Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dealing with Failure

I have tried to write this post about four times now, and each time I feel like I'm not really doing the topic justice.  Which is a bit funny, considering the subject.

The subject (if you didn't read the title) is dealing with failure.  And if I'm going to give you my thoughts and advice on dealing with failures and mistakes, I'd like it to be comprehensive and meaningful.  It should be a robust attitude that handles all forms of failure, even once you've moved past playing video games and sports, when you're talking about real life, where your mistakes might have serious consequences.

I have claimed before that games and competitions are useful because they can teach us lessons on how to handle life.  So if we develop an attitude through those things, then say "well it doesn't apply when you get to the real world," then we may as well not have bothered.  A big part of why I love competition is because of what you learn about yourself, and how you can apply those lessons elsewhere.

So let's talk about failure.


Failure can threaten us in two ways.  Very often it's a mixture of both.

The first are real consequences that threaten our survival, our security, our social connections, and the well-being of others.  Losing your job due to a big mistake could fall under this category.  Being a surgeon and making an error that cost somebody's life definitely counts.  You don't just deal with the emotional fallout of failure here, but the actual world changes too.  And you won't categorize it as a failure if that change weren't for the worse.

The second way that failure threatens us is by attacking our self-regard.  The failure makes us question our worth, whether just as a competitor, or possibly as an actual human being.  You didn't just screw up, but you are a screw-up, and a failure, and you're dumb and bad and somebody should pour sulfuric acid in your shoes.  How awful of you to exist.

Often the second follows the first.  You screw up a job interview that you really need, and you were going to pay rent with that.  So you aren't just somebody who is about to be homeless, but you're a piece of trash that can't hold a job.

Sometimes the second stands alone.  Sometimes you go out bowling with your buddies and you're having a good time, and the game really means nothing, but when you gutterball the fourth time in a row, you can feel pretty crummy about yourself.  Why are you so bad?  Why can't you just roll a ball?  You're uncoordinated.  You're an inferior human being.  How awful, etc.  Perfectionists and people with high-self expectations fall prey to this all the time.  I know, because I'm one of them.

The easier question to answer is the one that deals with the second.  In a strange way, it also takes care of the first, to a certain extent.  Why is this?

Because your goal is to remain, as often as possible, in a mindset that promotes the best, most efficient, most productive action.  Your first goal can't just be "success" rather than "failure."  That's like answering, "how do I bench press three-hundred pounds?" with "be strong."  Your real goal must be, "I will maintain the attitude that will most likely lead to success rather than failure."  Because if you do that, you'll end up succeeding more than you fail.

So this begs us a new question: what mindset is that?

This is the counter-intuitive answer: the mindset that is most capable of succeeding is one that accepts failure.  A lot of people only want to succeed, and they won't do something if they think it might not work out.  You can't be that person, not if you want the optimal mindset.  Here is why.

For starters, you can never guarantee success.  You can only take steps to tilt the odds in your favor as much as possible.  You can train your hardest, and eat the right foods, and get enough sleep, and only fly the airline that has highest safety record so you don't crash on the way to nationals.  You can take supplements and hire the best coaches available.  And your opponent might be somebody who did all that too, but had better coaches and better sponsors and better genetics.

The world, in all its glorious chaos, might do everything it can to shaft you.  You don't control the weather and you don't control possible malfunctions at the train station that makes you miss your interview.  No matter how prepared you are, something can go wrong.  You don't control everything.  It is, quite literally, possible for you to do everything right and still end up in second, or ninth, or last.

All you really do control are your choices and responses.  Sometimes, even your body and your judgment will fail you.  Failure and misfortune can always happen, even within.  There are no guarantees, there is no certainty, only varying degrees of probability.  The only certainty is that you can control your beliefs.  You can choose to adopt a certain mindset towards the world and act accordingly.  You can always try your hardest.  And you can always try to prepare yourself for the worst.

You can start by imagining outcomes, and then you can accept them.  Become okay with them.  Let them be possible truths.  You may perform miserably.  You may be on the cusp of victory, then err at the last moment and spend the rest of your life thinking, "if only I hadn't choked."  You may perform kind of okay with nothing memorable.  You may do the best you've ever done in your life, and win everything forever and ever, amen.  These outcomes are all possible.  If you cannot accept those outcomes as possibilities, as future worlds you may have to dwell in, then don't participate.  You are wasting your time, and eventually (probably not long from now) you will be sorely disappointed.

Ask yourself instead, "why am I doing this?"  If you have the choice to participate in something, do it because you love the process.  Don't play to win.  Play to experience, as fully as possible, the joy of your game.  Even when--scratch that, especially when--you're doing something stressful and frustrating that has serious consequences if you fail.  Because that is when you will need your purest focus the most.  You want to worry about failure because it will be awful if you do, but worrying about failure only increases its probability.

And you can't just ignore failure.  You can't choose to avoid thinking about something; doing that makes you think about the thing you're trying not to think about!  Failure can't be blocked out or ignored.  But it can be accepted.  When you accept it, when you make yourself okay with it, when you shake hands with your possible failures, then they cease to be threats.  They cease to actually matter, and your brain discards the thoughts as irrelevant.  And this lets you focus on the task at hand, more and more.

You must become immersed in your process, and not obsessed with your results.  There are people who want to be authors, but they do not want to write.  There are people who want to be rock-stars, but they don't want to practice instruments.  There are people that want to be rich entrepreneurs, but they don't want to learn and invest and take risks.  In the words of bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman, "everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights."  To these people, if you suggested they might fail, they'd go, "why bother then?"  And that's how you know they'll never be decent authors or rock-stars or entrepreneurs or body-builders.  Because they won't be able to make it past the inevitable failures to the joys and successes that lay on the other side.  They obsess over results, and never get them.  If they are lucky enough to get results, they are paranoid and neurotic about maintaining them.

Love your process.  Enjoy it.  If you do, your time investment will never actually be wasted.  One moment of failure will not undo days, weeks, months, years, decades of preparation and work.  It will not erase those positive experiences from your memory.  This is the mindset that allows you to focus purely on what you are doing.  The best way to avoid worrying about the outcome is to accept all possible outcomes beforehand.  When you avoid worrying about the outcome, you increase your focus on your actions.  It is focus which helps you achieve the best results.

Once you've accepted that you might fail, you can put the failure out of your mind.  It's handled, it's taken care of, it's all been planned for.  When you fail (you will eventually fail), you may be disappointed, sure.  But assuming you haven't been lying to yourself, it won't last.  That is the elegant beauty of this attitude.  It doesn't just help you succeed more than you fail.  When you maintain the right attitude, you recover from failure insanely quickly.  You experience it in its entirety, because you are not afraid.  And because you no longer associate it with your value, and you no longer obsess over it, you are ready to move on almost immediately.  You can begin to seek new possibilities and actions right away.  If you have lost things in the real world, you can begin the process of recovery immediately.  You can spend less time beating yourself up, and more time recouping your losses and regaining lost ground.

So you will focus and succeed, or you will focus and fail, but learn and move on.  And both outcomes are superior than eternally fearing and stressing over failures.

Thanks for reading.  See you Friday.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Big Announcement!

So what is next?

Before Evo, I announced that I was done playing Melee competitively.  That remains true, despite my pretty nifty performance.  Sorry guys, no take-backsies.

Something that I did not expect, however, was the number of people who started reading this blog and telling me, in comments and private messages, that they resonated with my experiences.  They found the things I wrote helpful and informational.  People had come up to me before and said, "hey I like your blog," but now I was hearing that it actually HELPED people and made a difference to them.  Some of them said they improved, both in Melee and other games, because of my suggestions and interpretations.  The most common thing I've heard is, "I thought things like this before, but seeing it put into words helped me understand my own thoughts clearly."

That's a huge deal to me.  I mostly believed this blog was me ranting into empty air.  But now it seems that my experiences can be used to genuinely help other people improve.  So first off, the blog is going to continue.  I'm going to continue writing about my thoughts and experiences.  It's going to continue to be focused on personal development and competition, with occasional pieces that are more focused on my own emotional growth/development.  It will basically be the same, but I am going to bump it back up to two updates a week.

Second, I'm going to make the blog less ugly.  Right now it's pretty bland looking, and I am going to revamp the whole thing.  This may take some time, as I plan to learn a bit about Wordpress so I can make it accessible, easier to find older posts, easier to talk about, and so on.  I'm pretty sure I'll let the anonymous commenting remain, to increase people's ability to speak quickly and freely.

Third, I am going to condense my experiences and thoughts into an actual book!  When it's done, I will release it in PDF form, and it will (most likely) be free.  This is going to be my attempt to distill the blog topics into the most important parts.  If you want to share/access the essence of my ideas, it will be in there.  It will interweave my personal emotional experiences and analyses of competition.  It will also be my attempt to explain why competition is an incredible tool for learning about yourself, and how you can use it to become a better and happier human being.  It was the lens through which I began to understand many of my problems, as well as my strengths.  I think it can happen for others, and my experiences/thoughts may be helpful in that regard.

If you really like the book, or want to support me while I write it, there will be a way to donate in the new version of the blog.  It's (obviously) going to be optional; if you do opt in, the donation amount will be your choice.  Real thanks will be in the form of spreading what I write so it helps and informs as many people as possible.  But if you feel a desire to compensate me for the time, go ahead.  Your call!

Fourth, I'm going to begin making videos for the Melee community.  They are going to involve analysis of different parts of the game, from characters to situations, and analysis of interesting matches from recent tournament play.  As more information about Smash 4 comes out, I will also talk about that!  I will also be joined in these videos by my good buddy Taj, who you may know as being super flipping good at this video game.  As we learn more about putting videos together, they will probably get a bit more fancy.  Get hype for fanciness.

These videos and episodes will, ideally, be useful for both people in the community who want to improve, and people outside who are interested in the learning about the scene and the game.

Fifth, I am going to start streaming various games in the evening, because it seems like a lot of fun and a good time.  It is also my hope that by playing a variety of games, I can promote the competitive element of gaming to many more people.  I'd like to reach out to people that enjoy things like Lets Play and watching speedruns, and draw them to watching and supporting competitive gaming as well.

Finally, I'm going to continue traveling to tournaments as a commentator.  I'm also going to try and become involved in other FGC events whenever possible, as I would like to cross-promote our different games.  Evo was an awesome new beginning, and I'd like to help keep that momentum going.

So, as you can imagine, I'm going to be pretty busy.  Between learning lots of new stuff, I'm going to spend a lot of time contributing to Melee and the gaming community.  Hopefully I can handle this giant workload I set for myself.  If there's something I learned from competing, it's that sometimes you should set unreasonable goals if you want to make progress.

Why am I doing this?

This blog has a tagline: the art of competition and growth.  We compete, and through competing we can learn.  If we take the opportunity, we also learn about ourselves.  We can take the constant feedback of competing and gaming and make ourselves better, if we really truly want to.  So for now, I'd like to spread this idea to people, while competitive gaming is in the process of becoming giant.  I want to reach out to as many people as possible, so they can experience and understand the things I've learned.

If you want to help and support this endeavor, then spread it.  Link articles and videos among one another, even to people who don't game seriously.  In competition and growth, there are core elements--the focus, the effort, the growth, the exhiliration--that speak to us and draw us in.  They help us grow personally and they're hypnotizing to see in others.  And they exist in all forms of competition, and they are what make competing so insightful.  They are the things that make competition amazing.

Let's make people aware wherever and however we can.


For now, the blog is going to look identical while I learn how to make it better.  I'm going to go back to a two-a-week update schedule, and many of the ideas explained will later be used in the book, refined and rewritten.  I encourage you all to talk about the ideas and force me to explain them better.  If something sounds too confusing or out there, feel free to get in my face about it.  In this way, you'll be a part of the writing process.  Just like rivals make us better players, critical readers make us better writers.

Between the blog, book, videos, streaming, commentary, and learning how to do, I'll be pretty busy from now on.  This is part of why I won't be entering and competing in Melee; the time and gas-tank demands on practicing regularly, recovery time from intense focus for an entire weekend, that stuff will take away from this massive project I've set before myself.  So I'm going to keep working hard for Melee and competitive games, but from the other end.

This is my current goal and dream, and I'm going to work hard to make it happen.  If you want to help, then spread word where you can.  And as always, thanks for reading.

See you guys on Tuesday!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Evo2013 Writeup Part 3

There is one question I keep getting asked now:

"Why are you retiring after doing so well at Evo?"

Here's how it is.

Melee has been a huge part of my life for a long time.  It served partially as an escape from some of my problems.  It was a way for me to make friends.  It eventually became a metric by which I judged my state of mind; when I became stressed and frustrated playing Melee, it said more about me than it did about the game.  Melee didn't stress and frustrate me, but rather, I was a stressed and frustrated person.

As I made progress in understanding my mindset in Melee, I noticed an improvement in my ability to think clearly and feel positively.  Because I understood Melee's system and had so many friends in it, and because a long time ago I'd set a goal to become the best, I kept sticking with the game.  Then I realized that I didn't really want to be the best anymore.  I just wanted to play the game with the same love and dedication I'd had when I discovered it.

When I first started playing Melee competitively in 2004, I was in high-school.  I was so interested in learning and mastering the game that I woke up an hour before school to practice, then when I later finished my homework, I would practice even more.  I really liked learning about the system.  I liked the feeling of executing the commands that had initially seemed so simple, but rapidly became complicated and difficult.  I practiced every character, I deleted my save-file just so I could unlock everything again, and I thought, "man, what an awesome game."

At some point, Melee changed for me.  It became a performance, and not an experience.  I was there to prove something.  It wasn't enough to practice and learn and have fun, but people had to know that I was good.  I had to know that I was good.  And the thought of failing was so painful that I became intensely anxious when I sat down to play, whether friendlies or tournament matches.  Fun and learning were no longer my motivations.  It became about meeting imaginary expectations.

Time passed and people started to know my name, mostly because of a goofy infinite combo people associated with (and named after) me.  Later on, I would also become known for my unstable temperament.  I'd been handling--or rather, failing to handle--severe depression and unstable emotions since I'd hit adolescence, and I had no idea what I was doing in school or in life.  My ability to play the game was as unstable as my attitude.  At that point, everything was liable to be a source of stress and misery for me.

Medications, counselors, and hospital visits didn't help.  I wanted to quit Melee; many times, I could barely remember a time when I had enjoyed playing.  And I stuck it out, because I was fueled by my desire to be the best.  If I wasn't the best, I wasn't anything.  That meant I had to be the best all the time, or I became miserable.

It wasn't until 2012 that, following a break-up which left me feeling extremely low, that I started to really wonder why so many things could easily unhinge me.  I knew that I was unstable.  I knew it was because of various pressures and depression.  But I didn't really know where they came from, and I didn't know how to fix them.  I just assumed if I did things better, then the problems would go away.  So I spent a long time wondering if I'd ever be better, or if I would just be a dishwasher during the day, then go home and play video games that left me miserable, forever.

And that's when I realized the source of my problem was my own attitude towards myself.  The demands I placed on myself were so high that they crippled me from doing anything.  Everybody had to like me, or I was a terrible person.  I always had to say smart things, or I was stupid.  And if I wasn't the best at Melee (or a million other activities), then I wasn't good at anything.  My worth and happiness relied on meeting impossible expectations.  So I always felt worthless and unhappy, no matter what I did.  In fact, a lot of people told me that I was very likable, smart, and pretty darn good at Melee.  So I mostly had met my goals.  But it wasn't enough, and I gave myself no credit for "mostly."  It wasn't enough for me.

When I started to notice this, I was kind of dumbfounded.  It didn't even make sense to me.  There was no reason why I had to be the best.  If you asked me about anybody else, I would end up giving them very sound and sensible advice.  I'd tell them to give themselves credit for the things they did right.  I'd tell them that they're an alright person, that nobody can be loved all the time by everybody, you can't win every game, everybody makes mistakes, and so on.  But it wasn't allowed to be true for me, and there was no reason why.  It was just something I had believed for as long as I could remember.

And the result?  Permanent stress, permanent fear, permanent depression, permanent hopelessness.  I wanted to do everything right, and ended up feeling awful and achieving nothing I wanted.

So I started to try and fix that.  I started becoming aware of what it felt like to be stressed and tensed and miserable.  I became aware of my anger and sadness before they could actually take hold.  I'd notice tightening in my jaw, or tension in my shoulders and neck; there were precursors to my downswings, and once I became aware of them, I could take time to reverse them before it became irreversible.

At this point, Melee offered something for me that I couldn't really find anywhere else.  It became an endlessly repeatable source of constant feedback on my mental state.  If I handled myself poorly at a smashfest or tournament, I could review it.  I could rehearse what I'd thought or done or said to myself, and tweak it to improve it.

Things did not change quickly.  This past year has been, simultaneously, full of both pain and hope.  And things still are nowhere near perfect.  At my last smashfest before Evo, I became extremely frustrated with myself and did something I hadn't done in a long while: I made a huge mistake, and threw my controller in anger.  I was mad at myself for playing poorly, and mad at myself for failing to control myself again, after all that effort.  I held one thing in my mind, which was "emphasize my mood and focus, and not my play."  But when I got frustrated with my play (which I wasn't supposed to pay attention to), and lost control of my mood, I exploded.  With Evo right around the corner, I felt like I wasn't ready at all.  The odds of me panicking, being angry, choking, and flipping out seemed depressingly high.

I still had a lot to learn, and Evo2013 was my final exam.  I wanted to move on and start doing other things with my time and life.  I wanted to devote time to pursuing a real career.  I wanted to finish college (which I'd never completed, as I spent most of it depressed).  I still find Melee a fun and beautiful game, but it also takes a lot of time and energy to compete and focus for an entire weekend of tournament play.  Staying up late to train and practice, the stress and cost of travel, all of that adds up.  And once I realized that my desire to be the best came from a place of neuroticism and unhappiness, I didn't want to maintain that desire anymore.  I just wanted to have fun.

I really wanted, for one weekend, to have an amazing time, to love the game and see all the friends I'd made during my time playing.  Enjoy the finals, talk about the game, wander around, and just feel good to be there.  And, in those few days before Evo, it didn't seem likely.

Much to my surprise (and a lot of other people's, I'm sure) I managed to do it.  I made sure to reinforce my goal.  I collected myself even when things went sour, and got back into an appropriate mindset.  I had a great time.  And what's interesting is that, without all the stress and pressure and expectations that I'd put on myself, years of practice and study flooded out.  I gave up on being the best, gave up on winning and performing, and did the best I'd ever done.  It's not coincidence that I also felt fantastic, and enjoyed that tournament more than any other.

So that was Evo2013 for me.  I guess it's fitting that the event itself is called Evolution, since that's what I have had to do.  It's what I'm still in the process of doing.  I'm still emotional and prone to judging myself and becoming dejected over minor events.  The battle against the old version of myself is not over.  He's extremely stubborn--that's how he got so far to begin with.

But there's been progress.  There have even been results.  And now, with such a big personal victory under my belt, there's more hope than before.


And that's everything for my Evo report.  I hope it was interesting.

If you check back on Saturday, there's going to be a big announcement here for what I will be doing next with regards to the blog, Melee, and other stuff.  So please come back on Saturday to learn the awesome news.

As always, thanks for reading.  Take care.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Evo2013 Write-up, Part 2

Yeah, this one's quite a read.  The next one will be too, most likely.  Grab some snacks and get comfy.

I'll be totally honest; with such a large-profile match win under my belt, realizing that I'd made it into the top 8, and feeling like I'd conquered my nerves to perform well in front of so many people, I walked away from the second day feeling like the tournament was over for me.  I knew there was a top eight to play out, and that the remaining players were all a bunch of monsters.  But I felt like I could lose and stay happy.  This might not sound like the mindset one would want going into the third day, but it was actually important.

Going to sleep after day two, I became well-acquainted with the possibility of going 0-2 on the stage.  My first match would be against PP, who had two-stocked then three-stocked me the last time we played.  Then my next would be against HBox, against whom I had zero tournament victories, either rounds or sets.  Both these players had made me look pretty darn free in the past, and this was Evo.  It was my assumption that these guys would come out with guns blazing.  I knew they were better than me.  It was possible I would choke and play poorly while these guys played their best, and that I'd look like an absolute chump.

And on top of that, it would happen in front of thousands of people, plus stream viewers.  I had to face the possibility that on day three, I would be ruthlessly exposed.  I might play PP and lose, then probably play Mango again, who would get extremely vicious revenge on me.  I might beat PP, but then odds were good I'd fight HBox, who would also blow me up... then I'd be Loser's Finals, waiting for PP, Armada, Mango, or M2K.  When you write out the group of players in the top 5, I really looked out of place.  Every possibility (besides just winning, which was unlikely) looked pretty rough.

So the very end of day 2 was spent thinking a lot about this, and deciding on the mindset I'd carry into the next day.  There's a quote from the comic Wanted which is surprisingly inspirational, considering the source material is so puerile.

"The difference between a dream and a nightmare is how big your balls are."

This is a crude but deceptively powerful way to say "you decide whether you're living a dream or a nightmare.  You decide your emotional response to situations.  The good and bad of a situation depends almost entirely on you."  If I was going to go up on the big stage, I would go on my terms.  I would mentally shake hands with every possibility, and put a big smile on my face to confront them.  My reaction to these events would be my decision.  And this was my decision: if being on Evo's main stage was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me, I would choose to have the time of my life.

After all, what's the worst that could happen?  I could get completely murdered, play like garbage, and have everybody see... but the funny thing is, that happens to everybody at some point.  Every great player has been beaten in an upset, played poorly, looked free, and done it in front of a crowd.  You see it happen at Evo, a high-level player just gets stomped in a flat 2-0 or 3-0 in a matter of minutes.

So with all that in mind, there really was nothing that could happen to me on day 3, besides voiding my bowels in front of everybody I guess, that could really be that terrible.  I'd already choked and been 3 stocked on stream by PP and Armada in the past.  I'd already been 3-0'ed by Mango multiple times.  These things have happened.  And they weren't that awful and I'm not dead and I don't cover my face when I go out in public.  So really, why worry?

Those were the thoughts and ideas that ran around my head as I went to sleep.

Day 3

I woke up early and, once sleep cleared and I got a bearing on my own reality, I performed an emotional self-analysis.  I was happy.  Beyond happy to be in top 8.  But I noticed the thoughts running from my head, worrying about losing, and what I would have to do to play well, and blah blah blah.  So I took an extra long shower to remind myself of my goals.

Have fun.  Face my terrifying fate with a giant smile on my face.  No complaints, just put all my energy into enjoying my last tournament.  And if possible, get into my zone again, because there's nothing better than being totally focused on something.  It's an unrivalled state of mind.  I mentioned on my old blog and also here that some of the most content yet exhilirating moments of my life have been ones of absolute focus.  That held true at Evo as much as anywhere else.  If I could get in my zone, then the day would be amazing, win or lose.

So I was up early to get prepared, put on the shirt I picked for day 3; a collared shirt, eggplant purple.  Perfect.

Taj agreed to be my coach for the day, so we headed to the hall together.  First, since we had some time, we went to the Beta Hall to check out the booth for Air-Dash Online, which I've been writing for, to test out their current build.  It was coming together, and it was a nice way to get my brain going without risking stress about the upcoming matches.  I messed around with it, gave my feedback, and said hello to the team.  Then after a bit of that, I went to the Alpha Hall to get ready.

There was a warmup TV set up to the side, and I was the first there.  Taj helped me warm up, and we used alternate characters, and laughed and joked and pretty much had a good time.  I remembered just how much I like the game, and thought about the fact that I was going to play my last tournament matches.  Nine years with no end in sight, and suddenly it was here.  It was sobering, but also made me feel a bit more determined.  Soon the other top eight were there, and we were having a rotation, and then soon playing teams matches to keep warm.

When KoF was going on, I decided I'd warmed up enough, and sat down to watch, and also try and meditate to reinforce my positive attitudes.  The thing about negative mindsets is that they can slip in the cracks of your attention; if you don't constantly proof yourself against them, bad thought habits will just creep in, over and over again.  So as I felt my tell-tale signs of nervousness--tension in my arms, grinding teeth, a semi-sick feeling rising in my stomach--I dissolved them with the same self-talk I'd been using all tournament.

Being up on the stage was strange.  I looked over at our Big Five, who'd all made it to top eight, and felt a bit out of place.  Especially since I was in Winner's Bracket with three of them.  When the Smash hype video played, and we got the little Welcome Back message, I won't lie, I teared up a bit.  It's an amazing feeling to share something you love with thousands of other people.  It's even more ridiculous to be one of the stars of the show.  The video finished, we clapped, and play began.

First were the loser's bracket matches, where Mango eliminated Ice and Armada took out Shroomed.  It reminded me, a little painfully, of the gap between the Big Five and everybody else.  Ice and Shroomed are both fantastic players, but Armada and Mango were just solidly ahead the entire time and controlled the pace of their respective matches.  I was now guaranteed to play at least two of these monstrous opponents, in front of everybody.

But, and this was almost entirely because of the inordinate time I spent to proofing my brain against the fear, I was excited.  I was happy.  I looked out over the Evo crowd and thought, "I'm here, and it's amazing."  I was less nervous than I get at locals.  I was less nervous about playing in front of all those people than I am about ordering my meals at a restaurant.  I am more nervous, right now, remembering the tournament than I was while participating it.  I have, with possibly one or two exceptions, never felt better in my life than I did up there.

My time on the warm-up TV before my first match was spent just maneuvering.  My controller's joystick had a tiny bit of drift to it--if you pushed up, it would continue to go up a little, even after you let go--but it hadn't been affecting me before, so I ignored it.  I just spent that time getting acquainted with my capabilities for the day, so I wouldn't exceed them.  That day I wanted to only stick to things I was confident doing, so I used my warm-up to assess my capabilities.  I felt pretty good, so that was a good sign.

PP and I had our strikes and bans set up in advance, so upon sitting down we just got going.  And normally I have a pretty darn good memory of what happens in tournament matches, and for the life of me, I couldn't recall the match.  The situations just faded from my head instantly.  If I made an error, it vanished.  If I was ahead or behind, I forgot the stock count and just played.  So I can't really give you much of a play-by-play, in many circumstances.  I remember that I spent most of game 1 on the back-foot, but I avoided giving away big openings, and I didn't let him crack me open.  He also didn't successfully bait me into hanging myself by charging into him blindly.  I just remember that I played evasive, landed my critical hits, and secured the win.  My final KO was actually off a technical error, when I tried to get an infinite but used f-throw instead.  PP was mashing so hard, however, that he locked himself out of the tech by hitting his triggers, and that pinned him at the edge in a perfect zone to hit him with d-smash.

I'll also say it for him, since I think Kevin's too good a sport to do it on his own; he wasn't playing his best.  Whether it's because he achieved his own dream by taking Armada out of Winner's, or because he was nervous, or whatever, he was not as sharp as he could have been.  On top of that, I'd been playing against Axe's ridiculously fast Fox and Falco for months in preparation, and PP's Falco did not exceed the speed and levels of technical pressure that Axe could do in friendlies.  PP could rush me down and get advantages, but this is the most important thing;  he could not mentally overwhelm me in that set.  In our last set, at Apex 2012, I cracked under the pressure of fighting his Falco, and ended up throwing out impulsive haymakers which he systematically dissected.  Evo was different.  I was fine to be backpedaling and rolling, I didn't crack under his pressure, and I kept my focus all match long, even when he got big hits of his own.

And, this is also worth mentioning, he nearly beat me in game two anyhow.  That's how good these people are, that I can be trained for the moment, and in my zone, and they can be a bit off their game while I have a loaded-gun of an infinite aimed at them, and they still end up pushing me to the limit.  On top of that, if you're a good sport, you don't discredit another person's victory just because you're not on your own game.  So it would be nothing more than faux-humility to do that in reverse and say I didn't earn it.  When I won game two to earn a spot in Winner's Finals, I jumped out of my chair and I was unbelievably ecstatic.  I brought a better, harder-hitting game to the table that set.  I think PP could have definitely played better, but the same is true of many people in many sets.  There's no point dwelling on it, at least from my perspective.

Top 3 at Evo was mine.  I'd dropped two of America's best players into Loser's bracket.  Despite trying my hardest to win the matches in front of me, it had not really occurred to me that this sort of thing might actually happen.

Winner's Finals ended up between me and Hungrybox.  We had played some warmup friendlies and I had a few lessons going in, which were: avoid over-extending to poke, light shield if he came in on top of me, and to take my time around the edge.  I had a basic gameplan, but when I sat down, I tried to think of what I should focus on.  Then I realized, there were so many thoughts in my head that I couldn't focus on any of them.  So I wouldn't.  I'd just play and win, or I would play and lose, and trust myself in the mean time.

Game 1 wasn't a complete slaughter, but he pretty much demonstrated total control.  I can barely remember anything I did to him during that match, besides getting a phantom f-smash on him.  People asked me if I felt bad about it, and I thought, "no, not really."  Not just because it wouldn't make a difference, but because I was essentially experiencing short-term memory loss.  I had to review the match to see what happened.  Nothing stuck with me at all, apart from vague impressions of how I could play better.  And for someone like me, who obsesses over errors and then self-destructs, this was truly optimal.  I didn't play so out of my mind that I wasn't making errors.  The errors just weren't compounding themselves, which is what usually happens to me.  I get frustrated by mistakes, so when I fall behind, my comebacks are a matter of not letting myself get depressed as much as anything else.

In Game 2, he set up a commanding lead, then caught Nana with a phantom rest.  I joked about it being pay-back for my f-smash, but the two were not congruent whatsoever.  That phantom rest saved me the game for me.  He certainly could have aimed it better, or he could have just gone for Popo and secured the stock and a huge lead, but either way, I later watched that match and thought, "dang.  I'm a lucky son of a mother."

I was still down by one stock, with a bit of percent tacked on.  But I managed to connect with good setups and outplayed him to bring him down to two stock, at which point things got rather dicey for me.  Because I managed to finish him off, and almost immediately on his respawn, he took out my Nana, with me at around 80 percent.  I had been forced super far behind against probably Melee's best attrition player, and now my big weapon wasn't available.  If I lost there, from this serious disadvantage, that'd be it for my winner's bracket run.

The thing is, I wasn't thinking about that, because the winner's finals were supposed to be three matches out of five.  But because of scheduling and time constraints, they were changed to two out of three.  Neither Hungrybox nor I knew that, and that's what saved me.  Because I proceeded to make one risky and aggressive move after another, and each one happened to work out.  Before I even knew what was happening, I'd built him to around 55 percent, and I was at 120.  I caught him with a forward smash that he DI'ed poorly, and I was so shocked that I dropped my controller on the floor, thinking I'd won.  But HBox survived, and I scrambled to pick it up.  On any other day, I swear, that would have snapped me straight out of my zone.  But this time I just grabbed and went straight back into it, completely focused, almost instantly.

Then after a bit of maneuvering, I threw out a giant gambling desperation Hail-Mary up-smash.  I was facing backwards (because the hitbox is actually better behind, which almost nobody knows), and as I slid, he jumped out of shield straight into it.  Between the full-jump and his upward DI, I ended up scoring a kill of a total balls-to-the-wall guess.  This won me game two, and kept the set alive.

Game three went to Dreamland.  Because we thought it was three out of five, there were no stage bans, so I couldn't ban that level.  But it didn't take very long for me to secure a lead, and I kept him out with de-sync walls.  Fighting Jigglypuff is a nightmare for ICs when you're behind, because you have to reach into her space (where you're at a huge disadvantage) to catch her.  But if you're ahead, the situation is totally different.  You can control huge chunks of space with blizzards and smashes, and if you stay patient, you can avoid big momentum shifting hits.  Which is exactly what happened; as the game wore on, we were both on our last stocks, him at about 80 percent, and myself very low.  And he was very wary about approaching, because getting caught with a grab would mean death, and a random smash might mean death if he DI'ed badly.  And in an anti-climactic finish, I caught him DI'ing down with a back-air, and that was it for game three.

Me and Hungrybox got ready for game four, and as he was deciding his counterpick, one of the staff informed us that the set was over.  And we both stared at him, not quite understanding.  But that was it.  The set was best-of-three, I'd won, and I was in Grand Finals.

People have asked me my thoughts on it, and whether the change favored me or not.  It clearly did, because I won, but not as much in other ways.  We hadn't banned stages, but HBox wouldn't have banned Fountain of Dreams on me, and I would have banned Dreamland, which I ended up winning on.  The whole thing is a big cluster of factors that I won't presume too much on the hypothetical outcome.  I don't think I would have made my ridiculous comeback in game two if I'd known it was best-of-three, because the pressure would have been too much and I would have not played so darn risky.  At the same time, if he had just won that second game, that would have been it in his favor, and I would have had to accept that outcome.  I imagine I would have been really frustrated, since I was also thinking about how I would adapt and change up over the course of best-of-five.

The fact is, I took him down 2-1 and beat him on his counterpick.  It really sucks, but either one of us would have had to accept it.  And for what it's worth, I do not blame him whatsoever for being unhappy, because I would have been too.  But we were playing under the same conditions, and I happened to triumph under those conditions.

And that was three.  I'd beaten the three best Melee players in America and was in Grand Finals.  And I was pretty much stupefied.  But, in a lot of ways, the story just sort of ends there, anti-climactically.  Mango beat PP, then Armada, then HBox, then me.  He won 2-0, 2-0, 2-0, and 6-1 over me and became Evo's champion, and re-established a grip over the throne.  If you want to hear his emotional tale, then you'll have to ask him.  I imagine it's pretty awesome.  But this is how Grand Finals went from my perspective.

First off, Mango was playing like a total monster.  Where he wasn't sharp the day before, he was a razor.  During our set, he was also switching up his approaches and using more feints and baits, and as I caught on, he went back to straight aggression.  I think of it as a cycle of adaptation.  If you can match your pace to the opponent's (while staying one step ahead of them) then they are adapting just as you change.  And in Winner's QF, I had a handle on Mango's cycle.  I was shifting gears with him and not getting caught out like I'd been in previous sets.  Having the IC infinite available to me meant that if I could pin him down, however briefly, I could take his stock.  So he'd switch it up, bring things to even, and then I'd cycle quickly enough to match him and get some work done and keep the lead.  This is most noticeable in game three.

As a side note, when you shift gears just as the opponent does, it makes it look like nothing they do can work.  It gives you an illusion of omnipotence, like every option you pick is godlike.  It feels unfair to be on the receiving end.  You feel powerless, or stupid, often both.  It's an effect Mango has on people.  And that's exactly what he did to me in Grand Finals.  In winner's, because he wasn't as focused (whether it was not taking me seriously, or whether he needed some caffeine or some sugar or whatever), he simply wasn't staying a step ahead of me.  But in GF, he did.  He had me looking high when he wanted to come in low, he picked excellent recoveries, and blew threw my defenses nine times out of ten by attacking the moments I'd be vulnerable.

I managed to secure a single game, mostly because the crowd was chanting "6-0," and I thought, "sorry, I'm not that free."  Because when you are looking at a champion's story, you are also looking at the story of all his opponents.  And yes, it would have been hype for him to 6-0 me and blast through everybody with a perfect record on day 3.  But even though I couldn't keep pace, I had no plans to give up until the set was over and done with.  And this isn't to make it sound like I'm looking for hollow, moral victories in the place of a resounding defeat.  But my goal, the entire tournament, was to stay focused on the game, not worry about wins and losses, and have a good time.  I didn't want to win Melee, I wanted to win the game that I've been playing in my head for nine years.  And by staying focused and digging in my heels and not giving anything away, I was able to do that even in the face of the world's best player.  It was by playing that internal game that I was able to get up on the main stage and turn a stressful nightmare into a dream come true.  And even if it sounds pathetic, I managed to squeeze out a win against the best player and say I didn't give in until everything was said and done.  Because I have quit, and given up in the past.  But this time I didn't.  This time I was better.  That means something; I'm going to remember that I had that fortitude and carry no regrets from Evo, for that reason.

More notes on Grand Finals:

Being a perfectionist, I thought back on what I could have done differently, even though at this point it doesn't matter.  But these are my thoughts.

The fact is, I could have still won.  It's easy to look at Mango playing his godlike Fox and think, "yeah, nobody's beating that," but I don't believe in insurmountable problems.  He has to commit to punishable decisions to win.  I had my biggest punishment available to me.  If I made the right calls and kept pace, that would have been enough to secure victory.  What conditions would have made that possible?

First off, I should have been on the warmup TV to stay sharp, but I just watched him play all his matches.  I started off set 1 pretty clunky, missing wavedashes and short hops, and those all gave him openings and alleviated pressure without effort on his part.  Without them, the match would have looked a little different.  But I was so absorbed with being in Grand Finals that I didn't think as much about playing the matches.  So I'd warmed up heavily before playing PP and HBox, but not Mango.  Meanwhile, he got to establish a massive cache of confidence and warmup by tearing through Armada, PP, and HBox.  Staying warmed-up would have given me slightly better odds, so that's one factor.

Second, even though I avoided giving into despair, my edge for winning wasn't as prominent.  I let myself get a bit lazy; again, I was so enamored with the fact that I'd made it to GF that I didn't proof my mind and prepare it to play those matches.  So besides keeping my hands warmed up, I let myself think things like "well, I don't mind if I lose now."  I tried to dismiss the thoughts, but they slipped in and decreased my sharpness a bit.  It's one thing to be in the moment and focus on what you're doing without worrying about external factors; it's another to let thoughts slip in that keep you from exerting effort.  Mango wanted it.  And I wanted it and didn't sandbag or SD or quit, but my edge could have been sharper.  That's very much an issue of mental conditioning and focus; the mindset of a champion is something you build and train, and mine wasn't strong enough to last me.

Third, Mango had a huge amount of mental momentum.  I could have taken time to try and disrupt it wherever possible.  Whether through extending my infinites to annoy him, set up more defensive walls to keep him from attacking whenever he wanted, or just taking longer in between matches to break his flow, I could have actively contributed to errors and frustration on his part.  It might not have helped, but I didn't even explore the opportunities.

Fourth, even though I'm stating the obvious, I could have just been a better player.  I still don't consider myself anywhere near the apex of Ice Climbers play, as far as efficiency, edgeguarding, timing, and execution goes.  Really getting in my zone and focusing was a rare phenomenon for me, and I could still improve on that state of focus.  Being the best IC player in the world doesn't mean that I reached the best level of IC play available.  Taking all that stuff into account, I would have stood a better chance and might have taken the tournament.

Then again, I might not have.  Because your opponent is always a factor, and Mango was playing like a beast.  And if I'd thrown those extra challenges in his way, it's very possible he would have risen to them.  Maybe this would have translated into more stocks gained in the games I lost.  I may have lost 1-3 then 2-3 rather than 0-3 and 1-3.  I can't say.  It would have been better odds, but no guarantees.  There are no guarantees, not when your opponent is another human being who wants, just as much as you (or more), to overcome the opposition and take home the trophy.

I'm only saying I could have done better because I have never, throughout my career, believed there was a player I couldn't beat.  I've seen people assume that they will lose going into matches.  They stop digging for answers.  They stop trying to better themselves, when faced with a defeat that seems inevitable.  And quite honestly, that's just wrong.  If you're playing Melee with Mango and Armada, or you're running against Usain Bolt or playing Chess against Magnus Carlsen, when you face champions, you hunt for victory.  You scrabble in the dirt for one more rock to sling.  You never roll over and say, "well I guess I'm not as good, I guess you're the champ, I guess that's it."

You can shake hands once the match is over.  You can say, "he outdid me" or "she was the better player" or whatever you want, once the match is over.  I've given up mid-match, I've lost my resolution during tournaments before.  I've caved into the negative self-talk that convinces me the other guy is gonna trash me and I should just let it happen.  Sometimes I've forfeit or quit, to save them the time.   And those are some of my most hated memories.  So even now, I'm going to think back on that match and consider what I could have done better, in case there are lessons to learn that I can apply elsewhere.


There were lots of handshakes and hugs for my performance.  It was, after all, the highest major placing of my life.  I beat the three best players in America back to back to back, which is something nobody outside their group had done.  Everybody familiar with me who knows how passionately I pursued this game, and anybody who has strived to reach the top of anything will know how big a deal it is.

On a personal level, even it was for just one big tournament, I got to conquer the demons of stress and nervousness and anxiety that had kept me from really reveling in the thrill of competition.  I got to play in my zone on the big stage and make some waves.  For a brief moment, I got to sit at the top of the world, with every other competitor eliminated or in the loser's bracket, and I got to be somebody else's final boss.  I can't honestly say I reached my initial goal of being the best player; my few moments of triumph didn't last very long, and I didn't put up as much a fight as I'd have liked at the end, but I got a taste, however brief.  I got to sit on top of the world of Melee before somebody came and knocked me off.  So yes, I'm pretty happy.

Afterwards, my friends and I went out to eat.  I got to buy a big meal for a giant group of pepole (it feels amazing to do that, and it was something I'd wanted to do for a long time), and then also gave a random waitress a massive tip (because I always wanted to do that too).  I wandered around, watched Marvel and Street Fighter, got appropriately hype, hung out with some of my favorite people in the world, and the tournament just wound down.  I was exhausted, but after dinner I ended up in a state both zombified and wired.  So I wandered and conversed with friends, and talked about Melee and the tournament and random topics with people until 5 in the morning, when I finally slept and my Evo ended.


Next update will be later this week.  I'm going to talk about a bunch of stuff, including retiring from competitive Melee, my thoughts on my career and Smash in general, and where I'm going from now with respect to competitive gaming.

Expect it on Wednesday or Thursday.  See you then, and as always, thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Evo2013 Writeup, Part 1

So Evo2013 turned out to be the biggest SSBM tournament in the game's history.  And, as it also turned out, I got 2nd place.

For me, that's kind of a big deal.  I've never placed that high at such a large-scale event.  Nor have, in a long time, I had so much fun at a tournament, and I can't remember ever keeping my focus and calm throughout a majority of a tournament that way.  I decided in advance it would be my last tournament as a competitor, and it ended up being amazing (in about a thousand ways).

So part 1 of the writeup will just be a brief description of the tournament and my matches.  I'll cover the first two days in this segment, then the final day in part 2.

Day 0

My carpool consisted of myself, Taj, and Wakkatana (an AZ Melee player from years and years ago, who went to Evo primarly to enter Marvel vs. Capcom 3).  We arrived in Vegas and the first thing we noticed upon reaching the hotel was the sheer number of Evo entrants.  Between Evo badges, fight-sticks, and gaming related t-shirts, it wasn't hard to pick them out, and they were everywhere.  We stopped about four or five times before reaching the reception desk hanging out with groups of fellow Smashers, and even paused to point out other famous fighting game players and get excited about the fact that we were at Evo.

First we hit the reception desk, then the hotel room to drop of our stuff, then we wandered around and got a feel for the hotel layout.  We went to registration and received our badges and Evo t-shirts, followed by more wandering, followed by bed.  We all had to be up relatively early to play matches; Taj for Street Fighter 4 at 8 AM, and myself for Melee at 10.  But as we wandered we picked out the restaurants and places we wanted to see in between the matches that we would play and watch.

The hotel bed was too soft for me, so I ended up sleeping on the floor.  After years of entering and traveling for tournaments (and sleeping on the floor in crowded hotel rooms or apartments), I think I'm so used to it that I have trouble sleeping any other way.

Day 1

After waking up fairly early and having a tasty but overpriced breakfast in the hotel, Taj and I arrived at the doors to the venue hall.  They hadn't opened yet, and so we walked around finding fellow Smashers, catching up, talking about how excited we are, little stuff like that.  It dawned on me while standing in a crowd hundreds strong that was only going to grow, for the dozenth time (and not the last), that this was Evo, and it was huge.

The hall was tremendous, by my standards.  Rows of tables and TVs, numbers and letters indicating the stations, everything is laid out so people can get down to the business of competing.  People are warming up everywhere, but before long, matches were called.  Getting to wander around all that competitive energy, which was like the largest Melee tournaments I'd been to but multiplied, was almost more excitement than I could handle.

I had about two hours before my first matches were to be played, so I walked around looking for friends.  I learned that my friend Sam (an Arizona Melee player from a long time ago, also entered in Marvel) had actually entered Melee, so I watched and cheered and became suitably dejected in the name of friendship once he was eliminated after about 4 matches.  There were 696 entrants for Melee (way more than any other tournament before it) and many of them were without a lot of tournament experience.  So, sad to say, many early matches were stompfests favoring the more experienced.  But that's to be expected, since most people's reasons for entering had been "why not?  It's Evo."

As I walked around, I reflected on my pool.  I had two major names to fight, Wizzrobe and Eggz.  Eggz, a Fox from Washington who is pretty fast, solid, and whom I had no experience against, and Wizzrobe, an East Coast Falcon who was making waves and had a lot of people backing him.  One of us wouldn't get to make it out of the bracket pool.  That was the story everywhere.

I don't consider myself at a level where I can count out many people as beating me; this may sound weird, but I genuinely feel that I have to try my hardest in a majority of matches if I want to come out on top.  Especially considering these guys had notable tournament wins and performances.  So I was kind of nervous.  But as my pools matches started--first round I fought a Falcon, then after winning that I fought a Sheik who switched to Peach second round--I became warmed up and focused.  My match against Wizzrobe went on stream, and this was the first match I felt I needed to really focus and concentrate on.

And I was happy to see, after the first match, that I slipped into my zone fairly easily.  Normally it's pretty tough for me to do that, but as the match went on he became more uncertain (we talked later, and it turned out he lacks any Ice Climber experience) and the momentum just carried me through.  I won my match against him 2-0, and continued on to the winner's final match against Eggz.

I was initially pretty nervous about this match as well, given that Eggz is a solid and quick Fox with some tricks up his sleeve, and on top of that I'd never played him in tournament before.  However, one of the nice thing about a tournament that lets me use the Ice Climbers' grab infinite is that players tend to be afraid to push momentum too hard.  So I would get hit or bounced away, and Eggz would usually withdraw cautiously.  This drastically tilted the risk-reward ratio in my favor; he could hit me five times, and none of them carried much weight, but my hits would put him on the ground and allow me to continue my momentum.  If I could combo or set-up into a grab, that was usually the stock.  So I ended up beating Eggz as well, and advanced from my pool in Winner's Bracket.

The thing that made me happy about that day was not that I advanced--though obviously I wasn't going to complain--was that I felt comfortable and confident playing, largely because I was actively conditioning myself against my fear and nervousness.  I was doing my absolute best to focus not on winning and losing, but on remaining in my best mental state.  That's because my stated goal of Evo was not to win it all, or just make it out of pools, or hit top 20, or anything like that.  My goal for Evo was to have as much fun at my last tournament as I had when I first played Melee.  I wanted to go out the way I came in, amazed at how much fun this game was and how much possibility it held.

With that in mind, I ended up in a focused and concentrated zone for my two scary pools matches, and performed well.  With my pool matches finished, I wandered around, cheered for friends, did some commentary, and then my friends and I checked out some restaurants and had a good time.

Day 2

I skipped breakfast on day 2.  I was feeling a bit nervous but pretty confident I could make it far.  My bracket matches were, most likely, going to consist of Fiction (Fox), Lord (Falcon/Fox), the winner of Shroomed and IB (a Doc or a Marth) and then likely the winner between Mango and Axe.  So that was a possible Arizona confrontation, or a runback against Mango after losing 0-3 to him at Kings of Cali 2.  The winner of the pool would make it into top 8 in winner's bracket, and losers would claw their way to top 8 in a nightmarish looking bracket with some of the scariest players in the country.  Needless to say, I wanted to stay in Winners as long as possible.

Looking at the bracket, I made a few careless assumptions about my matches and performance, and almost ended up nearly paying extremely dearly for it.

I thought about my match against Fiction, and decided that--being a high level Brawl player--he would probably focus more on spacing.  Being a Wario main, he'd likely be used to giant punishes, and having come from Brawl where the ICs mess you up just as badly as they do in Melee, he would be able to play with the combination of fearlessness and respect you need to handle them.  And, even knowing all of that, I ignored my own analysis and went into the match overconfident.

I got into the match and was feeling a little clunky, but nothing too major.  Fiction stuck to side platforms and focused on shines and spaced b-airs to split up me and Nana, then would pick targets based on whichever seemed safer and more advantageous.  Then he'd shine Nana to death, and get back to playing evasive.  It's a textbook way to handle ICs, and he executed it well.  I managed to close out several infinites, however, and kept ahead, at which point things went seriously downhill.

Fiction, while I had him in an infinite, began to complain about the unfairness of the IC infinite, and this set me off almost instantly.  He was playing a rock-solid runaway game that should have precluded getting grabbed at all, had a method of killing Nana relatively easily and safely, and was playing from a position of massive advantage.  I was having a hell of a time keeping up with him, and biting my tongue on my own frustration because I believe firmly in playing to win; if I'm going to pull out all the stops to win, I have to expect my opponent will too.  If he frustrates me in the process, that's not his problem, it's mine.  But the moment he started complaining, I began to argue with him mid-match.

I won game 1, then proceeded to lose the second game in about two minutes.  He shine-spiked me about three times, and three-stocked me in the process.

This was the worst match of the tournament for me; not just because of my performance (even amazing players get three-stocked), but because of my mindset.  I had resolved to come to Evo and have fun, and the moment somebody threw a wrench in the plan, I let it crumble.  I let myself become prideful and argumentative, and didn't even pay attention to the second game.  I got angry, let it affect my play, then became angry about not playing well, and let it cycle.  My worst mindset came out swinging, and I let it run wild for almost that entire set.

In the third game I counterpicked Fountain of Dreams (so the lower platforms would hinder his camping) and ended up making a comeback off two bad technical errors on his part.  I nearly dropped into loser's bracket, and truly would have deserved it.

The mindset carried over into my match against Lord, where I was now down on myself for 1) playing impulsively, 2) getting angry, 3) nearly losing, and 4) not having a handle on my tech-skill.  Lord played a mean Falcon and I won game 1 due to his lack of ICs experience.  Game 2 I was ahead, but suicided my last stock around 10 percent and became extremely unhappy.  The day before, I had been shaking off my errors.  I knew what my mindset was supposed to be, and I couldn't find it.

Then in game 3, he ended up ahead of me with a solid first stock on his part (and a crummy one on mine) and I set my controller down to try and regain some composure.  I did end up winning that round (thanks to some defensive de-sync walls which I could execute even while frustrated) and deadly grabs.  But I didn't feel like a winner.  I felt like crap.

It was, in no way, how I wanted my Evo to go.  I went into my first round of pools mentally prepared to lose, had a good time, focused well, and ended up winning.  I went into the first segment of bracket against competent opponents over-confident and got frustrated when things didn't go my way.  One of these mindsets sucks.  I could have enjoyed myself whether I won or lost; I ended up winning in a crummy mood.  If you win and compete to make yourself happy and get miserable in the process, what's the point?

So my next match was against Shroomed, but I asked him for a five minute break.  I sat down to try and breathe, meditate on what happened, and get my positive mindset back.  I knew that Shroomed would beat me if I didn't have it (and possibly even if I did).  With my win nowhere near guaranteed in any way, I had a choice to make; I could either focus on my original goal, to be happy and have a great time, or I could try and berate myself and force myself into focusing (which had never worked before in my life).  So I tried to cheer myself up and put myself in a good mood, and mostly failed.

At this point, I was extremely thankful for an AZ brawl player, who came up and started talking to me.  He could see I felt bad and wanted to encourage me before my match.  He had no idea what to say to me though, but it didn't stop him from trying.  That fact, watching somebody who wanted me to win and feel better try his hardest to cheer me up, that honest display of support put me in an incredible mood (shoutouts to SmileyFace, for that).

So I went into my match against Shroomed feeling good, ready to play, and I didn't care if I won or lost.  The result was a straightforward match where I controlled space, got my infinites, and ended up closing it out in a solid 2-0.  Weird how that happens, huh?  The last two times I'd played him while focusing too much on winning (Genesis 2, and Kings of Cali 2), he stomped me and I got irritated.  Then I go in feeling good and happy to play, regardless of the outcome, and I win while having fun.

Next, I had to watch Axe and Mango play.  Axe being one of my friends from AZ, and Mango.  I genuinely believed that Axe could close it out (the matchup being Pikachu vs. Fox, where Pikachu gets intensely powerful punishes off many openings) but that he'd need to focus and shift gears as Mango did.  Which is hard, because Mango's ability to change up subtle things in his gameplay to constantly generate confusion is unparalleled.

Game 1 went to Axe, though Mango began a rather serious comeback towards the end.  Game 2 was very back and forth, and there was one point where Mango, on his last stock, ended up off the stage in an edgeguarding position for Axe, but Axe made the wrong call and the opportunity was gone.  Though it was insanely close, in game 3 Mango turned everything up and won by a large margin, ending the set.

Which meant I had to play against Mango.  I wasn't certain if he would play Fox or Falcon against me, as he'd won at Kings of Cali 2 in a close 3-0 using Falcon, but his Fox was now warmed up against Axe.  So I just decided, "whatever," went through my mental warmups, and got ready to play the match.  A match which wouldn't happen for 25 minutes.

So I became rather angry, wondering why people would shout and chase me down across the venue and force me to stand on deck, when they wouldn't care if Mango was just wandering around doing whatever.  If he wanted time after his previous match, I totally understood.  Instead he disappeared, and it pissed me off.  I was there, ready, and excited, and it seemed my opponent didn't care.  They played other sets and kept me there, and I just got more and more annoyed.

So when he finally showed up, I had a rather grim expression on my face.  I wanted to play.  Strikes and bans happened, and I can safely say that I don't remember much of anything about games 1 and 2 of our set (though you can watch it here).  I wanted to play, and play my heart out.  I took game 1 solidly, and Mango answered back pretty quickly in game 2.  Game 3 is where things got interesting.

The stage was Fountain of Dreams (my go-to counterpick, probably my favorite stage in the game), and the first stock was a rather violent back and forth.  I wouldn't allow him to close out my Nana and racked up damage, but he kept us split and wouldn't let me get a critical hit or grab to finish the stock.  Eventually Nana was gone and I managed to secure a b-air out of shield with SoPo and got stock 1.  This was pretty darn important, because it gave me stock momentum; being able to come down and regain stage position on the fresh stock means a lot for characters that can spend so much time being pushed around.  Even moreso considering it means I get to go in on a fresh stock with Nana.

Not that it mattered.  I lost Nana and fell behind quite a bit, then somehow got a long string of hits that won't let Mango regain his footing.  Jab -> d-smash forced him off the level, and waveland into forward-smash on his up+b earned the stock.  Stock two is my advantage again.

And pretty soon the advantage was gone and toast, thanks to a lot of b-air edgeguarding.  I was getting pretty seriously dinged up in the next stock too, when Mango manages to kill my poor Nana again... then he tech-flubbed and jumped himself off the stage.  That was huge for me.  Rather than have to outplay him with SoPo, I just had to grab the edge.  So I did two of the ugliest, slowest looking wavedashes of my career to take it, because in that moment, I swear to you, I remembered every last time I had ever flubbed an easy edgehog, and thought, "NOT THIS TIME."  So I did a tiny wavedash, and when it wasn't enough, did another one.  I had that much time to think and execute, so I got stock three for free without choking.

Pretty soon it was both of us on our final stocks.  I manage to tag Mango and he can't get a good position to gimp Nana, I build about 30 percent, and then comes the game winner, a sad and anti-climactic finish to an intense third game.  I go for a blind and goofy neutral air off a platform and land right in front of his shield.  I recognized a split second before I hit the ground that I was going to whiff and there'd be no shield stun, so the moment I landed I thought "screw it" and went for a grab, and it connected.  Sync'ed, and with Mango at around 30-40 percent off a standing grab, that made it a guaranteed kill.  I finished the infinite, won, and that put me Winner's Semi-Finals.  Guaranteed 5th place, and a spot on the stage.

This--beating a non-drunk, non-hungover Mango in a major tournament--was the biggest win of my tournament career.  So me and my Arizona friends got ice cream to celebrate, and it was delicious.

The next update will be about Day 3.  Expect it on Monday or Tuesday.  See you then!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Post Evo Writeup Incoming!

Hello everybody.  I was hoping to have the first part of my write-up done today, but I got distracted by my own exhaustion, and spent the past several hours doing an AMA on Reddit so that was interesting.

As this week goes on and I write everything out, I'll just be updating constantly.  With a surprise that's not really a surprise since I mentioned it elsewhere, posted at the very end :)

Keep checking back as the week goes on and the write-up comes in, bit by bit.

Take care.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Connect Your Learning

Perhaps you've heard the phrase "everything is connected."  Sometimes its use is cliche, sometimes its use is mystical.  Sometimes people treat it extremely literally or scientifically or physically.  I'd like to consider that phrase from a perspective of learning.

There are certain principles of behavior and learning that will guide you no matter what you do.  You can find these principles in everything you do and everything you learn, if you're looking.  And once you know those principles, they will amplify what you learn later.  If you find ways to connect the concepts that you learn, you learn faster and remember more.  Everything you learn will help you learn everything else.

I turn twenty-six years old in about a week, and I'm amazed (and sometimes a little embarrassed) at how much of that time I spent playing video games.  But what's interesting is, during that time, how many ideas and thought patterns I developed that help me in other parts of my life.  I moved from a specific area (video gaming) to general rules.  That is the idea behind connecting the things that you learn and do.  Move from the specific to the general.  Find the common law.

It's what people do in math and physics; they use specific ideas and data to create laws.  Those laws are represented with letters to indicate a general idea which can be related to specific situations by filling in what you know.  If you do this with your life, you save a lot of time.  Connect the things you learn, and discover the common laws.

I mentioned video games.  One of my favorite things to do is watch speedruns; whether it's perverse joy in seeing somebody tear apart a game I had trouble with, or whether it's learning new tricks about a game I still play occasionally, it's really a lot of fun to see how other people handle these games.

And one of the first things you'll learn, when it comes to speedrunning, is this: your route matters more than your tricks.  By "route" I mean, usually, the path that you take to get through your game.  If you're playing an open world game, you map the simplest and shortest ways to get from point A to point B, in a way that will save you the most time and get the most done.  Sometimes your route means skipping over things that you thought were necessary.  Whether you avoid conflict with enemies, skip item collections, or find ways to completely avoid levels and objectives altogether.  I can think of a ton of lessons inherent in this.

1) For efficiency, you start by focusing on major time-savers that are based on good planning, rather than tiny, difficult optimizations that rely on perfect technique.  Tiny optimizers are for people gunning for perfection and a world record.  Sometimes a new glitch or discovery will change what you're capable of, at which point you incorporate it to improve your overall route. (Parallel this with new technology applying to your job, for instance).

2) Also for efficiency, the more objectives you handle in a single action or trip, the better.  Good planning involves efficient strokes.

3) For materialism, you can always do with less than you think you can.  Practice and planning let you get by with much less than most people.  Once you know what you're doing, you rarely need as much as you think you do.  So don't worry about accumulating all those extras!

3) Corollary to 2 and 3: doing less is how you become more efficient.

4) Most of our time is spent figuring out what the hell we're doing.  Once we know that, arduous tasks can become streamlined and the effort decreases.

Now it might not be practical or useful to speedrun a video game, really.  But what about other behaviors or jobs that require you to repeat a similar action over and over again?  Where even minor optimization can give you an edge and improve your output?  You can apply the concepts you learn from speedrunning a video game to real life, in countless ways, if you're willing to look for those connections.

Connect your learning.  You may have been forced to write "compare and contrast" essays in school, where you took stories and wrote about what they had in common, and where they differed.  It hardly matters to anybody if you know the differences, let's say, bird imagery between Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, but you are learning a valuable skill anyhow.  They just don't tell you that you are.  You're learning the skill of pattern matching and analysis.

The human mind loves patterns.  It searches for patterns constantly, because patterns create order and meaning.  Order and meaning decrease stress, worry, and confusion, which increases our efficiency and happiness.  Now, the brain also has a tendency to see patterns where they do not exist, so you have to treat this process with due analysis and doubt.  "X is just like Y!"  Maybe, maybe not.  You must be honest and test the ideas to see how much they match up.  Everything is connected, sure, but not everything is identical.

I find that cooking is a giant pain because of setup and cleanup, but then sometimes I remember to apply what I know about speedrunning video games; I plot out my route, figure out exactly what I need, and don't sweat if an individual segment isn't perfect since I'm not shooting for record-breaking omelettes.  I just try to be efficient with every action, and set things up so they will save time later.  You probably do the same thing when you have to drive around your city to run errands; you mentally plot a route that will let you hit each objective in a logical sequence to save time, gas, and sanity.  Everything you do, everything you learn will follow general principles of learning, efficiency, and improvement.  When you practice one thing, you are actually training every other skill you know.  And the effect increases as you pay attention to it.

How can you apply this?  The next time you're working on a skill or activity, ask yourself, "can I describe this thing more generally."  Try to condense it into a law, or pattern that seems like it would apply elsewhere.  Remember the statement you make, keep it in your head as you go through your day, and try to use it.  Most importantly, check to see if it's actually true.  The last thing you want is to carry false generalizations in your head.

If you want, here are some samples to get you started.

--"Almost every skill is based on a few simple fundamentals.  These fundamentals do about 80% of the work when learning and improving."
--"A large part of skill comes from doing the most with the least.  Learn to maximize a resource's use before assuming that what you need are more resources."

Give it a shot!  It's fun.


I'll see you guys next week for my post-Evo writeup.  It's possible I'll be taking a bit of extra time to bring a lot of thoughts together, but I'll have something on Wednesday regardless.  See you then!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Winding Down

Hello folks.  There haven't been many updates lately, mostly because I haven't had much to say or think on the subject of competition, psychology, growth, etc.  I normally create posts by thinking about things I read, but lately my reading's been fictional or non-fiction on other topics.

The other part is that this month is Evo 2013!  And after the SSBM event of Evo, I'm not going to be competing and participating in tournaments anymore.  So I'm not going to be doing much thinking about competition, and that means very little (if any) writing on the subject.  And if I'm not writing, that more or less means that there won't be blog updates.

I'm glad you all took the time to read what I wrote.  I also hope it was helpful, informative, or at the very least, a little bit interesting.

There will be one update next week (promise!) before I head to Evo, and then a post-Evo update with my thoughts on... everything, I guess.  That one might take more than a few days to write.  After that, I doubt there will be any more updates.

It's been a fun exercise.  I'll see you all next week!