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.

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Catching Up: EVO2016