Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Another Weekend, Another Tournament, and the best Melee of my life.

Warning: Long post ahead!

This past weekend an AZ smasher held a semi-small tourney in his apartment. The events included:

Brawl Singles
Brawl Doubles
Melee Singles
Brawl Low-tier

I took first in Brawl Singles with Wario and 1 round of Metaknight, first in doubles with my teammate JustinKamikaze, who played MK and Snake. I went MK for a few of the matches in Winner's and Grand Finals of teams because my Wario wasn't really shaping up, but fortunately my fat man helped bring in the win in the end :) I dislike switching off Wario because too many people have MK experience, I don't seem to have the right mindset to play him well, and relying on him seems like it will be detrimental to my game in the long run. However, he's such a strong character in doubles and I play different in teams than I do in singles, so I guess it kind of works out sometimes? :)

Melee Singles came the next day, and something interesting happened to me (mentally) during one of my matches in loser's finals. Whatever it was, this one day [i]officially[/i] made five years of playing Melee worth it. Every crappy day, every botched victory, every heartbreak tournament elimination, every ragequit, every john, everything.

I'll just give a rundown of my play. First round I got a bye (thanks to the # of entrants and some seeding). Second round, I wound up playing one of the few AZ Brawl players who's also invested some training time into Melee, Jar'd. He's got a remarkably good competitive attitude and he's actually kind of okay at Melee for not being part of its scene.

My next match is against another (relatively) young guy, Axe. For people who don't know him, Axe is AZ's newest up and coming Melee star, beating JMan at Genesis with his Pikachu; he also holds a beastly Fox and Falco. It's bad enough that he's technically flashy, he also knows when to go for efficiency instead, and he makes a LOT of irritatingly smart calls. I think he needs more tourney experience and confidence, but he's also got one of the best attitudes of any gamer I've met and he's unbelievably nice too.

Not in game though. In game he's a jerk, which he demonstrated by repeatedly killing my Nana off the top of Yoshi's and Battlefield with shines and up+b as Falco. He called me out on some of my gambles to try and take the edge rather than return to the stage, so he also got some clutch KOs that way which were a bit disheartening, since I normally get away with that stuff. It sucks when your opponent can kill you AND Nana before you're at fifty just by being intelligent. He wound up defeating me 2-1, and game 3 wasn't exactly what you'd call close :(

Do I want to say that I wasn't really warmed up yet because I'd spent the entire day before playing Brawl? Yes. But I'd also had all morning to get back into my groove, which consisted of Axe destroying me in friendlies as well. No johns!

Loser's bracket I played AltF4Warrior, Southwest forum mod (whom I finally got to congratulate in-person on his engagement.) It wasn't difficult to beat his Marth, but Dan's been out of the serious scene for quite some time and his attendance/entrance was mostly a social thing.

Next match was against South_Paw, another player who's mostly stopped playing. In our first game he seemed to be on top of things with Fox, gimping me *and* Nana pretty fast and going for a lot of surprising grabs, and I managed to win with a solid one-stock. Strangely enough, the next game I four-stocked him in under 1:30

My next match was against Forward, who lost to Axe in Winner's Finals (I'm telling you, the kid is scary). Round 1 he beat me with Falcon on our random, round 2 I took him to FoD where he went Peach and I went Sheik. Neither of us are exceptional with these characters in singles (my Sheik is kind of slow and clumsy, which is much easier for me to get away with in doubles), but the last time I played his Peach in tournament with my ICs, he walked all over me. Bad times.

I barely won, and then something happened. My mind decided to kick into overdrive. 3rd round he took me to Pokemon Stadium and went Falcon, and... I can barely remember anything of the match, except for three things. 1) I made almost ZERO technical errors, something which never happens to me in tournament, 2) I 3-stocked him, something I've never done to Sean in tournament, and 3) my mind went into an unbelievable state of focus that, once again, never really happens to me. For the fourth game, he took me to Dreamland and went Peach. I stayed ICs and 2-stocked him.

I'm trying to find the right words to describe what happened to my mind during this set. To give you some backstory, I have a clinical ADD diagnosis and a prescription for Adderall. I don't take Adderall during tournaments anymore though, because it makes my hands shaky, I get moody afterwards and then I can't sleep later; I pretty much use my medication exclusively for schoolwork and writing. I bring this up because typically it's impossible for me to concentrate on anything for more than thirty seconds unless I take medication.

However, the state of mind I went into was... beyond Adderall. I felt remarkably serene and detached, yet at the same time more intensely into Melee than I've ever been before. This was more than just "in the zone" play, more than just having "a good Smash day" because until that point, I really wasn't. I'd been playing kind of clumsy, my mind wasn't as sharp or fast as I needed/wanted it to be, and my tournament experience was turning out to be very... "bleh."

Something clicked though. I wasn't talking, I wasn't looking at anything but the screen. I could hear the eight or so spectators cheering, clapping and making "ooooh" noises in the background, but they were like white noise. I was aware of them, but didn't have room in my mind to think of responses besides "oh, okay." My hands were completely listening to me in a way that they never do. It's going to sound rather strange, but I felt like my mind, my body and the game were all communicating. Meanwhile, my conscious inner voice was just spectating, struck speechless by the spectacle. And the alliteration.

This state of mind carried over into my matches against Axe. Against his Falco in game 1, the game came down to the wire but at no point did I feel any hint of nervousness. When the last stock was my SoPo (Solo Popo) against his Falco, I pulled out a clutch victory and barely realized I was doing it. Next game he played Falco again and I can't even remember the counterpick (and normally I have no trouble remembering my tourney matches) and I won solidly. Then he went to Yoshi's, with Pikachu and I won again (though he ended with an SD), taking the first set 3-0.

I did not by any means dominate Axe in these matches, but at the same time I felt like I'd never played better in my life. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I'd never felt better while playing.

In any event, for the first game of set 2 he tried to throw me off by going Jigglypuff, and we played on FD. I spent my first stock throwing out smashes and doing things seemingly with no battle plan, and to be honest I didn't have one. The part of my brain involved with making plans seemed to be on vacation. We went relatively even and both went to 3 stock (IIRC), and then suddenly my playstyle switched up. I ate about 20 percent before landing a grab and infiniting him. The next stock he went for a rest combo, missed, and I infinited him. His fourth stock I won almost purely by outspacing him with smashes, and finished with a basic SoPo d-throw u-air combo to get the V.

It seemed like my brain in the first stock was just taking its time to learn what Axe's Puff liked to do, then it used the next one to exploit that. His Puff isn't nearly as developed as his other characters so it honestly wasn't tough at all. What's amazing is that at this point, my mind was still focused. Normally, when I go into what several AZ players refer to as "beast mode," it only lasts for about a stock. This weird mindset I was in had lasted me for SIX FULL LENGTH GAMES. Between the matches themselves, time spent on selection screens, that was almost thirty minutes of pure focus for me. It was unreal, yet it kept going.

Between sets I did something that should have been a terrible idea and gave Axe advice on how to counterpick ICs. I told him to play on weird stages because "even if the space animals have good advantages on a neutral, the ICs are at their best on those five levels; they hate the weird ones." So sure enough, for game two he took me to Pokefloats (I had banned Battlefield as it was his favorite Falco stage and I had an almost perfect loss record against him there). I figured that this was going to be a lost round and went Sheik, and his Fox three stocked me by lasering me and hitting me when I tried to come close. I can't imagine it would have gone any better with my ICs.

Normally getting three stocked would throw me out of whatever mental momentum I gained, but then again, nothing seemed to be happening normally this tournament. I just shrugged it off, said "nice" to Axe, then told him we were going to Yoshi's Story. He stayed Fox and we played a close game, but I stayed cool, made some good calls, and linked them into grabs. Thankfully I've been working on my d-throw d-air game a lot, and it paid off. I never relied on it since previously I would just go with an infinite. However, since he was at low percent I used d-throw d-air to link into an infinite and seal two of his stocks off textbook openings.

For the fourth game he took me to Corneria. This stage is one of Chu's favorite counterpicks and most ICs assert that it's good for them, but I've personally never liked it. Axe wanted to camp me under the fin, but fortunately I secured a lead and stayed out on the main body of the ship where he had to fight me in a completely open environment. I got the grabs I needed and took game 4, winning the tournament. There's very little for me to say because... I barely remember any of it.

I hope that wasn't too boring to read. The reason I bother posting all of that is because my mentality was radically different from my typical mindset when I play. Everything from my tech-skill to my thought process to my emotional responses to my reflexes were sharpened in ways that I didn't know were really possible for me. I barely spoke except to ask what stage we were going for counterpick, and I'm usually impossible to shut up.

What's really weird is that even after I won the last game (making for nine games of hyperfocused play) I went into the grand finals of the low-tier Brawl tournament with the same mentality still running strong. I came from loser's bracket in *that* as well and kept my mentality to win 6-0 against my opponent who had, earlier that day, 3-1'ed me with total ease.

So for fifteen games straight (six of which were Brawl matches which lasted almost 40 minutes in total when adding in my opponent's counter-stages and character select screens), I played different opponents, different characters and different GAMES in a mental state that I normally can't maintain for more than thirty seconds at a time. By my count, it lasted almost eighty minutes. When the tournaments ended and I snapped out of it, I was both exhausted and exhilarated. The second day of this local tournament was, without question, one of the best days of my career as a Smash player and possibly one of the best days of my life.

I'm going to post again later today with more thoughts on that mentality; this post has gone on long enough. Peace.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats on your placings. :)

    Technical errors always phase me; sometimes I get so frustrated that there is a visible drop my reaction time and mental game. Thanks for writing about this. I guess I have something to strive for at my next tournament.