This past weekend I attended the ActiveGamers tournament in California.
Even though I only took 7th in Melee Singles, the event felt like a major victory to me for several reasons.
1) Even though at many times I felt myself beginning to get angry, I caught myself very early and kept my cool. Except for when I became incredibly tired, the tournament remained a fun experience for me the entire time.
2) Typically in the matches that I lose, I feel as though I could have been playing much better. I'm making lots of technical errors, getting flustered and impatient, not thinking clearly, etc. This was not the case this time; I managed to keep good control over my nerves and play at a level I was proud of. There was obviously room for improvement (for instance, I could have won ^_^) but I was pretty happy with my play, and I would say it accurately reflected my current skill level. That is, pretty good, but with a lot of places to improve.
3) I took 3rd in doubles with Romeo even though both of us showed up to the tournament without a partner, wondering if we'd even be entering the event. We worked together surprisingly well!
4) I learned some very important stuff about Melee that I can start focusing on and practicing that may be the next step in improving my game.
I also did pretty well in Brawl doubles too, taking 9th with my teammate Darklink. I also improved quite a bit at doubles from this, and if it wasn't for our Brawl 2v2 matches I don't think Romeo and I would have taken 3rd in Melee.
Some highlight moments from the tournament:
--In Brawl 2v2, my teammate played as MK and I played as Wario; during several of our matches we landed our new signature team combo, tornado into fart. Not only that, during one match I actually managed to use Wario's u-air and clap somebody out of MK's tornado from above by falling down into it.
--After winning one of my Melee matches, I got text messages from two different people congratulating me. They'd been watching it on live-stream and were supporting me from completely different states. It was a great feeling and gave me a major confidence boost.
--At Denny's with Mew2King, he opened up the menu and started shouting. The very first thing that he saw on it was strawberry mango tea and he shouted, "I can't get away from him! He's everywhere!"
* * *
Now for the *really* interesting part, which is the stuff I learned and get to improve on.
Studying the opponent's movement
During one of my money matches against a Fox player, I began falling behind and felt like I had no idea where he was going to move next. I was trying to catch him but it felt like I was playing the match with a blindfold on.
Suddenly it hit me, *really* hit me that he actually used relatively few approaches. He would dash dance until he reached the right distance, then come in with a SHFFL'd d-air or n-air. He would drop through platforms and double jump back onto them until I hit a certain distance, then he'd fall through with retreating b-air. If we were under one of the side platforms, he'd run off the edges to b-air me.
As I thought about my other matches, it was the case with almost every other player. They had about three or four approaches that they rely on, and maybe one or two tricks to bait me into approaching. A Falcon might throw out a full-jumped u-air to trick you into attacking, but he has more than enough time to fast-fall a b-air and then retreat. He might land on platforms with a d-air then run off with an u-air to punish you for approaching.
But even knowing this, I was still getting hit by a lot of this stuff. Is it just a lot of spacing errors? Not always; I typically have pretty good spacing. I realized that when I got hit by this stuff, I would only see it coming at the last moment, just in time to realize that I was about to get my face kicked in.
I got to thinking about this and understood that predicting your opponent isn't just knowing what the trick is, or what move is coming. It's about studying how they move and where they move.
In a sword fight, good fighters spend less time watching the sword and more time watching the opponent's feet and torso. In martial arts and boxing, you study the opponent's footwork to understand where they plan to move, how they've shifted their weight and what that means about the attack they're going to launch. So in Smash, it makes sense to me that if you want to be a good player, you don't study only the opponent's attacks, tricks, or techniques, but their movement. The rhythm of their dash dance, the way they fall and guide themselves through platforms, will tell you exactly where they plan to go, and as a result, exactly which move you can expect them to do.
This also tells you that to be better, you need to have as many solid approaches mastered as you can, and that you have to be as unpredictable with your movement rhythm as possible.
How do you know you're actually focused on the match?
--Your movements are sharper, faster, and have less error.
--Anytime you have a thought like "how could I have messed that up?" or "what an annoying cheer," it passes quickly from your mind.
--You make your decisions faster and with more confidence. They are also typically better.
--Moments in the match seem to flow naturally together and make sense; each event seems perfectly, completely connected, like it's impossible for anything else to be happening.
How do you do it? I don't know. I'm one of those folks who has trouble concentrating on anything period, so... I have no idea how I can improve in this area. My one experience with absolutely perfect concentration feels very far away from me now.
It makes me wonder if good concentration is a thing that you make happen, or you allow to happen. Or maybe it's different for different people. I don't know. All I know is this is the area of my game that requires the most improvement, and I don't really know how to do that. At least, however, I know *what* I'm looking for, which is a step up from where I was before this tournament.
I'd love it if people posted some advice or personal experiences with good concentration so that I can get some ideas. I'll post my own as they come; for now I can only identify how it feels to be utterly focused and assert that this focus is what creates consistently strong performance. So Adderall, basically.
Kidding! But only kind of.
This one is very short. If you want to win in 2v2, don't play 2v2. Turn it into 2v1 as often as possible; wall out the other player and then go in to help your teammate. Any time your teammate gets hit or punished, the opponent should suffer equally if not more. Any time your opponent hits the opponent, you should be there to add damage.
Teams usually have some kind of skill imbalance, so focus on the weaker player. Force the better of the two to make constant sacrifices to help his teammate out, and you can decrease both players' efficacy.
If you know for a fact that you and your partner are better at 1v1, turn the game into two 1v1s! Before Taj retired and we played a lot of doubles together, I was always confident that if he could get a Fox or Falco off the edge, that Fox or Falco would be toast. As a result, my goal was to keep the other player distracted and unable to assist. Likewise, if I land a grab with my ICs, his goal is not to help me combo them but to keep me as free as I can to punish with all my might.
When Romeo and I played M2K and Zhu, Zhu was doing an excellent job of bouncing me around and keeping me occupied while M2K focused on fighting Romeo. M2K was playing Sheik against Romeo's Falcon, so as long as Zhu's Fox kept shining me, M2K could abuse the character matchup advantage he had to its fullest potential. On the other hand, when I got a successful chaingrab against M2K going, Romeo put all his effort into keeping Zhu occupied while I hit M2K with a zero-to-death ledge CG and edgeguard.
So here's the basics: you want to make it 2v1 as much as you can so your opponent can never gain a good foothold with a combo or edgeguard. When your opponents have good teamwork but aren't as good when fighting straight-up 1v1s, you want to force 1v1 situations and abuse their weaknesses.
So pay attention to fighting with your teammate and keeping the opponent from doing the same. It's kind of general, but it's hard to get into the specifics of it when there are so many team combinations and individual playstyles... I'll be posting much more about doubles at a later date though, so look forward to that :)
That's all for now. Peace, folks.