The last couple of months have been a whirlwind. In August, I would stare at my calendar and count the number of weeks and days until Smash Ultimate’s release, wondering how I would pass each week… all that time went by like a blur.
For one thing, I feel like I didn’t have a September at all. After Shine, I went into overdrive at work and basically didn’t stop. I didn’t have a whole lot of time for Melee, or anything else really. I also stopped going to the gym regularly. Big House was a nice recess, but even as work cooled down slightly, the rest of my “free” time was thrown in Summit campaigning – streaming, planning, filming, editing, shilling.
My mettle was tested in virtually every aspect of my life, and I learned a lot about myself. I’m trying to really meditate on the lessons I’ve learned so that the next time in my life I’m challenged in this way, I can charge forward with more confidence and resolve.
One potential insight I’ve been trying to articulate is about from where we drive energy. I think I was relying too heavily upon rest time as an energy source, and if I didn’t have enough time to mentally unplug and/or sleep, some part of my mind used this as an excuse to not give my 100%. Now I want to consider the idea that striving toward giving your 100% in achieving daily goals is a better source of energy, and I’ve done this before. It takes a bit more conscious thought into what each day looks like, but it leaves me feeling better for most of the day. Plus, I find that after a day well-seized, rest comes more naturally and is more fulfilling.
I might not be describing it well, and that’s fine. The ideas aren’t totally clear in my head yet, either. For now I’m just going to set clear goals for myself and do my best in achieving those goals. We’ll see how it goes.
But let’s talk about the highlights of the last few months.
At EVO I beat Mew2King, and at SSC I placed top 8. There were two weeks remaining until Shine and I was sitting pretty.
I basically took the entire next week off, barely touching Melee. But as the weekend before Shine came, I decided not to rest on my laurels for Shine. I wasn’t feeling a lot of strong motivators, and was hoping to have fun and relax at Shine. But past experience (see: SSC16 as an example) showed me that the most fulfilling weekends I have in Smash are those during which I try my hardest, and that going into a competition with anything less is just a set-up for disappointment.
So that week, I had two goals: work on the spacie matchup and stay sharp. The latter meant that I would not be half-assing anything – I would be trying my best at work, at fitness, and at smash. I felt like I’d elevated myself through sheer force of will. This, for me, served as a good example of how discipline is stronger than motivation (thanks Coach Bobby).
Lo and behold, I tried my best at Shine and did find it to be a relaxing weekend. I was able to walk away from each set proud of my gameplay, a goal I’ve been working on all year. Not only that, but I beat Westballz, proving to myself that the hard work I put into analysis and study was paying off. Even against Mang0, who defeated me 3-1, I felt proud of my effort and gameplay.
I also got to commentate round 2 pools with SleepyK which was a blast. I love commentating and SleepyK and I always have fun blocks (see: our top 8 qualifier block from Smash’n’Splash). Beyond the Summit was running production and I was pretty happy with how everything was being handled.
I also decided to use my refurbished n3z controller at this tournament. It’s very rare that I decide to switch controllers the day of a tournament, but the pre-accelerated-input dashback success rate was very good on this controller (I used it at the Twitch Bash and Genesis in the past year for that reason), so I decided to take a chance and see how it went. I’m glad I did, for the sake of experimentation. And the experiment was largely a success. I probably should have practiced pivots more, as missed pivots cost me a few kills in my loss against 2saint, but I think my pivot execution had suffered anyways, due to the month I spent practicing on a PODE controller without pivots.
I felt pretty bad about my loss against 2saint, honestly. I had a lot of very strong plays that set, but some weak ones as well. Anytime I lose to a Puff, I get motivated to study the matchup again… so I did. And I’ll be back stronger next time. Quite a bit stronger.
All in all, Shine was a great tournament. I only went for two days, having decided not to enter teams since lloD couldn’t attend and singles started Saturday, but it was still a great weekend. Shine, in my mind, is for-sure a staple Melee major. I’ll be back next year.
The Big House 8
Like I mentioned, in the month between Shine and Big House, I hardly had time to breathe. We all have months like this every once in a while, and we survive. Although I didn’t have much time to work on Melee during this time, I was definitely playing as a way to decompress, so I stayed sharp. The most conscious effort I put into preparing for this tournament was mental as the week of the tournament approached.
Similarly to the days preceding Shine, I felt that adding that conscious effort elevated my mental state throughout each day. I walked into Big House feeling good. I haven’t talked about mental state for competing in a while, so I’ll reiterate the summary:
When I walk into a tournament now, the goal is to feel focused, alert, and prepared. Never succumb to expectations – when people ask me how I think I’ll do at the tournament, I brush the questions aside. Those questions are for analysts, and at the tournament, I’m a competitor. My energy is spent on producing the best possible gameplay, and not on speculating results.
All that being said, I was also feeling quite relaxed. This was a vacation for me, a rare opportunity to unplug from work and life’s daily trivialities.
Let’s talk about teams. lloD and I placed pretty poorly at Genesis at the beginning of the year, after which we resolved to practice hard before any tournament. This was a lesson quickly learned, and quickly adopted. Since then, we’ve placed top 5 in every teams tournament we’ve entered, including majors. Peach/Marth is a really hard team to play at top level in this meta, and required a great deal of work. We also have used Peach/Fox to net a few wins against teams such as aMSa/Axe – learning to switch between Peach/Fox and Peach/Marth was a challenge in itself.
I teamed with Chu at SSC, as lloD was unable to attend now that he’s in med school. And we didn’t do stellar. My Fox was rusty so we stuck with Marth/ICs, which is another team that requires quite a bit of preparation and time… that we did not have.
At Big House, though, I teamed with Chillin. Now I could focus on playing Marth in teams, and have a Fox to net kills and control the pace of games. I’ve been wanting to team with a good Fox for a while, so this was a great opportunity. To be honest, we put zero preparation in ahead of time, and it showed when we lost to dizz/Colbol in our round 1 pool.
For round 2, which started on the second day, we actually warmed up quite a bit against Chu/Hbox and started to find our groove.
We started off tearing through losers bracket, beating a double Peach team, a double Pika team, then Ryan Ford and ARMY before we ran into iBDW and 2saint. iBDW and 2saint are static partners and are both extremely good players, so this was a challenge. Game 3 we were down at least two full stocks, but by some big play into a double kill we tied it up and ended up winning.
We ended up placing 5th, but I was mostly proud of how strong the gameplay looked. We had great chemistry and I was happy with how much I’ve improved as Marth with a Fox teammate, something I haven’t done extensively in the past (usually teaming with the likes of lloD and Junebug). I rocked the Azen tag, too. Azen was always one of my biggest inspirations, and back when I was a fledgling smasher, Azen and Chillin were a big inspiration to me as a teams player (I was particularly fond of the short combo video ft. “Shut Me Up” by MSI).
Unfortunately, teams was actually running forever and I hardly had a break before singles, and hadn’t eaten the entire day due to bracket. So that was a bit of poor planning on the tourney’s part, but my job was to make do as best I can. Double-unfortunately, Detroit sucks and no food was open at the late hour of 6:30pm, despite Google’s claim otherwise. So I wasted time going to restaurants that should have been open but closed early, only to end up at the tried-and-true Shake Shack. Had my food and took a nap at the hotel before coming back to the venue to get back into it.
My first opponent was actually RockCrock, a Ganondorf player who defeated me more than 8 years ago at Pound 4. I remember that as one of the first times I played on stream (it was some justin.tv stream), and people complimented my Marth after. So that was cool. I’ve gotten much better since then, though, and exacted my revenge.
I played my set against Android on the mainstage. Honestly, it was a sloppy set from both of us. He started out stronger, but one clutch play at the end of game 2 and better stamina netted me the win on game 3. And that was it for day 2. That put me in top 64 winners side.
The next morning, my first opponent was PewPewU. There were a lot of matches going on at that time, so they put us off-stream. Historically, I’ve always felt PPU to be one of my hardest opponents in the Marth ditto. But I’d been improving all summer and had defeated both M2K and La Luna. Plus, the weekend prior I traveled home for a family event and got a chance to play with Zain and Junebug for a bit, so I got to practice some of my new skills in the Marth ditto. I ended up winning in a solid 3-1, and I was really happy with how I played. My neutral, pressure, and follow-throughs were all looking strong.
My set with Fiction was quite sloppy. I had some good ideas but still hadn’t nailed down a few key elements of the Marth Fox matchup. Despite this, and despite getting shined at 0 to end game 2, and dropping multiple FD punishes, and SD-ing my last stock on game 5, it was pretty close. As I’ve mentioned, my goal is to produce good gameplay – this dictates how I feel post-set much more than whether I have won or lost. So I didn’t feel too good about that set, and resolved to clean up my play for the rest of the bracket.
lloD and I knew that our meeting in bracket was a possibility, but with me making an upset and him getting upset, we took a different route to meeting in losers. We always try our hardest against each other, and this was no exception. To be honest, from watching lloD play that weekend, I don’t think he was near his peak. I could tell that although it looked okay for the most part, his total absence of playing Melee for multiple months as he focused on med school caused his ability to adapt to opponents to decay a bit.
That observation only held true for his sets against other opponents. Against me, old instincts kick in and we had one of our classic, heart-pounding game 5 sets. It was on the MeleeEveryday side stream, so a lot of people didn’t catch this set but I highly recommend checking out the vod. I did end up coming out on top, but only by the very slimmest of margins – I made a big comeback on game 5, sort of similar to how our last set ended in Ultra Grand Finals of the MDVA Invitational a year ago.
For me, there’s no question of how much more room there is for lloD to grow. I actually think he fails to use a lot of Peach’s strengths, largely relying on the fact that he’s a better player by most by a fair margin, and that he has a monster punish game. He’s always been a natural, which is only enhanced by his hard work (when he finds the motivation). If he thinks Peach is fun in Ultimate, and has enough time to practice and compete alongside med school, him becoming a top player is a certainty.
Alas, my bracket would end with just one more set. The Crowned Browns were fated to suffer a double team-kill as Zain eliminated HugS and found me as his next opponent. I was Zain’s bane for the first few years of his competing. Even after the first time he defeated me in tournament, I rebuilt a strong winning record against him. Through the middle of 2017, we had a stronger back-and-forth going. He beat me at SSC17 pretty solidly, and I defeated him at the MDVA Invitational. At Genesis, however, I basically got bodied. I don’t think we’ve played in bracket since then, but for most of the year he would dominate our friendlies/seriouslies.
It was clear that he had become a much stronger player and that I would need to really, really step it up in order to have a shot. A lot of the hard work I put into actually improving my gameplay came through in July, believe it or not. I was studying quite a bit leading up to EVO. And there, I warmed up with Zain over a couple days leading up to my match against Mew2King. In these games, I recall feeling much more comfortable than earlier in the year. It felt like when Zain and I used to play – a lot of back-and-forth and on-the-spot innovation. To an outsider, much of our gameplay looks wonky, but Zain and I are usually just trying to implement new tactics to try and catch the other off guard.
We have a long history of playing each other and innovating different aspects of Marth’s metagame. I documented this somewhere at some point, but watching PewPewU pivot-tipper Hbox at APEX 2015 was a large part in my deciding to take Melee as my primary smash game that year, and led to an entire summer during which I experimented with pivots. That will be around the time you’ll first find Uthrow pivot tippers on spacies. That year is also when Zain and I would meet every few months at SoVA and central VA tournaments, and we would discuss new Marth tricks. The next time I would see Zain, who at this point was still a mid-level player, he would have mastered whatever we previously talked about. His ability to absorb info so quickly is, in my view, a defining characteristic of “Zain the top player.”
Zain skyrocketing to the top 10 put me in a unique position, and set me up to learn some valuable lessons. I used to get annoyed when commentators would refer to things I would do in-game as “the Zain,” or something to that effect, regardless of what it actually was. But that’s all novelty. People group me and Zain together as “the MDVA Marths” or “the new-school Marths.” And I’ve learned that this verbiage is basically meaningless. I had to see it for what it was: a distraction from the actual gameplay and my value as a competitor. Claiming ownership of certain gameplay elements is just ego-feeding, and satisfying one’s ego is not lasting fulfillment.
Boy, this was much more lead-up than I anticipated. I guess I had a lot to say, big shocker! This has all been context and miscellaneous, to be honest. Before the actual set with Zain I was focusing on my gameplan and getting ready to compete.
I don’t have a lot to say about the set. I’d rather say it speaks for itself. Video here. I’m proud of how I did, and I’m proud of Zain. If you want in-depth thoughts on the gameplay, I did an analysis.
That about wraps up Big House 8 for me. It was an extremely fun tournament and just the weekend I needed.
As if this post hasn’t already been sufficiently dramatic?! Big House 8 ended, and the very next day we recorded an episode of Analog during which I announced I would be campaigning for Smash Summit 7. That very same weekend we filmed the trailer for the 9000-Wind Punch and began planning and campaigning in earnest. Meanwhile, work began to ramp up again, and once again my mettle was tested. That next week, while Zane edited the campaign video and I worked overtime, we ended up having to skip a week of Analog. The Wednesday of the first voting deadline, I was in my office from 9am to 9pm, only going home to eat dinner, before carving out ten minutes to appear on the Vish and Chillin Show to campaign, then resuming work until past midnight. The next day I survived voting by only a couple-hundred votes.
At Big House, Zain and I were already talking about planning a weekend in NYC to just chill without having to worry about a tournament (last time they came up was for OMEGA II, a 2-day regional). This provided a great opportunity to knock out two birds with one stone, so Junebug and Zain came up Friday night to spend the weekend hanging out in the city and streaming with me for the campaign. We also performed the legendary 9000-Wind Punch, which was brutally unleashed onto Zain’s face (#StopPunchingZain). We generated a lot of votes during that stream and it was actually really fun. I wanted to get the full Summit campaign experience and to give the people a show, and we did exactly that. If you missed the “A Whole New World” duet, the Backstreet Boys karaoke, the beatbox battle, or me dressing up as DK and winding up a punch for an hour… I’m pretty sure the vods are still up. We went all-out.
I think I pretty much worked myself sick that week. By the end of Saturday night, I had the worst migraine I can remember having in a long time… and we were still trucking along and streaming. We got a couple gracious hosts on Twitch, plus Melee is fun. Also Super Mario Party is fun.
June and Zain left on Sunday afternoon, and I took that one evening off from both work and campaigning to see “Oklahoma!” in Brooklyn with my two best friends. It was a nice reprieve.
We took another week off Analog as I pushed through work and campaigning and Zane started his brand new job. I made it through the penultimate deadline comfortably. When there were four candidates remaining, I somehow gained 10k votes in one day, organically. It was a good sign to me that people had an idea of what they wanted their Summit line-up to look like. But I wasn’t taking anything for granted, and when I wasn’t streaming, I was planning and doing outreach to get people to vote.
With one day remaining before the final deadline, I put out one last video: #StopPunchingZain. Maybe it helped, maybe it didn’t. But I needed to be doing something that felt productive, because I was extremely nervous. Plus I thought it was kinda funny.
Nervousness is an emotion I don’t experience often. This type of nervousness came about because the outcome was largely out of my control, as opposed to performing in tournament where my goals are achievable solely through my own action. Even in other aspects of my life in which I experience a form of anxiety, I wouldn’t use the term “nervous” very often. But with Summit voting deadlines, I felt nervous. The last time I remember feeling this sort of way was… maybe waiting to hear back from college admissions?
Sometimes it felt hard to justify all the time, energy, and money that I had put into the campaign. Not only my own money, but other people’s money. I know I wasn’t the only person who bought extra merchandise I didn’t need in order to get more votes. But I’d set out with a goal, and I believed in the cause.
At the end of 2017, I released a post describing my experience at Smash Summit 5 as aMSa’s coach. At the end of the post, I said I would be back at Summit. I didn’t know how or when, but I would be back. Furthermore, I was proud of how I’d been representing the Melee community throughout the year. That, on top of my advancements in-game, lined up all the stars and pointed toward this being the right time to try my luck. Committing to a campaign like this is not something I can afford to do every season. But this time, it felt right and I committed to it.
I’m proud of the campaign I ran and feel blessed for all the supporters I had throughout the process.
In case you’re out of the loop: I made it into Smash Summit 7 on the very last day of voting with the most votes. The top 3 contenders were all within 2K votes of each other, but we pulled out ahead.
The very next day after I made it in, I began practicing and studying again, in earnest. I’m still doing that. Like I mentioned, I haven’t really been able to focus on improving specific parts of gameplay like this since July or August, so it’s a very nice change of pace. I’ve been working on some specific gameplay goals that I hope will show through in the near future.
This week, I’m going to work my hardest at my job, and bring forward the best version of my self. Over the weekend, I’ll be competing at House of Paign, and teaming with lloD again for the first time since June. Insane. After that, I have a couple days off before the real fun begins.
So that’s it everyone. You’ll see me at Smash Summit 7 on November 14th.
This type of post is largely for me. I actually find it helpful to go back and read exactly what’s going through my mind at certain points in my competitive career because we can forget fundamental truths very quickly. Such is the nature of humanity. Hopefully I’m also able to provide insight for anyone out there who faces similar challenges that I do. If so, I’d love to hear from you. For anyone interested, my Discord has been growing thanks to Summit shenanigans, so that’s a good place to reach me for discussion.
As always, thanks for reading. And future Rishi looking back at this post, thanks to you for reading as well. Remember: peak experience comes from pushing yourself to the best of your ability, in all aspects of life.
Back to it!