Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Best Melee of My Life, Part 2

Before I start talking about this mentality, I want to link to a Wikipedia article that correlates strongly with how I felt during my matches:

And then this related article:
Lastly, there’s this:

For awhile I was wearing the tag “flow” from reading a book of the same name by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, because I thought it was rather inspirational and wanted to remind myself some of the book’s concepts during matches.

In any event, the first two links should give you a good idea of how I felt during my matches, and the third may be part of explaining why it happened.

I’ll repeat from the previous entry: my mind felt like it had no room for any emotional response to anything happening on screen. When I was winning, losing, making mistakes or doing things perfectly, I had almost exactly the same reaction: “okay.” I did some stuff I normally never have the presence of mind to do, and I occasionally did things that were just completely outside my normal playstyle. What was going through my mind? In a lot of ways, nothing, which is weird.

Most people who know me (or read anything I write) know that I’m very analytical; I’ve usually got an analytical voice running non-stop in my brain even when I’m playing important tournament matches. This voice didn’t completely go away, but it felt extremely muted.

Because I’m so analytical, I want to break down that tournament day and see what sort of stuff I come up with.

To begin, I had a decent amount of sleep and woke up refreshed. I’m a total insomniac, especially before tournaments and especially considering I’d just *had* a day full of tournament play. I wasn’t expecting to get even four hours of sleep, let alone a solid seven-and-a-half.

I was pretty anxious about the tournament because I’d played a little Melee the day before and felt really sluggish. That seems to be the case when I move from Brawl to Melee, but it felt really exaggerated and I was thinking I might not place top 3 (or possibly top 5, even). It was looking like the tourney would have me, Taj, Forward, Axe and Light, AZ’s top 5 Melee players; all of those four folks are more than capable of beating me in any tournament on any given day, whether I’m playing well or not. This doesn’t even account for Tai, who plays decently technical space animals and—randomly—goes on rampages where he plays really well. Later that day, he would handily 2 stock my ICs with Falco in a friendly before the tournament, which didn’t help my nerves.

I’m getting ahead of myself. My ride showed up and we stopped by Taco Bell before the tournament; normally I don’t do so hot if I eat a lot, so I got a taco, a chicken burrito and a small Dr. Pepper (cost me about $3.50, go Taco Bell). When we got to the venue I sat down and finished the taco and ate about half the burrito before giving it to Forward. For whatever reason (might have been the nerves) I wasn’t hungry anymore and couldn’t finish.

I played friendlies with some people, and probably won about 30% of them, losing a lot of games with ICs. I was getting the feeling that I wouldn’t be doing well today; even worse is that day was also Brawl low-tier and my lowest tier character, Sheik, is in C tier, one tier too high to enter. I’d been messing around with Mario for the week to try and prepare, but I didn’t have any real hopes about winning.
Here is where I think the making of my mental state began. At this point, I was thinking rather negatively: “I’m going to lose,” “I’m playing badly,” and so on. Thinking like that though I also came to the conclusion, “so what if I lose?”

Most people, particularly after my spectacular rage explosion at Mango Juice, believe me to be a sore loser. This is probably 40% true. I don’t like losing, and I like winning. I want to clarify something though; apart from taking medication and going to therapy for two mental disorders, I invest a lot of my emotion into this game. I practice a lot. I think about it a lot. When I don’t play well, I get very mad, thinking “I shouldn’t be this bad.” I also get mad at my inability to control my temper. I start thinking things like “I can’t. This takes attention away from the game, causing me to make more mistakes, making me angrier, etc.

I don’t want that to be a justification, just an explanation. People shouldn’t flip out and throw their controllers and storm out of venues and if they want to be part of the community, they should learn to control themselves. My recent retirement announcement was based on two things: I felt like I wasn’t improving, and I felt like my mindset and presence were too destructive for me to belong in the community anymore. Good advice from a friend has helped me with the first one; flipping out at Mango Juice made me strongly re-evaluate the second. I’m happy to say that I haven’t flipped out since Mango Juice, haven’t thrown a controller, and haven’t acted like a total disgrace.

But yeah, losing is something I highly dislike. That day, however, it really hit me: “so what if I lose?” People lose all the time. The game doesn’t care about who you are, doesn’t care what your screenname is. There will be more games. There will be more tournaments. Pride and ego have done almost nothing but backfire on me throughout my entire career; maybe it’s time I got rid of them.

My first set against Axe was difficult, and I played about as well as I expected. I won a game from my counterpick, Fountain of Dreams, but otherwise he solidly outplayed me.

It was until I got into my match against South Paw that I started thinking more about my own mentality. He was playing viciously in our first game, landing lots of shines and controlling most of the match. I thought , “at this rate, he could definitely win.” For some reason, I was fine with that. Losing to an opponent who is on top of his game is more of an honor than anything.

At this moment, I had two things in my head at once: I didn’t want to lose, but I wasn’t afraid of losing. Suddenly, they were both gone. I was thinking almost entirely about the game.

I didn’t really see its effects until I got to game 3 against Forward. During games one and two and right before we started game three, I was talking to other people, talking to Forward, and not acting at all like I was 1-1 in Loser’s Finals. Then the moment we hit start and began game three, something changed.

I don’t know if it was Mushin or Flow or what. I just wasn’t thinking about anything but “what next?” Normally I feel like I’m fighting with my hands to get them to cooperate; this time they were just ready and willing to do whatever I wanted. By the time I realized I needed to do something, I did it with no hesitation. Everything was sharp. My conscious mind was only thinking one thing: “keep it up, he can still come back.” And I kept it up, and won. We went to game four, Peach vs. ICs on Dreamland, and I felt the exact same way. I wasn’t playing perfect by any means, but I was playing better than I ever had in my entire life.

Axe came over and sat down to play me, and it was the same. Regardless of the circumstance, winning, comboing or being combo’ed, my mind stayed calm; I remember one thing that stood out—his Falco was approaching me while I was facing backwards. A laser hit my shield and I did the fastest b-air out of shield that I’ve ever done in my life, caught him DI’ing down out of his SH approach and won the round. For a brief second, I thought “did I really do that?” It’s more like I watched it happen.

It sounds absurd to say this in the context of a videogame, but it felt like enlightenment. I felt tranquil, serene, peaceful, quiet, and every other synonym I can throw out there. It’s like nothing mattered but being there and playing. It’s like I wasn’t even holding a controller, like I wasn’t sitting on a couch in a friend’s apartment; it’s like I was somewhere else entirely.

Afterwards I went into Brawl low-tier grand finals (which earlier I had unexpectedly made it to) still feeling this way. I was just watching things unfold, really seeing things, understanding them in ways I never had before, and won 6-0 with a character I barely played. I just could see what worked, and my body just let me make it possible.

What happened and how did it happen? This is what I know: I wasn’t hungry or tired, but I wasn’t full or energetic either. I wanted to win, but I was perfectly willing to accept my losses.

On the one hand, it was the greatest feeling in the world, completely unique and unlike anything I’d experienced before. On the other hand, I’m worried I might never feel it again.

I don’t really know what else to say. See you folks next time.


  1. Nice post, keep it coming Wobbles.

  2. I've started getting mad at myself after losses in tournament. I consider it sorta a punishment to myself for losing. I try not to bitch out or anything, but just muddle in it a little then start talking shop with a friend or something. Someone posted a thread on melee discussion a while back about being "in the zone". I've been in the zone a lot, and it's won me a lot of unlikely matches. However, you seem to get it from inner peace, while I get it from a short-acting ADD pill and a Monster.

    Cool blog wobbles.

    The Irish Mafia

  3. Wow
    after reading this, it doesn't apply to just smash, it seems like you have the workings of a really legitimate life drive and philosophy.
    Keep it up, can't wait for vids le Phoenix

  4. just letting you know, your link to Flow (psychology) is broken; you left off the last parenthesis

    this is a great post. Recently I've been working a lot on calming myself down during tournament; it started with noticing that hungrybox's face is almost completely blank when he plays, and so is mango's. As my tournament mindset has gotten better and better the last two months or so, I've realized that concentration is absolutely key.

    Thanks a lot for writing this up, articulating things about smash bros = the best thing ever.


  5. great read. keep it up.


  6. Nice blog, Rob.

    I love those moments of smash when you just get in the zone. It doesn't happen very often, and afterwards you always think you know how to summon that power again, but it's a tricky thing.

    I'll see you next weekend man. Hopefully I'll be in smash shape to compete with your beast mode.

  7. I can only think of one time that I was fully able to enter that focused, play at your best but not care about winning or losing, mindset. And that was the greatest match of my life beating the guy who no matter how good I got was always beating me. It is definitely a great experience and not one easily controlled. Seeing the experience put into words was definitely something else. Thank you.


  8. Sorry for the long post, just thought I could offer some advice because I had a similar situation.

    It's amazing how much we seem to have in common from what you've written. I too am far too analytical for my own good, and go to therapy for ADD and bipolar disorder. I haven't been fortunate enough to experience this "flow" that you have, probably because I'm not all that motivated with things.

    As far as your problem with the Adderall goes, I may have some advice. Although I take a different medication for my ADD, I had the same problem with shaky hands and twitching legs. I was told that when I take my meds, I'm able to focus more, and thus notice my anxiety more, causing my hands to tremble and such. You may want to ask about that, because I now take anxiety medicine that really helps.