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!





  3. Awesome, can't wait.

  4. And then Day 3 comes.... and you were against a motivated Mango.

  5. Wobbles! I was the dude who was back slapping/pumping you up as you were heading up to the main stage for top 8 (you just looked at me like you were going to be sick, nodded and kept rolling). Just wanted to say congratulations on your efforts at evo, as a former IC main who gave up I was really impressed. Having come out from Australia for the event I was disappointed not to get the chance to meet you proper, but I've followed your blog and smash career and want to congratulate you on your progression not only in game but as a self-reflective person who appears to have bettered himself substantially over the years.

    1. Also I missed the AMA on reddit, but I wanted to ask what you told yourself when you put your controller down during the match with Lord? I was watching on fearing for you and you just turned it on after that.

    2. I told myself something to the effect of "I'm not afraid of losing. I came here to have fun."

  6. Me got ice cream.