Spontaneously Formulating and Adjusting a Strategy

Going into a set, a narrative often occurs in the mind or is forced on us by our peers.  We’re told to be confident, believe in yourself, and play your game.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this narrative, but it’s not always good advice.  Many players, even at a high level, play more on feel than on thoughtful reflection as the set progresses.  But what if things are unfolding in a way that you are legitimately baffled by?  Matchup knowledge is an important part of being prepared for a set, but in many cases, it will be inadequate.  Your opponent might know more than the people you practiced with.  He might employ a degenerate strategy.  Maybe he just outclasses you when it comes to speed or fundamentals.  In these situations, it’s unlikely you can just “play your game” the way most would like to going into a set.  Here are some heuristics to help formulate a plan to give you a fighting chance.

Against opponents that aren’t top players, think of situations where people tend to struggle.  Just for brevity’s sake, I’ll just say that this post https://nmwhittier.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/list-of-common-noob-habits-you-should-all-try-to-break/ is a solid list of things you are likely to be able to exploit in low or mid level players.  Add to that list situations where you need to DI/SDI correctly to avoid death, like Marth fthrow à fsmash or waveshine setups.
Against top players, think of things that they are known to struggle against or things that they whine about.  Some top players are pretty stubborn and can try to force options in situations where they aren’t totally appropriate, especially when they previously failed to execute them at the proper times.  Or maybe they are just extremely predictable in some situations because they believe one option is the best option.  Try to think of a high risk counter to what they like to do.  If you punish someone for doing something “safe,” you have a high chance to distort their focus or make a chip in their mental armor.  Taking a stock by doing something that absolutely “should not” work can really get under your opponent’s skin.  Even against top players, sometimes cheesing them can be the way to go.  I was playing Shroomed the other day, and he knows better than anyone that I spam CC, but despite this and his enormous effort to counterplay it, I managed to take a couple stocks per game with CC cheese.  Extreme frustration ensued.  I know plenty of top 100 players who could potentially get hit by the “The Fendy” and inevitably get tilted.

At Evo 2013, Tomber made a four stock comeback on Scar.  Tomber did this by noticing that wobbling him to excessive percents tilted him.  This strategy does not have any inherent value in the game, but outside the game, Tomber was able to net a huge advantage.  I never spend more than a few seconds on a platform before coming down to the stage, but if I played Duck, I would consider spending significant amounts of time stomping on the top platform because he’s notorious for complaining about this strategy (frankly, I agree with him that it’s extremely lame).  When people hate something in the game, there’s a high chance that they are going to be less level-headed when combating it.  Don’t limit yourself to winning via traditional fighting game fighting fundamentals.  Find ways to win the mental war.  Frustration distracts from focus.  Hbox ended Mango’s 3vo by doing some planking that was invariably punished by a more level-headed Armada.

Adjust to your own state as well.  Sometimes you are going to be playing like shit.  Let’s say you’re playing against someone near your level who you know you can beat, but who has taken you to the brink in previous sets.  I would probably try to come up with a strategic approach where I might be able to win without my conventional approach, which often relies on highly precise tech skill.  I would try to think of situations where my opponent might flounder, overcommit, or expose themselves to give me easy stocks.  Alternatively, I might play riskier at the edge, knowing that if I manage to get a crucial read or two, this might make up for me losing more engagements on stage than normal.  There are times that warrant ceding coverage of many options in favor of covering what you feel will give you a more decisive advantage should you make the correct read.

Platitudes like “you have to believe you will win” instill a naïve belief that the quality of your play is a direct reflection of confidence.  More often than not, confidence is correlated with better play.  However, if you’re playing like shit for the hour before the set, believing you’re going to play well is most likely going to be fruitless.  You can try to rectify your own mental state going into the match by meditation, smoking, or whatever else helps you get in the zone.  Carrying a notebook is a good way to remind yourself of what you should be thinking going into a set.  Dealing with your own sluggishness, anger, frustration, etc. is an integral part of being a champion.  Come up with a strategy to win.  Always anticipate potential paths the set might take in order to facilitate coming up with responses to probable situations.  Never assume that playing the style that you play on autopilot is going to produce the best result.

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Attitude Adjustment

Melee players, in their endeavor to optimize all aspects of their gameplay, seem to assume that there’s also an optimal mindset.  “Practicing mindset” has become a mainstream idea in the Melee community.  This is extraordinary, and it’s a testament to the fact that our community has people with very strong wills to win.  It’s not something that gets the same level of appreciation in other competitive gaming communities (though, speaking from experience, I do believe it’s more important in fighting games than others).  Yet people are still surprisingly close minded about what constitutes a good mindset.  A good mindset is what’s going to make you play well in the moment.  A mindset that is best in all situations may exist for some, but for most of us, it’s a fantasy that we won’t reach, or at least won’t reach without seriously committing our lives to cultivating it.  Is it really reasonable to think that you’ll be able to have the same level of focus, intensity, and will, regardless of circumstance?  What about when you get dumped?  When a friend dies?  When you’re getting heckled?  I would love to be able to have a robotic, laser precise focus the way Armada does.  I don’t.  Drugs intended to enhance focus have not given it to me.  When push comes to shove and I’m getting whooped, sometimes just changing my attitude can turn the set around.

The boons of audio setups, music, and headphoneless play can be harnessed to give you the mindset necessary to win.  I’ll say outright that I don’t understand people who prefer playing with no headphones over headphones with game sound.  But these people, including Armada himself, do exist, and they do seem to be able to focus.  Maybe these people are better at living in the moment and just have an ability tune out everything but the game.  As far as game sounds versus music, I recommend using game sound when you feel that your head is in the right place and you will not get tilted.  If you’re confident in your plan, your ability to execute your plan, and the inability of your opponent to rattle you, then game sound is excellent.  It keeps you in the game and facilitates focusing on what’s happening on the screen.  However, if you are playing against an opponent who is likely to tilt you, or if you get tilted from SDs, or if you need an attitude or playstyle you are not accustomed to, music may be the way to go.

Last September, I played PewPewU at a local.  I got junked in WF.  Going into GF, I changed music from my normal Streets of Rage soundtrack to Turkish Rondo by Mozart.  Playing PPU can be really mentally taxing because he does extremely risky things with such regularity.  They aren’t even necessarily high risk, high reward.  He just runs through you, moves all over the place, and then calls you out.  This can really shatter my mental game.  Though I love classical music, I pretty much never listen to it in tournament—I’m fairly certain that this set was the last time I did.  But in GF, we went to game 5, last stock, and I would largely attribute it to the music calming my nerves.  In March, I played Laudandus in LF at a local.  Though it may seem like I would have an edge on him because we’ve had something of a rivalry and he is the Falcon whiner, our rivalry is mostly him beating me with me taking occasional sets.  I went down 2-0 in a dominant fashion.  Going down 2-0 to Sheik means you are really getting whooped because Pokemon Stadium is a strong counterpick.  Playing Laudandus is extremely tilting.  He manages to maneuver in neutral into positions where you have to call him out preemptively, or else it’s not feasible to fight him head on, and if you try to retreat once he’s in position, you often get boost grabbed.  And when you have him in a bad position, he pretty consistently just does an immediate escape option into a counter attack, which should be easy to beat when you expect it, but if you’re not vigilant in the moment and mess up your punish, you pretty much lose your stock every time.  It was not feasible for me to calm my ass down.  Instead, I embraced the adrenaline flowing through me.  I put on Through the Fire and the Flames and took seven of the nine next stocks (when he was on 1 stock game 4, he managed to regain momentum and make it respectable, then went on to win game 5 convincingly).  Instead of failing to calm myself down, I decided to amp myself up, and it gave me a fighting chance in a set where I was getting decimated.

Experiment with different attitudes to figure out what works best for you.  I once believed that when facing Ice Climbers, classical music would be ideal because it would prevent my tilt.  Now, I listen to metal every time I play them because I’ve realized whenever I’ve lost to them, it was because I got afraid and became tentative in my play.  I do believe that, ideally, we would all have completely serene mental plains, and we could focus entirely on our opponent’s character with no stray thoughts distracting us from what’s in front of us.  If you have achieved the flow state that’s written about in The Inner Game of Tennis, I suspect you’ll agree that trying to achieve this flow can feel like chasing a fleeting dream.  I do believe in striving to reach this flow every time you play, but I am decreasingly confident in my personal ability to do so.  There are just so many factors.  I can play perfectly when I haven’t eaten in twelve hours, but other people need to eat to play well.  What factors inhibit or enhance your play are up to you to discover.  Go to as many tournaments as possible and figure out what is going to make you play best so you can bring out your best possible performance in the most trying circumstances.­­

Upsetting Better Players

At Shine, a Falcon player I had never heard of came up to me and asked to money match.  We struck to Yoshi’s.  This immediately makes me happy, as it indicates that they want to fight instead of camp and fish for DD grabs.  The guy’s tag was Rachman, and he played a crazy style, slightly reminiscent of n0ne.  It made me want to go crazy as well, and he managed to win the match, albeit with half a dozen SDs from me trying to go too hard.  We played two more money matches, and by the third one, I destroyed him with relative ease and without dropping a game.  Less than an hour after our third match, another player asked me to money match.  I don’t remember this fellow’s tag, but I do remember that I was excited to play him because he played Falcon and I had a high from how fun my games against Rachman were.  Let’s refer to this second Falcon as Jimmy for convenience.  Playing Jimmy was the complete opposite experience.  He had clearly based his game on 20GX tutorials and had nothing novel or interesting to bring to the table.  At first he did ok, but by the last game, I destroyed him badly.

At this point, you might wonder why I bothered telling this anecdote.  The reason is to illustrate the point that you aren’t likely to beat someone better than you by doing things they’ve already seen countless times.  If Jimmy and Rachman were in a bracket and faced a third Falcon player closer to their skill levels, I think it’s likely Jimmy could do just as well against him as Rachman, possibly better.  But put in a situation where Jimmy was playing against someone who significantly outclassed him… he had no chance.  He was decent at dash dance grabbing.  He was also pretty decent at tech chasing.  I try not to base my Falcon ditto game around this, as it can still be a very fun matchup if people don’t play lame, but if the other person plays the neutral in a way that compels me to, I am also pretty good at dash dancing and tech chasing.  When it came down to it, I was just better than him at everything he based his gameplan around, so there was virtually no way for him to beat me doing something that he’s just worse than me at.  Rachman, on the other hand, created many situations that made me uncomfortable, and that I was not as well equipped to handle.

There are many aspiring Falcon mains and few of them are inspiring.  20GX has made a laudable attempt to show the viability of our character, but now most “decent” Falcon mains play like a pirated Chinese knockoff of Wizzrobe.  Being able to DD grab well is an extremely great thing for an aspiring Falcon, maybe the best possible tool for them to be good at.  But styles predicated on waiting for the other players to make mistakes are awful for upsetting better players.  If your style has been crafted around watching tutorials and emulating top players, you should look long and hard at your own style and think about whether you have anything fresh to bring to the table.  You’ll never be the best by copying the rest.  Even players like Borp, w33dl0rd, Drephen, Iceman, Widlar, and many others, who sometimes look “dumb” when they play, have significant chances to upset players who are notably better than them because they’ve created their own flavor of how to play the game which makes their opponents play by different rules.  It’s no surprise that n0ne was the first Falcon to beat M2K, and that he did it twice before other Falcons were able to.  Even though Wizzy might be overall better than n0ne, there’s no way to practice for playing n0ne.  He’s crazy and no one will ever play quite like him.  Playing against Lord might help, but that finding a session to practice with that guy is borderline impossible.

Hopefully this all motivates some of you to get in the lab and come up with stuff people haven’t seen before.  At the very least, practice some things that will lead to significant mental damage and get you momentum in sets.  If you play ANY high tier, there’s tons of things you can do in your punish game to put the fear in your opponent and to feel yourself.  Don’t be content to always settle for ending things early to set up a ledge guard situation.  Melee players have a strange obsession with “what’s optimal” when in reality, what’s “optimal” is whatever is going to win you the set.  That will be the topic of my next article.

On a final note, I heard that Rachman 4 stocked Zeo in a crew battle at Shine.  It doesn’t seem to have been recorded, so I wasn’t able to see exactly what happened, but this further exemplifies my point.  Zeo would actually probably come out ahead if these guys played several sets.  But in the heat of the moment and playing one game against someone with a style he’s never faced, Rachman destroyed him.  Cultivate your own style and try to make your opponents play on your terms!

Locals vs. Nationals

It’s commonly believed in our community that nationals are the true test of Melee skill and that locals don’t mean as much.  People love to cite how in region matchups are wonky and people develop counters and player specific metas that don’t reflect the overall skill levels of the players involved.  A more accurate assessment would be that locals and nationals require different skillsets.  While we love to think that locals are training grounds to hone our skills for nationals, in many ways, they don’t prepare us at all.  With 2017’s last round of big nationals coming up, I thought it would be a good time to write about some of the things we need be mindful of during our preparation.

Nationals generally involve traveling long distances to attend.  This means that you are likely to have some fatigue from travel and you lose out on the possibility of a day of meaningful practice right before the tournament.  You are likely to not have a setup in the room you’re staying in.  And you also have to deal with sleeping in something besides your normal accommodations.  Beds, snoring roommates, pillows, anxiety, jetlag, etc. can all totally mess up your sleep.

The scheduling at most nationals necessitates playing well over at least 2 days.  Finding “the zone” where you’re playing your best is difficult.  Finding it two days in a row at the exact times you need to play is more than difficult.  Especially when you consider additional factors.  This takes me to my next point, which is perhaps the most important of all.

At nationals, especially Evo, you get less warmup.  The ratio of setups to players is not very good at most nationals.  For this reason, we should all make a point out of lauding the ones where it’s actually easy to get friendlies in (particularly with Smashladder being such a frequent side event).  You often stand around for almost half an hour between matches, doing nothing, as all the setups are occupied for tournament matches.  Then you have to sit down and immediately play your best.  If you SD or get shine spiked twice in the first game, that’s likely to be the set.  For this reason, I suggest putting a special effort into staying in the zone between games.  Many of us are normally social at tournaments, but at nationals, you might want to save socializing for after your pool is done.  Focus on your upcoming match and what your goals for the day are in terms of execution and gameplan.

Losing in the upper bracket at nationals sucks.  At locals, it’s often a boon to lose early.  You get to line up your opponents, get momentum, and cruise all the way through the tournament, maybe even resulting in you winning it.  At nationals, you don’t get to line up your opponents the same way.  You still wait a lot.  You still have pool waves hours apart and have to play over different days.  You have to play way more matches for the same placing.  You have a crazy high chance of coming across some gimmick, novel playstyle, or playstyle counter for you, only the last of which is likely to happen at a local.  And then if you make it to the last day in the lower bracket, well, I have some bad news for you.

Playing well in the morning is hard, especially if it’s the day after traveling, when you obviously couldn’t practice.  At locals and regionals, you often don’t have to play well until the sun is going down.  The earlier matches are fluff.  It’s incredibly rough when you have to wake up day 2 or day 3 at a national and your first match of the day is against an opponent who’s better than you.  A lot of the time these are the most fun people to play–the people who you can beat at your best but who will destroy you at your worst.  Often, these players make you rise up to the challenge and make you play your best.  But if it’s before noon and you’re groggy, from messed up sleep, a crazy night before, or just not being a morning person, you’re probably just going to get run over.  Find some kind of morning routine to ameliorate this.  Gamers generally are generally night owls, so if you can learn to play your best in the morning, you’ll have a huge advantage.

Locals, on the other hand, test some completely different skills.  Endurance is one of my personal strengths, and an all day grind, which starts with everyone in the tournament and ends up with one final winner, is a format in which I thrive.  Going into Redbull G&G, I knew this format was good for me.  I lost to a relatively unknown Arcadian, quite badly, early in the tournament.  I played awful and I know it didn’t go to his head because it was painfully obvious I wasn’t on top of my game.  But the tournament reset everyone in the Forsaken Bracket to be in a new bracket with no losses, so I didn’t actually need to play very well until 7pm.  It wasn’t until LR2 in the Forsaken Bracket that I actually started playing well.  But after grinding through a hangover and fatigue with the help of a ton of caffeine, I finally found my groove.  Grinding through your subpar play and finding your footing when you need to is unlikely to happen at a national, though I suppose it’s possible if you are trying to get through R2 pools at 6 or 8pm.

It’s easier to prepare for brackets at locals.  Don’t get me wrong, nationals release brackets and pools far in advance, but watching videos or asking people what character your opponents play isn’t the same.  When you go to locals, you know every relevant player’s style, character, and character counterpicks.  Imagine this scenario.  Someone tells me my R1 pool WF opponent is a pretty good Marth.  I dumpster him game 1, slack a bit and play with less vigilance/respect game 2 and let him edge me out on his counterpick (stages matter a lot in Falcon vs. Marth), then I pick FD game 3.  He switches to Falco.  Well fuck.  No one told me he played Falco.  Maybe there are no videos of him playing Falco anywhere.  I might just be in the lower bracket for the rest of the tournament.  These situations rarely come up at locals.  In the same vein, you’re less likely to come across some gimmick strategy you haven’t faced before.  Maybe no one has ever planked against you.  Maybe you didn’t know Pikachu wrecks your character on FD because you didn’t realize how busted his chaingrab is.  These are the kinds of things you’ll learn after one exposure at a local.  Eventually the pool of people who rely on such tactics and the potential new things for them to exploit dries up in your region.  At nationals, the odds of someone having some trick to edge out one game is much higher.

Lastly, let’s note that obnoxious crowds are scarcely a problem at locals.  Even if people get rowdy in your region, it’s pretty unlikely that someone is going to have their group of 10 friends behind them heckling you.  Ever played against anyone from AZ or Pittsburgh?  Ever play in a crew battle?  Ever played with me behind you?  It’s hard.  Locals really don’t prepare you for the rowdiness and spotlight that come out at nationals.  I doubt that many people would say that someone who’s top 20 in the world in a silent venue but not top 100 when getting heckled is a bad player.  But given the environment at nationals, this is actually a possibility, and in current scene, we might never appreciate that player’s skill, because we might never see it manifest when the spotlight is there.  And if you feel that that’s you… LISTEN TO MUSIC OR GET AN AUDIO SETUP!

On Smashladder

I was going to write this going into Genesis 4.  I did not write it because I was assured, both by people who work at Smash.gg and Genesis TOs that there would not be Smashladder at Genesis 4.  There was and I regretted not writing it.  Though the ladder did not adversely affect my Genesis experience in any way, I wished I had written it so that my constructive criticism had been out there to make improvements.  Below are my current thoughts about Smashladder, now that I’ve been to several tournaments of varying sizes that have featured it.

Conceptually, it’s awesome.  You’re eliminated from the tournament, are salty, and want to have more meaningful competition in your life.  You get to play matches against people of your skill level and sometimes you can win cool prizes.  What’s not to like?  If anyone recalls, the first time ladder was ever tweeted out, I was #1 on it at Big House 6.  Within an hour of that tweet, my opinion went from “ladder is awesome” to “ladder is shit.”  Let’s discuss why.

Ladder takes away setups from money matches and friendlies, which are the most fun parts of traveling to tournaments.

You wait a lot to play!  At Redbull G&G on day 1, there were only a few setups that weren’t being used for pools.  For Christ’s sake, don’t take away the few setups that we have to warmup.  I message players like Fiction and Lovage before every tournament they’re attending about how we haven’t played in years and have to play.  Ladder is a surefire way to make sure that I don’t get to play these people.  And even if there are a lot of setups… you still… wait… a lot.

You don’t choose who you play in ladder.  This is something great about friendlies and money matches.  You get the training that you want to get.  I have a physical list of 20-50 players I want to play whenever I travel out of region.  It’s way easier to actually play them when we aren’t limited to the 20% of setups open for friendlies.

Regardless of how well you’re doing, you still have to wait.  The logistical reality of shuffling around and finding opponents rather than sitting on a rotation or playing money matches means a lot less net time played.

Ladder entails you playing numerous sets against players that are not near your skill level (invariably much worse than me in my case) before you get to play fun matches.  This, compounded with waiting times, means that ladder is just actually worse training than having TVs open.

The prizes are… well, they exist, but they are nothing that I ever care about.  I would MUCH rather have potential winnings from ten money matches.  I’m not trying to whine about prizes here.  They obviously interest a lot of people.  But there’s a reason why not too many actual top players are on the ladder.

Let me reiterate that, conceptually speaking, I love the idea of the ladder.  These problems above all arise in the implementation.  Let me give some of my suggestions.

Have a significant amount of TVs allocated for friendlies/money matches.  This number can probably be lowered a bit if you have some specifically allocated for money matches and others specifically allocated for friendlies.  It feels really bad to try to kick people off friendlies to MM when there’s 8 TVs for friendlies at a major (this was the case at Redbull G&G on day 2).  Luckily, some other players and I managed to appropriate two of these eight setups for money matches only.  Absolutely do not take up more than 50% of available setups for ladder unless there are more than 50 setups available.

Have more geographic distinction between areas running ladder and those that aren’t.  It’s really frustrating to want to play someone in a friendly or MM and to have to ask yourself “are we gonna get kicked off for some ladder match?”

Limit the number of people who can participate in ladder at any given time to 4 times the number of setups available.  Have a reserve list of people who will be put into the ladder once the current participants are eliminated.  You can be eliminated by reaching the maximum prize, having 3 or 4 more losses than wins, or by playing 15 sets.  Once you’ve been eliminated, if you wish to rejoin the ladder, you’re put on the bottom of the reserve list.

I’m not sure if it still works the way it did at BH6, but have the ladder page tell the players where to play rather than the TO desk.  Let the two players check in on the phone and cut out the TO desk as a checkin place to meet your opponent.  If they don’t show up to the setup within 90 seconds, have them DQed.  This is NOT a good change unless the previous change is implemented, because if you are waiting 15+ minutes to find your match, 90 seconds is not a reasonable amount of time to get there, as you might need the bathroom, water, etc.  If wait times are less than 5 minutes, then you can queue when you’re ready to play and can be expected to show up immediately.

Program something into the interface such that, if two players have the same record going into a match, they are allowed to mutually agree to an immediate salty runback.  Cutting down wait times, playing with fewer breaks, and getting as many matches played as quickly as possible should all be goals.

Be more conservative with when ladders are run.  Running that ladder on 7 setups at G&G while the first round of pools was still going was absurd.  Run ladders at times like Day 3 at Shine or during 24 hour venues (this might sound silly, but if there’s a 1500 man tournament, I don’t think it’s outlandish to think 40 people will want to play ladder at 2am).

Charge a 2 dollar entry fee to get better prizes.  This is a suggestion that I’m not at all attached to.  I can totally see the appeal of it being free.  But as someone who doesn’t want any smash related apparel, it would be really awesome to get a prize that I actually want.  If I were to win a ladder event currently, I would stand on a chair in the venue and yell “WHO WANTS TO BUY THIS HOODIE?”

Have at least two different ladders based on your placing in the tournament.  This shouldn’t be done if there’s a meaningful prize pool, but as far as having people just get fun games, I know it would appeal to lots of people—meaning the numerous people whom I’ve heard complain about ladder—if their sets were more consistently against opponents of similar skill level.

I wrote this article in about 30 minutes and am not at all trying to suggest I have all the answers.  I’m just trying to have a conversation where we can brainstorm ideas about how to improve this recurring side event.  I want to like ladder.  I want to play ladder.  But as it is, it’s either been entirely negligible for me or just an annoyance that makes it harder for me to get the experience that I’m looking for at majors.  I know dozens of players who have expressed the same thing to me.  We shouldn’t be complacent in letting an essentially meaningless side event impinge upon what have long been considered standard reasons to travel out of region to compete.  Make it better or at least make it so that it doesn’t make the tournament worse for those of us who don’t participate.

Heart and Confidence

Heart and confidence are two commonly discussed aspects of competitive mentality, but the discussions generally consists of platitudes and vague, useless information.  In a recent NorCal Melee thread, many people offered their two cents about how to prevent choking—the two most useful answers were probably “green stuff” and “meditation.” There were numerous other answers that had some level of merit but that were not actually useful.  Telling someone to enter more tournaments to gain more experience isn’t actually going to help someone close out more sets.  I’ll try to offer some less general, more concrete actual advice that can be implemented.  But first, let’s talk about confidence and heart, especially misconceptions.

People love to talk about how confidence is prerequisite to be a successful competitor, about how you must believe you will win in order to do so, and how not believing in yourself will effect a self-fulfilling prophecy in which you lose.  There are people for whom this is true.  But I am not one of them, and if your attempts at convincing yourself that you are going to win have not resulted in you actually winning, maybe you should do some introspection.  Don’t place stock in some fictitious narrative that lacks any empirical support based on your own experiences.

For me, I find that trying to convince myself that I should/will win results not only in additional pressure, which gets me nervous and flubbing, but also results in a struggle within my inner monologue.  I literally spend my mental effort trying to convince myself that I am going to win rather than focusing on what actually needs to be done in order to win.  I’ve had more success with two alternate mindsets.  The first is going into the match just focused on playing my best, generally with an assumption that my opponent is a competent player capable of beating me, which thereby necessitates me to play close to my peak.  The other mindset that has given me some success, particularly because it eases pressure, is to just play the game and try to have as much fun as possible.  Silentspectre was a particular inspiration for me to try to just play to have fun, and some of my best results followed when I was caring the least about my results.

Now let’s talk about heart.  If this word sounds dumb to you, watch Rocky IV and learn a thing about what it means to have it.  The training montage and the climax, as well as the movie in general, are awesome and relevant to this article.  Heart is about having the will to triumph when all circumstances conspire to convince you that failure is inevitable.  Circumstances like this game 7 of a legendary StarCraft 2 grand finals https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vE59uz9z4Qo.  In the subsequent interview, the winner mentions how he wanted to give up, but how he didn’t want to lose, so he fought through it.  Anyone who has had a 4 stock comeback should be able to relate.  Sometimes, there’s just a pivotal moment in your consciousness, when instead of feeling like a punching bag, you decide that you are going to win.

Kalamazhu once said on the Scar and Toph show that heart isn’t real and that the winner is determined by who knows the best options and has better situational awareness (I paraphrased him, but that was the gist of it).  He’s wrong.  Melee is about a lot more than just the game.  Players like Mew2King, Leffen, and Plup have spectacular knowledge of the game and are some of the most brilliant players to ever touch a controller, and yet you see them fall apart from tilting.  Conversely, Mango, Armada, and even Hungrybox can be real paragons of heart and grit.  Though they may falter from time to time, these guys show that when your back is against the wall and you have no business winning, you can still buckle down and win.  Fighting games are amazing in that regard.  We aren’t playing DOTA or StarCraft, where an incremental lead is built that completely fundamentally alters the dynamic of the game.  In fighting games, at any moment, you can have a nearly equal ability to impact the match.  You can simply stop getting hit and start destroying your opponent.  “Who wants it most” is a real concern in competition, not just something that people say to try to create a compelling narrative.

Now, as far as things that you can do to help calm your nerves and consistently play your best, here’s a short list of specific things that I’ve seen be successful:

Don’t think about the consequences of your results.  Don’t think about how you feel if you win or you will lose.  Don’t think about how “this is it” and “this is your chance,” as that will place more pressure on you.  And absolutely don’t think about what other people will say about the result.

Don’t think about how lame/bullshit something is.  Melee sets are about problem solving and even if someone is playing in a particularly frustrating way, try to look at it as a challenge to overcome.

Listen to music while you play.  I just wrote this article about it https://nmwhittier.wordpress.com/2017/08/30/music-and-melee/

Go to a “happy” place, like in this scene https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyqoNMwfO6g&t=2m.  Take your time between stocks, take deep breaths, and endeavor to always come down from the respawn platform with a clear head.

Figure out how the crowd affects your play and try to play to your strength.  Invite your homie to cheer you on beforehand, wobble extra long if you revel in the hate, play with headphones if you need to be alone.

For matchups where you have a neutral game advantage, create a basic gameplan that you can remind yourself of when you get frustrated.

If you’re losing neutral for an extended period of time then get a juicy opening, consider milking it and going for something really sick to swing the mental battle in your favor.

Play more defensively when you are choking.  It is generally easier to play defense than offense when you’re choking.  Most people flail and overcommit when choking, so opponents are super ready to punish that.  But take this with a grain of salt.  If you do this too much, it’s also awful, as good opponents will also be able to smell your fear and one dimensional play.

Keep in mind that more often than not, comebacks in Melee combination of the losing player adapting and the winning player choking.  In reality, it’s usually more the former than the latter, but that shouldn’t discourage you from attempting to minimize the choking.  Just remember that sometimes composure isn’t enough, and you will have to win the battle of strategic adaptation, not just the struggle to calm your nerves.  Don’t be too stubborn to forfeit an advantage and reset or to take a second on the ledge in order to avoid making a crucial flub.  Sometimes you have to calm down for a second before you can get on playing.

Music and Melee

Listening to music while playing Melee has become an increasingly popular trend in the last four years of Melee.  When I started, only bad players listened to music while they played, but now we’ve seen top players such as Mango, Hungrybox, SFAT, and Shroomed try this strategy and show a notable amount of success.  There was a humorous incident several months back.  Mango said he lost a match because he got tilted when YMCA came on his Spotify.  This might sound like a next level john, but there’s no doubting that this would be distracting and possibly tilting.  Still, Mango has no one to blame but himself.  You should figure out what music you want in advanced based on several criteria.

The first is that the music should be relevant to the pace of the game and to what mood you need to get into.  When I first started listening to music, I tended to be too defensive, but listening to something a little hype and slightly faster than the pace of the match helped with this.  Also remember that songs with long intros or bridges that have drastically different paces can be distracting and mess with your rhythm.  Pick something that consistently gets you playing at a desirable speed, and don’t be afraid to vary this based on which character you’re facing.

Music needs to help you mentally both when you’re winning and when you’re losing.  I had a short stint where I listened to Darude – Sandstorm when I was playing.  Man was it awesome when I was winning.  I felt on top of the world and like I was making the sickest combo video.  But then when I was losing and getting camped, it was just obnoxious blaring in my ear that contributed to my tilt.

Lyrical music is tricky.  I tried listening to some Eminem before, because it was the correct speed and a tone that I liked, but the rhymes got me distracted.  Instrumental music might be better, though this isn’t always the case.  I listen to Metallica when I face Ice Climbers, and it’s consistently helped me stay pumped and in the zone regardless of how much time I spend getting wobbled.

Having a small selection of songs that you consistently listen to may be the way to go based on it being a ritual that gets you into the zone.  Many pro athletes have pregame rituals which involve listening to one specific song for years.  Music when you play is about establishing the mental fortitude that you need to play at your best.  Most of the time, you shouldn’t even really hear the music when you’re playing.  It should just be there like a soundtrack to your life, which you can occasionally listen to when you need to recompose between stocks, while getting wobbled, etc.  If you struggle with keeping your mental composure throughout a set, especially when people are getting rowdy around you, I highly recommend giving music a try.  It can help you feel more comfortable as if you’re playing at home or alone, it can make you more hype… really, it can make you feel however you want, which is part of the beauty of music and art in general.