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