how much they weighted consistency, peaks versus lows, wins and losses, and so forth. This is fine. But I wanted to point something out: legacy has no place in this process.

I saw some arguments for considering “legacy” – a player’s ranking and placings prior to 2016 – in the 2016 SSBMRank. I think considering legacy strays from the prompt, and doesn’t accurately represent current skill levels. If Mang0 placed 17th at every major in 2016, I don’t think it would make sense to rank him 10th on SSBMRank. Given the quality and quantity of his work in this hypothetical 2016, if everyone entered 100 tournaments, our best guess is that he would, on average, place 17th. Therefore, he would be ranked around 17th on SSBMRank 2016. If Bizzarro Flame placed 5th at every major in 2016, would it not be appropriate to place him around 5th on SSBMRank? His 98th ranking on the 2015 list should not, in my opinion, weigh on his 2016 placing. Only, as the prompt states, the quality and quantity of his work in 2016.

If I misunderstood how people would quantitatively account for “legacy” when ranking players, I would be happy to be corrected, so please let me know! All in all, it’s miraculous how the list ultimately comes together given all the variations in criteria. And on some level, it’s impossible to eliminate bias for yourself and for your friends. But that’s why we get representatives from all over the world, who come from all aspects of the Melee community. Shoutouts to everyone who worked on the list, and who put in the work to ensure the list was as accurate as possible.

To all you players who are on the list, and to you who hope to be on the list: keep entering events. Compete and compete and compete. That’s how you get better, that’s how you get ranked, and that’s how the game grows. A lot of players got flown out to Eden, and a lot of players came out locally. I was neither, and a lot of people asked me, “why are you here?” This confused me. Obviously I was there to compete! I was there to win, and to grow as a player. If you have a passion for competing, and you see an opportunity to take names, you seize that opportunity. I saw Eden as one of those opportunities, and I jumped on it.

Well I did my best to hammer out what thoughts I could while in the airport, but we’ve got to board our flight soon so that’s all I’m going to say for now. Onwards and upwards!

SSBMRank 2016

The Burden of Winning and a Sustainable Mindset

I’m currently on the plane to Chicago for Eden and thought this would be a good time to plunk out some of my recent thoughts.

Last time I wrote about my recent competitive experiences on the bl0g, I mentioned that I ran into a “fun-block” at Olympus that I felt hindered my performance. As a result, I started playing a lot more Fox in locals. Over time I’ve worked on mixing Marth back in to see how things would go, and it’s been pretty good so far. Here and there, I’ve suffered a random loss, and then brought it back in winners. In every “random loss” case, I switched characters mid-set. Just goes to show how volatile a decision that can be! But I didn’t give up, and the mid-set switch paid off as I practiced it more.

I think since Olympus, I have lost one tournament, and gotten 1st at every other. The one that I lost was a Cave weekly where I lost to Bob-omb in winners bracket, then made a losers run to Grand Finals where I lost to Redd in a last stock set. I played pretty well and made some good adjustments, but a couple of crucial SDs cost me the set. This past Monday, however, I went to the Cave again, and beat Redd in two sets. This is the tournament I want to write a bit about.

For the most part, winning locals isn’t very demanding. I can beat most players in the region cruising on “autopilot,” and have to turn up the jets here and there for the likes of Aglet, Obi, and the MD Sheik boys. But when another of our top 7 shows up, I’ve gotta put in the elbow grease. Redd said he was going to the Cave, but I actually didn’t know if I’d go… until I opened my brand new custom controller, thought it was awesome, and wanted to test it and show it off on the stream (unfortunately, however, someone screwed up and there was no stream). I was kind of blown away at how good the snapback and triggers were on this custom controller built off a Smash 4 controller’s innards. The triggers feel like an OG controller, so they don’t get stuck if you push back. All in all, it’s a pretty swell controller out of the box, but not quite swell enough to replace my current, well-worn controller that shield drops like a dream.

In any case, I wanted to give the controller a test ride. Something was going right that day. I was moving well, thinking clearly, and ultimately didn’t drop a set. I beat Aglet in winners, and beat Redd in Winners Finals and Grand Finals (3-2 and 3-1, respectively). To Redd’s credit, I’ll point out that he was not playing at his best. The prior time we played, I wasn’t at my best… so I suppose we’re 1-1 for not-completely-deserved-wins for now. Hopefully next time we’re both at full power. But still, we take those.

Now here is the reason I decided to write this post. At this tournament, I wore a hat (which I never do), I wore a watch (which I haven’t done in about a year), and I used a brand new, out-of-box controller. I am the type of person to over-think all these different factors and wonder how they may have contributed to my improved performance. On the drive home, some of my thoughts included: “Is this hat lucky? Is this controller lucky? Am I more comfortable in this jacket? Was the distraction of the watch helping me? Maybe the fact that the controller didn’t shield drop as well made me focus on it less?” All of these can be boiled down to:

“Where did I go right? What should I keep doing for next time?”

And that’s why I titled this bl0g post “The Burden of Winning.” I suddenly felt this weight on my shoulders as a hundred little, anxious SmashG0Ds started whispering in my ear and telling me what to do. How do I address this? How should I move forward? That’s what I’ve been thinking about all week. Especially because this all occurred only five days before Eden.

I came up with one “solution” that I’ve kind of been running with in my head this week. Maybe there was something I did right… but maybe that thing wasn’t wearing a hat, or wearing a watch, or using an unfamiliar controller. Maybe the thing I did right was just… doing what I wanted to do. Maybe giving into my mundane desires relieved me of Preparation’s Burden. Next time, I told myself, instead of taking the same actions I took, I would listen to the same part of my brain. And that part of my brain will tell me something different from day to day. Maybe today I want to caffeinate myself during bracket, maybe tomorrow I feel like drinking water. If I don’t burden my brain with expectations brought on by certain preparatory routines, I stress less. And less stress is good. Less stress means I can have more fun with the game. And having fun with the game goes a long way.

To you bl0g-worms who have diligently read all of my posts, you may be wondering the same thing I’ve wondered following the previous realization – what happened to all that stuff I wrote about preparation a few months ago? Isn’t the reason I performed so well at EVO because I committed to certain routines and preparatory actions? This is a tricky one, indeed. How can I reconcile the Preparatory Burdens of a pre-competition routine with the idea that “doing whatever I want” is going to put me most at ease before competing? If you have a good answer to this, please let me know, because this is an evolving discussion. I don’t have any definitive answers. But let me hazard a solution.

Full disclosure: there were 700 words in the first draft of this post that I have obliterated because I didn’t like where it was going. And I might have a better “solution” to hazard. So here goes.

Whether you are tempted by a mundane desire, or a part of your brain urging you to subscribe to a routine, I say go for it if it will make your body and mind feel good. I don’t think that’s too broad of a generalization, because every more specific route to “the ideal pre-tournament actions” I attempted to navigate began to contradict the others. This is largely due to the fact that every person is different, and not everyone has fully figured out what works best for them (like me). So let’s explore the value of some routes you can take.

Rituals are very interesting. Along with physics, I double-majored in Religious Studies in college and was really interested in the power of rituals. I probably wrote more than 30 pages on rituals, and described their value in purely secular terms. At the base level, a ritual starts as a habit. You form a habit over time, and you begin to associate it with certain thoughts, feelings, and sensations. One aspect of rituals that particularly interests me is how their effect can be multiplied when performed in a group setting… but I digress.

Some people have a specific pre-tournament routine they go through. This is their ritual. It may include listening to a certain song or playlist, exercising in some form, and so forth. I think it’s worth noting that the ritual becomes more powerful if it’s something you only do before seriously competing. If you wake up to the same song every morning, maybe that’s your morning ritual, but it’s not a pre-tournament ritual.

Before big tournaments, I’m brain-scattered thinking about what I should wear for the tournament. For some people, this might be a good place to utilize the power of ritual. For ZeRo, maybe this is wear he puts on his scarf and feels the power flow through him. I don’t have any developed habit like that, however, so it doesn’t work as well. Perhaps I could develop a ritual if I started making a habit out of it.

Because I don’t have a developed ritual with what I’m going to wear, it doesn’t contribute to my physical or mental well-being, right? So I should just wear what I feel like wearing, and move on.

This week, I read about an app called “Headspace” on Reddit. It’s an app that trains you to meditate. I use the word “trains” very intentionally, because it is certainly a trainable skill. I’ve only completed three days of the first 10-day course, but from what I understand, the goal of meditation is to be at ease with one’s thoughts. This is distinctly different from “pushing thoughts” away – you want to acknowledge your thoughts and let them pass. It also focuses on body awareness, which is cool (I hear “Inner Game of Tennis” talks about this as well, and it’s on my list of books to read).

At first, I thought going through the “Headspace” app would give me tools to utilize when I get stressed or anxious at a tournament. To an extent, this is true. But the real value of learning meditation is in how you treat your thoughts and brain on a day-to-day basis. The mind is constantly changing, and if you can change your mind’s neutral state and how it responds to unwelcome thoughts, you improve every aspect of your life. And that certainly includes competitive environments.

Nobody is expected to instantly calm themselves in the face of adversity or frustration; we’re all human, after all. But I can already feel how, over time, it will become easier to be at ease with and let thoughts pass. And even if you are faced with a high-stress situation, the app offers “crisis” management tools, though I haven’t really explored those yet. I think I have to finish the first 10 days of training, first.

Second full disclosure: everything written past the first full disclosure has been in the hotel lobby grill at Eden, the day after I began writing this post. So I have some personal experience I can share with regard to “pre-tournament actions” since I started writing this post.

My pool is at 6pm, so I slept in. I took my time, lay in bed and did a bunch of chess puzzles (because they’re super addicting: see LiChess). Then I got up, did some cardio to get the blood pumping and to wake up, took a shower, etc. I was faced with some petty, inhibitory thoughts, such as: “what controller should I use today? Should I wear my watch or nah?” And so forth. But when I try and look at my thoughts, and visualize them, it is easier to let them go, and I feel the burden lifted from my shoulders. It’s really cool. And I’m only going to get better at it. These elevators are facing out and I think I just saw S2J on his way down. Ha.

I hope this post has been helpful for anyone who has struggled in the same ways I have. It was certainly helpful for me to get all these thoughts down on paper, so to speak. I think that I’m an extremely mentally tough player, when I’m in the zone. It’s all about consistency, consistency, consistency. When faced with issues like these, one of the most important things to remember is that there is no “state of perfection.” It doesn’t exist, it isn’t attainable. You have to remember that change is the only constant we have. Your mind is changing, your environment is changing, your body is changing. You have to accept change and strengthen your mind.

I’m getting pretty preachy and overly philosophical, now, but at least I know my Religious Studies major was helpful in getting better at smash! That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, as always.

The Burden of Winning and a Sustainable Mindset

How I Got Into [Competitive] Smash

Happy birthday! Today, Super Smash Bros. Melee turns fifteen years old. And Smash for Wii U turns two years old. I thought this was a fitting occasion to talk a bit about how I got involved with competitive smash in the first place. I’ll also briefly reminisce about my smash career before you probably heard of me.

People are usually surprised when they hear how long I’ve been around in the scene. I wasn’t on most people’s radars until Project:M became big at Xanadu and I got to show off my Mewtwo (plus many other characters) every Tuesday. The first time I met Westballz was actually at a Melee Xanadu, and I recall him cheering for me during a set – “Yeah, show em that PM players can play Melee too!” I know lloD has had similar experiences, with people assuming he was a Brawl player first – his trademark patience is often attributed to his high skill level in Brawl. But I’m here to give you the full story!

Me and smash go a long way back. My earliest memory of smash is watching my sister, who is older than me by nine years, play with our two cousins (who are both around her age) in Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64. She played Luigi, because green was her favorite color, while one of my cousins played Kirby and the other bomb-camped with Link. I distinctly remember them playing on Hyrule Castle, and someone got a Charizard out of a Pokeball on the top platform. I didn’t know what Charizard was… so I believed them when they told me that they “released the dragon from the castle prison.”

Eventually I got old enough to understand the game, and my brother, lloD, and I started playing ourselves. I had formed a habit of copying things my sister did, as younger siblings do, and so I became attached to Luigi early on. We played and had fun. It was good times.

We started playing way more later in elementary school when Melee came out (15 years ago today!). We got the game a bit later than our friends because we didn’t have a Gamecube, but we finally got it. My fellow 2nd-graders had already been unlocking characters, and my best friend was coming up with cool strategies. At one of our many sleepovers, he was “teaching” me how to utilize Mewtwo’s movement options. We talked about how there’s a visual effect for Mewtwo’s UpB, but not for his airdodge, and so that would be the best way to identify where he’s going if he disappears.

Having a brother meant I played a LOT of Melee. We would play each other and put time into the single-player events. In 2005, we got good enough that our friends didn’t want to play with us anymore. I was in 6th grade at the time, and my brother was in 5th. Up until this time, we were both pretty obsessed with Runescape, but that obsession was dying down. We needed another outlet.

Everything changed the day I looked up “super smash bros competitions” (…or something like that) on Google. That is how I found Smashboards.

Smashboards opened my eyes. It gave us access to guides, fellow smash competitors, tournaments, and so on. The possibilities were endless. It was at this time that I struggled to come up with a “gamertag” to use on the forums, but my 6th-grade self eventually decided that “Smash G 0 D” sounded really cool. And it still does, right guys?! Even without all those spaces in-between letters!

I created my Smashboards account in October 2005, and went to my first tournament in November of 2005: BOMB4. My dad drove me, my brother, and some friends to the event. We only entered doubles, got bodied, then left. But it was still fun, and we talked about it for a long time. For the first few years of entering tournaments, there was something extremely exhilarating about playing people who were so much better at the game. Unfortunately, we could only go to a few events per year – our parents didn’t want us playing too much smash, especially at tournaments with older people that we didn’t know very well.

I tried finding my first Smashboards post, but for some reason the archive only goes far back as 2006, so the oldest post I could find was about the FC3 East Coast vs. West Coast crew battle. I watched that crew battle so many times. I downloaded it and put it on my PSP, watching it over and over when we would travel. I loved seeing the top-level play, and I loved seeing East Coast pop off. As an aspiring Marth player with a lot of East Coast pride, I really looked up to Azen and Husband in particular. It’s also worth noting that, at this time, YouTube hadn’t even been created, and we watched all our videos through DC++ (p2p video sharing) or Google Video or some other voodoo methods. Another fun fact – my dad warmed up to the smash community more after chatting with Husband and seeing that smashers were just normal people with a unique hobby.

In Spring of 2006, my brother and I went to Redd’s house and met him for the first time. He was a Falco main, and I remember the first match we played was him beating my Luigi with Ganondorf. He would Fair my shield, and L-cancel it into a jab, and I couldn’t beat it. Later, he 4-stocked my Fox with his Falco (the only Falco game he played). For the most part, he beat my brother and I with his secondaries. Our moms chatted upstairs while we played. We played for about 45 minutes total, then had to leave. It still felt awesome playing someone so good (also, Redd was 14 or 15 years old at this point).

I can’t say I remember what my brother’s gamer tag was this early on… at some point, though, I thought it would be cool to call him “Sheikij,” derived from “Sheikage” like “pwnage” like “ownage.” It was 2006, guys. People read the tag as “Sheik I J,” however, and pronounced the last two letters separately. But mostly they referred to him as my “little bro.” So at some point, he officially named himself “Smash G 0 D’s Little Bro.” In fact, that exact Smashboards username still exists. I just looked it up, and found a post where he points out that he 4-stocked some guy in our region with Sheik and Zelda, then lists his mains as “Marth and Jiggz” with a Falco secondary. Like I said, our mains and secondaries switched around a ton at this point. This post was also made in the “TNR” thread, which was the first real crew we joined. It stood for “Team No Respect” and included members such as ChozenOne, AlphaZealot, Boss, and EE.

At some point, my brother met Doll, the legendary local Peach player. My brother was a Sheik main with a Peach secondary at this point, if I recall correctly, and was inspired by Doll’s lame playstyle with Peach. He attempted to emulate that style, and adopted the name “lloD,” or “Doll” backwards. It probably isn’t surprising, then, that lloD found further inspiration with Sheik after watching Drephen videos. In any case, the oldest post I can find on his Smashboards account is from 2009, but he was never as avid a Smashboards user as I, so I can’t say exactly when the name-change stuck. It was almost definitely before 2008, though, because he was lloD by the time Brawl came out.

Anecdote time, because I like this story: In 2008, I attended one of ChuDat’s many basement tournaments. This was a Halloween-themed tournament, and we were encouraged to come in costume. I, naturally, came dressed as my favorite player: Azen. I had a button-down and a messenger bag with a “Nintendo Tech Support” sign taped onto it. I was playing with Slikvik, one of our better players at the time and a Peach main, before the tournament. He thought my Fox was pretty good, and mentioned to someone, “you should team with this guy if you want to place in the money.” That was a pretty big compliment for me. He wrestled with ditching his teammate, but eventually decided to in favor of teaming with me (whoops, sorry fam). We played Fox/Peach and ended up getting 2nd in teams. For the life of me, I can’t remember who we beat or who we lost to, but I remember making some pretty big upsets and playing out of my mind. At some point I got so heated and caught up in the moment, that on respawn I just went IN on my partner. He had to say, “yo chill!” before I realized I was attacking the wrong Peach (was DoH on the other team? It must have been another Peach player). In any case, after the set I stood up and noticed the crowd that had been watching… and then noticed that Azen had sat down on the arm of the sofa I was on, right next to me. So that was pretty cool, because I was definitely a fanboy at that point. This tournament is also one of the building blocks upon which I built my career in teams.

For a long portion of my competitive smash career, I tri-mained Luigi, Marth, and Fox. (If you go on Smashboards, you can actually find the Luigi guide I wrote years and years back.) I always struggled with counterpicking because I never knew which of my characters was having a good day. At some point, I started putting faith into my Luigi and saw good results. The last tournament in which I seriously played Luigi was Hyperphoenix 2 at the end of 2013. lloD and I got 2nd in teams with all Luigi/Peach, beating Redd+DoH twice, and losing to Chillin+Cyrain twice. It looks like I got 9th at that tournament, losing to Chillin and Wenbo in singles. Earlier that year, at HyperPhoenix 1, I got 4th in singles, beating Vist, Bones, and DoH with Luigi. I lost to Mew2King and Redd, which was pretty respectable. The results for that tournament were 1. M2K, 2. Eggm, 3. Redd, 4. Me.

For posterity’s sake, here’s a video of my Luigi from Hyperphoenix 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xgyjodMRbc

The following year, Project:M 3.0 came out, and I was living with Junebug, so we played a ton of smash. In Melee, I switched to all Fox, and had a decently successful year, beating ChuDat for the first time. This is when I started getting on people’s radars, especially with my Mewtwo play in PM. Then 3.5 came out, and I was still really good, but I started playing less. In early 2015, I heard The Moon was coming to a Xanadu for the second week in a row, and he was disappointed with the competition from the first week, having won with all Fox. I planned to go and give him a challenge, and was worried about beating his Marth with my Fox. I asked Chillin and Redd for advice, and Chillin said, “if you can just get him to play his main, that’ll be good enough.” The day of, I decided to take a leap and try Marth. We played three Marth ditto games, and I won the set. That was the day I realized that becoming a top Melee player was possible – I just needed a sign. Though, I should mention that I then got 4-stocked by Plank and Moon 2-0’d me in the runback. But still. It was a big day for me, and from that day forward I was a Marth main.

The rest, we say, is history. I stopped playing PM, I started playing more Sm4sh, I put my major focus onto Melee, entered EVO for the first time, and have been grinding mostly Melee ever since. But now, if you didn’t know that I’d been around since 2005, now you know! It’s been an absolute pleasure watching Melee go from a fun pasttime as an 11 year-old to a major esport in which I compete as a 22 year-old. And having written that sentence, I now realize that half of my entire life has been shaped by competitive smash and the smash community.

So for all you who love playing the game and who love and support the smash community, thank you. Happy smashing.

How I Got Into [Competitive] Smash