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.


  1. Fantastic post Wobbles. "And that's when I realized the source of my problem.... enough for me." paragraph really resonated with me. As one of those adolescents caught between crippling depression and impossible standards, I know exactly what you mean. But I still haven't gotten to the point where I can let go; I'm still beating myself up for not being the best. This was a very insightful post and you've given me something work towards.

    Thanks for everything Rob. You're an inspiration.

  2. Interesting stuff. Sounds as if you have been practicing mindfulness meditation - but if you haven't, certainly check it out. Definitely fits with a lot of stuff you are saying about introspection, etc. Best of luck (should I say 'best?) with going back to school and finishing your degree.

  3. So relatable... great write up, Wobbles.

    Your peformance at EVO will forever be a new standard of the caliber of play the character is capable of achieving.

  4. I can relate a lot to what you're saying. Unfortunately I never had the chance to compete. Like I really want to -- but at the same time I feel like I need to go to school and there's also the pressure of learning japanese which I spent a stupid amount of time doing only to leave that mission partially complete. and now there's the stress of losing that progress. Then there's the pressure of feeling like I need to have a relationship, I need to move out, I need to get a "real" job. Fuck dude. Life's a bitch it really is. Wish I was still in high school.

    anyways really enjoyed your articles. I hope to read more from you ;)

  5. Thank you for this insight and inspiration, and good luck. I look forward to seeing where you go.

  6. Im almost the same way with having to be good at everything... but luckily I've become a little less focused on everything and more focused on things i really care about. I've always wanted to be the best in video games but I know I can't dedicate the time to do so. But I always try to enter tournaments just for the fun and to support the community, and if i happen to make it far, then that's just more icing on the cake. Like for EVO. I always enter to support the community but also to hang out with friends in Vegas. 2 birds 1 stone. I hope you at least enter tourneys just for the fun and support in the future.

  7. Beautifully written. You truly are an inspiration to the rest of the Melee community.

  8. Great, great, great story. I'm slightly choked up, thank you for sharing your personal life. I would like to get a handle on my emotions as well.

  9. Hey, Wobbles.

    Nice write up. And congrats on your job well done at Evo. I was rooting for oyu the whole way. But I have to ask: while doing commentary with Wynton, he mentioned the last tournament you played at, you got boo'ed whenever you landed an Infinite. But at Evo, the audience roared in cheers and mad hype whenever you got the Wobbling off. How did that feel? And do you think it helped?

    In any case, congrats again, and mad respect. Hope even in your retirement you stay active in the scene as a mentor and role model to the up and coming players.

    - jchensor

  10. It sounds like you have truly found the heart of competition. The progress over the goal. May your great work in life be as successful as these smaller steps.
    Take care!


  11. What a great read. I've been playing your blog on an audio radio thing on twitch and so far this is like hour 7 from start to finish. Wow. Lots in there to think about.