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!

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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

Thoughts on Olympus

Olympus took place over Halloween weekend. It was primarily a Project:M major, but also featured a great deal of Melee and Sm4sh talent. It was my first big tournament since SmashCon, and I had high expectations for myself. I couldn’t find a Melee teams partner, so I decided to take a leap and enter PM, Sm4sh, and Melee singles. Let’s take it day by day!

Friday

The tournament didn’t technically start until Saturday morning, but there were some exhibition tournaments planned for Friday. I was invited to compete in the PM 3.02 Top Player Crew Battle Exhibition, and also decided to enter Melee Low Tiers and the Melee Reverse Main Tournament. Everything was set to start at 5pm, so I made sure I rolled into Atlantic City at around 4pm to check in and get settled before heading to play. Unfortunately, everything got shifted back by about 1.5-2 hours so we ended up just playing friendlies for a while. Eventually, Melee Low Tiers started and it ran pretty smoothly. There weren’t many entrants, and it wasn’t being streamed, so it was easy. 1st place was Strong Bad, I got 2nd, and Drephen’s Roy got 3rd. I played mostly DK, but wasn’t ready for Strong Bad in the DK ditto… he definitely had a better grasp on the punish-game flow-chart than I did. My Zelda and Pichu put up good fights as well, but it wasn’t enough.

The PM 3.02 exhibition was then canceled because other players were coming late, so all that was left was the Reverse Main Tournament. I thought people would get hyped for the side events, and that there would be some good competition. I was wrong, unfortunately, so I decided to drop out. This was largely because of how late everything had been pushed back, and I didn’t want to be competing in a free tournament with no competition at 1am the night before bracket actually started.

Friday was a bit all over the place, but I at least got to sit down and play a good amount of friendlies with DruggedFox and Drephen. DruggedFox beat me for the most part, which was a good wake-up call. He called out all of my tricky recoveries and played an extremely solid neutral. I also learned that the rumors about Drephen’s spotdodging with Sheik are not unfounded in the slightest! He said he uses it mostly for conditioning and mixups, but if Marth spaces outside of Sheik’s tilt and grab range, the spotdodges aren’t very threatening. I’d just played Plank in the matchup at Xanadu in the couple weeks prior, and I think he had a better understanding of the intricacies in the matchup – notably how to utilize short-hop mixups. If Sheik spotdodges, then she isn’t doing enough to counteract Marth’s Dtilt.

I was back in my room and ready for bed before 1am, which was pretty decent timing. Unfortunately, pools were not finalized until 12:30am. This was a major problem, in my opinion. I believe that you shouldn’t worry too much about who you’re playing in bracket or you risk overthinking player matchups when you should just focus on playing your best… but when you’re at a tournament of this caliber, it is reasonable to expect that skill and regional seeding will be completed by a reasonable amount of time before the tournament starts. I don’t think that less-than-10-hours before the tournament starts falls into that category.

They actually had released pools earlier that week, which confused a great deal of people. They stated that pools weren’t final, but I had to wonder why pools weren’t final. They got MikeHaze and Redd to seed Melee, but that could have been done days in advance over Skype or Discord. I heard some criticisms from locals that they didn’t put enough effort into seeding NYC locals for skill and regional dispersion.

Saturday

(I’m going to deviate slightly from the chronology here so as not to break up my discussion of seeding issues.)

I kept hearing that the TOs would be reseeding the bracket after round 1 pools. That is to say that round 1 pools would be completed, and then the TOs would take each person that made it into top 32 and individually re-seed. To me, this was a ludicrous idea. If you have to re-seed people for skill and region in the top 32 bracket, that means your initial seeding was garbage. The bracket should be seeded in the very beginning, placed into bracket-running software like on smashgg, and then the TOs should be hands-off. Let the bracket play out with the seeding you agreed upon in the first place.

If there are major regional conflicts, that means there could have been an upset somewhere in bracket. But that’s how it works out sometimes. I’d rather maintain the integrity of the bracket – this integrity is, of course, reliant upon good initial seeding.

All of that being said, the TOs did not ultimately re-seed for top 32. But there was no confirmation that re-seeding would not occur until very soon before top 32 actually started, so nobody knew for certain who they would be playing against. This is kind of frustrating as a competitor. While I think it can be harmful to focus too much on who you’re up against next, and it is far more useful to focus on playing your best, it is reasonable to expect some amount of time and information to prepare to compete.

Someone mentioned that PM was re-seeded, but I wasn’t paying too close attention so I can’t really comment on that. If that was the case… I think that’s dumb. TOs: make your seeding good right off the bat, and finish it at least a week prior to the event.

Oh! I should mention that one issue with this event was that at-the-door signups for Melee and Sm4sh were open until Friday night before the tournament starts. This was, of course, a major reason that the TOs procrastinated on seeding. I personally prefer the “death pool” clause for at-the-door signups, though. Or to not allow door signups at all. TOs should be firm with their expectations of competitors, and these days, signing up for a tournament ahead of and on time is the standard. Don’t diminish the ability of your signed-up competitors to prepare in order to gain 5 or 10 more entrants the night before bracket.

There could certainly be worse issues at a tournament than these I have described, there is no doubt. But in the age of professionalism in esports, some of these occurrences rubbed me and other competitors the wrong way.

And now let’s jump back to Saturday morning! I played Melee first, then had Sm4sh pools, then Project:M. I made it out in winners for Melee, with one close call against CIZ. My play was not looking clean at all games 1 and 2, but I took it with a 3-stock on game 3. My round 1 in sm4sh didn’t show up, so I had to play Biddy. Biddy and I played a long time ago, back when I played Rosalina. I believe I beat him in a clutch set, winning the game with a Rosa Uair kill at 45%. I got a lot of hate on YouTube for that, but I personally thought it was hilarious. This time, I thought about playing Rosa again for Gravitational Pull, but I haven’t practiced her in over a year so I stuck with my Kirby guns. I lost game 1 on Smashville, and ran it back. I tried to play it safe and get a read on his patterns, then make hard reads to get openings and win the up-close mix-ups. It worked for both games 2 and 3, and I made it into top 32 winning only one game.

I was set to play Larry Lurr in round 1 of sm4sh top 32, a match I was excited to play. I’ve always admired Larry’s skill, and wanted my shot at beating him. I should mention that, prior to this event, I was officially “retired” from sm4sh (as of March 2016). When I couldn’t find a Melee partner for teams, however, I decided to practice for the couple weeks leading up to the event. So I didn’t have any major expectations, but the tech barrier in the game is pretty low and I believe I have the mental game of a top player.

I played Kirby against Larry, naturally. Kirby versus Fox is a hilarious matchup in which Kirby crouches everything and then gets a 0-40% combo off one Utilt. I Utilt combo’d him, took his ability, shot lasers, crouched a bunch, played some footsies, and then Kirbycided him for the 2-stock. He switched off to DK for game 2, which I expected. I was outplaying him for a bit, getting DK to high %, but then got grabbed at 50% twice and died both times (Ding Dong). Game 3, I took him to Duck Hunt and he switched to Metaknight, a less polished character of his. I died early, unsure how to DI out of MK’s Uair UpB combo, but then played the rest of the game safe. I was winning most exchanges, I think, which resulted in an inch-by-inch comeback. It was, however, too little and too late. I was fishing for a grab under the tree (I was at 130%, he was at 65%), to get an Uthrow kill, but I forgot he had the same trick and let myself get killed by it. In losers I beat a Cloud with Sheik, then lost to a Mewtwo with Lucario.

Meanwhile, I played my first set in PM against Robfox. We Mewtwo ditto’d on Stadium 2 twice, and I beat him 2-0. Then I forfeited. I was focused on Sm4sh top 32 matches, and I was warming up Melee in-between games.

I played Slox first in Melee top 32. He beat me 2-0 at Pound in Marth vs. Sheik, and he did the same thing here. For some reason, and I can’t really say why, I was getting very tilted during our set. This doesn’t usually happen to me – I like to think one of my strengths is keeping my cool in tense situations. In this set, though, I was just getting frustrated and irritated. I remember getting a phantom tipper at one point, and that sealed the deal. After that set, I thought to myself “I don’t want to play Melee right now.” More specifically, I didn’t feel like playing Marth. This was very unusual, and hadn’t happened before.

I played G$ immediately afterward, and lost to his Falco on Battlefield and Marth on FD. I was very unhappy with how I played Melee all day, and I left the venue at this point. I was frustrated and needed to take a walk and lie down for a bit. I’ve gotten frustrated at losses before, but I never felt the way I did that day where I didn’t feel like playing my matches. It was very unusual.

And that led to an epiphany: having fun is pretty important. Seems like a given, right? Melee is the most fun game of all time. But I think, at some point in the last month, training and playing with Marth in matchups I didn’t like started to feel like a chore, and I couldn’t muster up the motivation and positivity to do the best I could. The rest of that day, I played whoever I felt like playing. Mostly Fox, Sheik, Peach, Falco and the like.

I actually ended up entering teams because Wenbo was out of a teammate. We did alright, beating Zealous5000 and CIZ round 1, then losing to DJ and The Moon. I forget what team we played, because we tried so many, but I think our default was double Fox. I may have tried Peach against DJ and Moon. Then we beat Silver and Darc in losers, with double Fox I think, and lost to Drephen and dizzkidboogie.

So that was the end of smash for the day. I didn’t like feeling so negative about the game and Marth, but playing whoever I wanted to the rest of the day really helped. Sometimes you’ve got to sit back and just enjoy the game. We had a dope dinner at a burger bar later, and then I turned in early to get some sleep.

Sunday

I was planning on leaving pretty early. I checked out, put my stuff in my car, then went back to the venue to chill for a bit and then head out. I just wanted to get back and not worry about smash anymore… but then dizzkidboogie asked if I’d give him Marth practice for his set against The Moon. So we started playing, and we kept playing, and I was having fun again (even though it was Marth versus Ice Climbers!!). I felt a twinge of guilt giving practice against my buddy The Moon, but Dizz is my friend also and I don’t usually turn people away when they ask for help. Plus it was super fun.

I consider myself to be pretty good at the Marth versus ICs matchup, having been exposed to it a great deal over the past year and a half with Nintendude. At least, until he moved away to NorCal. Dizz also showed me a few tricks I hadn’t been utilizing, like the fact that in a handoff scenario, you should always mash when Nana grabs because she pummels a random number of times! We broke down the neutral of the matchup into stages, and also looked at the intricacies. I taught him that Fthrow pivot Fsmash is never guaranteed as Marth if you DI it correctly, and showed him a couple things that Nintendude and ChuDat have done against me that worked.

If you have trouble fighting Ice Climbers, practice against Ice Climbers players and ask them to wobble you. I know a lot of players tend to get frustrated while they’re being wobbled, but if you are more used to it after playing in friendlies, it doesn’t feel as bad when you get down to it in tournament.

He went on to 3-0 The Moon and win the whole tournament. It was a major win for him, getting 1st over the likes of The Moon, Lucky, HugS, Professor Pro, and many more! So Kyle, if you’re reading this, congrats again. ;]

Before I finish, there was one other big criticism I had: the TOs were far too loud over the microphone. When you have a half-size ballroom packed with people and the microphone turned all the way up, you do not need to swallow the mic and scream. It was intrusively loud, and I had to put in earphones just to muffle the noise so I could focus on my matches. But again, there could have been far worse issues with a tournament like this, so I still give props to all the organizers and TOs.

That pretty much sums up the story of my weekend at Olympus in Atlantic City. It started off pretty rocky, then I felt pretty awful about how I played, had a realization that I needed to rediscover the fun I have with the game, then had a ton of fun playing, and then drove home on Sunday evening.

Since Olympus, I haven’t been sitting and grinding too much, but I’ve been having fun while competing. I’ve been playing mostly Fox, and got 1st at the last three tournaments I entered. I don’t know if I’ll switch to using more Fox than I have in the past, or if I’ll keep him in the pocket, but I do know that I’m having fun with him. I’m also using Marth when it makes sense, such as when a spacie takes me to FD, or I fight Ice Climbers or Puff.

Anyways, it’s very unusual for me to publish two posts so close together! But I’d like to be updating the bl0g more frequently, so if you like this sort of thing, you can follow my bl0g (in the bottom-right hand corner of the page) to get updates! I don’t expect people to read these things all the way through, because of how lengthy they are. But for those of you who do, I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences and maybe learn a thing or two about the game or about competing, or just about me as a person and competitor.

That’s all for now!

Thoughts on Olympus

Catching Up: Post-EVO and SSC2016

I meant to cover these topics in the aforementioned “Much Has Happened in the Last Four Months” post, but that was before my bit on EVO turned into a novella. So, as promised, here is the second arc of the 2016 summer of smash (and Rivals)!

Post-EVO

To be honest, the weeks after EVO and before SuperSmashCon are kind of a blur to me, at this point. I was kind of wrapped up in preparing for graduate school, I suppose, and needed a mental break after EVO. I don’t know if I can properly emphasize how taxing the loss to Armada was, and how disappointed I was with myself after an embarrassingly subpar performance against my crewmate Nintendude to get eliminated. I was feeling proud of myself for surpassing the expectations of others and placing in top 32 of the largest Melee tournament of all time… but it stopped becoming about expectations for me. It became about winning.

I don’t go into pools matches or brackets expecting to win or lose anymore. I go in preparing myself to fight, and to win. Maybe that isn’t strictly true, at least for early-round pools… but it should be. And that is a mindset I am working on developing for myself, because it emphasizes a process-oriented mental approach as opposed to a results-oriented approach. Let me elaborate.

If you are up against a top player and you expect to lose before the set even starts, you handicap yourself. To win a close set, you need to be able to draw on your ability to clutch out a set. You have to go down kicking and scratching until the announcer says “Game!” You won’t put up this kind of fight if you already expect to lose. I’ve experienced this firsthand, and I’m sure many other competitors have as well – I feel like, in this case, you accept the loss before the game even ends.

Take a look at the flip-side: a top player who is expecting to win. When you go into a set expecting to win, you aren’t as focused on what your opponent is doing, and you sort of play autopilot. This approach leaves top players vulnerable to mid- and high-level players with strong punish games. The top player plays sloppily, relying on superior game knowledge and punishes to win the set, but when each opening the other player gets (as a result of the top player’s sloppy) leads to high % or a stock… well, that’s how upsets happen.

Let’s take Zain versus Plup from The Big House 6 as an example. Plup is the closest thing we have to a Melee demi-god, and so for him to lose to anyone outside of the top 20 is a big deal. Zain isn’t even top 100 at the moment. Nobody expected Zain to win. I have a feeling Plup expected the same.

When you step into the ring with all the evidence pointing to your victory, and you believe that evidence and expect to win, you leave yourself open to the strong punish game of a player like Zain. And that’s what happened. Zain moved smoothly, quickly, and capitalized on his punishes, and followed the edgeguard flowchart well. Plup was a little stuck in his movement, and I am sure he was taken off-guard by how well Zain started off. By the time you realize you’re on the ropes against a player much lower-ranked than you are, all you can do is re-calibrate your mentality and scramble your way back to victory. But when all it takes is one or two more openings for your opponent to take the set, it could be too late.

In all fairness, I have no idea whether or not Plup came into that set expecting to win. I asked Zain about his expectations prior to the set, and this is what he said:

“When i first got news that I had to play him I honestly thought I was just going to lose. But when the time actually came to play him, my head was pretty clear and I didn’t think about winning or losing at all.

So regardless of what Plup’s mindset was, Zain’s worked. If you’re focusing on the process – playing neutral, landing punishes, finishing edgeguards, etc. – then you are forcing yourself to draw upon your game knowledge. If you focus on results before the game is over, you’re adding an extra step of thinking and distracting yourself.

The bottom line here is that expectations are dangerous. If I started my set versus Armada expecting to lose, I surely would not have gotten so close. And on multiple occasions I have had to scramble my way back to victory against opponents with good punish-games that took me by surprise.

I think the best way to counteract the risks of expecting to lose and expecting to win is to eliminate expectations entirely. The impact that expectations have on your gameplay are purely cognitive. It affects your mindset, which in turn affects how you play. So instead of saying “I expect to win this set,” try telling yourself, “I will do everything in my power to win.” Once you shift your mental approach from the former to the latter, what follows is a change in your thinking process as the game moves forward.

Hypothetical Player #1 tells herself that she will do everything in her power to win. What follows is a series of questions that may pop up before, during, and after the set:

“What is my opponent doing in neutral?”

“What options can I pick to counter his/her options?”

“What should I utilize to maximize my advantages and minimize my disadvantages in this matchup?”

Hypothetical Player #2 expects to win, but finds himself losing to a player that he, and everyone else, expected him to beat. He starts thinking:

“Why am I losing to this guy?”

“How will it look if I lose a set that everybody expected me to win?”

And then you get frustrated. The first question, “why am I losing to this guy?”, isn’t all that bad. But in the former case, that question is skipped. The player with the better mindset skips the “why am I losing” question because he or she is already weighing and considering options.


I’ll be honest. It’s been eight days since I wrote the previous portion of this bl0g post, so it’s a bit fuzzy, but I’m determined to finish it! The main point of the previous section was to outline how I think expectations can be harmful in a competitive environment, and that the most consistent path to success is to adopt a process-oriented mindset rather than a results-oriented mindset. There are intricacies to this all, naturally. For example, one might have trouble drawing the line between “expecting to win” and “having confidence.” Playing confidently has certainly been shown to improve a competitor’s gameplay, but can also teeter too far into arrogance and the territory of “I expect to win this game now, so let me show off and- whoops, I lost!” It’s an interesting balance to strike, and not an easy one to find. I urge all competitors to explore it themselves.

Now onto SmashCon! I’m gonna keep this section brief because SSC was a bit ago and it wasn’t as significant as EVO, for me. But I can at least provide context for anyone interested in following my story!

SuperSmashCon 2016

Like I mentioned, around this time I was preparing to start graduate school. For anyone who is interested, I’m getting my M.S. in Marketing Analytics at the University of Maryland!

Let me start this story on the Wednesday before SmashCon. I was determined to “just have fun” at SSC, and not worry so much about the competition. I worried that preparing for SSC like I did for EVO would detract and distract from my school preparations. I had a positive outlook on the weekend.

I decided to attend Melee at Xanadu that Wednesday prior to SSC to compete against some good players, see my friend Mike (Nintendude) again, and so forth. I saw the aMSa was in my bracket, so I was trying to figure out how to beat Yoshi with Marth – this was a matchup I’d never experienced at top-level. I should say, though, that when I asked people for tips and they asked, “Oh, are you playing aMSa?” I responded, “if I beat everyone before him, yeah.” I was trying to prepare for a match later in bracket, but also not assuming I would just win every game up to then (eliminate expectations!).

Ironically enough, I end up losing to Wenbo the round before I would have played aMSa. I hadn’t lost to Wenbo in a very long time, so this was a pretty confusing loss. Maybe it was the heat I complained about, maybe it was because I hadn’t been preparing/studying like I had been earlier in the summer, or maybe Wenbo transformed into a g0d for a few minutes. One way or another, the loss was on me.

I was chatting with Ice a bit later and he asked me, “why did you lose to Wenbo?” I didn’t have a good answer. There were answers in my head (the main one was the heat complaint), but I didn’t feel good about offering any of them up. I knew that, had I appropriately adopted a winning mentality, any excuse I could come up with would have been nullified. If it was hot and I really wanted to win, I would have drank more water, taken breaks outside, and so forth. I felt kind of fraudulent having performed well all summer, then to lose like this.

As Ice and I talked about mentality and the challenges of winning and achieving success, I realized we agreed on a lot. We talked about how you should take care of your body days and weeks in advance of tournaments (which, for serious competitors, is all the time). At the end of the day, you want to eliminate as many excuses as possible for losing so that all that’s left is your gameplay. And your gameplay is something you can analyze and improve on.

Fun fact about me – I’ve been doing theatre for many years, mainly directing. One note I got from a director many years ago that has stuck with me and that I have given to cast members I’ve directed since: leave everything on the stage. Never leave the stage wishing you’d given more. Competing should be the same. Never walk away feeling like you could have done more to perform better, or that you could have prepared something in advance to eliminate any excuses you can come up with.

Back to Xanadu – I kind of recalibrated my mindset and reminded myself that I don’t like losing, so I played with a renewed mind in loser’s bracket. I beat SypherPhoenix 2-1, then played my brother lloD. I lost game 1, after which we switched setups. We were playing on a 20XX setup that had distracting visuals and music. I ended up winning in the following two games. Then I played Nintendude in our first runback since he eliminated me at EVO. I beat him 2-1 as well, being more stubborn about sticking to my gameplan of camping platforms. He flubbed a Marth killer on game 3 which cost his stock… but we take those!

Next I finally got the match against aMSa I was expecting. I put up a good fight, but man was I unprepared. People told me some stuff about the matchup, but you really don’t know what it’s like to fight against aMSa until you fight aMSa… the punishes were unreal. I didn’t know Yoshi could combo Marth like that. But now I know, and since then I’ve practiced with local Yoshi player PeanutPhobia. You’ve got to be prepared for any matchup that can come your way!

That night I got home and slept late, but had to be up at 7am to move into my new apartment! Spent the whole day moving all my furniture in and taking a trip through IKEA on three hours of sleep. It was awful. But luckily I could sleep early that night in preparation for SSC.

In keeping with my “have fun at SSC” mentality, I entered sm4sh as well as Melee singles and doubles. I played pretty well, tried to have fun, and it was all good. To summarize my Melee singles experience… it was bad. I did fine going through round 1 pools. But coming in day 2, I just had a bad feeling all morning. I woke up late, I forgot my badge, I was stressed about Rivals of Aether (more on that in another post), and I was overthinking a lot.

I had to play Tafo round 1 of my round 2 pool. We sat down and he said, “Are you ready to win?” I guess he expected me to beat him, which I guess wasn’t unreasonable given my summer performance, but I just said, “We’ll see!” because I knew anything could happen. I lost game 1, and the pressure was on. Game 2 I took him to FD, and all I remember from that was getting a sick kill: I hit him off-stage, grabbed ledge, and forced him to UpB on-stage. Then I ledge-hopped Dair, and caught his DI away on the Dair with a perfect pivot Tipper kill. It was dope. Then I had the lead game 3 and threw it away. I honestly don’t remember what happened, but I didn’t feel good. That kind of set the tone for me the rest of the day.

In losers, I played a Fox player who had been doing well. I forget his tag, unfortunately. But his whole squad was cheering him on. There were a bit of shots against me while we were playing, but I think I beat him pretty badly and the posse was a bit quieter as game 2 moved along. I remember seeing that I had to play against the winner of Aglet and Cyrain. Obviously I would have preferred Aglet, because he’s a Puff, but Cyrain clutched it out game 3 with a Bthrow into Uair. Cyrain beat me 2-1. It was a super flubby set, and again I felt pretty bad.

I feel like that weekend, my downfall was my lack of preparation. I felt awful all of Saturday after losing. My temper was on edge, and I couldn’t shake off the salt. It really just ruined my day.

And that helped me learn what kind of competitor I am. First, disclaimer: I really dislike johns, and I hate making johns. In the context of this bl0g, I’m trying to contextualize my experiences and learn from my mistakes. In this case, I thought I could aim to have a chill, fun weekend and still compete. But why did I feel so bad?

Let’s go back to my experience at Xanadu. When was I feeling bad, feeling uncomfortable? It was when I lost to Wenbo, and did not have a good excuse for it. I had excuses, but none of them were good. I felt the same way after being eliminated at SSC. I felt like I would have won both of the sets I’d lost had I prepared appropriately, but I didn’t, so I lost. And that felt awful.

This was a good realization for me. I can’t tell myself that I will be okay with any outcome if I decide to compete. I need to prepare and try my hardest… as it turns out, that isn’t even the end of the story (more on that in my post about Olympus).

I want to end this bl0g post on a more positive note, so let’s talk about Melee doubles! lloD and I did really well in teams. Our first big win in the bracket was over Wobbles and Axe. I remember walking to the restroom before we played them, and I was thinking about whether to go Fox or Marth. Typically, Fox/Peach is our default team. In this case, I thought Marth would be a better idea, so I texted lloD and asked him what he thought. He trusted my judgment and said okay.

It ended up working out really well. Fox/Peach may have been a better choice on paper, but the risk of Fox dying to Pikachu gimps by Axe or eating a ton of damage from Ice Climbers was too high for my liking. I recall a specific moment in game 3 that summarizes why the team worked so well – Pika was offstage while I was on the ground guarding ledge, and Ice Climbers were in the corner on the other side of the stage while lloD floated in center-stage with Peach. Even though we didn’t have reliable kill setups that we’d have had with Fox, the stage control and hitbox advantage of Marth/Peach was sufficiently oppressive.

Next, we played PewFat. As lifelong teams partners who have been training together for a long time, lloD and I respect PewFat. This set was pretty hype, and it was on the mainstage. We lost 1-2, but it was very close. We actually had a lead on them game 3, but Mr. S “Most Improved Player of the Year” FAT really stepped it up and turned the tides. I remember lloD pointing out that every unsafe dash attack he threw out on SFAT was punished with waveshines out-of-shield into Usmash. Even though we lost, we played our best. We actually lost to PewFat at EVO in teams… to be honest, they bodied us. It felt like they always covered the other’s position very well, and we had trouble getting our footing. I am kind of the “coach” of me and lloD’s team, so I tried re-tooling our strategy before we played them at SSC. To have gone from getting bodied to a near-win against one of the best teams in the world was a great feeling.

At SSC 2015, lloD and I got 5th in teams. We were double-eliminated by Colbol and Gahtzu. In losers, it was an extremely close game 5. We notably had trouble with Falcon’s camping on the top platform. After losing to PewFat, we were set to play against KJH and Gahtzu. We tried learning from our mistakes again, and anticipated how Gahtzu planned on playing Falcon in teams. I think, individually, lloD and I had both improved in the matchup as well. We beat them 2-1 in a fun set.

In top 8, we lost to ChuDat and Chillin. lloD often says that our team relies on my Fox holding my own, or winning, Fox dittos against any other Fox. And for the most part, that holds true. I held my own against KJH and SFAT. For some reason, Chillin destroyed me in the ditto. The guy plays so weird. I actually think our Fox styles are kind of similar, but his is more refined. We lost 0-3. They were definitely the hardest team we played at the tournament, and the only one we didn’t take a game off. But we have learned and will win next time. ;]

That’s pretty much all for now. Upcoming posts will outline my thoughts on Olympus as a tournament and my personal experience with it, and another post on “The Games I’m Playing” where I’ll talk about… the games that I’m playing and not playing.

Hope you enjoyed this post!

P.S. Never let me write “I’ll keep this next part brief” again because it’s always a lie.

Catching Up: Post-EVO and SSC2016

Catching Up: EVO2016

Originally titled “Much Has Happened in the Last Four Months,” I was going to talk about… the last four months. I ended up writing 3400 words on EVO, so I’m going to leave it at that, for now. Enjoy!

My last post was about Prime, which in my mind was a big turning point for me in terms of mentality. It was a “mini-breakout” performance of mine, having eliminated Milkman, Redd, and DJ Nintendo all in a row. I really took what I learned about stamina to heart and applied it to EVO, which was approximately one month later.

I’ve talked about EVO and my tournaments since then here and there on Twitter, Reddit, and on my stream, but let me attempt to contextualize my experience from the last few months .

EVO 2016

I guess I’ll start with my approach to EVO 2016, and the ~big match~ I had with Armada. I saw the pools, and I knew that Armada was in my path. I knew I could beat him – I’m convinced that my brother, lloD, is the second-coming of Peach. You’ll all find that out for yourselves soon enough ;]. I practiced extremely hard in June, but actually went on vacation in Europe for two weeks at the beginning of July, with almost no access to Melee. The last couple days of the trip were spent in London, where I played for a few hours at BrTarolg’s place. That helped shake off some rust, and was my first experience with PAL. I got home that Sunday, which was just a few days before my flight to Vegas. I guess I got a taste of what it’s like for European competitors to travel intercontinentally for a supermajor (I was actually in the U.S. for fewer days prior to EVO than Armada, in this case).

I was getting up early everyday before EVO, going for a run, then practicing some Melee. I didn’t want to over-practice – I just wanted to make sure I could perform at my peak whenever the time came. [Anime moments: think Goku and Gohan staying in Super Saiyan and relaxing in their days prior to fighting Cell]. For EVO, I decided to take the approach of maximizing my potential through mindset adjustment rather than through “grinding” tech skill or matchups or whatever. I’ve been playing for years, my brother is the future best Peach in the world, etc etc. All the tools I needed to beat Armada (and everyone else – eyes on the prize) were at my disposal, I just needed to be able to access them.

~DAY 1: the set with Armada~

With 8am round 1 pools looming in the morning, I was in bed before 10pm on Thursday night in my hotel room (earplugs came in handy while lloD and Nintendude played more Melee). I was up at 5:30am the next morning, found the hotel’s gym and went for a run, came back, showered, wavedashed around for a bit on our setup and woke the other guys up, then headed to the venue. I swept through my pool for the most part. Winners Finals I was caught up guard by a Fox player’s punish game, and actually found myself down 1 stocks to 3. This is one of those pivotal moments where you either let the nerves and expectations of you winning and the pressure of EVO get to you, and Fsmash randomly only to get Uthrow -> Uair’d again… or where you realize that you’re a beast, and just play the matchup properly. If I decided to play like a g0d at the beginning of the game, I’d 4-stock him, right? So why not just start playing like that now, even though I’m down 1 stock to 3? So I did, and I eliminated his 3 stocks, then won game 2 pretty handily.

10am and that was it, I was out of round 1 pools. Round 2 pools started at 8pm… which was 10 hours later. I’d already been awake for almost 5 hours, and the EVO venue is not exactly the most restful place. You meet other players, fans, peers, and bask in the glory of 20 other fighting games being played on the world stage… but you’ve also got to keep your eyes on the prize. In the early afternoon, I decided to take the Monorail back to the hotel, and bring some food court food to my room. I studied a couple of Armada videos while I ate, then napped for a couple hours. I invited Chillin and Azen to play, and Nintendude and Fendy came too so we warmed up for a bit before heading back to the venue. I felt really good after eating, resting, and taking my time to warm up again.

Once back in the venue, they pretty much put me in against Armada almost immediately. We just sat down and started preparing. All morning I’d been using the venue-provided in-game audio headsets (which was really nice), but for some reason they weren’t working on the setup Armada and I had. No matter, though – I figured that in a set like this the crowd would be doing me a favor if anything.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I started off my set vs. Armada the same way I started off my set vs. Hungrybox in the Pound Salty Suite: with a 0-death in the first ten seconds. This time, though, I got yet another early kill in the next 30 seconds. I think game 1 I was just out-footsie-ing him really well, and ultimately took a clean victory on Battlefield. Game 2 he counterpicked Stadium, so I took a breather and prepared for the Fox, as I thought there was no way he would go Peach on Stadium. That’s one of my counterpicks in the matchup, after all! Lo and behold, he stayed Peach. I didn’t think on it too much, but just tried to play my best.

Game 2 was actually really close for the most part, until he got a stitchface. Armada is far better at using stitches than any other Peach player that I’ve played, so he extended the lead pretty quickly and took the game. I could kind of see what his strategy was on that stage. He was doing a good job of getting away, pulling turnips, then floating medium-high and either retreating or playing a mixup on the way down. He tried staying just out of my range and whiff-punishing. It was a good, non-traditional gameplay mixup, and made me appreciate how good he is. I still played well, though, and I still think the stage favors Marth, so despite the gameplay switch it was practically even until the stitch.

Armada banned Yoshi’s Story for game 3, which makes sense. I think Peach typically either bans Yoshi’s or Stadium (or FD, if Armada is playing against M2K). In this case, I would normally counterpick Stadium, but Armada had already beaten me there. Even though the stitch made a big difference, I had to confront the possibility that he could run away and pull another stitch on Stadium. The three-platform layout of Battlefield aided my ability to out-footsie him in game 1, but I couldn’t go back to Battlefield. The last logical choice, then, was to go Fountain of Dreams. Maybe a strange pick, as FoD is where I usually expect Peach to go after I ban Dreamland. But I suppose this was no ordinary set.

Going into game 3, I flashed back to the lessons I’d learned over the past year. Specifically, a lesson I’d learned a few months prior at Shots Fired 2 in March 2016: game 3 against a top player –> don’t lose your patience. I surprised everyone by taking Ranai to game 3 at SF2 with my Corrin. Since then I’ve joked that it’s a good thing I lost to him, because otherwise I might be playing way more sm4sh instead of Melee now… but I digress. Upon reviewing my set with Ranai, I noticed that in game 3, I chased him down hard. Which was kind of silly. The reason I beat him game 1 was because I played patiently and capitalized on my openings. My game 3 mistake was rushing in instead of exercising restraint. So I had that in mind during my set with Armada.

This mindset helped me, and it hurt me. For the most part, I did a good job of avoiding his setups. I also cashed in on some conditioning I’d worked on from game 1, which was a good feeling. Reminds you that everyone is human, even the number 1 player in the world. Armada did an amazing job of cornering me in this game, and that’s a big reason I lost. Another reason I lost was that my mindset of patience caused me to miss out on a couple of opportunities to go aggro. Upon reviewing the set, I noticed a few openings in which I could have extended my lead, but instead decided to zone and play defense.

And then there was the “missed winning edgeguard” that people have argued over on YouTube comments and Reddit. I was recovering and hit Armada offstage with the back-hit of UpB, and we were both on our last stocks, high %. For the most part, I stand by not going for the risky Dair. He DI’d the UpB out, so I would have had to jump far for the Dair, and I may not have been able to come back. Plus, he double jumped back before drifting toward the stage. That said… *maybe* I could have hit the Dair. Maybe. In any case, the real mistake was me getting a bit fidgety with getting up from the ledge. I didn’t corner-pressure him well enough, I got hit away, and lost the game.

That was one of the saltiest losses I’ve suffered. I fist-bumped Armada, then stormed off, reeling. It took me a while to cool down. This is one of the drawbacks of what I’ve been calling the “champion mindset.” The harder you work to improve and grow and be the best, the much harder you fall when you lose. Same thing happened when I lost to Ranai, but on a smaller scale. People congratulated me in both cases, but at the end of the day, the bracket reads a loss. I’m writing this post three months later, and I still feel the effects of that lost. I’d be lying if I didn’t frequently imagine what things would be like if I had sealed the deal vs. Armada. It’s not a healthy thing to imagine, I think. I’ve been working on looking forward and learning what I can from the experience, instead of dwelling on *what-could-have-been*. It certainly isn’t easy.

I did cool off, and about 30 minutes after the set I sat down to warm up for my next match. Armada was warming up on the TV next to me when Ice came over to ask him how he was doing.

“I was almost sent to losers,” Armada said.

“By who?” replied Ice.

And I kind of leaned over and pointed to myself.

Armada and I got to talking a bit after that. He mentioned he thought about going Fox, but had not warmed him up at all that day and stuck with Peach (I also overheard him earlier that day saying he was confident in beating 99.9% of players with his Peach). He also mentioned that he didn’t know my brother was a Peach player and wasn’t expecting me to have such a good mastery over the matchup. It was a friendly conversation, and ended with him offering a fist-bump and saying “good luck in the bracket, man,” to which I replied “you too.” I walked away from that conversation feeling good, and with a newfound respect for Armada as a competitor.

I won’t go into quite as much detail on my loser’s bracket that day… mostly because it’s a bit of a blur. The set with Armada was the one that stood out. In any case, long-story short, I didn’t drop any more sets that day. I played some very good opponents. Excel Zero was a Peach, and had his whole crew behind him cheering him on, though at one point he was being coached and I politely reminded him that coaching wasn’t allowed. He was fast, and played very different from Armada. But still… it was Peach. Then there was Applesmaush/Cory who I had never heard of, but she was a very good, unorthodox Samus from Arizona. I ended up taking that set, as well.

I was waiting, then, to play the winner of Zain and Medz. Zain is my boy, who has joined me as a Marth pioneer. And now everybody knows who Zain is after his breakout performance at The Big House 6 where he took out both Plup and KJH. I don’t know as much about Medz, beyond that he is a great Fox player from AZ. I was the only person in the crowd cheering for Zain (who had taken out Ka-Master just before) amidst the AZ folk. Zain, being the Fox-slayer he is, ends up taking the set. It kind of sucked that he and I had to play each other, being the two best Marths from the same region, but Zain was upset in round 1 by an Ice Climbers player named Choknater.

Zain and I had played multiple times in our region this summer. I remember being frustrated when, the first tournament of the summer, he beat me for the first time ever. It was definitely a hit to my pride as MD/VA’s premiere Marth, even though I’ve made efforts to help Zain improve for a while. We went back and forth for a few weeks, but eventually I started winning every time. Something similar actually happened with lloD – we went back and forth in the beginning of summer, until I started winning every time. At this point, I haven’t lost to either of them since… early July, maybe? If you’ve been keeping up with MD/VA rankings, then you’ll know I was ranked 4th above lloD at 5th and Zain at 6th, and my record versus them was pretty influential in that.

In any case, I had to play Zain for 49th. I don’t know if he was playing worse or I was playing better than usual, but I beat him pretty convincingly (game 1: 3-stock, game 2: 2-stock). I say “worse or better than usual,” because although I had been winning when we played, it was almost always very close.

Fiction was 2nd seed in this pool, after Armada, so naturally he was my opponent in Losers Finals. Loser gets 33rd, winner makes it to top 32 for Day 2. Fiction plays a “smart” Fox rather than a “button-mashing” Fox – that is to say, he thinks about all of his movements and tries to play footsies with you. I love playing people like him because the games are largely comprised of mental combat, so this was a very fun set. I 3-stocked him game 1 on Battlefield, catching him with the same silly Ken Combo setup twice – I recall him exclaiming something to the effect of “I do those same combos on Fox” in a lighthearted manner. He ran it back to Battlefield game 2 and 1-stocked me. Game 3, I got the grabs I needed and 2-stocked him on Fountain. Fiction was a nice guy, a good sport, and a good player, so it was a nice way to end day 1 of EVO.

~DAY 2: Top 32~

The only non-MIOM-top-100 player in top 32 at the largest Melee tournament ever? I was feeling pretty good. Unfortunately I was to play my crewmate and EVO roommate, Nintendude, in round 1. For day 2, I didn’t have as planned a routine as I did for day 1. I just slept enough, ate a decent breakfast and lunch, and tried to warm up a bit. I had been playing with Mike in our hotel room, and I was doing very well in our friendlies, at least.

When we actually played, it was on stream. I was feeling fine, until we started playing. The beginning of the match, I got wobbled twice right away. I switched from Marth to Fox game 2, and did a bit better, but still not well enough. That was easily the worst I’d played all weekend. After the set, Mike stood up and said “I know you’re better than that.” And I am better than that, and we both knew it. So it was a pretty disappointing way to get knocked out of the bracket. And beyond that, winner of us played Chillindude, who I had a solid chance of beating (he mentioned he’d rather play Mike than me… though Mike was extremely prepared for Chillin and ended up beating him anyways). Still, it sucks that the three of us were stuck in that corner of bracket – yet another consequence of a round 1 pools upset where Nintendude lost to Kaeon.

So I took that loss pretty hard. It was cool that I placed so well as an unranked player, but I’m not one to settle when it comes to competition and my ambitions. I walked into that tournament aiming to win, and to beat everyone in my path. When I talked about my upcoming set with Armada, people would give me a certain look and say, “Ha… good luck. Maybe you’ll take a game!” I would reply, “Maybe I’ll take two.”

I am confident that I can compete at the very peak of Melee. It’s just a matter of filling in the weak spots in my gameplay so that I can make it far enough in bracket to compete with the top. And the more I fill in the gaps, and the more experience I get against better players, the better I will become. Step by step, I’m approaching the top.

Now that my Goku moment is out of the way, we can move on! The rest of EVO was fun. I entered Rivals of Aether, too, and had my own issues with how it was run. Rivals is a young game and still has a lot of growing to do – I ran into issues with it at SSC, as well. I have found it tiring to try and master a game that isn’t in a place to be mastered yet, which is why I’m not really playing it at the moment. Maybe I’ll talk about that more in-depth at a later date.

I also played quite a few Money Matches at the end of the day on day 2. Most notably, I played two MMs with fellow green-Marth Cactuar. We’d played in bracket once before at SSC 2015, where we had a close 3-game set (that he won). That time, he let me have green Marth and he played black, so this time I let him have green and I played black. He was up 2-0, then I made some adjustments and came back to win 3-2. Someone else wanted to play winner in an MM, but Cactuar asked to do another set. I agreed, but the other guy was pretty salty, walking away and sarcastically exclaiming “TPP!” That translates to “top-player privilege,” for the un-savvy. But I didn’t feel that bad, honestly… Cactuar is one of my favorite players to play, and we hardly ever get the chance to meet up. He is another one of those smart player that plays honest footsies, which, again, I find really fun.

He played Fox in the second set. I 4-stocked him game 1 on Battlefield, catching him with a super specific gimp trick that I remember catching him with the year prior, so that was pretty funny. We went back and forth, going to yet another last-hit scenario on game 5. This time, unfortunately, I SD’d… it was a super anti-climactic way to end our 10 games. But it was still really fun. Cactuar, if you’re reading this: let’s play again soon!!

~DAY 3: Top 8~

Pretty chill day. Started with a Mexican-food lunch with VGz + Zain. We got floor seats at top 8 for EVO, which was really nice. I loved the production and the cube-screen and the stage and everything. Nintendude accidentally popped someone’s thunderstick when they were Dreamland-clapping and they got super mad, which was hilarious. We watched the end of SFV, too. Then the Twitch party was lit. Yadda-yadda. EVO is great, and I’ll keep going back. Maybe next year I’ll enter SFV.

That’s all for now. Thanks to those of you who always read these posts all the way through! I know I tend to blather on occasion, but I hope I provided some entertaining and interesting insight into my experiences.

Happy smashing!

P.S. Remember to vote.

Catching Up: EVO2016