EVO 2017 (And Everything Before)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boss Rush

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

But I digress!

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday and Monday

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

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

 

Advertisements
EVO 2017 (And Everything Before)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s