Genesis 4

What an electric start to 2017 this tournament was! I usually organize these posts in loose chronological order, and sprinkle the content with digressions. This post won’t be any different. I’m always open to criticism on the format of these posts, but for the most part, it seems that people are happy to read from beginning to end, so they don’t miss any of the content I throw in.

The Weeks Leading Up to Genesis

When you reach a certain level in smash, it’s easy to fall into the habit of not practicing outside of tournaments, or maybe outside of fests. You kind of assume that after 10 years, you’ll be able to execute most of your actions properly, and so daily practice isn’t really necessary. When reviewing my own matches, I started noticing simple mistakes that would cost me in matches. For example, while dash-dancing and wavedashing with Marth, I would occasionally do a horizontal airdodge instead of the intended wavedash. This halts my momentum in movement, and gives the opponent a brief opening. In a matchup like Marth versus Sheik, that brief opening is all it takes to get hit by an Ftilt. That one missed wavedash at 80% gets Marth hit by an Ftilt, which leads into Fair. Then, from a strong position (dash-dancing versus Sheik), I end up in an awful position (getting edgeguarded versus Sheik).

Looking more carefully at this sort of mistake helped me more fully understand why I wasn’t seeing success despite feeling like I had a strong theoretical grasp of certain matchups. Let me emphasize that this isn’t the same thing as having a problem executing a punish game or knowing the best way to recover in a matchup – this is as simple as landing a wavedash when I want to wavedash. Other similar mistakes include missed wavelands on platforms (accidental airdodges), tournament-winners (ledge-jump, which is extremely unsafe and always accidental), and so forth.

What’s the solution? Practice everyday. Or almost everyday. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I began regular practice once the new year began – either by going to a tournament, inviting people over and streaming a fest, or practicing by myself for 1-2 hours. If I practiced myself, I would tell myself I’d only play for 30 minutes, but I always found something I wanted to practice more, or discovered something new to start practicing.

Let me contextualize the narrative a bit. My first tournament of the year was at the Fantastic Store weekly in Virginia. This tournament included local talent such as Zain, Junebug, Cool Lime, and so forth. Zain beat Junebug on the opposing side of bracket, and so I played Zain in Winners Finals. Zain beat me for the first time last June, and we went back and forth for a few weeks, but he hasn’t beaten me since then. Our sets are usually pretty close, though. I beat him in Winners, then I try Fox in set 1 of grands and lose, but I 3-0 him in the next set with Marth. It looked like his punish game off throws was a bit weaker than mine, and in classic Zain fashion, he very quickly started compensating for an identified weakness (which made for great practice in the coming weeks).

The next day, I went to Xanadu, where I got 2nd place to Plank (losing 2 sets to him). This was unfortunate considering, just the week before, I made a troll post on the MD/VA Melee Facebook page calling out Maryland for being bad after VA had seven players listed on the SSBMRank Top 100 (if you don’t know me very well, you might be surprised to learn I have a bit of a trolling streak… but now you know). Plank has been one of my demons in MD/VA, and we go back and forth all the time. He’s extremely good at the Marth matchup, and our sets have frustrated me time and time again. Part of the frustration was the fact that I would win anytime I decided to commit to Fox for the set. This led me to question whether I should be bothering with Marth versus Sheik at all, and whether I should just stick with Fox. The downside to that is I would have to worry about ensuring my Fox was warm anytime I had to play against a Sheik.

That weekend, I hosted a big fest at my place and continued my daily practice. The next week at Xanadu, I was looking very, very clean. The practice clearly paid off. The night before, I also did a Marth versus Sheik analysis on my stream, and mixed it in with actual practice. It felt good to be immersed in the game, and have my daily practice show through in cleaner gameplay. Unfortunately, Plank was not in attendance at this Xanadu so I couldn’t get the runback. I lost to HAT in winner semis, but committed to a losers run, where I 3-0’d him in the runback, and took two sets against Zain to get 1st.

The next day, Chillin came over and we played for a few hours. That was some much-needed Fox practice. Living in Maryland lets me enter more tournaments, but I lose access to our good Fox players who all live in VA (except for Obi, who is on the rise but not quite yet as good as Chillin, Redd, and Milkman). The day after that, I played with Junebug to practice for AEX, a regional event in Philadelphia the next day (exactly one week prior to Genesis 4). This was going to be my last time competing before Genesis – I wanted to relax a bit the week of Genesis and let my prior weeks of practice sink in. So after two weeks, I struggled with and worked at the Sheik matchup, and wanted to see if I could take AEX home. Here, I got my rematch against Plank in winner semis. And I lost. It was literally a last hit scenario on game 5, but I lost. Those scenarios are really tough versus Sheik due to the fact that all of her moves lead to a kill, and Marth completely loses kill setups when Sheik is at high % – he needs a stray hit. And then in losers, I lost 0-3 to Junebug, who hasn’t beaten me in quite some time. Needless to say, I was discouraged. In fact, I tweeted out that it was time to stop being so stubborn about Marth versus Sheik. Why not just play Fox when that is clearly an easier matchup? My Fox is also very strong, in my opinion. So that was the tone for the day.

Three things happened that day that significantly affected how I would approach my G4 bracket..

1) I began thinking about my set with Plank relative to how I played against Sheik previously. I felt far, far better about my gameplan in the matchup. I deeply studied PPMD videos, and a couple other Marth versus Sheik videos, and felt my grasp of the “goals” Marth should aim for at each stage in the matchup was much more solid. The progress was clear, and despite the loss, I began to see a path to success.

2) Pools were released for Genesis 4. As a top 64 seed, I was floated past round 1, so it was easy to see my projected opponent: Swedish Delight (assuming I beat Nightmare). In my head, and in the minds of many others, Swedish is a top 10 player (despite what SSBMRank says). He is known for the “touch-of-death” on spacies. Did I really want to forsake my weeks of practice with Marth against my hardest foreseeable matchup at G4? If I switched to Fox at this point, I would, in a sense, be “cramming” for that match. My Fox is good, but can be hit-or-miss, and I had spent most of my daily practices playing Marth.

3) When I got home, I decided to message PPMD asking for advice on a few points for fighting Sheik. I played Overwatch for a couple hours, then came back and checked Smashboards again… only to discover that not only had PPMD responded, but he had written on my profile eight hours before I messaged him. Apparently he had been watching my set with Plank, and offered me a brief, one-sentence criticism (he’s an expert at this). Following our brief exchange, I felt more confident about what needed work in my gameplan.

Every once in a while, you have to ask for help. Asking for help makes a big difference. I’ve asked for help before (this wasn’t the first time PPMD and I talked about the matchup), but I was still only as good as I was. Maybe I would find a greater benefit from asking Sheik players for advice, rather than just Marth players.

Let me now give a shoutout to Captain Faceroll. The losses I’d suffered to Sheik over this period of time included a ton of getting “stairway-to-heaven” tech-chased on the platforms. I sort of assumed that Sheik could always get grabs, so I picked “optimal” tech-rolls and tried to take as little damage as possible… I decided to DM Faceroll and ask if he had any tips for getting out of this. He taught me that tech-in-place buffer-spotdodge beats waveland grab (but loses to aerial). This was huge for me. It’s not an end-all solution, but I now had a mix-up game on the platform. I had more options, and more ways to escape being combo’d or tech-chased by Sheik. If I’d never asked Faceroll for help on that specific scenario, I still would be tech-rolling every time.

I then asked Plank for help. Despite a fun rivalry over the past few weeks (Plank was fired up from my post calling out Maryland), he was, of course, very willing to help out. He came over to my place the Tuesday following AEX and we played for a few hours. I still wanted to take it easy on the days leading up to Genesis, but I thought training with a Sheik who really knew the matchup would be worth it. Prior to practicing with Plank, I reviewed my notes over the past year – I noticed that, after not playing a matchup for a while, it’s easy to fall back into poor habits and forget the notes you’ve taken. This is why it’s important to not only take notes, but to study your notes. But I digress. We played, and I felt like I was finally playing the matchup. It also didn’t hurt that Plank excels in the matchup relative to most Sheiks I’ve played.

That was essentially all of my practice leading up to the event, so let’s talk about the event itself!

Genesis 4: Day One

I flew to California at 7am EST on Thursday morning, landing at about 1pm PST. I took it easy most of the day – walked around a bit, explored local food options, picked up my badge, and made sure to sleep extra early.

The next morning, I headed over to the venue to enter the teams tournament with Nintendude. I found out about a week prior that Nintendude retired his Ice Climbers in teams, and now plays Puff. He’s got a solid grip on Puff’s gameplan in teams, but I think our chemistry was a bit lacking. It definitely showed when we got opened up by FatGoku’s Fox in winners finals of our round 1 pool, and ended up getting knocked into losers 0-2. A good litmus test for teams chemistry is the ability to handle a fast opponent who knows how to target-switch well, which FatGoku was. We weren’t prepared.

After Melee teams, I had my sm4sh pool. I didn’t prepare at all for sm4sh. I play no more than once a month since I retired last spring, but I still find it fun. I find Kirby to be especially fun, and he is one of the characters with whom I really feel I can be creative. Over the course of my sm4sh career, I have co-mained Kirby with one other character, and that other character changes from season to season. Most people know me for my Corrin play, when I almost took out Ranai last spring, but I’ve also co-mained Rosalina and Robin. I retired Corrin because I thought her meta became boring at high level (sideB!!!).

There was a brief period in October where I started playing sm4sh again. I played Kirby, and tried picking up Sheik. Sheik wasn’t working out too well, so I tried Lucario. Then Lucario didn’t work out so well. I lost to people I would normally never have lost to when I used those characters. At Olympus, I nearly beat Larry Lurr with Kirby. I 2 stocked his Fox, after which he switched to DK. I played well, but, unfortunately, DK kills Kirby off a grab at 50% on Town & City so I quickly lost my lead. Then, on game 3, he switched to Metaknight and swiftly killed me off top with Dthrow Uair Uair Uair UpB. I nearly came all the way back, but lost. I realized I was playing far better with Kirby than with any of my other characters while in retirement, and the meta evolved to the point where I simply couldn’t pull out pocket characters if I never practiced the game. So I decided to play only Kirby at Genesis.

And then, at Genesis, I was reminded of why I use co-mains. Kirby has a couple of awful matchups, and more often than not, opponents will see my Kirby on the character select screen, and auto-lock one of those awful matchups instead of playing their main. In any case, I lost in winners to 2GG’s very own BAM. He beat me with Sonic in a tight, and fun, set. That said, I don’t think I should have gotten as close as I did to taking game 3. I feel like Sonic should always be able to react to Kirby’s approaches, and pick safe options. Pretty much all of my openings were hard reads on movement or baits on approaches, but it wasn’t enough. In losers, I lost to a Rosalina player (I don’t recall his tag). I swear I was destined to lose this match. We were on game 3, both above 120%, and I hard-read a roll. Somehow, my Usmash connects with the week hit, and it doesn’t kill. Fine. That’s cool. I get him in a tech scenario, read the tech and go for Dair Dsmash. As it was happening, I see that the Dsmash it going to be a week hit, but Rosa should die at 130% anyways, right? If only. So she loved. I got her offstage, without a jump. I read the recovery initiation, and the angle, and come down on her with Kirby rock. That will DEFINITELY kill, right?! Well, Mr. Clutch-Master & Luma techs the hit off the wall and lives. At that point, I was laughing, and I think I got Usmashed out-of-shield for some stray aerial. I walked away from my bracket in good spirits, conceding victory to the true g0ds of Smash.

The rest of this day was really fun. This was a huge benefit to getting floated out of round 1 pools. I didn’t have to worry about reserving another 2-hour spot to play singles, and I could focus more on enjoying the event and the tournament. I tried to meet new people, I checked out all the booths, I played some Rivals of Aether, and so on. I was also on standby for Melee Crews (which turned out to be an unpopular event?) because I was the alternate for Nintendude’s crew. The whole team showed up, though, so I could just sit back.

The highlight of the day was actually the series of money matches I played on TukHouseSmash’s quad-stream. I played with a few guys I’d never met, but who were pretty good. Then, I saw Rudolph. I really admired Rudolph’s play at The Big House 6, so I had to see it firsthand. I sat down to play, and we decided on a best-of-5 set for $5. When I picked Marth, he picked Sheik. I knew he played all the high tiers, but I hadn’t seen his Sheik before. I wasn’t complaining, of course, because I needed Sheik practice for the next day. Even though I had a good grip on what to do in the matchup at this point, it’s important to let your body feel what it’s like to actually execute what needs to be executed.

I can’t remember the exact details of the set, but I believe it started off 1-1. He took game 2, and I counterpicked him to Yoshi’s Story. He switched to Marth, which got me pumped because I knew he was an awesome Marth player. I beat his Marth convincingly, after which he switched to Sheik and I won the set 3-1. Before the second set, he asked my name and I told him who I was. He got really excited then, which was cool – apparently he had heard of me and recognized my face but didn’t put two and two together. He also complimented me on my Marth versus Sheik play (I couldn’t help but laugh given my state of mind only six days prior). I told him that, if he wanted, we could play another best-of-5, and he agreed.

He took some time to think and take notes. Here and there he would take a couple minutes to think between games, as well. I reviewed my notes as well, while there was time. He beat me in the second set 1-3. Naturally, we had to do a tie-breaker! In the third set, I beat him 3-0. Now, I can’t remember if he played Marth again in the second or third set, but it was on FD and I beat him again. Overall, it was a really fun experience and I love playing against his playstyle. He’s not overly technical, rather he’s solid all-around. He will make conscious adjustments in his gameplay, and you have to be on your toes. His playstyle reminded me a bit of Cactuar, with whom I also love to play when I get the chance.

So that was most of day 1. Once again, I headed for bed early.

Genesis 4: Day Two

Teams was first thing in the morning. Nintendude and I played a little better, but we couldn’t really settle on a team between my Marth/Fox and his Puff/Peach. We beat Eikelmann and his partner, but got absolutely decimated by Professor Pro and Silent Wolf’s double Fox team.

The whole weekend, Remzi and I had been lightly trash-talking each other in anticipation of our ARMS money match. In case you didn’t know, Nintendo was sponsoring this event and they brought Nintendo Switch setups fully equipped with ARMS. The line was short, and we jumped in to play. Unfortunately, he beat me, but I will get my revenge!! Nintendo really wasn’t lying when they said the game finds its depth very quickly, but is also easy to pick up. You control both arms independently. At one point, I just alternated punches on Remzi’s defense, and it seemed like there was no response. Later, though, I realized that he could decide to clank punches on one side, or block with one arm, and then pick another option. Plus, every character has unique passive abilities, such as an invisible air-dash, or healing on block. I think it would take some time for me to get used to the motion controls for movement, but the Switch seems cool regardless.

A few MD/VA smashers, plus a couple others, went to get some amazing food at a ramen place down the street, after which I headed to my room to collect myself. I meditated a bit, and lay down, then slowly warmed up. I played for about 40 minutes before heading to the venue to start singles bracket for Melee. I tried to find a setup to play on until I’d get called, but every single friendly setup was taken up by the smashgg ladder. This was pretty frustrating for players who had to play in bracket and had nowhere to warm up. So instead, I just hung around. I was waiting on Nightmare’s match, which he won, and then played him off-stream. Prior to this, I was trying to get myself in tournament mode. This was one of the downsides of being floated through round 1 – my first actual bracket match was going to be difficult. I needed to make sure I started on point, because I couldn’t afford to work up to it in bracket. In doing so, I may have overshot a bit, and ended up feeling really nervous throughout my set with Nightmare. In the end, I sort of brute-forced my way to a 2-0 victory. He’s a solid Marth player, but my punish game was a bit more polished, and that was enough to net me the win.

My match against Swedish Delight was slated for stream. I couldn’t find a Sheik player to warm up against, at first, but I wandered over to the stream warm-up area. There were a lot of top players there, plus the TOs and streamers, and some other guys who seemed to be there to just hang out. I think the “warm-up” aspect of this area could have been executed better, because with extra bodies there who were not actually going to be playing on stream, it got a little cramped. That said, everyone was respectful if you said you had to warm up for a match, and they would move and let you play. Mew2King and Mang0 were playing and I sat down asking if I could get next. The match they were playing, Sheik versus Falco, ended with Mang0 walking off and killing Mew2King with a sideB spike, in classic Mang0 fashion. He left after that – this kind of worked out for me. What better Sheik to play against before Swedish than the #1 ranked Sheik player in the world?!

We actually only played three games. The first game, he beat me and I was reminded what a really, really good Sheik player’s punish game looks like. Game 2, I beat his Sheik. Then he switched to Marth and beat me (I knew I couldn’t convince M2K to play Sheik if I asked him to). In any case, that was all the time I had, and I was up against Swedish.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but the week leading up to Genesis, I had been reading “Inner Game of Tennis.” I may delve deeper into my thoughts on IGOT, but my basic takeaways were the following:

1) Achieving “peak performance” consistently is a tangible goal. One must find the best ways to access the state of mind that allows a player to reach that state. IGOT proposes that this state is one of “relaxed concentration.”

2) Recognizing the difference between your conscious, thought-forming “Self 1” and your physical, action-executing “Self 2” is important. Then, one must recognize that it is Self 2 who actually plays the game, and who allows a competitor to access “peak performance.”

3) There is a relationship between Self 1 and Self 2 that must be developed. One’s ability to manage the relationship is a trainable skill.

In just the first couple of chapters, IGOT had been outlining ideas just like what I’ve talked about on this bl0g, but better articulated. It was amazing. This tool had been at my disposal all along, but I waited more than 10 years after starting competitive smash to pick it up. If you’re reading this, and haven’t read IGOT: don’t wait. Well, maybe wait until you finish this bl0g post. After that, go get the book and read it. Or at least skim it.

Put simply, the mental practice and pre-tournament preparation (I didn’t go into this too deeply, but if you read my post on Eden, you can get an idea of how I prepare for big tournaments) allowed me to access peak performance versus Swedish. Game 1, I barely lost after making a small comeback on Battlefield, after which I made a strong statement with a 3-stock on Yoshi’s Story. I banned Dreamland, of course, and Swedish took me to Fountain of Dreams, of course. I played well, stuck to the gameplan, got my punishes, and got my edgeguards. Full disclosure, when I was up a full stock, I started to lose touch with my “peak performance” side. At this point, actually, I came up with the idea to retweet the tweet I made seven days earlier saying I was going to drop Marth versus Sheik. And then Swedish killed me, and I thought to myself, “How many times have I been in this scenario where Sheik gets a grab and makes the comeback on me?” I knew it was possible. So I did what I had to do, and transitioned my mental state back into the game, and won the game.

It’s a good feeling to win a big set in front of a huge crowd, especially when pretty much the entire world expects you to lose. This was a big payoff for me, having worked my butt off for so long in the matchup that had plagued me, and still plagues me. I knew there would be time to celebrate later, though. I decided against reading through my Facebook and Twitter notifications, instead opting to make a plan for food and prepare for my top 64 match, Professor Pro. I got a hot dog, a banana, some water, and pulled up my set versus Prof from Eden, where I beat him 3-1. He actually came up to me while I was eating and watching, congratulated me on the win, and as we were talking he noticed the set playing in my lap… it was a smidge awkward, but mostly hilarious. “I was watching that set earlier too,” he said. We agreed to “give them a good match.” Prof is a cool guy.

We played on the TukHouseSmash stream, which was so cool by the way. I loved the feel of crowds packing in tight to get a good view for hype sets, of which there were multiple side-by-side. The set actually looked very similar to our set from Eden, but with different stages. He destroyed me game 1, then I won two close games, and won game 3 convincingly.

I had seen this bracket path before, and tried not to get too optimistic, but if I won my next match, I would be up against… Armada.

If you’ve kept up with my bl0g posts, you know I still think about my set with Armada all the time. I’ve gotten better at it over time, but it honestly still haunts me. I think about what it would have felt like to make the right move, to be a little more aggressive when he was asserting center control with his float, to have taken a more aggressive stance when I knocked him off-stage on his last stock. I’ve only been able to watch the whole set maybe two or three times since it happened. Unfortunately, to get to Armada, I would have to get past Westballz.

Falco also proves to be somewhat of a challenge for me. Unfortunately, I don’t have much access to good Falco practice in MD/VA, so I can’t practice the matchup on a regular basis. At one point, I decided to do a close match analysis and figure out a gameplan. I think the stream and analysis was successful, and I came away with a solid gameplan.

Words, however, do not necessarily translate to actions. In other words, Self 1 having a gameplan is not the same as Self 2 being able to execute those actions under pressure. I thought that I could mentally recite the steps to beating Falco in neutral, and then beat Westballz with my punish game. Taking this approach, however, inhibits the flow of Self 2’s actions. This approach did not allow me to access “peak performance,” and Westballz is an extremely good player. He outplayed me solidly. Walking away, I actually felt good. I had a decent ideas of where I made mistakes (outside and inside the game), and felt a fire to do better next time.

In losers bracket, I was waiting on the winner of dizzkidboogie and Ice. My good friend dizz took it, and we ended up playing. This is another matchup where I tried the “Self 1 takes the wheel” approach, because that has worked for me in the past. At Olympus, in October, I helped dizz out a lot in the Marth versus ICs matchup. I taught him some crucial things in the matchup, such as when certain things are safe in the neutral, and that Fthrow pivot Tipper is never guaranteed. In exchange, he gave me a few tips as well (dizz will always, always help you out if you ask for tips).

My gameplan was basically to camp platforms, look for openings, and punish hard. It was an okay gameplan. Dizzkidboogie is a fast learner, and utilized what we talked about really well. Plus, he showed me some wobble setups I’d never seen before. I tended to lose the lead, and then claw my way back to an even game, but he would clutch it out. A huge difference-maker was my inability to negate the effectiveness of his SoPo. I need to brush up on fighting slidy, floaty characters like SoPo and Luigi – he got far too much damage and I struggled to kill him. In the end, he beat me in three close games. It’s hard to be sad when you lose to a friend and you know he deserved the win.

And that was that. I got knocked out at 17th! This was the best performance I’d made at a national yet, and technically I was the highest placing Marth (PewPewU and I tied, but he played two games of Sheik versus Swedish in losers – we take those!). I’m always aiming for the top, but after a chat with Ice several months ago, I realized there is merit to setting multiple, reachable goals over a period of time (rather than just always living by “aim for #1”). You can track your progress better, and there is great benefit in simply feeling like you’ve achieved something. Of course I want to do better. Of course I wish I had gotten top 8, or top 3, or 1st place. But I told myself top 32 would be a good accomplishment for this event. I got top 32 at EVO, but I think this tournament was more stacked than EVO. So when I got 17th, I felt good. My goal for the near future is to maintain or improve this level of performance at big events.

Genesis 4: Day Three

My flight was at 7:30pm, so I had to pack this morning and be out of the hotel. I stored my luggage and headed to the venue. Played a couple money matches, and generally hung around. Eventually we got food and headed to the top 8 venue to watch the end of sm4sh. After sm4sh, I had to leave after one set of Melee doubles to get my luggage and head to the airport.

I’ve got to say, it took so much self-restraint to not argue with my Uber driver on the way to the airport. He asked why I was in town, so I told him about Genesis and Smash Bros., because somehow he’d never heard of Smash Bros. We danced around the sports versus esports argument. I really didn’t want to engage, but I did my minimum duty by asking “Why?” when he said “They are just different.” If you’re an esports fan, I encourage you to do the same. It’s hard to convince people away from closely-held beliefs, but you can at least start asking people to explain what really, truly makes esports different from sports. In my mind, it’s all about the competitive environment, the communal aspect, the culture surrounding the game, and so forth. On almost all counts, the esports industry looks like the sports industry. The basic differences is that the requirements to play the games are different, and esports games are owned by companies.

I won’t get political on my bl0g posts, but starting a sentence with, “I’m all for women’s equality, but…” is usually not headed in a good direction. Dear Uber driver, I understand why the girl you drove the day before got upset when you told her “women doing certain things that men do is just not ladylike.” That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

In the airport, I was streaming Melee doubles and singles on my phone. I had a brief flight to Phoenix, on which I got access to plane Wi-Fi. The connection was awful, and I switched quality to “Mobile.” You can check my Twitter media – the picture actually just looks like blobs. Without game audio, I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the sets. But it was better than nothing, and I’m a die-hard fan. I spent almost all of my 2.5-hour layover in Phoenix watching singles finish up, and it was awesome. I was really bummed that I couldn’t be at the event in person, but thank goodness for Twitch. The ability to bring hype content to all the viewers at home is really amazing. And huge shoutouts to the production guys at VGBootCamp for maintaining their high production standards.

I landed back in D.C at 7am EST. Took a 3-hour nap at home, then started my first day of classes for the spring semester!! What a saga.

Thanks for reading this far. Since Genesis, I’ve taken a bit of a break, and still am on that break. I’ve entered a couple weeklies but haven’t really gotten into the swing of things yet. I’ll be entering the Xanadu monthly next Saturday, and Smash Valley V the weekend after, so be on the lookout for me!

I’ve got big things planned in the future, and Genesis 4 was just the start. Looking forward, and I’ll talk about this more, I really want to focus on how competing at the top level forces me to bring out the best in myself. It requires me to be healthy, focused, relaxed, confident, prepared, and the list goes on. Finding success in esports, or in anything, requires more than being a couch potato. You can’t play the game for 10 hours a day and just get good. You have to find the best parts of yourself and show it through your gameplay.

That’s all for now. Again, thanks so much for reading, as always. Happy smashing!

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Genesis 4

The Burden of Winning and a Sustainable Mindset

I’m currently on the plane to Chicago for Eden and thought this would be a good time to plunk out some of my recent thoughts.

Last time I wrote about my recent competitive experiences on the bl0g, I mentioned that I ran into a “fun-block” at Olympus that I felt hindered my performance. As a result, I started playing a lot more Fox in locals. Over time I’ve worked on mixing Marth back in to see how things would go, and it’s been pretty good so far. Here and there, I’ve suffered a random loss, and then brought it back in winners. In every “random loss” case, I switched characters mid-set. Just goes to show how volatile a decision that can be! But I didn’t give up, and the mid-set switch paid off as I practiced it more.

I think since Olympus, I have lost one tournament, and gotten 1st at every other. The one that I lost was a Cave weekly where I lost to Bob-omb in winners bracket, then made a losers run to Grand Finals where I lost to Redd in a last stock set. I played pretty well and made some good adjustments, but a couple of crucial SDs cost me the set. This past Monday, however, I went to the Cave again, and beat Redd in two sets. This is the tournament I want to write a bit about.

For the most part, winning locals isn’t very demanding. I can beat most players in the region cruising on “autopilot,” and have to turn up the jets here and there for the likes of Aglet, Obi, and the MD Sheik boys. But when another of our top 7 shows up, I’ve gotta put in the elbow grease. Redd said he was going to the Cave, but I actually didn’t know if I’d go… until I opened my brand new custom controller, thought it was awesome, and wanted to test it and show it off on the stream (unfortunately, however, someone screwed up and there was no stream). I was kind of blown away at how good the snapback and triggers were on this custom controller built off a Smash 4 controller’s innards. The triggers feel like an OG controller, so they don’t get stuck if you push back. All in all, it’s a pretty swell controller out of the box, but not quite swell enough to replace my current, well-worn controller that shield drops like a dream.

In any case, I wanted to give the controller a test ride. Something was going right that day. I was moving well, thinking clearly, and ultimately didn’t drop a set. I beat Aglet in winners, and beat Redd in Winners Finals and Grand Finals (3-2 and 3-1, respectively). To Redd’s credit, I’ll point out that he was not playing at his best. The prior time we played, I wasn’t at my best… so I suppose we’re 1-1 for not-completely-deserved-wins for now. Hopefully next time we’re both at full power. But still, we take those.

Now here is the reason I decided to write this post. At this tournament, I wore a hat (which I never do), I wore a watch (which I haven’t done in about a year), and I used a brand new, out-of-box controller. I am the type of person to over-think all these different factors and wonder how they may have contributed to my improved performance. On the drive home, some of my thoughts included: “Is this hat lucky? Is this controller lucky? Am I more comfortable in this jacket? Was the distraction of the watch helping me? Maybe the fact that the controller didn’t shield drop as well made me focus on it less?” All of these can be boiled down to:

“Where did I go right? What should I keep doing for next time?”

And that’s why I titled this bl0g post “The Burden of Winning.” I suddenly felt this weight on my shoulders as a hundred little, anxious SmashG0Ds started whispering in my ear and telling me what to do. How do I address this? How should I move forward? That’s what I’ve been thinking about all week. Especially because this all occurred only five days before Eden.

I came up with one “solution” that I’ve kind of been running with in my head this week. Maybe there was something I did right… but maybe that thing wasn’t wearing a hat, or wearing a watch, or using an unfamiliar controller. Maybe the thing I did right was just… doing what I wanted to do. Maybe giving into my mundane desires relieved me of Preparation’s Burden. Next time, I told myself, instead of taking the same actions I took, I would listen to the same part of my brain. And that part of my brain will tell me something different from day to day. Maybe today I want to caffeinate myself during bracket, maybe tomorrow I feel like drinking water. If I don’t burden my brain with expectations brought on by certain preparatory routines, I stress less. And less stress is good. Less stress means I can have more fun with the game. And having fun with the game goes a long way.

To you bl0g-worms who have diligently read all of my posts, you may be wondering the same thing I’ve wondered following the previous realization – what happened to all that stuff I wrote about preparation a few months ago? Isn’t the reason I performed so well at EVO because I committed to certain routines and preparatory actions? This is a tricky one, indeed. How can I reconcile the Preparatory Burdens of a pre-competition routine with the idea that “doing whatever I want” is going to put me most at ease before competing? If you have a good answer to this, please let me know, because this is an evolving discussion. I don’t have any definitive answers. But let me hazard a solution.

Full disclosure: there were 700 words in the first draft of this post that I have obliterated because I didn’t like where it was going. And I might have a better “solution” to hazard. So here goes.

Whether you are tempted by a mundane desire, or a part of your brain urging you to subscribe to a routine, I say go for it if it will make your body and mind feel good. I don’t think that’s too broad of a generalization, because every more specific route to “the ideal pre-tournament actions” I attempted to navigate began to contradict the others. This is largely due to the fact that every person is different, and not everyone has fully figured out what works best for them (like me). So let’s explore the value of some routes you can take.

Rituals are very interesting. Along with physics, I double-majored in Religious Studies in college and was really interested in the power of rituals. I probably wrote more than 30 pages on rituals, and described their value in purely secular terms. At the base level, a ritual starts as a habit. You form a habit over time, and you begin to associate it with certain thoughts, feelings, and sensations. One aspect of rituals that particularly interests me is how their effect can be multiplied when performed in a group setting… but I digress.

Some people have a specific pre-tournament routine they go through. This is their ritual. It may include listening to a certain song or playlist, exercising in some form, and so forth. I think it’s worth noting that the ritual becomes more powerful if it’s something you only do before seriously competing. If you wake up to the same song every morning, maybe that’s your morning ritual, but it’s not a pre-tournament ritual.

Before big tournaments, I’m brain-scattered thinking about what I should wear for the tournament. For some people, this might be a good place to utilize the power of ritual. For ZeRo, maybe this is wear he puts on his scarf and feels the power flow through him. I don’t have any developed habit like that, however, so it doesn’t work as well. Perhaps I could develop a ritual if I started making a habit out of it.

Because I don’t have a developed ritual with what I’m going to wear, it doesn’t contribute to my physical or mental well-being, right? So I should just wear what I feel like wearing, and move on.

This week, I read about an app called “Headspace” on Reddit. It’s an app that trains you to meditate. I use the word “trains” very intentionally, because it is certainly a trainable skill. I’ve only completed three days of the first 10-day course, but from what I understand, the goal of meditation is to be at ease with one’s thoughts. This is distinctly different from “pushing thoughts” away – you want to acknowledge your thoughts and let them pass. It also focuses on body awareness, which is cool (I hear “Inner Game of Tennis” talks about this as well, and it’s on my list of books to read).

At first, I thought going through the “Headspace” app would give me tools to utilize when I get stressed or anxious at a tournament. To an extent, this is true. But the real value of learning meditation is in how you treat your thoughts and brain on a day-to-day basis. The mind is constantly changing, and if you can change your mind’s neutral state and how it responds to unwelcome thoughts, you improve every aspect of your life. And that certainly includes competitive environments.

Nobody is expected to instantly calm themselves in the face of adversity or frustration; we’re all human, after all. But I can already feel how, over time, it will become easier to be at ease with and let thoughts pass. And even if you are faced with a high-stress situation, the app offers “crisis” management tools, though I haven’t really explored those yet. I think I have to finish the first 10 days of training, first.

Second full disclosure: everything written past the first full disclosure has been in the hotel lobby grill at Eden, the day after I began writing this post. So I have some personal experience I can share with regard to “pre-tournament actions” since I started writing this post.

My pool is at 6pm, so I slept in. I took my time, lay in bed and did a bunch of chess puzzles (because they’re super addicting: see LiChess). Then I got up, did some cardio to get the blood pumping and to wake up, took a shower, etc. I was faced with some petty, inhibitory thoughts, such as: “what controller should I use today? Should I wear my watch or nah?” And so forth. But when I try and look at my thoughts, and visualize them, it is easier to let them go, and I feel the burden lifted from my shoulders. It’s really cool. And I’m only going to get better at it. These elevators are facing out and I think I just saw S2J on his way down. Ha.

I hope this post has been helpful for anyone who has struggled in the same ways I have. It was certainly helpful for me to get all these thoughts down on paper, so to speak. I think that I’m an extremely mentally tough player, when I’m in the zone. It’s all about consistency, consistency, consistency. When faced with issues like these, one of the most important things to remember is that there is no “state of perfection.” It doesn’t exist, it isn’t attainable. You have to remember that change is the only constant we have. Your mind is changing, your environment is changing, your body is changing. You have to accept change and strengthen your mind.

I’m getting pretty preachy and overly philosophical, now, but at least I know my Religious Studies major was helpful in getting better at smash! That’s all for now. Thanks for reading, as always.

The Burden of Winning and a Sustainable Mindset

Catching Up: Post-EVO and SSC2016

I meant to cover these topics in the aforementioned “Much Has Happened in the Last Four Months” post, but that was before my bit on EVO turned into a novella. So, as promised, here is the second arc of the 2016 summer of smash (and Rivals)!

Post-EVO

To be honest, the weeks after EVO and before SuperSmashCon are kind of a blur to me, at this point. I was kind of wrapped up in preparing for graduate school, I suppose, and needed a mental break after EVO. I don’t know if I can properly emphasize how taxing the loss to Armada was, and how disappointed I was with myself after an embarrassingly subpar performance against my crewmate Nintendude to get eliminated. I was feeling proud of myself for surpassing the expectations of others and placing in top 32 of the largest Melee tournament of all time… but it stopped becoming about expectations for me. It became about winning.

I don’t go into pools matches or brackets expecting to win or lose anymore. I go in preparing myself to fight, and to win. Maybe that isn’t strictly true, at least for early-round pools… but it should be. And that is a mindset I am working on developing for myself, because it emphasizes a process-oriented mental approach as opposed to a results-oriented approach. Let me elaborate.

If you are up against a top player and you expect to lose before the set even starts, you handicap yourself. To win a close set, you need to be able to draw on your ability to clutch out a set. You have to go down kicking and scratching until the announcer says “Game!” You won’t put up this kind of fight if you already expect to lose. I’ve experienced this firsthand, and I’m sure many other competitors have as well – I feel like, in this case, you accept the loss before the game even ends.

Take a look at the flip-side: a top player who is expecting to win. When you go into a set expecting to win, you aren’t as focused on what your opponent is doing, and you sort of play autopilot. This approach leaves top players vulnerable to mid- and high-level players with strong punish games. The top player plays sloppily, relying on superior game knowledge and punishes to win the set, but when each opening the other player gets (as a result of the top player’s sloppy) leads to high % or a stock… well, that’s how upsets happen.

Let’s take Zain versus Plup from The Big House 6 as an example. Plup is the closest thing we have to a Melee demi-god, and so for him to lose to anyone outside of the top 20 is a big deal. Zain isn’t even top 100 at the moment. Nobody expected Zain to win. I have a feeling Plup expected the same.

When you step into the ring with all the evidence pointing to your victory, and you believe that evidence and expect to win, you leave yourself open to the strong punish game of a player like Zain. And that’s what happened. Zain moved smoothly, quickly, and capitalized on his punishes, and followed the edgeguard flowchart well. Plup was a little stuck in his movement, and I am sure he was taken off-guard by how well Zain started off. By the time you realize you’re on the ropes against a player much lower-ranked than you are, all you can do is re-calibrate your mentality and scramble your way back to victory. But when all it takes is one or two more openings for your opponent to take the set, it could be too late.

In all fairness, I have no idea whether or not Plup came into that set expecting to win. I asked Zain about his expectations prior to the set, and this is what he said:

“When i first got news that I had to play him I honestly thought I was just going to lose. But when the time actually came to play him, my head was pretty clear and I didn’t think about winning or losing at all.

So regardless of what Plup’s mindset was, Zain’s worked. If you’re focusing on the process – playing neutral, landing punishes, finishing edgeguards, etc. – then you are forcing yourself to draw upon your game knowledge. If you focus on results before the game is over, you’re adding an extra step of thinking and distracting yourself.

The bottom line here is that expectations are dangerous. If I started my set versus Armada expecting to lose, I surely would not have gotten so close. And on multiple occasions I have had to scramble my way back to victory against opponents with good punish-games that took me by surprise.

I think the best way to counteract the risks of expecting to lose and expecting to win is to eliminate expectations entirely. The impact that expectations have on your gameplay are purely cognitive. It affects your mindset, which in turn affects how you play. So instead of saying “I expect to win this set,” try telling yourself, “I will do everything in my power to win.” Once you shift your mental approach from the former to the latter, what follows is a change in your thinking process as the game moves forward.

Hypothetical Player #1 tells herself that she will do everything in her power to win. What follows is a series of questions that may pop up before, during, and after the set:

“What is my opponent doing in neutral?”

“What options can I pick to counter his/her options?”

“What should I utilize to maximize my advantages and minimize my disadvantages in this matchup?”

Hypothetical Player #2 expects to win, but finds himself losing to a player that he, and everyone else, expected him to beat. He starts thinking:

“Why am I losing to this guy?”

“How will it look if I lose a set that everybody expected me to win?”

And then you get frustrated. The first question, “why am I losing to this guy?”, isn’t all that bad. But in the former case, that question is skipped. The player with the better mindset skips the “why am I losing” question because he or she is already weighing and considering options.


I’ll be honest. It’s been eight days since I wrote the previous portion of this bl0g post, so it’s a bit fuzzy, but I’m determined to finish it! The main point of the previous section was to outline how I think expectations can be harmful in a competitive environment, and that the most consistent path to success is to adopt a process-oriented mindset rather than a results-oriented mindset. There are intricacies to this all, naturally. For example, one might have trouble drawing the line between “expecting to win” and “having confidence.” Playing confidently has certainly been shown to improve a competitor’s gameplay, but can also teeter too far into arrogance and the territory of “I expect to win this game now, so let me show off and- whoops, I lost!” It’s an interesting balance to strike, and not an easy one to find. I urge all competitors to explore it themselves.

Now onto SmashCon! I’m gonna keep this section brief because SSC was a bit ago and it wasn’t as significant as EVO, for me. But I can at least provide context for anyone interested in following my story!

SuperSmashCon 2016

Like I mentioned, around this time I was preparing to start graduate school. For anyone who is interested, I’m getting my M.S. in Marketing Analytics at the University of Maryland!

Let me start this story on the Wednesday before SmashCon. I was determined to “just have fun” at SSC, and not worry so much about the competition. I worried that preparing for SSC like I did for EVO would detract and distract from my school preparations. I had a positive outlook on the weekend.

I decided to attend Melee at Xanadu that Wednesday prior to SSC to compete against some good players, see my friend Mike (Nintendude) again, and so forth. I saw the aMSa was in my bracket, so I was trying to figure out how to beat Yoshi with Marth – this was a matchup I’d never experienced at top-level. I should say, though, that when I asked people for tips and they asked, “Oh, are you playing aMSa?” I responded, “if I beat everyone before him, yeah.” I was trying to prepare for a match later in bracket, but also not assuming I would just win every game up to then (eliminate expectations!).

Ironically enough, I end up losing to Wenbo the round before I would have played aMSa. I hadn’t lost to Wenbo in a very long time, so this was a pretty confusing loss. Maybe it was the heat I complained about, maybe it was because I hadn’t been preparing/studying like I had been earlier in the summer, or maybe Wenbo transformed into a g0d for a few minutes. One way or another, the loss was on me.

I was chatting with Ice a bit later and he asked me, “why did you lose to Wenbo?” I didn’t have a good answer. There were answers in my head (the main one was the heat complaint), but I didn’t feel good about offering any of them up. I knew that, had I appropriately adopted a winning mentality, any excuse I could come up with would have been nullified. If it was hot and I really wanted to win, I would have drank more water, taken breaks outside, and so forth. I felt kind of fraudulent having performed well all summer, then to lose like this.

As Ice and I talked about mentality and the challenges of winning and achieving success, I realized we agreed on a lot. We talked about how you should take care of your body days and weeks in advance of tournaments (which, for serious competitors, is all the time). At the end of the day, you want to eliminate as many excuses as possible for losing so that all that’s left is your gameplay. And your gameplay is something you can analyze and improve on.

Fun fact about me – I’ve been doing theatre for many years, mainly directing. One note I got from a director many years ago that has stuck with me and that I have given to cast members I’ve directed since: leave everything on the stage. Never leave the stage wishing you’d given more. Competing should be the same. Never walk away feeling like you could have done more to perform better, or that you could have prepared something in advance to eliminate any excuses you can come up with.

Back to Xanadu – I kind of recalibrated my mindset and reminded myself that I don’t like losing, so I played with a renewed mind in loser’s bracket. I beat SypherPhoenix 2-1, then played my brother lloD. I lost game 1, after which we switched setups. We were playing on a 20XX setup that had distracting visuals and music. I ended up winning in the following two games. Then I played Nintendude in our first runback since he eliminated me at EVO. I beat him 2-1 as well, being more stubborn about sticking to my gameplan of camping platforms. He flubbed a Marth killer on game 3 which cost his stock… but we take those!

Next I finally got the match against aMSa I was expecting. I put up a good fight, but man was I unprepared. People told me some stuff about the matchup, but you really don’t know what it’s like to fight against aMSa until you fight aMSa… the punishes were unreal. I didn’t know Yoshi could combo Marth like that. But now I know, and since then I’ve practiced with local Yoshi player PeanutPhobia. You’ve got to be prepared for any matchup that can come your way!

That night I got home and slept late, but had to be up at 7am to move into my new apartment! Spent the whole day moving all my furniture in and taking a trip through IKEA on three hours of sleep. It was awful. But luckily I could sleep early that night in preparation for SSC.

In keeping with my “have fun at SSC” mentality, I entered sm4sh as well as Melee singles and doubles. I played pretty well, tried to have fun, and it was all good. To summarize my Melee singles experience… it was bad. I did fine going through round 1 pools. But coming in day 2, I just had a bad feeling all morning. I woke up late, I forgot my badge, I was stressed about Rivals of Aether (more on that in another post), and I was overthinking a lot.

I had to play Tafo round 1 of my round 2 pool. We sat down and he said, “Are you ready to win?” I guess he expected me to beat him, which I guess wasn’t unreasonable given my summer performance, but I just said, “We’ll see!” because I knew anything could happen. I lost game 1, and the pressure was on. Game 2 I took him to FD, and all I remember from that was getting a sick kill: I hit him off-stage, grabbed ledge, and forced him to UpB on-stage. Then I ledge-hopped Dair, and caught his DI away on the Dair with a perfect pivot Tipper kill. It was dope. Then I had the lead game 3 and threw it away. I honestly don’t remember what happened, but I didn’t feel good. That kind of set the tone for me the rest of the day.

In losers, I played a Fox player who had been doing well. I forget his tag, unfortunately. But his whole squad was cheering him on. There were a bit of shots against me while we were playing, but I think I beat him pretty badly and the posse was a bit quieter as game 2 moved along. I remember seeing that I had to play against the winner of Aglet and Cyrain. Obviously I would have preferred Aglet, because he’s a Puff, but Cyrain clutched it out game 3 with a Bthrow into Uair. Cyrain beat me 2-1. It was a super flubby set, and again I felt pretty bad.

I feel like that weekend, my downfall was my lack of preparation. I felt awful all of Saturday after losing. My temper was on edge, and I couldn’t shake off the salt. It really just ruined my day.

And that helped me learn what kind of competitor I am. First, disclaimer: I really dislike johns, and I hate making johns. In the context of this bl0g, I’m trying to contextualize my experiences and learn from my mistakes. In this case, I thought I could aim to have a chill, fun weekend and still compete. But why did I feel so bad?

Let’s go back to my experience at Xanadu. When was I feeling bad, feeling uncomfortable? It was when I lost to Wenbo, and did not have a good excuse for it. I had excuses, but none of them were good. I felt the same way after being eliminated at SSC. I felt like I would have won both of the sets I’d lost had I prepared appropriately, but I didn’t, so I lost. And that felt awful.

This was a good realization for me. I can’t tell myself that I will be okay with any outcome if I decide to compete. I need to prepare and try my hardest… as it turns out, that isn’t even the end of the story (more on that in my post about Olympus).

I want to end this bl0g post on a more positive note, so let’s talk about Melee doubles! lloD and I did really well in teams. Our first big win in the bracket was over Wobbles and Axe. I remember walking to the restroom before we played them, and I was thinking about whether to go Fox or Marth. Typically, Fox/Peach is our default team. In this case, I thought Marth would be a better idea, so I texted lloD and asked him what he thought. He trusted my judgment and said okay.

It ended up working out really well. Fox/Peach may have been a better choice on paper, but the risk of Fox dying to Pikachu gimps by Axe or eating a ton of damage from Ice Climbers was too high for my liking. I recall a specific moment in game 3 that summarizes why the team worked so well – Pika was offstage while I was on the ground guarding ledge, and Ice Climbers were in the corner on the other side of the stage while lloD floated in center-stage with Peach. Even though we didn’t have reliable kill setups that we’d have had with Fox, the stage control and hitbox advantage of Marth/Peach was sufficiently oppressive.

Next, we played PewFat. As lifelong teams partners who have been training together for a long time, lloD and I respect PewFat. This set was pretty hype, and it was on the mainstage. We lost 1-2, but it was very close. We actually had a lead on them game 3, but Mr. S “Most Improved Player of the Year” FAT really stepped it up and turned the tides. I remember lloD pointing out that every unsafe dash attack he threw out on SFAT was punished with waveshines out-of-shield into Usmash. Even though we lost, we played our best. We actually lost to PewFat at EVO in teams… to be honest, they bodied us. It felt like they always covered the other’s position very well, and we had trouble getting our footing. I am kind of the “coach” of me and lloD’s team, so I tried re-tooling our strategy before we played them at SSC. To have gone from getting bodied to a near-win against one of the best teams in the world was a great feeling.

At SSC 2015, lloD and I got 5th in teams. We were double-eliminated by Colbol and Gahtzu. In losers, it was an extremely close game 5. We notably had trouble with Falcon’s camping on the top platform. After losing to PewFat, we were set to play against KJH and Gahtzu. We tried learning from our mistakes again, and anticipated how Gahtzu planned on playing Falcon in teams. I think, individually, lloD and I had both improved in the matchup as well. We beat them 2-1 in a fun set.

In top 8, we lost to ChuDat and Chillin. lloD often says that our team relies on my Fox holding my own, or winning, Fox dittos against any other Fox. And for the most part, that holds true. I held my own against KJH and SFAT. For some reason, Chillin destroyed me in the ditto. The guy plays so weird. I actually think our Fox styles are kind of similar, but his is more refined. We lost 0-3. They were definitely the hardest team we played at the tournament, and the only one we didn’t take a game off. But we have learned and will win next time. ;]

That’s pretty much all for now. Upcoming posts will outline my thoughts on Olympus as a tournament and my personal experience with it, and another post on “The Games I’m Playing” where I’ll talk about… the games that I’m playing and not playing.

Hope you enjoyed this post!

P.S. Never let me write “I’ll keep this next part brief” again because it’s always a lie.

Catching Up: Post-EVO and SSC2016