I skimmed through my post on EVO 2017 before writing this and boy are there a lot of parallels. Just goes to show that our habits as players and people tend to repeat themselves, and we can always learn from our past experiences. I’m going to try and make a better habit of reading through my old posts.
The theme for the past few weeks has been this quote: “It’s all about the game.” It’s a good motto and a quote from the show VGHS, a screenshot from which is currently my pinned tweet. It can be quite easy to get swept away by esports, social media, and community politics, but the game itself is most important at the end of the day. It might seem like an obvious realization, but I find it helpful to constantly remind myself why I’m doing all of this in the first place.
I took a two-month break from competing and traveling after Smash’n’Splash 4. From March through May, I was traveling just about every weekend or every other weekend, and it was taking its toll. I would feel anxiety anytime I had to travel back to NYC after a tournament. A close friend of mine astutely observed that I probably started associating the city only with work – my routine basically consisted of going to work, going to the gym, then preparing for whatever tournament was next and traveling to compete.
During my break, I wanted to find fulfillment in the city separate from smash. I spent more time exploring parts of the city I hadn’t seen before, I spent more time with friends from college, met some new friends, and caught up with some family. It was a very good break.
I had been playing Melee but not to the same extent. Because every tournament in the year thus far was running UCF, I wanted to spend this time acclimating to vanilla. I was using a PODE controller, which meant near-perfect dashback. While using this controller I had to train myself out of using empty pivots and PC drops, both of which are unavailable to a PODE controller.
About a week and a half before EVO, I decided to forsake the PODE controller. A good dashback controller develops the same “defect” (PODE = potentiometer oddity degradation effect) in the vertical axis, which means inconsistent tap jumps. More specifically, it means that a percentage of my tap jump short hops get read as full hops (if you didn’t know this already, I use tap jump for just about all of my jumps). This is more of a problem with Fox because of his jump squat, but it affected my Marth as well. Regardless, I decided it was a problem I did not want to live with.
So I resumed practice with the controller I’ve been using on UCF since March. I had another controller that had access to empty pivots and PC drops and good dashback, but that was not notched so shield drops were harder, but I’d sent that controller to n3z for notching in June. Unfortunately it took a long time to receive the controller back – it wasn’t until a few days before EVO that I was able to test it again.
I’m not really sure what happened, but the 90%+ dashback I used to see on that controller was no more. It may not have been true PODE, because smash-logo controllers don’t really develop that, but I’d tested it multiple times and had amazing dashback. In fact, I used that controller at the Twitch Bash and Genesis 5 just for that reason.
In any case, it is still a good controller. During this time, I recognized that I would greatly benefit from a healthy mix of solo practice and in-person fests in order to brush up my execution and controller familiarity.
I have a tendency to be indecisive with controllers, but ultimately decided to go with the controller I’ve been using since March. When in doubt, I think, go with the controller you’re more familiar with. The goal is to have as few barriers between you and the game as possible, and having to think twice about any of your inputs can be the difference between winning and losing a tight set.
Ironically, I had a similar decision to make two years ago before EVO 2016. I was used to a controller but found out that a different one, previously retired from Melee for unrelated reasons, had good shield drops on both sides (as opposed to the controller I had been using which had shield drops on one side). I decided to pick the controller I was most comfortable with, and it paid off – that was when I almost defeated Armada. To add an additional layer of irony… the controller that I decided NOT to use in BOTH cases is the exact same controller. I’d used it for Melee in 2015, then retired it to be my sm4sh controller. Then, upon discovering its good shield drops, I picked it up after EVO 2016. I used it largely throughout the remainder of 2016 and early 2017 before retiring it again. In December of 2017, I discovered it had amazing dashback, so I used it at the Twitch Bash and Genesis 6, but it had still never been notched or modded in any way so I kept it in my bank for a rainy day. Only now did I get it notched up, but the dashback is, unfortunately, a bit worse than before.
It’s the controller that keeps on giving, I guess. Using a controller for this long is extremely rare for me, as I typically switch controllers at least two or three times a year.
In any case, let’s get into the tournament a bit!
Friday – Day 1
No crazy revelations with regard to tournament preparation this time around. I planned on getting up around an hour before my 10am pool (I had 8am DBFZ but forgot to pack my pad…), but I naturally woke up early. Decided to hit the gym for some cardio to get the blood flowing, then I had a big breakfast and went to play.
Round 1 was pretty straightforward. Ringler was in my pool and I knew he played DK, so I wasn’t sleeping. I’ve tweeted multiple times about how DK beats Marth, and I’m only half-joking. He has really easy edgeguards on Marth thanks to the invincible UpB from ledge, and his grab can confirm into kills, or offstage scenarios at the least, as early as 50%. I won game 1 and was at 7% with a 100%+ lead on last stock game 2 when he grabbed me. We were so far from the ledge on Battlefield that I thought there was no way he would go for the cargo stage spike, so I didn’t bother mashing. How naive I was. I missed the tech but still tried to stall as long as I could, using my sideB, jump, and UpB. I barely died first.
Game 3 was last stock as well but I ended up winning, and that was that.
I actually entered sm4sh as well. I’d been practicing a little bit to prepare for Smash Masters. I brushed up all of my characters so I could be prepared for anything. I ran into JK in winners, and decided to give Kirby versus Bayo one last shot… it’s not worth it. Bayo basically covers the same zones as Kirby but with longer range and the ability to run away forever. I switched to Corrin game 2 (I think I like a sword versus Bayo, as opposed to playing Rosa) and had a sick kill (Fair into angled tipper Fsmash) but lost. I learned a bunch and 2-0’d the next best Bayo in my pool in losers, though. Ended up losing to a Metaknight (Kirby was the right move here – couldn’t figure it out with Corrin and MK destroys Rosa), but Kirby dies at like 70% from dash attack. So I ended up getting 4th in my pool – not too bad for being retired!
The rest of the day was pretty chill – I figured Friday was my best shot at exploring the event, as Saturday would be busy with bracket. I picked up some EVO merch, patronized some art vendors, and walked around to watch the other games. If you ever get the chance to go to EVO, don’t tunnel-vision with your own game. There’s a lot to see and explore, and that’s what makes EVO one of my favorite events. You get a sense for the smash community at any other event, but this is your chance to see what the other FGCs are really like.
Got dinner with Zain and Leffen. They asked us for a last name, and we all paused, normally deferring to whoever’s last name in the group is easiest to pronounce/spell… before realizing that we all have difficult last names. Zain stepped up to plate.
Dinner was lavish, but I accidentally ate some solid chunks of salt. So that was cool.
Zain and I played for a while in my room – I always bring a CRT setup to my hotel at EVO because it’s the least reliable tournament in terms of finding friendlies. It’s always valuable to get a solid session of grinding in with a top player, especially if you’re playing proactively. They were the best Marth dittos Zain and I have had in several months – for most of 2018 he’s been beating me in most of our friendlies but I finally felt like I was able to catch up with his neutral. Plus, I always feel like anytime our games are close, we start pushing the Marth ditto meta.
Zain was sick so he didn’t want to be up too late. That was when I started my real practice for the night… with Bobby Scar. We played for an hour or so – he wanted to play a bit before his salty suite match with Fendy, I guess. It was clear to me that his punish game is still really solid, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when Scar ended up taking it over Fendy 5-2 the next night.
Saturday – Day 2
You know, I really wish I had something more profound to write here about my performance. But honestly I’ve written most of what I need to say with regard to my approach – I’d been making a concerted effort to just focus on the game, and to do whatever I felt was best in terms of physical preparation. I woke up two hours before my 10am pool again, had another solid breakfast (egg whites, meats, potatoes, toast, coffee), got ready listening to some music. The works, nothing too out of the ordinary.
My first match was against Mr. F. I actually thought I would be fighting Tai up until I slept the night before when I finally checked my bracket and saw that Mr. F pulled the upset. I beat Mr. F pretty solidly, having recently put extra work into the Puff matchup after losing to 2saint at OMEGA II. That loss was a good wake-up call, one of those losses you walk away from and say “Yeah, what I need to work on is right in front of me.” I’ve played 2saint on Netplay (and other Puffs) a few times since then and I feel significantly stronger in that matchup. It definitely showed against Mr. F.
I was supposed to play Mew2King pretty soon after. A good amount of time passed – and I played Zain in the meantime – before I tracked down a stream-runner and they told me M2K requested to be last in the queue. I thought it was silly that they wouldn’t have told me that, but I didn’t feel like being righteous at the time, and just went back to playing. I also played a couple of games against Android and Swedish just to stretch my Sheik-punish-game-muscles.
I didn’t think too hard about whether M2K would play Marth or Sheik against me – I figured there was a chance I would fight both. In any case, the punish game is actually similar against both characters from Marth’s perspective. He started Marth and we had a healthy back-and-forth for two games. In game 2, I had two SDs. One of them was strictly out of surprise and/or fear – in a situation where many Marths grab ledge, M2K just starts to space a tipper. In that moment, you realize that you have to sweetspot your UpB and possibly go for a tech, or you are dead, and this is even harder on Battlefield. Instead I did nothing and died early.
But you have to keep playing the game, so I kept playing. It’s a fun game. I dunno. I just kept going, tried to make some ballsy plays while I was behind, and eventually something paid off.
Oh! Something slightly new that I was paying attention to that weekend was execution. I noticed from watching some of my past sets that I allow myself to repeat some execution mistakes, and I wanted to make a conscious effort to identify and rectify those mistakes. It could be as simple as jumping or airdodging instead of wavedashing, so I tried to be mindful before executing one of those tactics. This is something you should be mindful of all the time when trying to sharpen aspects of your gameplay – both in friendlies and in tournament. Eventually you will notice your success rate increase, along with your confidence. At that point, these things are absorbed into your muscle memory and you can continue interfacing directly with the game and your opponent.
Continuing, I won game 2. Oh, one more interlude – you’ll notice that M2K had a mid-set handwarmer. He asked me if he could check and fix his shield drops before game 2. I told him he had 15 seconds, and I was pretty up-front about this. I said “Sure, as long as you can do it in 15 seconds.” To his credit, it took him much less than that.
Game 3 was a runback to BF with a switch to Sheik. M2K knows how to delete stocks when the opponent makes a mistake, and that’s what happened to me early on. But I jumped back onto my gameplan and showed that I, too, can delete my opponent’s stocks. I think he got a bit flustered around here and I just kept playing, so I came out on top.
I gave him a fist bump and had a mini-popoff toward the crowd. I didn’t feel like I was exploding with energy, I just felt happy and at the same energy level as when I played. I think it’s because the victory, by the end of the set, didn’t feel like a “surprise.” As the set went on, it became clear that I was playing up to par, and outplaying my opponent in the right moments. Why have an explosive pop-off right after the set if that’s how the set is playing out? Maybe because it’s a victory over a god, but I think that would have required me to be overthinking the result prior to the end of the match. But it’s not about the results, it’s about the game.
I got off the stage and was met with a bunch of my homies – this was the best part of my day. I was out there fighting for myself and love of the game, but knowing that the people I love were watching and supporting me felt really good. My phone started buzzing basically as soon as I walked off the stage… so I put it away in my bag and reminded people that “the bracket isn’t over yet.”
Oh… another thing I forgot to mention that some people will probably find interesting. I’ve been thinking a lot of about neutral “footsies” over the last couple of months. It’s really fun to think about and theorycraft, and often an underappreciated art in a game like Melee where movement is already so freeform. I’ve done a little bit of writing on footsies in the form of a Corner pressure analysis you can find here. I want to do some more writing along those lines. There’s a dearth of content analyzing actual footsies concepts, but one of my favorites to go back to is the write-ups on sonichurricane. I stumbled upon it while studying SFV (for the purpose of improving footsies in smash) a couple of years ago, and find myself returning to it every so often. Trying to translate SF-specific scenarios to smash is a solid exercise in itself.
My next set was against S2J. I haven’t beaten him before, but it’s basically always been somewhat close. I knew that I could get the damage and openings, but I need to have really clean punishes and consistent follow-throughs to actually win the set. As expect, game 1 is a slobberknocker. I punished him for an overextension and win the game. I ban Stadium, preferring to try Dreamland for game 2, but I lost solidly there. I think I should practice on Stadium some more versus Falcon, and maybe go back and study M2K vs Wizzy from recently where he wins on that stage. Dreamland hasn’t been working out too well recently against the Falcons. Game 3 I counterpick Yoshi’s, start with a lead, lose the lead, then go down quite a bit.
I was actually down by a solid 100% margin and a full stock, basically any aerial away from losing the set. I’m pretty proud of how I played from this point moving forward. I stuck to a gameplan and executed well, slowly clawing my way to a last-hit scenario. I took Johnny’s 3rd stock and was well on my way to taking the last. I whiffed an Fsmash at the end of a big combo and a Bair from Falcon finished my stock (I think I was at 140%+ at this point). I knew before I got to the combo’s climax that I wanted to finish with an Fsmash, but once I got there I realized Fsmash wasn’t going to hit. You can see a moment of hesitation where my brain is saying no but my hands say yes, and I swing and lose. Upon review, I realized that the reason the Fsmash wasn’t working is that I didn’t get the Uair setup I wanted. Instead of a DJ tipper Uair, I landed on the side plat and did a jump weak Uair, which didn’t set up for the Fsmash very well.
Although you could describe the set as a “heartbreaker,” given how close I was to bringing it all the way to a victory, I feel pretty good about the steps forward I took as a player. My composure did not wane, I never stopped fighting my heart out, I implemented solid gameplans, and I executed well. Nothing to shrug at.
Immediately I had to fight n0ne, who beat me 2-0. I wasn’t quite ready to make the player-style shift so drastically, and only found my footing when it was too late. Whereas Johnny and I thrashed each other, n0ne took a more measured approach to neutral. The result was that I started off the set not matching my opponent’s pace, and got punished appropriately. I don’t feel too bad about this loss either, knowing that I needed to make better effort to fighting a new opponent using the same character.
Honestly the rest of the day at the venue was kind of a blur. It felt nice to have people recognize my accomplishments, but I could feel my competitive spirit already itching to play more Melee and keep getting better. I think it’s probably important to celebrate your achievements, as it can be easy to let those moments slip by. I’m going to make a mental note of that because it’s something I can improve on.
After dinner with the crew (and second dinner with the other crew… Vegas), I made my way to my hotel room to relax and recharge (figuratively and electronically). I watched sm4sh until heading over to the Scar/Fendy Penthouse Suite at the Bellagio. Not a whole lot to tell – Scar beat Fendy pretty handily. Hugo’s secondaries suck. Waff beat my Falco with his Marth in a bo5 but I won’t let that happen again. Ended the night with a chill walk back to the Mandalay with Fendy and Iceman.
I forgot to mention this earlier, so I’m just adding this section here while we’re still technically on day 2. Swedish beat Armada!! Swedish is amazing. I really, really wanted to be the one to beat Armada, but if it had to be someone else, I’m glad it was Swedish. He’s one of the most talented and humble players out there, it feels right for him to get a win like this. But I will be trying my hardest to be the second person to make a crack in the fortress that is Armada. And here you go, for posterity.
Sunday – Day 3
Apparently, I forgot to book tickets for Sunday finals. How forgetful we become as we age – just two years ago I was all over those tickets, having bought arena floor seats the instant they came out for me and my whole crew (the actual crew this time – VGz). This resulted in me and Zain playing Melee in my hotel room while we watched top 8 on Twitch.
I think the healthiest outcomes for Melee were either a Leffen victory or Mang0 victory, and I’m glad it turned out that way. Leffen has had a win like this coming for a while. Honestly, I’m not surprised at all that it came in such a dominant fashion. In fact, I think it was most likely to come in this form. I’m not at the top 6 level yet so my analysis of this can only go so far, but I get the feeling that Leffen’s peak is significantly higher than his average, and Armada’s average is a lot closer to his peak. Same goes for Hungrybox and Mew2King. Mang0’s peak is certainly much higher than his average.
If all the gods are playing at their averages but Leffen is anywhere near his peak, we may see a Leffen victory. And that’s what happened.
I think Mang0 “underperforming,” at least to his own expectations, marks one solid step closer to his retirement from serious competing. I don’t think he’ll ever stop playing, but I don’t think he has the drive to compete with the same fire he once possessed.
At this point, I see Armada as a relentless force in bracket that players try to overcome. The way he played against M2K and Zain to make it into top 8 was absurd. He never stops trying, and he actually innovates in subtle ways. His understanding of the game just runs so deep, which is why so often it seems that he’s just following a “flowchart” – he only needs to go one or two layers deep to beat most players. As such, I find it even more fitting that Leffen won the tournament in such a dominating fashion.
A thought I had, that I articulated on the EVO/SSC Megacast episode of Analog, was that the way Armada plays Peach is designed to make his opponents crack. He wears them down with mental pressure and big hits, eventually winning. And I think his Fox does not necessarily do this, which is why his Fox seems more susceptible to losing to non-gods. I wasn’t very surprised when Armada was able to make huge comebacks on S2J and Wizzy, and I wasn’t very surprised when his Fox fell to both Plup and Swedish. Sheik really seems to be the key here – getting Armada to switch off of Peach is step one. Just something to think about moving forward.
In any case. I managed to get a spare pass for DBFZ finals later in the day, which I was really excited for. One of the best parts of EVO is experiencing the culture of other games, and as a DBFZ fan I just had to get in the arena. Months ago, I said on Analog that at EVO finals you’d have the crowd yelling along with the game. Little did I know, it would become commonplace for the crowd to yell “AHHHH!!!!” as Cell charges up in the intro cinematic. I’m proud to say that I added my voice to that chorus at EVO finals.
After DBFZ I was going to see Criss Angel with Nintendude but I was feeling sick so ended up skipping out. Slept early and flew out the next morning.
Honestly, I felt a little off on the Friday of this EVO. I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but there was a moment in the evening where I thought, “Why do I put all this effort into traveling and competing?” Lately, I often find myself caught in bouts of introspection. I can’t tell you what happened between Friday and Saturday, because honestly I hvae trouble remembering. I think I’ve become a more resilient person, and I’ve yet to reach my final form. Maybe my daily efforts toward self-improvement helped me bounce back when I needed it. Maybe it was words of encouragement from friends I spoke with Friday night. Maybe I just remembered that it’s all about the game.
It could also just be that I trusted myself to do what I needed to do. That self-trust can go quite a long way. Whatever it was, it worked.
By the end of the weekend, I was sure that coming back to EVO was the right decision. And I’ll be back next year, even if it’s still best-of-3.