Controllers and Armada Dropping out of Dreamhack

Let me preemptively say that this article was almost entirely written before Hax’s video came out.  Thus, it doesn’t focus on what he says in his recent video but is similar in themes.  It was initially entitled “In Defense of Armada,” but as I added a couple paragraphs at the end, the tone and message of the article shifted.

There have been two topics that have recently elicited an alarming amount of ­­misguided discussion­—Hungrybox’s defensive play against Chu and Armada’s decisions to drop out of tournaments.  The former has had plenty of discussion and quite a few top players voicing a rational argument in defense of HBox, so there is no need for me to chime in on that topic.  However, I’ve seen relatively few top players come out in defense of Armada.  Both these topics have been subject to shockingly idiotic and scrubby armchair spectator/redditor discussion.  Armada’s controller problems conveniently tie into something that I’ve been meaning to write about for six months, and now with Hax’s video, I’ve been spurred to finally make some content.  Controllers are the most frustrating reality of competitive Melee.  They are a much bigger factor than people realize.  Many top players, such as Mew2king, Westballz, and Armada (myself as well but obviously I am not a “top” player in the same vein as that list) are constantly frustrated by controllers but choose not to voice their frustrations because they don’t want to listen to people spewing off “No Johns.”  It may not even be possible to create an exhaustive list of why controllers are frustrating to deal with, but I’ll try.

There are two main categories of vices that come with playing with controllers.  Let’s start with the obvious topic of tech skill.  There are numerous concerns here that can each affect your play in different ways.  Most obviously, sometimes you can’t just do things that you are accustomed to doing.  Who remembers when Plup wanted to forfeit from Evo 2015 before dumpstering Leffen?  We are all glad that he didn’t because we got to see his Samus wreck Leffen, but it was really sad watching his Sheik struggle.  His platform movement was severely hindered because shield drops had become so integral to his movement.  Hearing the spot dodge sound on the platform several times per game (really, pretty much every time he tried to shai drop) was tragic.  Now take into account that we have ever increasing repertoires of tech skill that become ingrained in our play.  What was a “good” controller in 2009 would probably be considered bad now.

Let’s take for a given that the vast majority of controllers are bad at dash back.  Then let’s also consider that pivots have been proven to be inversely correlated with dash back.  For some character mains, this immediately makes it an incredibly tall order to find a suitable controller.  Shield drops are bad on most controllers, especially to the right from my experience and those I talk to, but at least that can usually be fixed by mods, or by using an alternate method for performing the technique.  That still doesn’t fix snapback (capacitors exist but can mess with deadzones).  And then there’s even more obscure things that can go wrong, such as bad wavedash angles, insensitivity for fast falls, bad movement out of crouch, etc.  Christ, as a Falcon player, I swear, I’ve had two otherwise fantastic controllers that just will not fucking throw properly no matter how much effort I put into uthrow and end up bthrowing repeatedly.  I’m now trying to practice a second playstyle that doesn’t use pivots at all, which I normally use dozens of times per game.  I used to even play on a different controller for singles and doubles based on which techniques I found more important in each format.  For a player at Armada’s level, who relies on extreme technical consistency and precision, it’s no wonder that he’s always struggling to find adequate controllers.

Now consider muscle memory.  Being good at Melee is largely defined by having the muscle memory to perform things without putting in conscious effort to do so.  If you have to consciously focus on performing tech skill during the match, you are losing focus that should be used on the opponent.  It’s a PvP game afterall.  Not only does having controllers that are bad at things make you have to focus on execution where muscle memory is normally adequate, but it also messes up existing muscle memory.  For instance, take dash back after aerials or grabs.  Technically, this can be done in a way that’s not controller dependent because dash back in these situations can be buffered for a couple frames during the lag.  However, if you have a good controller, you may not execute it in the way that works on every controller.  Therefore, when you’re put onto a bad controller and it starts screwing up, you start trying to alter your timing to dash earlier.  Then when you inevitably mess this up because you are not used to dashing at that timing, you are messing with your existing muscle memory, and it’s harder to be confident about whether you are missing it due to controller problems or your input errors.  Switching back to a good controller will likely take a small adjustment time to regain your previous muscle memory.

Controllers are also not perfectly consistent.  If you do the same exact input for 20 hours straight, they will rarely read the input the same way every time.  The resting joystick values are different when you plug them in.  Even if you reset your controller, I’m sure many people have noticed things aren’t working exactly the way they were earlier in the day or earlier in the year.  They get broken in, peak, and degrade.  Some controllers feel good for a while but stop working quickly.  Hax said that no one would put forth the effort to consistently check their shield drop values, but Laudandus said on the Scar and Toph show that he checked his shield drop values EVERY DAY.  So just because you can pick up someone’s controller and shield drop in a handwarmer doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to work consistently for them for an entire weekend of continuous play at a national.  On top of the inherent inconsistency, think about trying to implement new techniques on a crappy controller.  You get misconceptions about how difficult things are and get discouraged from trying to do things that might actually not be that challenging, like how people felt in the era before shield drop notches.

Now let’s talk about what’s more important as a competitor: how bad controllers affect your competitive mentality.

It’s competitively demotivating to lose because of your controller.  Melee is a game that specifically appeals to a demographic of extreme competitive tryhards.  I consider this a good thing and I am in that demographic.  Melee is a beautiful test of skill, where you get to see how you measure up against competition on an amazingly crafted mental plane.  When you are playing and you know you lost because your controller malfunctioned, you question why you are playing.  Not only do you have to suffer through the frustration of defeat, but you also might face real world consequences with people criticizing your results.  And in our community, we go hard with the “No Johns” mentality.  If I were Armada and I thought there was a significant chance of me losing because of my controller, I would not want to enter either.  I want to win or lose because of me, not because of some external factor.  Competition is supposed to be you versus the opponent, or your team versus another team.

When you are fighting your controller, you don’t even feel like you are fighting the opponent.  You have to expend focus on frustrating trivial shit that you are probably used to doing effortlessly.  When a controller detracts from your focus, it’s a reasonable cause to tilt.  I want to play the fucking game, not some minigame where I have to think to myself “hit the stick back REALLY hard” after I back air the opponent every single time.  As Melee players, we cultivate our mental fortitude.  Even though I try to always give it my all and maintain equanimity, I cannot accept the idea that I should readily acquiesce to my controller fucking up.  I don’t think I will ever cease to get mad at controllers being bad, and I know that Armada is with me in believing controllers are the most frustrating part of the game.  I’m legitimately in awe that, my late 20s, having random luck with controllers is something that affects my livelihood and mood on a regular basis.

The final topic that I want to bring up is ergonomics.  I was planning to switch to the hitbox this year before that became a controversial and dramatic topic.  The reason wasn’t because of wanting to pivot easier or anything like that.  It was because I wanted to alleviate my hands from the stress of having to constantly be fighting against a controller, trying to force my will upon it.  I just wanted something that reliably did what I input without any variation so that I could relax my hands and know that whenever something did not unfold on the screen as I attempted to input, it was my fault.  When your muscle memory goes out the window, you become more tense.  You fight the controller and try to impose your will on it instead of using it as an extension of your body and mind.  My controller broke in tournament on Monday.  I carry around a Mew2king box of controllers, so I’ve been playing on a backup since then.  I played every night this week, for probably about 3 hours on average, and my hands feel like shit.  This isn’t because I can’t play for 15 hours in 5 days.  It’s because my backup controller sucks at dashing back (relatively speaking) and is very insensitive to the fast fall input.  Having to jam the joystick with extreme effort every time you want to move is awful for your hands.  And not only is that motion bad, but it compounds the tension with which you hold the controller.   On top of all this, jamming the stick really fast increases the chance of getting snapback… Christ… FML.

Controllers suck.  I understand that there are many legitimate concerns about the fairness and legality of mods.  I don’t want an unequal playing field.  But Hax is right and we do have an unequal playing field.  I am constantly jealous of players like Armada who have enough TPP to get good readily obtain good controllers.  I just want to be free of the constant struggle to find and maintain a good controller.  Spark keeps telling me that I should do what he does and bring a Melee setup to Sm4sh tournaments and try to buy theirs, because they don’t know when they have good ones.  The controller struggle is ridiculously tiresome and has made me want to quit for years now.  I don’t want to keep having hand problems because controllers suck.  Melee community leaders, please free me from the oppression of shitty controllers.  We don’t need to accept this as a reality of being a Melee competitor.  Even Mango and players who haven’t stopped playing because of hand problems do talk about how Melee fucks their hands.  Preserve our hands and let us play the game we love until we are six feet under.


Rock Paper Scissors, Anticipating and Reading the Flow of the Match, and Stage Selection

If you read any Reddit thread where someone solicits metagame advice, you’ll see a bunch of oversimplifications about how to play matchups.  These oversimplifications are useful because they delineate a general gameplan.  Then with experience, the players will go out and add more nuanced tactics to their gameplan.  These gameplans are based on using your character’s tools to exploit the weaknesses of the opponent’s character and to avoid their character’s strengths.  As you play more and talk more theorycraft with good players, you’ll develop a good idea of what characters excel at.  This should give you an idea what to expect when you go into a set even against an unfamiliar opponent.  It is possible to encounter a player with a style and tricks that you have never encountered, but this article will focus on matches where you are encountering things within the scope of what you already knew was possible.

Though I am not much of a gameplan type player going into 2017, there are still certain situations, both in punish and neutral, that define matchups.  So you should have an idea how games are going to look in matches on different stages with some degree of accuracy (I’d say 70% if I were to ballpark a number).  Here’s an example: “Against Puff on Dreamland, Fox will attempt to shoot lasers, run away to platforms, play evasively, then punish Puff when opportunities present themselves.  Puff will therefore try to play cautiously to avoid overextending and will try to call out Fox’s escape options to end the cycle of camping.”  This outline has implications for adaptations that will take place during a set.

Certain options beat other options.  That’s the nature of fighting games.  All of your bread and butter has counters.  Thus, you need to be ready to do the next option that beats the option that beat your first option.  Ideally, you want to be at least three layers deep, i.e. have an idea of what your rock, paper, and scissors are that will beat theirs as they adapt to you.  If you only have rock and paper, then you’ll be out of mixups by the end of the first game, maybe even the second stock.  When practicing, your goal should be to develop a huge tree of options, where the leaves of the branches are subtle changes that can throw off your opponent(e.g. drifting back after an aerial on shield instead of fastfalling it).  Then, you’ll be able to use this tree in tournament instead of having to innovate on the spot, which can be extremely difficult.

Stages lend themselves to certain strategies.  See my articles about stage selection if this isn’t obvious to you.  Different strategies even within the same character matchup effect drastically different paces (think Fox/Puff on Dreamland versus on Yoshi’s).  Because of the RPS nature of the game, the pace of matches can be predicted.  You want to pick stages that affect the flow of the match in a favorable way.

Here are some examples:

Ralph runs me over.  I need time to figure out how to deal with his speed.  Therefore, going to large stages first favors me.

I always counterpick Yoshi’s against Samus because I think it’s a free win for Falcon.  However, last time I played Darrell, in game 2 on FoD, I was getting stuck in shield, cornered, and grabbed a ton.  Therefore, I opted for Stadium in game 3, saving Yoshi’s for game 5 because I needed additional space to regain my composure and assess my neutral.   Picking Stadium game 3 increased my chances of winning both games 3 and 5.

N0ne does not like FD against Fox.  However, he says that playing FD first lets him learn the Foxes style, and he gets this stage out of the way.  Therefore, when he’s fighting in close quarters on Fox’s other CPs later in the set, he has a better idea of their tendencies and how to win scuffles.

PPMD opts to stay Marth on Dreamland in game 5 of the first set of Apex 2015 grand finals.  PP said that though his Falco was looking sharp and he might have been able to deal with Armada’s Peach, he needed to figure it out with Marth.  If it went to set 2, he would not have felt he could do it if he had not gotten additional information from more Marth games.  It’s possible I am confusing something from 2013 and 2015 here, but I am pretty sure I’m not, as I have a very good memory.

Note that because of how striking goes or based conditions that arise on tournament day, I may deviate from these ideas.  In reality, I always start on Yoshi’s against Ralph because I will never strike to FD, and he strikes Dreamland+BF.  On the n0ne note, he chooses to strike to FD because of the battle for information.  I similarly sometimes choose to strike to FoD because of information even though I think it’s a horrendous Falcon stage.  The nature of counterpick stages is that your character will not play the same way they will play on other stages.  This is why these stages are counterpicks—they take you out of the comfort zone for your character, nerfing your bread and butter.  Ergo, I can learn more about my opponent against them on FoD than they can about me.  I’m not gonna spend any time in subsequent games in the set stomping platforms, ledge canceling, and spamming shield drops.

Coming back to the beginning, gameplans also have implications for how the match will evolve, which you can skew with stage selection.  As an example, let’s say hypothetically that you are Ralph playing Fox.  Ralph is very fast and aggressive.  A logical pace for the match would be “Ralph initially runs floatie player over.  Floatie player figures out some ways to avoid shielding, focuses on SDI to punish some of Ralph’s less safe aggression, and slows down the neutral, taking away Ralph’s momentum, which can be crucial for an aggressive player.”  In this situation, Ralph does not want to start on a small stage, even though small stages favor aggressive players.  Ideally, he probably wants to start on Battlefield, on which he can be aggressive.  Big stages might be too big for him to be aggressive and gain the momentum that he wants.  Small stages he might want to save for later, after the player has made some defensive adaptations, to resume smothering them.  When I say small stages, I mostly mean Yoshi’s, but in Ralph’s case, he is so tight and fast with shield drop aggression, smothering someone on FoD is also a possibility.

Learn to anticipate how the flow of a match is going to go.  Experiment with which stage selection to give yourself a better idea what boons a stage gives you, which strengths it takes away, and how it affects the flow of the match.  Don’t neglect the flow of the match going into your opponent’s counterpick—remember that they picked a stage because of specific advantages and try to neuter those advantages with adaptations of your own.

Guide to Picking a Main

Guys, if you want to get good, pick a fucking main.  Dual maining, or playing even more characters than that, is for people who are like top 50 in the world.  You are gonna suck for way longer than you need to if you don’t pick a character.  Learning how to play matchups that feel bad as your character teaches you to get good at the game.  As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t pick a main and are counterpicking when you can’t get out of pools, that means you don’t really want to get good at the game.  Changing characters for doubles is fine though because you don’t have to play neutral and try to salvage neutral game disadvantages the same way you do in singles.  Here’s a brief explanation of characters from my perspective, in the same vein as the “Are you an X main” SSBM Tutorials videos.

Ground movement stratum:

Fox – Fox has strong ground movement and by far the most diverse toolkit of anyone in the game.  What makes his ground movement so good, despite having a worse DD than Falcon and Marth, is how well he can threaten out of his ground movement.  Running or JC shine is a one frame move that can be used to call out other’s ground movement.  Nair is super strong and pretty safe.  Running/JC usmash can be very strong as an approach if you know what the enemy is going to do.  Even dtilt can be used as a strong ground to ground option.  If you want to feel in charge, Fox is probably the best character.  You get infinite room for creativity and a ton of freedom in how you choose to play matchups.

Falcon – Falcon plays more like a cheetah than a Falcon.  You wait for your moment, then pounce.  You run fast af and can leap through the air.  But you will rarely be able to win with brute force.  Your moves are slow af so it can be quite hard to play on reaction in many situations.  If you can trick your opponent as Falcon, the rewards are enormous.  Forcing one defensive error from an opponent frequently leads to stocks.  Conversely, one defensive error of your own can also lead to stocks because your character is combo food with terrible recovery.  If you dislike protracted ledge guards and want to combo someone to death or end it with a 1-2 piece ledge guard, Falcon is one of the only characters who can do this.  If you want to play safe all the time, this character probably isn’t for you.  He favors high risk/high reward play, though in a game like Melee, at a top level, everyone except n0ne plays relatively safe, so take that last statement with a grain of salt.

Marth – Marth is a really interesting character because of his dash dance.  The main thing that makes his DD comparable in usefulness to Fox’s and Falcon’s is that his hurtbox warps with his dash dance.  Falcon doesn’t have this benefit at all—that dude is tall and always a huge target.  Fox’s makes him really short.  But on top of making him short, Marth leans back the other way immensely once he changes direction.  This makes it so that if someone swings at where you were 1 frame before you dashed, they are likely to whiff because your hurtbox changes so much each time you dash.  This allows you to dance with people in really tight quarters, and to be incredibly evasive if you are good at dash dancing.  Using slippery ground movement and getting an opening like this pivot grab on a running shine, then comboing a spacie to death, feels real good.  His other strengths are that he has the best ground to ground poke in the game in his dtilt, so you can make it really taxing for other characters who want to stay grounded.  Between his dtilt and fair, he covers the space in front of him amazingly well.  He is probably the best character at forcing checkmate situations, but unlike some other characters, these situations where you take away all your opponent’s options don’t always lead to kills because you often have to hit people a dozen times.

Pikachu (maybe) – I don’t know too much about this character, but he is fast, and can be pretty threatening out of his dash dance because of nair.  He’s a tiny annoying rat.  People are going to get frustrated at the situations they encounter against you because your strengths are pretty obnoxious.  The frame data on his aerials is fantastic.  You can do some crazy ledge guards with him as well.  He is a good character for playing around at the ledge because of his up+b and uair.  He struggles to kill in matchups where ledge guards aren’t forthcoming, because despite having an awesome usmash, it can be very hard to set up.  Expect floaties to play extremely lame against you.

“Deal with it” stratum:

Falco – Of any character that forces people to deal with your obnoxious shit, Falco is by far the frontrunner, both in terms of how good he is and how ridiculous his strengths are.  The reason why so many top Fox players are bad against Falco is Falco is the character that most restricts the set of rules that Fox has to play within.  Lasers are really good.  Don’t listen to people who say they aren’t going to be effective as time goes on.  They are wrong. Powershields don’t counter lasers.  The fact that people think they do is a sign that they have no idea whatsoever about how lasers are used at high levels.  If anything, tanking lasers and SDIing/dashing out of them is going to be more of an answer to lasers as years pass.  Falco’s vertical mobility is stupidly strong.  If someone doesn’t read it/cover your jump preemptively, you can pretty much always just jump to safety.  Even the other characters with good vertical mobility like Falcon and Fox get completely left in the dust (this makes him the only character that can really do singles combos in doubles).  Lastly, his use of lasers in tandem with the AC bair and utilt can make people feel like they are in a catch-22, where they need to approach but they can’t approach.

Puff – Her aerial drift is comparable to Marth’s ground movement.  She can change her momentum so quickly.  This makes her back air entirely unpunishable when done in many situations.  Dash dance grab should never work on Puff because by the time she’s landed, she’s a mile from the outer edge of the disjoint of her back air.  Don’t pick Puff if you’re emotionally fragile or you can’t deal with a long, patient game.  People hate your character and they are going to camp the shit out of you.  Puff is for people who appreciate drawn out neutral games, where the road to winning the neutral often relies on calling out the character’s defensive escape option.

Peach – Once you’re good, fighting against you can be reminiscent of this scene  Note that this is one of the rare times when ICs win a stupidly lopsided matchup.

Sheik – You want to feel like a fortress.  You want to make them feel like they can’t get in on you or escape their bad position.  You appreciate subtle movement and repositioning.  The utility of Sheik’s movement isn’t straightforward.  It’s crazy when you think about it that Sheik is such a grab reliant character when she doesn’t have the same movement tools to get grabs that other characters do.  But as she encroaches on you, she’s very threatening.  Her slow encroach on the ground is comparable to Peach floating at you.

“Weird motherfuckers” stratum:

ICs – I don’t think you need my input here.  Being such a weird and unique character makes it appeal to certain people and they probably know who they are.

Yoshi – You are down to put in a ton of work without as much reward as other characters get.  He has a lot of options but the floor for this character is so high that you have to be more 5x more technical to play him at a competitive level than anyone else.  He can do some sick things though, and his few good matchups seem like you can really make it frustrating for your opponents when you play to his strengths.  This guy isn’t a bad character if you are willing to put in the work.  If top Yoshi play speaks to you and you have a good work ethic, give him a shot.

Street Fighter stratum:

Samus – She’s bad.  She plays like a Street Fighter character.  She reminds me a lot of Ryu actually.  But put SF4 Ryu in a game with Marvelesque characters and it’s a struggle.  Feel free to pick her if that actually sounds like fun to you.  Personal bias here is that this character doesn’t seem very appealing to me so I struggle to find good things to say about her, though she does have a shitton of little tricks and gimmicks.  Lab monsters would like her I guess?  The Street Fighter analogy is quite accurate though imo.

Melee is not Teleological

The Melee community is fantastic.  Part of what makes this so is that we have a culture of responsibility and self improvement.  “No johns” is ingrained into our culture, even though johns are often legitimate.  Our game attracts people with a tryhard, give it your all, work hard to become the best type attitude.  People like this—people like me—often think of our Melee journeys as a narrative, where we train hard until we become the best.  This isn’t how it tends to go.  This isn’t Pokemon where we catch 150 muthafuckas, beat some league culminating in a match against our rival, and the game ends.

I am good friends with a lot of the old guard in NorCal Melee.  I don’t know what Sheridan, Germ, and Boback were thinking when they were new to competitive Melee.  Their crew, which was the most influential of its time, was called “death by rape” for fuck’s sake (Sheridan might not have been in DBR).  But I am sure they didn’t expect to end up where they are now.  Who knew that Genesis would turn into what it has become today?  When I joined the community in 2012, Melee was not popping like it is today.  I didn’t think I would ever make any money off the game even if I did become one of the best players.  I didn’t think that Captain Falcon would have a renaissance, and if he did, I thought it would be because of me, not some guys in Florida.  I certainly didn’t think I would fall in love with Melee doubles, considering that I hate teamwork and I hate everything else involving teamwork, and I had never given teams a chance in any other game I played.

A lot of the older community members come out to tournaments to kick it with homies more than to play Melee.  Their friends mean more to them than the game.  But nonetheless, the reason we are close, is ultimately Melee.  Every now and then, even these people who don’t have that same fire to improve that they used to, watch some videos or have some conversations about the game, and it awakens their thirst to play.  The game is just so fucking good.  Don’t lose the fun because you are attached to results.  Sometimes just remembering to have fun can make you get better results.  I was very tryhard and serious at Big House 6.  I plan to take the opposite road at Genesis by competing in doubles, hopefully doing some commentary, and of course consuming tons of alcohol.  Knowing me, I might do just as well in singles.  We’ll see.

Remember that your journeys of improvement aren’t linearly upward; they are more like this:  globalmeantemperature.

Overall, your results should get better over time, but no one is going to be perfectly consistent.  Even the best baseball teams lose several dozen games a season.  You’ll have bad days.  You might switch characters.  You might become complacent because you don’t have good competition.  Don’t lose sight of your goals and remember that we push ourselves because of love for the game.  If you really have a deep love for the game, don’t let social things or other factors come between you and touching the controller.  Hell, we even have netplay now.  I never thought that would become popular in regions with people to play against.

Enjoy the ride and embrace that we aren’t in full control of where things go.  Part of the adventure of life is going forward into the unknown and faring it.  Life is more like sailing an ancient boat that couldn’t go upwind than it is like driving a car.  We have some limited control over how we steer, but we mostly go where the tradewinds take us.  Enjoy the people you meet in the community.  Be enriched by the diversity of Melee players (this community has some real fucking characters from so many walks of life).  Express yourself through the controller.  Be thankful that we found Melee, because the game is beautiful, and as someone who spent more than half of his life in competitive gaming, I can tell you that other games are not as satisfying, and their communities are much less awesome than ours.  Happy Thanksgiving friends.

Why The Foundry Isn’t Popping Anymore (from a Melee Perspective)

In case you haven’t been in several months, The Foundry is not awesome anymore.  It’s tragic.  I talked to some salient figures in the Melee community and they didn’t even know we still streamed it.  I was talking to CJ, the owner of Showdown eSports on Tuesday, and he asked me what was missing, and why things have gone downhill.  He pointed out that they are doing a lot more now to make Melee cool than it used to be, and yet, it doesn’t seem to be working.  I told him some things are better in written word than spoken, so here’s my reply.  Let’s take a little stroll down memory lane.

When The Foundry first opened, there was no real Melee tournament, no venue fee to get in, and no entry fee if we did have a little side tournament.  We brought our own setups, and maybe we had a little bracket, the winner of which got a beer.  In some sense, I think that was the pinnacle of the Foundry.  They’ve objectively made a ton of improvements since then, especially for the general public, but I am still nostalgic for those days in some regards.  It was just a smashfest in a bar.  It was casual, we got to play lots of Melee with homies, and there was nothing competitive about it.  Just good ol’ hanging out with your homies, having a great time like we would at anyone’s house, but with way more people, and IN A BAR!  That was a big deal at the time.  They also had a much better selection of beer back then, though I haven’t heard many people complain about this, except Boback, Toph, and me (seriously, their beers on tap suck now).

Then, we had a prosperous era, for about a year, when The Foundry was THE place to be.  Everyone always wanted to go, and everyone was sad when they couldn’t.  Even motherfuckin SILENTSPECTRE was there all the time.  In the history of NorCal Melee, that’s seriously fucking crazy.  I met LUNIN there years after anyone had seen him.  We had out of region guests making our stream incredibly popular because everyone wanted to be there.  This was before funday was a big thing, and bar tournaments in general hadn’t been a thing except Kings of Cali, so it was a big deal.  It was also the first time in years we could hear people just shooting the shit on the mic, not actually caring at all about the tournament.

Now, the turnouts are low, the viewership is also low, and it looks extremely doubtful that it’s going to improve in the foreseeable future.  I honestly think this trajectory should have been super obvious, so let me point to the factors that make it so.  I’ll go through these things in no particular order.

The cost at the door is now ten dollars, on top of five dollars to enter.  When the entry fee of five dollars was first introduced, NorCal Melee was super supportive, saying that we loved the place and we would be glad to help out by paying five dollars.  But now, fifteen dollars to enter a tournament, which many of the entrants don’t actually care that much about, is really steep for a smasher.  Smashers are poor.  Lots of smashers are very poor.  And even the smashers who are not poor tend to be very cheap.  No further analysis here, but believe me, those things are true.

Andrew TOing was awesome, and Spenser being the stream guy was also awesome.  Andrew is a funny guy who we all liked to see; he just felt like he belonged with the culture there and he ran it well.  Einstein has been a highlight of my Melee career.  I love that dog and I miss him.  This is one of my favorite Melee moments  The decline of The Foundry can also be tied to the lack of Spenser, and his increasing stress/misery when he was there.  Having tablets and triple commentary with the right people was awesome.  Occasional banter with Spenser was also awesome.  We’d talk about player cams or whatever stupid shit we wanted.  VODs were uploaded right away, so we could always watch the highlights immediately, and while that happens now, there were several months where VODs weren’t uploaded, and we lost some of the greatest moments that I’ve been around for in my Melee career.

On top of Andrew and Spenser on the Showdown staff, lots of people who made The Foundry what it was went AWOL.  First, Alan moved to Santa Barbara.  He was very popular on the mic, very popular in person, and would occasionally share free drinks with people.  Boback got really busy with Genesis and stopped going.  Brandon got a girlfriend, who is very cool, and sometimes they come together, but even then, they tend to play their matches and spend most of the time hanging out with each other.  Sheridan goes less as well.  Morgan was the bartender we loved the most, and who would get us the most drunk, and we miss her dearly.  Of anyone leaving, she probably had the biggest impact.  We had three generations of Foundry drunks–me and Boback, then Germ and Dajuan, then Charlon and Liz.  Dajuan lives in San Jose and is generally less inclined to go regardless of geography, and Charlon and Germ moved away.  I talked to Liz on Tuesday about how The Foundry doesn’t seem worth going to anymore because it’s not fun.  Who’s going to take over and be the fourth generation?

People who go in a different spirit from the people mentioned in the previous paragraph became more prevalent.  No disrespect intended to their Melee play or to their life priorities, but the culture has changed significantly.  When The Foundry was newer, there was more of a homie vibe, and Melee “tryhards” were not as common there.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m competitive, and I have only sandbagged about 5 times; regardless of how drunk I was, I always wanted to win.  But there were not that many people who took it very seriously, and only 1-2 people who did take it seriously who are actually not fun to play against.  No one cared when Ralph took it seriously because it’s fun to play him when you are hammered.  Azusa didn’t come often, and when he did, it was still usually pretty fun to have him there, because he would defend our region from OOR people, give drunk Dajuan or whoever good sets, and provide an amazing player cam to talk about.  The people who have been placing at the top of the Foundry for like 6 months now are sober people who are not fun to play against.  Please don’t think of this in terms of scrubbiness.  They are literally just not fun to play Melee against in an environment where you can’t warm up and you aren’t sober (and they don’t hang out with a lot of the people I mentioned earlier either).  I have been told they have also historically caused the streams to watch a lot of viewers when they play, so it seems they aren’t fun to watch either.  When S2J was in NorCal recently, he said how The Foundry sucked because of the reasons in this paragraph, and he asked us why we liked it… we basically said that we don’t anymore.

Commentary sucks now.  You may have noticed that when I said a lot of core attendees stopped going that these people tended to be popular commentators.  We had regulars on the mic who contributed their flavor.  Alan+Brandon is probably the most salient duo.  There was also me+Boback, Sheridan+whoever (often me, Zac, or Dajuan, and often in triple commentary), and later Me+W33dl0rd.  With Alan, Brandon, Boback, and me (forced in my case) gone from the mic, it was a lot harder to get cool people on the couch, not because the four of us are uniquely cool, but because other cool people liked to commentate with us.  SFAT and Dajuan explicitly told me that they only really liked commentating with me or Alan, so we don’t see them on the mic as often.  As a side note, I actually really regret leaving one of the best conversations of my life unfinished because Zac really wanted me to get on the mic with him, and since he wasn’t totally sober, I felt I had to oblige.  I suspect PewPewU would also like commentating with the aforementioned people over others.  And then of course, because it was more popping back in the day, we had other cool people there more often like JB, Phil, Darrell, Sage, Bertbusdriver, Peter Dill, etc.  Sheridan, JB, and Phil are pretty much the only other people I can think of that have that “I want to commentate with him!” vibe, but they aren’t the most frequent attendees.  Drunk Dajuan was fucking hilarious and I miss that shit on the mic.  After everyone I mentioned stopped getting on the mic, there was a time where W33dl0rd was the last person to be holding it down in the spirit that the rest of us had inaugurated.  That was sad at the time, and now even he’s gone.  Andrew wasn’t bad either.

The landscape of commentary changed when DC was hired as a dedicated commentator.  That guy seemed cool enough and was decently social and articulate.  But he was not one of us, and he was not really in the spirit of what made Foundry commentary great.  He doesn’t drink, which isn’t an issue in itself.  Brandon and Alan were usually sober; Sheridan always is.  But it helps illustrate my point.  The guy was trying to be professional on an intrinsically unprofessional platform.  He gave me shit on my birthday for heckling people on the stream when I was piss drunk.  The people playing even said that they didn’t care and they thought it was entertaining.  Then he still told me to STFU.  What the fuck?  Why?  This is a bar and a Melee tournament.  I’m allowed to do that at a local or any tournament where there’s not booze, much less one in a bar.  Has the guy even been to a Melee tournament?  He was also very unwilling to forfeit his spot on commentary when other people wanted to get on.  Now, we similarly have a bunch of eSports people on commentary who aren’t “one of us,” and they don’t even know shit about Melee.  I used to listen to The Foundry VODs at work on Wednesday, and it would make me way less productive because I would constantly have to put my head down on my desk so coworkers wouldn’t see me laughing hella hard.  Now, if I watch the VODs, I watch them muted.  And go figure, I watched ten seconds of a match unmuted because I did a combo on Tuesday, and they managed to say something incorrect about what I did in my combo.  That would be forgivable, if it weren’t for the fact that when The Foundry was cool, we didn’t even used to talk about the match, so they are even failing at their attempted real commentary.

Exacerbating the commentary issues is that it’s now upstairs, completely isolated from the rest of the bar.  Everyone I’ve mentioned positively so far is the kind of person who would stroll by the mic, see a homie on it or be bored and see it unoccupied and sit down.  The Foundry is a social experience.  You casually stroll up and shoot the shit with a homie.  Who the fuck wants to go upstairs and be isolated from everyone else?  Not to mention that you aren’t near a bar.  I read that they wanted to create commentary blocks where they scheduled people to be on.  That has to be one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard.  It’s totally counter to the impromptu nature of The Foundry.  People are standing around hanging out with homies, drinking booze, and you expect them to know ahead of time when they will feel like walking upstairs and isolating themselves?  I agree that it looks really cool on the stream to see the commentators upstairs.  But it’s seriously one of the worst ideas I’ve ever seen as far as making a stream cool, because no one cool is going to want to be up there.

Plup was there on Tuesday, and I think it’s almost certain that, if commentary were in a better state at The Foundry, we would have seen him on the mic, which would improve viewership, make more people want to come, etc.  As is, when guests are there, they aren’t even inclined to get on the mic and spew shit, like they did when Armada and Leffen were there.  I even heard that Foundry 100 was actually not that cool, even though there were a ton of people there.  I’m sure that the week after Genesis, and hopefully the week before as well, are going to be fucking awesome.  But I really doubt we are going to have many more moments like this: Until then, I’ll cherish my more recent highlights, and which I don’t see getting replicated any time soon.

P.S. sorry for the obvious “stroking myself” in this post.  I actually don’t like coming off this full of myself, but The Foundry was a really awesome place that a lot of us loved, and I think there were several of us who contributed to making it was it was.  As the title of my blog goes, no equivocation allowed.

Ego as an Impediment to Growth

Ego is one of the most common reasons why people plateau in their quest to become the best Melee players they can be.  Ego interferes with improvement in many different ways.  Even if you think you have your ego in check, you may realize in reading this that there are situations where it is at the heart of the problem, just not in an immediately apparent way.

With ego comes arrogance.  Arrogance results in difficulty taking feedback.  It can be hard to listen to someone who is way worse than you talk about the game.  I get triggered all the time listening to terrible players talk about Melee.  In spite of this, it would behoove us all to make sure we don’t neglect information about the game because it comes from an unexpected source.  I’ve had to tell top players for years that powershielding doesn’t reduce shieldstun.  Melee is a game full of mysterious mechanics, and no one knows everything about it.  More commonly, ego makes us unable to take criticism about our gameplay.  Sometimes players worse than you can notice bad habits or deficiencies that aren’t obvious to you.  Ego might even be what obfuscates these deficiencies.  Different players look at the game in different ways, so don’t ignore the possibility of insight from anyone.  This is particularly relevant if you are trying to level up in doubles, where ego is by far the most problematic thing in social dynamics between teammates.

Work ethic is important for improvement at anything and is one of the most common deficiencies in Melee players.  Ego can damage your work ethic because of complacency and arrogance.  You might have been able to do 100 perfect ledgedashes last week, so then you’ll feel like you don’t need to practice it anymore.  Reliable tech skill comes at the price of eternal vigilance.  Don’t neglect practicing your bread and butter “because you’re already good at it.”  How many hours do you think Armada and M2K have spent comboing CPUs, and yet, they still beat up CPUs before getting on stage.  Work ethic doesn’t just mean practicing tech skill either.  It means maintaining the same fire you had when you were getting wrecked by your rival month after month.  If you lost to someone for years, and then you beat them week after week, it’s easy to fall into complacency.  Regardless of how good you are, you still need to go to tournaments and work on implementing new things.  The beauty of Melee is that there is no skillcap; we should all strive to implement new things and polish our gameplay until the end of days.  Don’t tell yourself that after you lose a friendly to an arcadian that you would have won if it were tournament—think about what you can learn from the game you just played.  Don’t john to protect your ego.

Ego makes you isolate yourself from situations that potentially damage it.  We all have friends who do disproportionately well against us for what our supposed respective skill levels are.  Most of us hate playing these people.  Our egos hate that we do worse than we feel we should.  The fact of the matter is that these are people that you should actively seek out to play because their playstyle exploits weaknesses in your own.  Ego makes us want to avoid situations where we can get upset in tournament, or even avoid giving someone a runback after beating them.  Don’t avoid matches because you “have nothing to prove” and don’t seek out matches because you have to prove something for the sake of your ego.  To improve as rapidly as possible, you should play as much as possible against players who can potentially beat you.  It’s easy to attribute losing to factors outside of your control.  But factors outside your control are just that—outside your control.  Hence, it’s pointless to focus on them, because your own deficiencies are within your realm of influence.

Expectations for results are an understandable reality of being a competitor.  However, having your ego tied to these results can take you out of the moment.  Our lives are the cumulation of a series of present moments.  There is nothing you can do to change the past.  The present has a deterministic relationship to the future, such that the only way to affect the future is through the decisions we make in the present.  The future does not exist as anything except an intangible idea.

Don’t let your ego make you worry about intangible meaningless concerns.  When playing a tournament set, all your focus should be dedicated to what your opponent is doing, what he’s likely to do, and what options are available to you to counter theirs.  This is the last time you want to have thoughts creeping in about results.  The easiest way to get upset by someone you “should” beat is to start thinking about things like what people are going to say about you losing, how losing will affect your power ranking, how you should be winning, how you are so much better than your opponent, etc.  All of these thoughts are inextricably linked to your ego.  Focus on the game and not perception of your skill.  Learning to silence your ego and have stillness of mind will result in your performance being better and vastly more consistent.

Stage Selection in Singles and Doubles

When I listen to commentary, I hear constant incorrect predictions about what stage is going to be counterpicked.  When I watch Twitch VODs, I read constant disapproval of my counterpicks.  Let’s talk about each stage briefly and what they offer.

FD: Lots of space to retreat.  Approaches are more telegraphed because there are fewer options.  Camping is strong here.  Flowchart punishes are buffed.  Recovery options are generally reduced, though Fox can angle deeply into the stage, and wall jumps are also possible.  Ledge guarding someone by hitting them with a strong move into the stage is bad because the stage is so long.

Pokemon Stadium: Long stage with lots of room to retreat, but with a low ceiling and janky transformations.  The platforms are pretty small here and don’t always help recovery because they are a bit closer to the center of the stage.  Recovering can be difficult because you can’t see yourself under the stage, and angling into the stage is possible but not easy.  I would not recommend picking this stage unless you are somewhat comfortable on at least 3 transformations.

FoD: Small stage with high ceiling.  The fundamental opposite of FD in that it’s the most free flow and the least flowchart.  With constantly changing platforms, you have to constantly change your strategy.  There is always a top platform, though it’s somewhat low.  Some player opt to camp until the stage configuration is “Mini FD.”  Eyeing Fox recovery can be difficult here because he will be put into the magnifying lens even when he’s not very far off stage.  Allows for T-Drop and cool recoveries from low.

Yoshi’s: This stage is crazy!  You get close quarters fighting, low platforms, shy guys (fly guys for you snobs), Randall, Scar Jumps, and tiny blast zones.  This is the stage you go to if you want to fight.  Every character has traits that are stronger on this stage, so don’t neglect it because it’s “bad in a matchup.”

Dreamland: The opposite of Yoshi’s.  Big stage you go to when you want to live forever, camp, and be meticulous in neutral.  Platforms are high and can be hard to cover.  Sometimes Wispy messes up ledge guards.

Battlefield: The Goldilocks stage.  If other stages feel too big or too small, this is the stage you want.  Note that the top platform is very high, and the side platforms are quite wide, so it can be difficult to cover them. Also reduces recovery options because people can’t angle into the stage.

When striking in singles, you should have a very clear idea of what strategy you want to implement on the stage you strike to.  If you have a strategy that you want to implement on one stage (probably a losing stage), it might be wise to go to that stage first.  That way, if you win you come out ahead in counterpicks, and if you lose, you haven’t given your opponent information for how you’re going to play in the rest of the set.  Note that you shouldn’t do this if your opponent will still have a strong counterpick for game 3.

When you counterpick a stage, your stage should generally mitigate the factors that caused you to lose the previous game.  In my last 5 sets against good Falcos in NorCal, I’ve opted to CP Yoshi’s on match point each time.  Conceptually, I hate this idea.  I feel that that stage is risky and super good for Falco.  Regardless of this, I felt that the reason I was losing was that I couldn’t get in on Falco, so I wanted to go to the stage where it was easiest for me to close distance.  It worked every time.  Yoshi’s could also be a good pick as a floatie if your opponent banned FoD and beat you by camping you.  I hate watching floatie players pick Dreamland and then get wrecked by camping.

Melee has a lot more strategy than low level players realize.  There are numerous reasons why you would pick a stage or ban a stage.  Thinking you shouldn’t go somewhere because it’s bad in the matchup is often the wrong way to think about things.  You should pick a stage where you have a solid idea for how you are going to win there.  This is something that you learn by assessing what went wrong in the games you lost, and is thus a function of the opponent’s playstyle.  Don’t think of stages as “good” and “bad,” think of them in terms of what will work for the situation you’re in.

This is especially true in doubles.  Because you have to account for so many characters and playstyles on the screen, you should really think about your stage striking, bans, and counterpicks.  Dreamland is often a good stage to start on against floaties because it gives you the most time to find your footing.  Floaties win by capitalizing on a few small slipups per game, so even though Dreamland gives you more chances to mess up, it also gives you more time to pick your spots.  FD can also be a good starting stage because it simplifies teamwork/combos.  Since there’s no platforms to escape to, it really is mostly about maintaining your zone, thereby holding position and formation.

Yoshi’s is often neglected in teams because it feels too risky or chaotic.  But maybe that’s what you want.  Maybe you play Peach and you will get huge mileage off of pressing down on both sticks in chaotic situations.  Remember that if you play double floaties against a team with a fastfaller, dsmashing everyone is probably going to come out hugely in your favor.

Stadium and Battlefield don’t offer a ton in terms of strategic advantages in teams.  Battlefield’s top platform is a notable trait that you should consider when picking it, because lots of characters struggle to cover that space.  Put thought into what each stage offers you before you pick it.  I teamed with Vish at BH4, and we played against Eikelman and Bizzarro Flame.  I suggested we ban FD during striking and he was baffled.  Then I explained that, in singles, what you gain from the stage is lots of space to dash dance grab and do flowchart punishes.  In doubles, we’re just making it easier for us to get team comboed and for us to get trapped in bad positions.  We ended up striking to FD and it went exactly as I feared.

Picking stages based on some preconceived notions is usually the wrong way to go.  Why are you thinking about some abstract notion of how it should be played rather than what’s going on during your actual set?  Ask yourself why you lost the match and formulate a new game plan.  If you lost because of easily fixable mistakes, maybe you should run it back, even if you have a theoretically better stage.  While another stage might buff your character, you should consider the possibility that you are injecting new variables into the equation, and that your gameplan might not be relevant on this new stage.  If you can’t tell me exactly why you picked a stage during a set, then you didn’t put enough thought into it.