Ultimate has been out for a few months now and has taken up the majority of the time I can dedicate to smash. The game is a lot of fun and I’m pretty optimistic about its merit as a competitive game. But trying to improve at the game with everything else on my plate is proving to be an extremely difficult task, and keeps pushing me to ask of myself: what do I really want to get out of smash?
It’s a pretty wide question because smash isn’t just one thing. It’s improvement, competing, friends, writing, streaming, podcasting, traveling, and much more. I also don’t really have an answer to this question. In this bl0g post I’ll reflect on my experiences this year so far and hopefully by the end of it I’ll have a better idea of where I’m at with smash.
So far, I’ve decided to give competing in both Melee and Ultimate at the same time an honest shot, but I haven’t been competing in Melee in earnest in the way I was last year. Not yet, at least.
I’ll save some time and say that it was the same story for both Melee tournaments I’ve entered so far – I basically only played Melee a few times in the week leading up to the event. A bit of concentrated solo practice to get my movement back up to speed, and some netplay sessions with good people to get my brain back up to speed. And the result for both was the same – almost everything is still there, but it’s clear that if I need to be preparing further in advance for when I really return to form, as I was upset in winners bracket of both tournaments (by FatGoku at Genesis, and by Reesch at Full Bloom).
I’ve known this was a risk, and debated playing secondaries or not entering Melee at all at both events. But I figured that the experience actually competing in both games simultaneously would be worth it, even with reduced preparation for Melee. If I’m serious about competing in both Melee and Ultimate at a high level, I need to learn what does and doesn’t work for switching games and managing my time at tournaments. I was in n3z’s chat at some point talking about it and Kalindi pointed out that if I’m sick at both games in a year, nobody will care about a few bumps along the road right now. And he’s right. If there’s anything I’ve learned about smash, it’s that the long-term investments are basically always worth it. Before you know it, months and months go by, tournaments come and go, and you have to live with the decisions you’ve made in the past.
The story of Genesis was: scheduling. I came to the venue early to warm up Melee, then transitioned to warm up Ultimate until my Ultimate pool started. I made an upset and won my pool, and was feeling good. Then I had to transition to Melee (which was round 2 pools at this point – round 1 was the day before) and I started off hot, winning my first set against R2DLiu with a 4 stock. Then an hour goes by, and I’m waiting for my stream match against FatGoku. Another half hour, and we still haven’t played. It was around 3:30pm when we played, and my Ultimate round 2 pool was at 4pm, so I was pretty annoyed. I’d informed the streamrunners about my situation but I guess it was too late to bump me any further up the queue, so we had to wait it out.
Of course, I did end up losing the set to FatGoku. I was letting too many external factors get in my head, such as people from his region talking smack (playfully, not maliciously), and ultimately slipped up majorly in game 3. I was really tilted after the loss, and had to play another set immediately. It was around 3:50pm at this point.
I knew I should have taken a longer break, but some twisted part of my mind told me it was a good idea to try and play and force myself to recover from the tilted state of mind. I lost game 1 to BIGkiD, and very nearly lost game 2. I think I made a 2 or 3-stock comeback. By game 3 I was back in the right headspace and I won. Then I immediately got up and walked over to Ult, had 2 minutes to warm up, and played (and lost) to Cosmos. It was all really frustrating, and I felt that it could have been avoided with greater mindfulness of the fact that I had to switch games back-to-back. Scheduling pools is one thing, but scheduling within pools is important too. In an ideal situation, my stream match would have been planned to be early ahead of time, as I had already qualified for Ult round 2 by this point, so that I could finish my Melee wave in a timely manner.
I lost to a Mario in losers bracket of Ult not long after that. The same Mario beat Mang0 one round earlier (in the same matchup), so in another universe, Mang0 and I would have faced off in losers bracket.
After getting knocked out of Ultimate, I only had Melee bracket remaining. I was in round 1 of losers top 64, so still in shallow water. I took a break and stepped away from the crowds a bit to kind of re-center myself. I realized that in order to stay cool, I couldn’t let external factors affect me as much as they were. They were giving me excuses to not perform to the level I know I could reach, so I willed myself to take things in stride and place my focus on the task at hand.
There were two goals I wanted to achieve, and decided that a success for that day would be that I tried my best to accomplish those goals. The first was to stay mentally composed throughout the bracket, and the second was to produce good gameplay. The latter seems a bit obvious, but there’s a fine line between actively trying to play well and just… playing. The former draws your attention to your gameplans and encourages you to stay engaged in the process.
My first opponent would have been Swedish Delight, as he was upset in winners bracket by Joyboy, but he decided to forfeit, citing hand issues. So I passed that round and played Azel. I won that set pretty solidly, staying engaged and sticking to my gameplans against Falco. Next I played Moky, who I had beaten a couple months prior at Don’t Park on the Grass. I dropped a game but ended up winning the set. And to round off my string of spacie opponents, I played Westballz.
Most people would consider this a dream bracket for a Marth player, but historically my victories have not looked like the traditional rise of a Marth player. I don’t start by making a series of upsets against spacies, and eventually learn the other matchups. Instead, I was stronger against the floaties and midweights, and, in my view, basically brute-forced my way against all spacies that I beat. It’s not that I was getting upset by spacie players in bracket, but I just wasn’t beating similarly-ranked or higher-ranked spacie players.
I really worked hard on the matchups in the last half of 2018 because I wanted to push through that barrier. Most of this practice came in after getting into Summit, at which point I could really focus on grinding, recording netplay sets with top players, and analyzing them any chance I got (e.g. when I grab lunch). I also sent some of the sets to PPMD for feedback, and he was very helpful in getting me to see the matchups in different ways. And although I didn’t discuss the matchups at length with Duck, some of what Duck and I have discussed in the past about other matchups sort of clicked for me.
I beat Westballz at Shine 2018, which was a big step for my personal journey with improvement because it meant I was on the right path, and I felt I could finally make some headway. Just two weeks earlier, I came short of winning a set against Lucky at SSC (after a near-loss to Uncle Mojo, too), so it was on my mind.
It’s not like I’m a Marth versus Spacies g0d now, but I feel a lot more confident in those matchups. I’m a strong player anyways, so I feel myself learning fast. I still can improve quite a bit. In any case, back to the G6 bracket.
Last time Wes and I played, he went Falco. This time he decided to go Fox, which wasn’t entirely surprising because I’ve heard him say he was done playing Falco versus Marth in the past. I went up 2-0 against his Fox, and he took a game on Stadium, then beat me on FD. Game 5 was on FD again. I felt it wasn’t my punished that were holding me back, but rather I was just losing neutral. I was heavily fishing for grabs and Wes was sniffing it out. There was a distinct turning point in the match, though, where I had that realization and brought out counterplay. On a stage where one character’s punish game is so fatal to the other, one or two shifts in neutral can mean a huge swing, and that’s basically how it ended. I got a big combo to death, then took out the last stock and won.
My next set was to be on the mainstage for stream, and it was against Axe. I felt that I could win so long as I kept up what I was doing – staying mentally composed and producing good gameplay. I know enough about Marth versus Pika and have played Axe here and there. I know the basics of not getting gimped and I know how to combo Pika, though I can definitely improve the latter (especially anticipating the extra invincibility on tech-in-place, because this still trips me up). I do think I played well for the most part, but a flub cost me a game on Yoshi’s that could have set me up for a game 5, and instead I lost 1-3. You know what I say about Axe, though.
In retrospect, I was a little rusty on my Pika knowledge. There were a few elements in the matchup that I had been experimenting with a few months ago that I forgot to implement in the set, and they would have inched me a bit closer to victory. But this was one of the prices I paid for primarily practicing Ultimate.
I did find it kind of amusing how my bracket progressed. I went from not even playing my first set (Swedish), to losing no games (Azel), to losing 1 game (Moky), to losing 2 games (Westballz), to losing 3 games (Axe).
In assessing the day overall, I felt my best when I was competing in Ultimate in the morning, and in Melee in the evening. The bad parts were in the middle and for both games, basically when I was playing both games simultaneously. I decided that, should I continue competing in both games, I would need to be proactive in discussing it with the TOs so that someone is aware and taking ownership of my scheduling needs. A lot of the issues could have been avoided if there were more visibility across teams.
Full Bloom 5
I won’t go into quite as much detail for FB5 as I did for G6, as much of the story is the same. This time, however, I had the foresight to talk to the TO ahead of time (shoutouts to Louie). I requested that my Saturday pools for Melee and Ultimate be at least 1 wave apart from each other, meaning if my Melee pool were wave A, I wouldn’t play Ultimate until wave C. That way, the entirety of wave B would be available to me to transition and prepare. This request was granted and implemented.
As I mentioned, I got upset in Melee pools, but it happens. I told myself that I could rally and still do well, and my own experience was evidence that this was the case – I did it at G6, after all.
In Ultimate, I wasn’t seeded to make it to Winners Finals of my pool, but I suppose I made an upset. I was still seeded pretty low because I had to play MVD to make it out, and I lost. At this point, I had just been playing Link (I played all Wario at Genesis). But losing Winners Finals qualified me for bracket the next day.
Unfortunately, the master schedule had top 48 for both Melee and Ultimate overlapping on Sunday. I knew there was nothing I could do about this, so I accepted it and resolved to do the best I could with what I had. I reached out to Louie again and requested that I play one of the games first as much as I could before they asked me to transition. So I would either lose in one game, or go far enough that the bracket wouldn’t need me for a while. They asked if I had a preference and I said, if I had a choice, I’d play Ultimate first.
I 3-0’d a Zelda in round 1 of losers, then had to play Ravenking, an Ike player who was a top 8 seed and upset from winners bracket. He went up 2-0, punishing me really hard throughout, but I started adapting. I learned how to get around him in neutral and how to pressure him offstage, and ended up taking two more games. It went to the very last hit in game 5, and he caught me with a dash attack. And that’s how I learned Ike’s dash attack kills! Regardless, I played well up through the end, so I wasn’t upset about it.
In Melee, I had a couple of close calls early on. I nearly lost to NMW but made a big comeback and won game 5. I also nearly lost to Boyd but I pulled that together as well, despite nearly losing game 5 with a 4-stock lead. I beat Bladewise and Kels after that. I’d played Bladewise last year at SSC, but I hadn’t fought Kels since Smash’n’Splash 3 in 2017, where he beat me very solidly in losers bracket. So even though I was seeded to win, it was a personal victory.
I started to feel pretty sick around this time, getting some combination of a fever and a headache. We had some hours to kill before top 8 so we grabbed dinner. When we returned to the venue, we found out there were tech issues and that top 8 would be delayed by… 2 or 3 hours? So I went back to my hotel and took a nap before coming back to the venue to warm up. The noise in the venue was really exacerbating my headache, but I knew that it was still possible for me to pull through.
My opponent was Duck, who I’ve never beaten. I’d gotten some good tips from Zain earlier that day and was actually pleased with my ability to implement them during the set. But there were a great deal of unforced errors on my part that didn’t let me push as far as I could have, and I lost the set. Not to discredit Duck at all – he’s an amazing player. I just hope that I can come back stronger next time and finally take the W. The closest I’ve actually been was at the Twitch Holiday Bash invitational a year and a half ago, where I took it to game 5, but his stamina was stronger than mine and he came out victorious.
All in all, a successful test run of competing in both Melee and Ultimate. Some logistical challenges, but I planned ahead, did my best to minimize potential issues, and played as well as I could.
For a while there, I was seriously grinding time into Ultimate to catch up to the 4 players and get better. I’ve gotten way better at the game and have learned new skills, but frankly, it was taking up way more time than I think was healthy. On top of that, competing at Full Bloom reminded me how much fun I have really giving it my all at the top level, which I got a taste of again through Melee. In Ultimate, I’m still at the stage where sometimes I’m fighting facts of the game rather than my opponent, usually when I’m faced with a matchup I have no experience in.
The conclusion I came to was that I need to stress less about my results in Ultimate. I’m going to keep learning and competing, but will always be checking in the back of my mind – am I having fun? There will be tournaments for years, there’s no need to stress myself out right now. So I’m not committing to a main yet, and I’m not sacrificing more time and effort than I feel necessary to enter tournaments.
To satisfy my passion for competing, I have Melee. The way that I prepare for tournaments in Melee right now is very different from where I’m at in Ult. It still requires effort and time, but it’s a much more familiar routine for me. It’s also still really fun for me. Melee hasn’t lost any of its charm.
There’s another element to this, though. I want to invest in other aspects of my life, so I’m going to be more proactive about deciding to not play smash. For a long time now, whenever I have time that isn’t dedicated to work or health or the occasional commitment with friends, I’m watching or studying or playing smash. I want to re-engage with some of my other hobbies like reading and writing, and find fulfillment in other aspects of my life. This doesn’t mean I want to stop competing, but I want to experiment with some different balances.
Already this year I’ve been limiting myself to traveling no more than twice per month for a tournament. I’d like to push that even further and say no more than two weekends of travel per month at all, and maybe just one tournament per month. In May, I’m only attending Smash’n’Splash. I thought about going to GOML, but that’s the weekend of the Game of Thrones finale, and some things are just more important than another tournament.
I also realized a little bit ago that I was not having fun streaming Ult. I’m not good enough yet to entertain a stream and focus on the game at the same time, so I’m going to keep Ult off-stream while I practice. That, and deciding to commit learning the game instead of one character has helped me stay having fun in Ult. I’m picking up new characters basically every week and working on my fundamentals. I may be settling on one character as a primary focus for May as I prepare for Smash’n’Splash, but I’m not making any long-term commitments.
Melee, on the other hand, is still fun for me to stream so I’ve been doing that a bit. I’ve been feeling really hot in that game, and as an extra plus, me and lloD will be returning to compete in teams at Smash’n’Splash for the first time since House of Paign. Before that, we hadn’t teamed since last June. SnS is also a tournament that feels like a vacation to me, which I sorely need. So yes, I’m super excited.
That’s about all I’ve got for now! For thoughts on other things such as PPMD and crabs being thrown at Hbox, check out Analog, my podcast. You can find it by searching “analogcast” on YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud.
Thanks as always for reading!!