SSC 2018

Like I mentioned in my last post, there was too much to say to combine both EVO and SSC into one write-up, so here is part two of the August chronicles.

I was feeling pretty good off my EVO performance. I’d taken the Monday after off from work in order to have a low-key travel day so I could rest before getting back into my work-week and SSC prep. After that one day off, I began prepping again for SSC.

EVO always feels like the tournament where everything is on the line. You fight for glory. SuperSmashCon, on the other hand, has always felt a bit more like a vacation tournament for me. It’s in my home region, so I stay at my family’s house when I attend. It also is an excuse for me to see all my VA friends that I don’t normally see as much these days. But in years past, I’ve been prone to a mistake at SSC – my approach to the actual tournament is too lax.

It’s easy to go into relaxation mode after the intensity of a tournament like EVO, especially given the circumstances of SSC. But (and I believe I documented this two years ago) I know that I won’t be satisfied with the tournament unless I give it my all. That means I have to start mentally preparing to compete at 100% well in advance, and treat every tournament match with the same level of preparation.

At SSC 2016, I decided I would “just have fun” at SSC. I ended up placing poorly and feeling really bad overall. Even at SSC 2017, I’d learned my lesson but still didn’t fully understand that it takes conscious effort and energy to mentally separate the “relaxing/vacation” aspects of the tournament from the “focused energy/serious competitive” aspect.

This year, my singles pools were not scheduled to start until Saturday, so both day 0 and day 1 were pretty flexible. I realized that I would be able to enjoy the more relaxing aspects of SSC on those two days before the real competition began on Saturday.

Day 0

I finally got to see the 64 Combo Contest live, and it’s freaking nuts. I absolutely love that the 64 community is having a renaissance over the past couple years and is able to showcase such a unique event that basically wouldn’t work for any other smash game. Combos are one of the defining factors of 64, and the Combo Contest is the perfect opportunity to show off how creative and innovative the best players can be. Every time I think Prince has finally topped himself, he always comes back with a new surprise. Literally every time. If you haven’t checked out the highlights from this year, go check them out on YouTube.

I was invited to participate in the “21” side event for Melee, in which a 3v1 team tries to kill the 1 (“it”) and “it” tries to survive. You get 1 point for killing “it,” and 3 points for surviving as “it.” If you get 1 point, you become “it.” The game was pretty fun, especially since my group was me, Chillin, ESAM, and aMSa. I hear the other group was pretty grueling though (M2K, DJ, 2saint, and Zain). The event was cute, but I think it was probably hard to follow for people who didn’t know the rules, especially since there was no live score display on the stream. I hope we keep exploring side events for Melee so we can show people different aspects of the game.

Day 1

I was also invited to participate in Smash Masters, which was a huge honor for me. I’ve always taken great pride in my ability to compete in all smash games at high level with multiple characters – I’m the only person banned from all 5 Arcadian events in MD/VA (I was PR’d in every game, but 64 doesn’t have a PR so I entered and won the Arcadian).

Unfortunately, I was seeded last and had to play Mew2King. For me, this challegned the integrity of the event’s results and made it feel more like an exhibition for viewers than an actual showcase of who can compete in the most smash games. If you seed the event by how you score Smash Masters, players who are adept in more than one or two smash games would be more highly valued. By that metric, I should be seeded somewhere in the middle of the pack, as someone who has been a top player in two games (and put serious effort into all of them).

Going into my set with M2K, I felt like I had no passion to play. M2K didn’t seem to really care about it and kept complaining about why we had to pick an order for the games. I probably look about as unhappy as I felt for the majority of that set. When we got to Melee, he kept insisting that it was basically friendlies and offered to play whatever matchup. Again, this reinforced the feeling that Smash Masters didn’t really matter and was just to give viewers something fun to watch. And maybe that’s all it is. I decided it wasn’t going to be what I thought it was, so I picked ICs in Melee. That was when I started having fun (ironically). I got an actual reaction from M2K, I got the crowd hype with wobble setups and SoPo plays.

I still lost, but I wanted to showcase some of my Brawl Samus and insisted we play Brawl. I love Brawl Samus and had fun with that too. Hopefully I at least provided some entertaining gameplay for people to watch, even if the event didn’t turn out how I envisioned.

I think Smash Masters is a cool idea for an event but the implementation fell flat for me. The headphones didn’t work and we got stalled for fifteen minutes, we were asked to quit mid-game in 64 because we were playing on 5 stocks instead of 4. Maybe I cared about the event more than the other competitors, but like I said, playing multiple smash games is something I’m proud of as a lifelong fan of the series.

In any case, I’m interested to see how the event evolves next year with the inclusion of Smash Ultimate. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to participate again, but we’ll see!

Day 1 also included teams. Because lloD is now in med school, I don’t have my static partner at every event. But I ended up teaming with Chu for the first time. Right off the bat, we had a good back-and-forth on teams strategies and tactics. We developed a number of good tools to use, and we both naturally have good instincts for teams.

Unfortunately, our team was Marth and ICs. We struggle to kill evasive characters and can’t control the air too well. In winners, we dropped to Swedish and Druggedfox, who were able to outcamp us with their projectiles and keep us separated when they found openings. We wouldn’t be able to overcome the Sheik/Falco neutral dominance without a great deal more experience as a team. It’s a similar story for Marth/Peach, but lloD and I have so much experience teaming together that we’re able to coordinate better and capitalize harder.

In losers, Chu and I lost to Reno and Lucky. Turns out, Sheik was our bane. She was hard to catch and impossible to kill, and the ICs advantage over Sheik does not translate well into teams. I think with more experience, Chu and I could be a very strong team. We also considered playing Fox/ICs, but I wasn’t feeling confident enough in my Fox and most of the tactics we’d worked out were Marth/ICs specific. Maybe next time! We ended up at 13th.

I actually also entered sm4sh at SSC, and did decently. I rotated between Kirby, Rosa, and Corrin. I played Rosa against Nameless, the first seed in our pool who played Diddy Kong. Pretty early in game 1 I SD’d at 50% (which was weird… my angles with Rosa are usually really good). I felt a bit underwhelmed by his neutral, but I didn’t know enough about how Diddy punishes Rosa to take the set. I was actually hoping to take this set so that I could play Remzi in WFs of the pool. Remzi is my homie and we also have a history of crazy sets in sm4sh. At SSC 2015, we actually played the last set of day 1 for top 32 qualifiers. It was game 3 last hit, and I barely clutched it out with an insanely (rage-enhanced) Kirby Bair over his ZSS – this was the first time I ever really popped off in tournament.

The rest of the pool was decent as well. I had a couple game 3s. I played a Ryu with my Kirby, which is a fun matchup because Kirby can get in there and fight. I made the mistake of doing a charged Fsmash into Ryu’s Focus Attack… so I died for that and lost game 1. But I won the next two games pretty handily (and I got a few EX Hadoukens of my own in there). I also played a Shulk. Game 1 was Corrin because of double-blind, but I switched to Kirby game 2. I’ve been waiting to play a Shulk with Kirby in tournament my whole career. Obviously, I inhaled the Monado Arts and turned Kirby into a top tier character. The first thing I did was use Jump Arts and jump under Town & City (it takes like two jumps). Then I switched to Buster Arts and combo’d Utilt/Uair until 60%+ (it’s a true combo). Monado Kirby is nuts. I won that set.

I ended up fighting another Diddy in losers, starting game 1 as Corrin and losing. I won game 2 handily as Rosa, and then he counterpicked my Rosa with Falco and won. I have no idea how that matchup works, though I’m sure Rosa wins. He had a number of setups to kill Luma, though, and past that I was kind of lost. All in all it was a fun bracket and I’m glad I entered.

I should mention this – during my Kirby Shulk game, I heard a crowd going nuts. I looked over the TV and saw that SHOVEL KNIGHT was being announced for Rivals. That was as insane an announcement as you can expect, so that was really cool. I’m excited to try Rivals again after Shine.

Those were about all the highlights from day 1. Onwards.

Day 2

Pools at 12, I got to the venue at around 11am to warm up. Nothing too crazy, just played my matches and played a good amount of friendlies and MMs throughout the day. Tried to play against a variety of skill levels.

My round 2 pool had me up against Uncle Mojo. I’ve played him once before at CEO Dreamland, where I won game 5. Our set this time was quite sloppy from both sides. He won game 1. Then game 2, I had a 2 stock lead that he almost brought all the way back. Game 3 I won a bit more handily, but it was still close. I think I approached this set a bit too nervously, imagining that I was both fighting against a strong player and the possibility of being upset in bracket. The result was stuttery movement and dropped punishes. But alas, I pulled through.

My next match was Lucky. Nerves had gone away and I was ready to just play. I think the set was pretty good overall. I did a good job of finding openings, forcing him to respect me in neutral, and converting my punishes into edgeguards and kills. He played pretty patiently as we moved into game 3, and I think my discipline wavered a tiny amount. But just enough for me to lose the set. In some cases I was too stubbornly sticking to the corner, and he called out my movement back with overshoot Usmashes to kill. And in other cases, I was too desperate to get a shield grab, and his full hop pressure beat out my grabs.

But those are small difference-makers, and overall the set was good. There were many great moments in game 3 where neither of us is making a high commitment move and you can feel the tension build up as we dance around each other before something happens. I ended up losing but felt pretty good about the improvements I’d made in the matchup from earlier this year. Moving forward, I need to work on really cleaning up my conversions and maintaining pressure on Fox from true neutral and advantage state.

In losers, I had to play Bladewise to make it into top 32 for the next day. I won pretty solidly 2-0. I’ve been saying for a long time that I never get to fight the top Peaches in bracket, and I’m finally getting my shot. More than anything I just want to get experience against all the different styles, because all the top Peaches really do have unique approaches to the character.

By this point it was pretty late, and I was ready to go before I was reminded that I’d agree to emcee at the Smashies. I considered dropping out, but ultimately decided to stick it out. I try to make an effort to participate in the non-bracket related activities at every tournament I go to. If you don’t, then every tournament is the same and you aren’t getting the whole experience. That’s how I see it, anyways.

The Smashies is a really cool tradition that I wanted to support. In many ways, SuperSmashCon is a celebration of smash and the Smashies really embody that. I presented the “Most Improved in Melee” award with Hbox. We came up with some banter about how I beat him on Netplay and our ranks both were exactly the same for the last two ranking periods, then we presented the award. Zain, obviously, was the recipient, having jumped into the top 10 on the Summer MPGR. It felt fitting that I was the one to present Zain with the award. So that was nice.

But once that was done, it was time to head home to rest up for top 32 the next morning.

Day 3

My first match was against MacD, and Armada’s first match was against La Luna, so he messaged me asking if I wanted to warm up before bracket. I said yes, of course, because what better practice is there than Armada, even if my first opponent isn’t Peach? We played for about an hour and a half before bracket started at 11am. Our matches go as they usually do, and it’s good practice on keeping my brain turned on and executing. I also finally started taking games with my Fox. My peak Fox is still sick, but I haven’t been putting as much time into my Fox in the past couple of months so consistency is still a little wanting.

First thing MacD says when I sit down to play: “Your mistake was playing a good player. I’m gonna catch you off-guard.” And catch me off-guard he did – MacD took game 1. Not that I was sleeping on him at all, because I wasn’t. MacD is just good, and if you think he’s washed, you’re probably wrong (depending on how he’s feeling). But to get to this spot, he’d already taken out Reeve and 2saint, both of whom are no joke. I grinded my way to a game 2 and 3 victory. Both were very close, I just tried my hardest and eventually came out on top. Game 4 he lost composure a bit, and I could see him getting frustrated while I play the same – that game was the least close, and the set was over.

Eventually I had to play La Luna. Armada and I talked briefly about how I would likely have to play loser of that match – Armada’s response was that we’ll just do what we did at EVO, double-eliminate the same Marth player, but this time Armada from winners and me from losers.

We were bumped off the side-stream due to time constraints, but I was a little miffed about how that communication was handled (we were told it was “because Jerry is timing out aMSa,” which was happening on the main stream). Nintendude provided the full context to me later (he wasn’t the one communicating that to us at the time), but the issue remains that a TO shouldn’t make players feel like their set is unimportant.

There was also no dedicated bracket area, as the setups were largely left to friendlies. So my concern was that someone would ask to get next while Luna and I played. I expressed this concern and was told there was no man-power to assure that didn’t happen. It wasn’t a good look, and I had no interest in “just finding a setup” to play on. Eventually the TOs told us where to play and we sat down.

Lo and behold, someone asked to get next. Luckily, the set hadn’t started. Then a crowd formed, making it clear that we were playing tournament.

I don’t think anyone recorded the set, which is a shame, but boy was it a slobberknocker. We went back and forth quite a bit. It came down to last stock, game 5, medium-high %. I think I was making a small comeback. I could tell that for the whole last stock, he was playing uncharacteristically antsy, and I tried to push that advantage on my end. He found an opening and started comboing me offstage, but overextended a bit and I killed him for it. We ended the set with a solid hug. It sucks when you knock out your homies in bracket… but eventually most people in bracket are your homies, and the best you can do is play your heart out and give them a good set.

I tried to keep tabs on how I was playing and what I needed to continue competing in top shape. I think there is a false perception that players need to constantly be playing in order to be in good shape to perform in bracket. Sometimes you do need to warm up. Sometimes you need to warm up, then step away and resume playing. Sometimes you don’t need to play at all.

You should do whatever you need to feel confident going into your next set. Focus on the building of confidence, rather than trying to fan out insecurities. The compulsion to play constantly up to the moment you play in bracket is a desire rooted in insecurity – you want to practice as much as you can. But to succeed in Melee, and most things in life, you cannot cram. I’d be curious to see an actual study on this, but in my experience, the physical act of playing right up until your set doesn’t make a big difference in how you end up playing.

That doesn’t mean you should play cold. If you haven’t warmed up, then you should probably warm up. But sometimes I don’t want to worry about winning friendlies, and would rather just practice wavedashing across the stage. And sometimes I want to have my hands off the controller altogether, preferring to spend my time drinking water or talking to friends or reading notes. Other times, I want to play with someone I’m comfortable with, just to calm the nerves and reacquaint myself with familiar gameplay. And occasionally I’ll seek out a top player and stimulate my brain with high level play.

The most important thing is that you feel confident and clear-headed. Everyone has a different process, you just have to experiment and find out what works for you.

I expected that, after La Luna, I would be fighting Jerry who had just lost to aMSa. But Jerry was in the process of getting reverse 3-0’d by Jakenshaken, a Marth whose name I’ve been hearing more and more. I didn’t want the entirety of the set, but I liked a bit of what I saw from Jake.

Alas, I was in prime form to take on any Marth that came my way, having recently played with, in friendlies and in bracket, Zain, Mew2King, and La Luna. It doesn’t get a whole lot harder than that. I ended up taking the set 3-0. But I’ve got my eyes on Jakenshaken – I’m sure he’ll keep improving.

My last match in this wave was against Frenzy. People began asking me, “Is this for top 8?” I’d reply that I didn’t know, because I honestly didn’t. But I figured it was, after how many people were asking me. And then people told me that yes, it was for top 8. I asked around about Frenzy, not knowing anything about him. I was told that he’s from Europe. That he plays Falco. That he’s pretty good. The works.

It’s weird getting this deep in bracket and fighting an opponent about whom you have virtually no information beyond what people tell you in the minutes before the set. The best plan I could muster was to focus on playing my best, and to take what would come in stride.

I warmed up against Leffen, who chose to play his secondaries. It didn’t matter that much to me – Leffen is an extremely smart player regardless of the character he chooses. I also wanted his advice. I mentioned that people were asking me about it being a top 8 qualifier, and he responded with what he said was some of the best advice he’d gotten from Armada: “People care too much about the *stage.* It’s still another set of Melee.”

And he’s right, every set of Melee is just another set of Melee. Sounds kind of obvious, but it’s good to hear anyways. Why should my next set require any more or less thought than my previous ones just because it holds the “top 8 qualifier” label? The answer is that is shouldn’t. So I went into the set, ready to play another set of Melee.

I won my set against Frenzy quite handily. The first thing he said after the set was, “I don’t know why you’re so much harder than M2K.” I said it’s because M2K does a lot of the same things over and over. Especially against players lower level than him. It doesn’t mean much at the end of the day. Although Frenzy was a beneficiary of the top player dropouts in bracket, his results were nothing to sniff at – a win on Overtriforce and on Drunksloth (who had beaten ARMY) resulting in a 9th place is something to be proud of.

Historically, I’ve considered Falco to be one of my less strong matchups. Not when it comes to results, but in terms of comfort. Maybe that isn’t the case anymore, but I thought that Frenzy’s response was interesting because it reminded me of Rocky’s response after I played him last December. Rocky said he hadn’t lost that hard to a Marth before, and our set inspired him to work on the matchup a lot. Which he did, and he did very well in it at Noods Noods Noods where he took out La Luna and had a close set with Shroomed. I have a lot of thoughts on Falco as a character, but I certainly hope to see Frenzy take the same route as Rocky and work really hard to improve, because there is definitely more room for Falco in this meta.

And thus, I qualified for top 8. This would be my second ever top 8 at a national-level event (the first being Flatiron 3 earlier this year), and the first ever at a major.

Took a break to get food with Junebug, then came back to the venue. I warmed up with Nintendude a bit, as my next match was against ARMY. I really wanted to win. At Genesis 4, I lost to dizzkidboogie who beat my platform camping strategy. I retooled my approach to the ICs matchup, and ended up beating ChuDat, Nintendude, and ARMY in 2017. Earlier this year, I got too cocky in the matchup and forgot my fundamentals and discipline, which led to a loss against Sharkz at Pound Underground. I’ve retrained myself up in the matchup with Chu on netplay, and I was ready to fight ARMY. Plus, he had just knocked out my boy Zain.

But ARMY is on another level right now. He, in my view, is the most well-rounded and practically technical ICs on the market. I got wobbled in some nutty ways, the most nutty of which was a desynced Nana SHBair into Popo grab, into immediate wobble. It was frustrating to play against. In fact, after the set I remember thinking that, depending on how PewPewU did against ARMY, I would just have to play Peach or Fox against ARMY.

But PewPewU, aka Papa Marth, would not let me and Zain go unavenged. He reminded us that Marth does not have to scrap with ICs. Marth can play on the platforms and on the ledge until one player decides to go for a mixup. And when that mixup happens, Marth has a sword. I watched this set with Spark, who said PewPewU was basically playing the matchup as Sheik, though it looked a lot like Puff on FD with all those tournament-winners.

I feel good about how I performed at this tournament. I played my heart out in all the sets I won and lost. I never feel too bad about losses like the ones I had to Lucky and ARMY at this tournament, because I can walk away knowing that I was outplayed in some crucial moments, and I have a solid grasp on what to work on for next time.

Throughout this weekend, I was constantly congratulated on my “run” at EVO. In reality, they were congratulating me on my win over M2K – I didn’t win enough sets for it to be considered a run. You could call SSC a run, but I want to push further. I know what to work on in my gameplay and my mentality. I feel proud of what I have accomplished, and I feel good about going further.

Anyways. My brain and body let out a sigh of relief after SSC, but Shine is still on the horizon. I let myself enjoy a week off… or week “off.” I alternated days playing Falco/DBFZ and actually practicing with people in NYC. But mentally, I’ve been relaxed. Shine is in less than a week now, and my focus will be on cleaning up my execution and conversions, and revving up my mindset to be ready to give one last summer tournament my all.

It feels easy to sit back and say, “I’ve accomplished a lot.” But with the pause in pushing myself further, other aspects of my life take a break as well. I’m less consistent with my healthier lifestyle, not as consistent in cleaning, not as clear-headed. But it’s okay to let yourself take a break sometimes – it’s hard to constantly be focusing on self-improvement. But once I hit “Publish” on this post, I’m getting right back into it.

And with that, I will see you all at Shine. Thanks for reading!

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rishi

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