Required Reading: https://goo.gl/5C1Xpc
What builds a better playstyle: a “Top-Down Approach” or a “Bottom-Up Approach”? These terms are frequently used in a variety of real-world fields to describe different ways to solve problems, describe conceptual methods, etc. Here’s how I’ll define them in the context of playstyles:
A Top-Down Playstyle involves determining your primary goals at any given moment, and utilizing your available tools to accomplish these goals. Examples of primary goals include damaging your opponent, killing your opponent, getting your opponent off-stage, cornering your opponent, etc. These primary goals change depending on a lot of variables, but you always determine your goals first and then your tools afterwards.
A Bottom-Up Playstyle involves analyzing your available tools at any given moment, and then determining your primary goals from your repertoire of available moves. An examples of this is acknowledging that you (as Fox) can kill your opponent at X% with an usmash, so when your opponent reaches that percent, one of your primary goals becomes killing your opponent based on that one tool.
Think about the difference between the two. Those with a Top-Down approach establish positional advantage and then ask themselves what they can do from there. Those with a Bottom-Up approach determines a list of ways they can hit the opponent and then asks themselves how they can establish positional advantage to make those interactions happen. With which of the two approaches do you more closely resonate? Which do you think is better?
I actually think that a Bottom-Up Playstyle is the ideal approach to shaping your playstyle. As I emphasized in my Guide to Improvement, one of the most important components of improvement is learning the interactions of your character’s hitboxes and hurtboxes with those of your opponent’s character. Once your learn these interactions, you can start shaping your neutral game (which is the combination of positional advantage and hitting your opponent) to reflect your character’s potential tools at any given moment. The culmination of this buildup is the determination of your goals directly from your available tools. You aren’t always capable of killing your opponent. They need to be at a certain percent before your strongest kill move becomes potent. Even then, this move would likely be very obvious to your opponent, so you either need to find ways to set up your kill move (waveshine usmash, weak nair usmash, etc.) or use your other, easier-to-land, moves to build their percent up until your other, not-as-obvious kill moves, become potent. Your tools determine your primary goals with this Bottom-Up Playstyle, and it is the best way to shape your playstyle.
The other option is a Top-Down Approach, which sets your goals before looking at your tools. My first problem with this kind of approach is that it can severely limit your exploration of your character’s tools. I won’t name names, but my example would be a rising-star Peach player who has recently achieved tremendous initial success but in my opinion is quickly hitting a plateau in his/her improvement. This player first sets in-game goals, which most of the time is establishing positional advantage (which can be great!) and then exploring the available tools from that position. This style has worked so far, achieving respectable short-term success, but the style quickly falls apart against someone who exploits the interactions that this Peach player has not yet discovered. A specific example would be how this player floats in a threatening area (establishing trade control) and then sees what opportunities exist from there: trading with bairs, retreating with a whiff punish fair, etc. What if there were more useful options on the ground? Or out of shield? Or on a side-platform? What if there were interactions that had tremendously high rewards but required giving up stage control? By prioritizing accomplishing the primary goal first (in this case, establishing stage control), this player is limiting his/her rate of improvement because he/she isn’t utilizing all of Peach’s available tools.
Compare this back to a Bottom-Up playstyle. I, as Peach, want to establish all of my tools first. Here’s an example:
Combo starter: Dtilt, dash attack, FC nair, grab
Defensive options: WD back, dash back, float, CC
Kill moves: Fthrow, fair, nair, uair
Combine these options with how they interact with my opponent’s character (and how likely each is to work) to create a foundation of my repertoire of neutral options. From there, I can come up with ways for my tools to succeed (aka “win neutral”), and then finally I can make a list of goals I want to accomplish based on my available tools, based on the risks, rewards, and success rate of each tool.
Another example is the classic “Marth syndrome.” Marth’s attain Marth syndrome (difficulty killing the opponent at high percents) when they focus too much on killing their opponent (i.e. a Top-Down approach). If instead, the Marth focused on utilizing his available tools to hit his opponent and then killing when the chance occurred (a Bottom-Up approach), then Marths wouldn’t complain as much 😉
Most people have a combination of Top-Down and Bottom-Up ingrained in their playstyles, but I think a pure Bottom-Up approach is the optimal way to play, especially since victory requires damaging your opponent, which requires knowledge of character interactions. This means that to all of you Top-Downers out there, a) take some time to explore ALL of your character’s tools (and when I say “some time” I mean literally the rest of your competitive smash career) and b) see if you can change the way you approach neutral game to be based on your available tools as opposed to the other way around.
This might not sit well with some of you, as people often preach that setting goals should always be your primary goal, but take some time to think about it and let me know your thoughts.
Q: “Can I become a top player with an ‘unorthodox playstyle’?”
Context: Yesterday during my stream, a friend (who shall remain unnamed) asked if he, as an aspiring Fox player, could achieve Top 100 status considering one of his training partners told him that his playstyle was “unorthodox.” I had a pretty long discussion about the connotations of an unorthodox playstyle (including, of course, much critique from Rishi), and I think I came up with a pretty good answer.
Short Answer: Mostly likely no.
Long answer: First let’s define some things. “Playstyle” can be split up into “neutral game,” which is everything that leads up to the collision of hitboxes and hurtboxes, and “punish game,” which is the optimization of follow-ups after the neutral game interaction. Punish game is much easier to talk about, as I’d argue that every time you hit your opponent, there’s a generally agreed upon and generally optimized combo tree that you should be opting to follow (compared to neutral game, which is much more complicated). For example, if I, as Fox, connect a grounded shine on my opponent, a Peach, then my follow-up options are very clear, consisting of waveshine shine, waveshine grab, waveshine usmash, etc. I want to refer to it as a “combo tree” rather than one single optimized punish, because each option within the combo tree serves a specific goal. First of all, the percent of your opponent matters greatly, as if you can kill with waveshine usmash, then go for waveshine usmash. However, if a different option would provide the greatest damage output, or the greatest subsequent positional advantage, or the best DI trap, whatever goal you’re trying to accomplish at that moment, then go for that option instead. I’ll define the “orthodox punish game” as the combination of these combo trees that follow any given neutral interaction. The entirety of these combo trees can be gleaned from the conglomeration of the top level players of each character, as across the board, most of the important potential follow-ups are already incorporated into the distribution of top players. Not every player punishes the exact same way, but if you combine their punish games together, then you get a large distribution of combo trees that together provide a close-to-optimal punish game.
So why would you ever deviate from this distribution of orthodox punish games? Here’s where we get to what an “unorthodox punish game” is. I’ll define this as utilization of any follow-ups in a given situation that is not contained in the standardizes combo tree mentioned above. Example: Waveshine jab pivot bair triple shine spotdodge side B. Or something not as silly. The point is that an unorthodox punish game would implement follow-ups that one of the “top players” of that character wouldn’t do in the current metagame. This means that either a) your punish is bad, or else people would have been doing it already, or b) your punish is ahead of the metagame, as you’re incorporating knowledge or tech that hasn’t been explored completely yet. There could be a good reason for your unorthodox punish game. Maybe it challenges something new, like slide-off DI or double SDI, or it utilizes new tech like subfloat uair. If your unorthodox punish game has merit, then eventually, it will be accepted as optimal and will be incorporated into the orthodox combo trees. However, this flow of events requires extreme knowledge of your character and the game, as most character’s punish games are already pretty developed.
So, if you think that your “unorthodox punish game” follows this category and will end up serving a better purpose than the currently accepted standard, then by all means carry on. If instead, your goal of utilizing an unorthodox punish game is to create a niche for yourself in the community, chances are that you’re just trying to cheese some wins with janky punishes that won’t work in the long run, considering how there are more optimized punishes you can perform. And remember, “optimal combos” aren’t the same every time, as you can follow different branches of the tree for different purposes, like stage control, conditioning, and DI mixups. What you might consider “unorthodox” is something I would consider “orthodox” if it already has a place in the metagame and has a specific purpose, so even if it looks weird, it might still be really good. The “unorthodox” options are the ones that are either suboptimal, or not yet incorporated into the standard metagame of punish.
So what about neutral? Neutral is much more complicated than punish game, since movement allows a lot more creativity. I don’t think there will ever be an “orthodox neutral game” in the same way that there is an “orthodox punish game,” as there are so many more possible ways to position yourself compared to ways you can follow up on neutral hits. We can get closer and closer to optimized neutral games, but I doubt anyone will ever agree on a standard (aka an “orthodox”) one. This makes the distinction between an orthodox neutral game and an unorthodox neutral game very difficult, as how can one be unorthodox when there’s no orthodox from which you can deviate? If we were to use these terms, though, then I would say it’s much more feasible to attain success with an unorthodox neutral game, considering how fluid neutral game is in the first place and how easily you can overwhelm your opponent with movement options / neutral interactions they haven’t seen before / don’t know how to deal with. Just remember that the goal of neutral game is to hit your opponent in a way that accomplishes specific goals you have in mind (damage, stage control, etc.), so if your “unorthodox neutral game” is setting you up for neutral interactions that don’t provide as much of an advantage on average, then you might want to consider shaping your neutral game in a way that better parallels what those have done before you. Maybe once you have a much better understanding of your character, you’ll be able to incorporate “unorthodox” neutral options, as long as they have specific goals in mind. My example is how I started using SH dair against Marth to specifically beat Marth’s dtilt. The interaction is much harder to break down compared to punish game interactions, as neutral game interactions involve more variables, but if SH dair ends up proving it’s optimal in dealing with Marth’s dtilt, then maybe one day it’ll be incorporated into the “standard neutral game.”
So to recap, if you want long-term success in this game, then you should shape your punish game to match the combo trees discovered and utilized by the top players of your character in the current metagame, unless you think that your punishes (ideally derived from better knowledge/tech than the top players) could optimize the standardized punish game even more. Your neutral game can be much more fluid, but remember that your goal is to maximize damage output, stage control, etc., which again means that you should generally follow the playstyles set up by the players before you, but with potentially more deviation (relative to punish game). I certainly encourage exploration of your character with “unorthodox options,” as those options are the fastest way of developing your character, but if your goal is to achieve Top 100, then you should try to be as orthodox as possible (except for the mentioned reasons above).
That’s it for that. Kinda complicated logic but I think it’s important to discuss, as people are quick to defend their “unorthodox playstyles,” when really they just don’t want to put in the effort to optimize their gameplay (which is often harder to execute/implement). As always, feel free to ask any questions, and thanks for reading!
A Look Back
This past year has been a wild ride for me. After graduating college last Spring, I worked in an ER with a relatively moderate amount of traveling for smash, with some great performances such as 1st at House of Paign 15, 3rd at Pat’s House 3, and 5th at the Twitch Invitational. I was ranked 26th for the 2017 MIOM Top 100 List, though the beginning of 2018 wasn’t so hot. I did fine at Genesis, losing to S2J and Wizzrobe to get 17th, and I won See Me On Lan, beating Slox and KJH (with a silly Fox ditto ending to win GFs), but I did pretty badly at Full Bloom 4, Smash Valley 7, and Flatiron 3, with losses to Ginger, Hax, AbsentPage, KJH, and Swedish. I had some diamonds in the rough, though, with 1st place finishes at Fight Pitt 8, Boss Rush: lloD, and Xanadu: End of an Era. In the middle of April, however, after this string of tournaments, I made a drastic change to my lifestyle: I quit my job. By this point, I had been accepted to one of my dream medical schools, and so I decided to take the summer off to play smash full-time, and boy has this been one hell of a summer.
Summer of Smash
I’ll start off by saying that I was finally able to start attending weekly Xanadu’s again, even if it meant traveling through horrendous traffic. I’m happy to say that I am still undefeated at Xanadu weeklies, including a 9-consecutive-week-win-streak. The competition hasn’t been too tough, considering Junebug and Zain rarely go (and the one time they did was when I dodged Zain twice thanks to June), and I’ve had a chance to start working on my Yoshi, who I still hope to one day co-main with Peach (Yoshi is the future!!). The Xanadu metagame has become pretty cancerous, as the top seeds these days are all campy floaties, to the point that I even started advocating for a ledge grab limit, but we’ll just have to see if the floaty streak continues.
As for larger tournaments, I started my “Summer of Smash” with a respectable 2nd at Pound Underground, losing to Zain twice, who had just returned from an amazing Summit performance. He has definitely become much more difficult to hit since his Summit grind, and I actually haven’t taken a set from him since then, which is unusual, as we used to pretty consistently trade sets. My next big tournament was pretty disappointing, though. At GOML 2018, I barely lost to Shroomed in winner’s, and then I barely lost to Slox in loser’s to get 25th. I wasn’t too sad about losing to Shroomed, as each time I played him I kept getting closer and closer to beating him, and losing last hit meant that I’d likely beat him the next time (and spoiler alert: I did). Losing to Slox was heartbreaking though, as throughout game 5 on FD, I missed SO many dashbacks for the chaingrab, partly because GOML used Vanilla instead of UCF, and mostly because I realized I had never really practiced the chaingrab, and so of course I wouldn’t be consistent at it. The worst part about that loss was missing out on the Top 24 bracket the next day.
Smash ‘N’ Splash 4, the next tournament, salvaged my performance at GOML. After an early loss to Duck, I defeated Bladewise, Shroomed, and Lucky to get 9th. As I mentioned before, I knew my win on Shroomed would happen eventually, and my preparation finally paid off. Omega III, though, was another disappointment. I lost to iBDW and Junebug to get 9th, which stung for many reasons. 1) Trifasia was one of the special guests at this tournament, and he beat both iBDW and June after I lost to them, which means I’ll never hear the end of people claiming he’s better than me. 2) My record against June is SO skewed in my favor (something like 40-10) that losing to him at a regional hurts. 3) Once again, I barely miss out on Top 8. My main excuse for my poor performance at Omega was the ridiculous heat inside the venue, and I know it should be a learning experience, but honestly I don’t know how to counteract a hot venue. There’s only so many layers you can take off lol.
Up to Omega, my performances were all over the place. In fact, there were some really annoying patterns I noticed.
The first was that I consistently BARELY missed out on making the next stage of bracket. For example, I placed 9th at Smash Con 2017, Smash Valley 7, Flatiron 3, SNS4 (both Melee and PM), and Omega III, barely missing out on Top 8 for all of these, as well as 25th at GOML, missing out on Top 24 the next day. For all of these tournaments (except for the loss against Hax at SV7, which doesn’t count considering he uses a B0XX lul, and the loss to S2J at SNS4 because of Falcon), I lost Game 5 last stock, meaning I was so close to moving on. A lot of these sets were comebacks by my opponents, especially Zain at SSC and Swedish at Flatiron, indicating that I didn’t put forth enough mental effort to secure my win and make it into the next part of bracket. These types of losses made me think that I don’t play with the “right to win,” a quality that Scar/Toph mentioned that Armada had during Summit. It was frustrating barely missing out on the cut for all of these tournaments, as Top 8’s were the venues with the most hype, exposure, and pleasure.
The other pattern I noticed was that most of my brackets involved either upsetting a Fox and a Sheik that are both better than me, or being upset by a Fox and a Sheik that are both worse than me. This pattern actually has been alternating chronologically since Smash Con. I’ll show you:
Smash Con: Wins on Druggedfox (Fox) and Swedish Delight (Sheik)
Twitch Invitational: Losses to SFAT (Fox) and Shroomed (Sheik)
Genesis 5: Wins on iBDW (Fox) and Captain Faceroll (Sheik) (Not upsets but still)
Flatiron 3: Losses to KJH (Fox) and Swedish Delight (Sheik)
Pound Underground: Wins on Darktooth/Kaeon (Fox) and Junebug (Sheik) (Not upsets but still)
GOML 2018: Losses to Slox (Fox) and Shroomed (Sheik)
Smash ‘N’ Splash 4: Wins on Lucky (Fox) and Shroomed (Sheik)
Omega III: Losses to iBDW (Fox) and Junebug (Sheik)
The pattern is a little cherry-picked, but you get the idea. I didn’t realize this pattern until after Omega, so it definitely wasn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d like to think the 9th place curse was more likely a self-fulfilling prophecy, but to be honest, for some of those sets I didn’t even know where they were in bracket, so that might not be likely either. These two patterns might just be pure coincidence, or at least they were until I made the realizations that they existed. So, I had to put an end to them.
CEO 2018 was a step in the right direction. I admittedly had a very lucky bracket, as Leffen dropped out for DBFZ, and I was seeded to take his place in the bracket. My opponents were no pushovers, though, as I had to beat Syrox and $mike to make it into Top 24, and Fox and Falcon are arguably my worst matchups. Syrox is scary, as he is known for his infinite waveshines on Peach, but I beat him last year at Big House and was able to do it again at CEO. $mike was my real concern, as Falcon has been historically my worst matchup, and Peach has been historically his best matchup. I’ve only played him once before in January of 2017, where he kinda destroyed me, so I was pretty scared to play him again. Fortunately, before I had to play him, Ryobeat showed me a new way to deal with Falcon’s SHFFL’d nairs: Subfloat Uair. This changed everything, as SHFFL’d nairs from Falcon has literally shut down almost everything Peach could do for YEARS. If you watch any of my past sets against top Falcons (most notably Wizzrobe and S2J), they literally spam nairs in my face because it’s so hard to deal with. This new uair was a direct counter to those nairs, however, which made me really excited to try it out. In my set against $mike, he didn’t use SHFFL’d nairs as much as I expected, but whenever he did, my subfloat uairs worked like a charm. Towards the end of the set, he even stopped approaching with aerials at all and instead resorted to dash dance camping, but I managed to pull through in the end with key turnip throws and make it into Top 24.
From there, I lost 3-0 to Zain, which I guess was expected. I had a sizable lead during both games 2 and 3, but I threw both of them away. If I had won that set, I would have made it into Top 8 Winner’s Side, which would have broken the 9th place curse, so maybe in my head I didn’t think I deserved that. I’m not sure if I would have been able to win on either of Zain’s counterpicks, but I think I could have at least taken a game. Either way, in Loser’s side, I just had to win 1 set to make it into Top 8. Fortunately, for the first time seemingly ever, the universe gave me a good matchup: Ice Climbers. Army defeated Hugs the round prior, so I just had to beat an ICs to make it into Top 8. This was huge for me, as if I win, I break the curse and place Top 8 at a national. If I lose, then the curse continues, and even worse, I lose to an ICs for the first time in something like THREE YEARS. Army took game 1, which I kind of expected, as top ICs are usually pretty tricky to figure out. Thankfully, I won the next 3 games, which meant I made it into Top 8.
The production for Top 8 was easily my favorite part of the tournament. I had the opportunity to walk into a screaming arena with Katy Perry’s Firework blasting behind me and climb into a BOXING RING to play my favorite game in the world. I lost a close game 5 set to SFAT, which wasn’t too disappointing, as the set was a lot of fun. The most disappointing part was the ending to the set, as I was about to do this super super super sick combo on BF, but SFAT tech-Usmashed my AI Uair, so the world didn’t get to see the best combo ever. But alas, I walked away with the curse broken and a Top 8 at a national finally under my belt.
The Even Bigger Breakthrough
I felt pretty great going into Even Bigger Balc, as my curse was broken (or at least one of them was). Junebug and I were actually flown out to this event in California primarily for Project M, as EBB was the biggest PM tournament of all time, but the Melee tournament looked very stacked, too, with SFAT, S2J, Westballz, Hugs, and more in attendance.
In PM, I defeated Jose V (one of the best Nesses) and Techboy (the best ICs and one of the favorites to win the tournament) pretty handily in winners. In WQs, I had to play Sosa, the 1st seed, who plays Wario, aka “Super Puff.” I think he, as well as most of the PM community, expected him to destroy me, especially considering how bad the matchup is, but he won a close game 5 set. I hadn’t played a good Wario since, well uh, Sosa himself at Evo 2016, so it took me a while to regain my bearings in the matchup, and I think I’ll stand a much better shot at him the next time we meet. In Loser’s Bracket, however, I had to play Envy, who plays Ike, to make it into Top 8. As you might have heard, I hate Ike with a burning passion. I think he’s easily Peach’s worse matchup in PM, and even a monkey could play that character. He’s pretty much Captain Falcon with a sword that combos AND kills, so I’m sure you’d understand my frustration. I actually played really well that set, but of course, I lost game 5 last stock to barely miss out on top 8 (I guess my curse was broken for Melee but not PM). I actually wasn’t too tilted, though, as I was happy with my performance. My lack of tiltedness proved very useful, as I immediately had to play in Melee Top 8 after my set with Envy.
Before I get into EBB Melee Top 8, a little backtracking: I started the day with a clean 3-0 against Squid. I was scared to play him, as Falco is probably my 3rd worst matchup after Fox and Falcon (or maybe even tied with Fox for 2nd worst), but I played really really really well that set. Afterwards, I was expecting play HugS, but he was upset by Captain Faceroll. When I sat down to play Faceroll, despair started to cloud my mind as I realized I potentially had another Sheik+Fox bracket (as SFAT was still somewhere in the bracket) and that I was on the wrong side of the pendulum (having just beaten Drephen and Bones (yes Falco but close enough) two weeks before at Smashadelphia). I won games 1 and 2 solidly, but he won game 3 handily and I could feel my grasp on the set slipping. As he started game 4 with a commanding lead, I fortunately was able to kick myself back into shape and convince myself that I had the “right to win,” barely winning game 4 and ending the set with a sigh of relief. This was big, as I made it into Top 8 on winner’s side, again avoiding the 9th place curse.
So now back to starting Top 8 immediately after losing to Envy in PM. I had to play SFAT, who I had literally just lost to the weekend before at CEO. I knew exactly what changes I needed to make to beat him, though, and it worked! Big changes were better mixups on shield, not letting him pressure MY shield, better spacing around his nairs/drills in neutral, better spacing around his bairs when I was cornered, and cleaning up my edgeguard game. I was actually really proud of my offstage game, as my drift was clean and my aerial placement was amazing. I actually noticed a parallel between my progress against both SFAT and Shroomed: I kept getting closer and closer to beating both of them until I beat them both 3-1. I’m excited to see how I do against both of them in the future now that they might start taking me seriously 😉
After beating SFAT and making it into Winner’s Finals, I had to play against my worst nightmare: Captain Falcon. S2J was the 2nd seed of the tournament, and seeing how Westballz got knocked out really early and some of the other top seeds dropped out, S2J cleanly landed on the other side of WFs. S2J and I have a pretty funny rivalry that started with the insane ending at the Twitch Invitational. After that, we consistently traded destructive sets. He 3-0’d me at Genesis, I 2-0’d him at Flat Iron, and he 3-0’d me at SNS 4. I was pretty frustrated after our SNS 4 set, because as I mentioned before, it felt like he literally would push me into the corner with SHFFL’d nairs right outside my dash attack range, and then destroy me with a heavily-falcon-favored mixup in the corner (grab, stomp, uair, etc) that led to a kill each time. This time, though, I had an answer to the nairs: Subfloat Uairs.
In our Winner’s Final set, I got SO much mileage off of Subfloat Uair. I was actually surprised by how much he kept trying to use his nairs considering I’d use his nairs as an avenue through which I would start my own combos, as FC Uair leads into so much on falcon. He barely won game 1, and I barely won game 5, continuing the pattern before of trading sets (although this one wasn’t as destructive as the ones prior). S2J ended up making it back into Grand Finals, and hilariously enough, the streak continued, as he won Set 1 convincingly and I won Set 2 convincingly, putting our current record 4-3 in my favor. This was a huge huge huge breakthrough, as not only did I have the best placing of my career (having 3 top 10 wins in a single tournament and WINNING it), but I broke the Sheik/Fox curse (beating Faceroll/SFAT) and I won 2 sets against a FALCON! The only way this win would have been sweeter would be if I won Set 1 of GFs, ending the alternating-set-streak against S2J, but I guess I can’t have everything just yet 😉
The Good Stuff
EBB was overall an incredible experience. This was, again, my best placement ever, and it shows that my hard work is playing off. I’ve been practicing my punish game on Fox ever since I dropped all those CGs vs Slox at GOML, and I’m getting closer and closer to the touch of death, as seen during Game 4 against SFAT where I almost 4 stock him. Also, I’ve only just begun theorycrafting subfloat uair against falcon and it’s already doing so much work against a top 10 player, so I have high hopes for the technique in the future. Falcons will develop counterplay to subfloat uair, but the important part is that the tech forces mixups, which is exactly what Peach needs to stay in the metagame. I might even say that this tech miiiiight remove Falcon as Peach’s worst matchup, but only time will tell.
Outside of my performance in the tournament, EBB was just fun. It was great to be at a large PM tournament again, as I can’t even remember the last time I entered a national in which PM had more entrants than Melee. The tournament was ran extremely well, and I had such a gracious host for the entire weekend. The heat was pretty miserable, but I miss California already. And lastly, the support I received after the tournament was extremely overwhelming. Even though I was from a different region, I was welcomed and congratulated by so many people, both from the Melee and PM communities. My social media has been blowing up all weekend by my lovely supporters, and I honestly can’t thank everyone enough for helping me make it this far.
The Bad Stuff
One thing I was pretty frustrated about was the audiences of my IRL matches throughout the weekend. I’ve had pretty bad experiences with PM crowds in the past, probably because the PM community still sees me as a Melee player trying to invade their game (even though I’ve been playing PM wayyy longer than the vast majority of them). The most notorious example was when I got 3rd at Smash ‘N’ Splash 3 last year, where the midwest PM crowd hated my guts, to the point of not making a single sound during my set against Phresh except for the one time he took a stock. Yes, I ELEVEN-stocked him, and the only time they cheered was the one time I died. Even when I (admittedly rarely) compete in PM within MD/VA, I still feel like an outsider, as I guess I’m no longer part of the PM in-group here, and so I’m often cheered against. This past weekend was no different, as throughout my various PM sets (especially vs Sosa), I once again felt like an outsider, as the majority of the crowd seemed to be cheering for my opponents. Don’t get me wrong: I very much appreciate the support I do receive, especially from my MDVA brethren. I just wish that everyone watching appreciated my gameplay, especially considering I have a background as a classical musician, and so audience reception of my performances was always one of my primary concerns.
People not cheering for me is nothing new, though, as I face discrimination as a floaty player all the time. The thing that irritated me the most was actually Twitch Chat. I get negative feedback from Twitch Chat all the time, about how my character is lame, I get carried by my character, blah blah blah, again nothing new. However, this weekend, after I beat S2J in Grand Finals… for the first time ever, EVER, I was boo’d. Only in Twitch Chat, mind you, as the IRL audience was outstanding, and only by a minority of people within Twitch Chat. But still, as a performer, being boo’d by anyone after such an incredible performance stings. I can tolerate disappointment for your favorite player losing, or complaining about a character you don’t like to see winning, but booing? Unacceptable in my opinion, especially if the reason you’re booing is because you don’t like the outcome of the event. I complained about this to Rishi, who of course said to just ignore it and move on, as most of the Twitch chat dissenters are irrelevant, but I consider my gameplay as if it were an orchestral performance, and so I guess I take “boo-ing” a lot more seriously than others might. Also, I recognized some of the boo-ers as people that are more than just irrelevant Twitch chatters, so I’m hoping that we don’t continue down this toxic path and instead learn to support our favorite players and express our dissatisfaction in healthier ways.
I am still in shock that I won Melee at Even Bigger Balc. Especially after a mediocre start to the year, I can end my Summer of Smash with such an incredible performance. And when I say “end,” I unfortunately do mean “end,” as EBB is probably my last big event for a while. I’ll be starting medical school in a few weeks, so I’ll be preparing for the big transition until then. I’ll still be entering locals, and will likely go to Short Hops at Xanadu on 7/21/18, but I’ll unfortunately be missing out on all the big August events, including EVO, Shine, and Smash Con. I’ll try to sneak away for at least one of those, but no promises. Even though I’m sad my melee career is being put on a halt for a moment, I am very excited to start a new journey in becoming a doctor. If you’re wondering what kind of doctor I want to be, then just know that maybe one day I’ll be the designated doctor for the smash community 😉
Alright, thanks for reading! This was a long one but there was a lot to cover, as I’ve been busy competing instead of writing haha. As always, please let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to send me your thoughts on anything I’ve talked about in this post!
Everyone has their own reason for picking their main. Armada has said he picked Peach because of her down smash. I chose Peach because I loved her dash attack. Some people even pick characters because of how “cool” they look, or because it’d be “funny.” Most people struggle with their character identity at some point in their Melee career, because they reach a point where they feel like their character is holding them back, or that their character doesn’t represent their playstyle well enough. Or, they’ve picked up too many mains and are trying to narrow down the number of characters they use in tournament, because they’re tired of doubting their character choice mid-set. I had a pretty lengthy conversation about character choice with a friend last night at the Cave, because I noticed that he, as a Marth player, tended to pick options not considered “normal” in Marth’s repertoire. For example, his panic options were to full hop or to hold shield, whereas I’m used to seeing Marth dash back in those situations. This led me to conclude a couple of pretty outrageous ideas.
Before I get to the outrageous ideas, however, I have a quick preface. The number one priority when it comes to playing this game competitively is what I call “Realistic Longevity.” Think about:
- How long you’d consider playing Melee competitively
- Reasons for terminating your Melee career earlier than what you determined in part 1*
- How much effort you’re willing to put into the game.
*Reasons for terminating your Melee career can include hand problems, personal life (such as school or work), or even reaching your goal (such as becoming PR’d, or Top 100, or even #1).
If your goal within your competitive melee career is short-term (such as become PR’d once), then my ideas regarding choosing your main might not relate as much to you, as my ideas are more geared towards someone who wants to be #1, or who wants to continually improve for the unforeseeable future. Either way, I think these are interesting ideas to consider, even for short-term goals. Okay, now for the fun part.
When choosing your main:
Character choice doesn’t matter until you’re good.
To be a top player, you need mastery of the following skills: Neutral game, combos, DI, movement, edgeguarding, recovery, matchups, interactions, spacing, drift, and many many more. If you have mastery over all of these skills, then you have a good “Game Sense,” which in turn gives you access to the final skill, which is “Adaptation.” Anyone can adapt mid-set, but only those who have mastery of all of the different skills of the game (and effectively have a good Game Sense) can adapt the most quickly and efficiently as possible.
All the characters in melee share these skills (even though they express these skills using different tools). You can attain a good Game Sense with any character. Sure, each character leads a different pathway to attain good Game Sense, but it’s possible with any character.
Once you have a good Game Sense, only then will your character choice start mattering, because Adaptation is the expression of your personality. Assuming you have complete control of your character, the changes you make to your playstyle throughout a set reflect your thought patterns, fears, empathy, understanding, passions, panic options, and ultimately who you are as a person. Different characters allow certain personalities to shine through better than others, so even if you have a good Game Sense, your personality might better be reflected with another character.
It’s hard to know exactly which character best reflects your personality without practicing each character and testing them individually in a tournament setting. However, people with good Game Senses are actually much faster at switching mains than those without, as Game Sense applies to all characters. For example, Yoshi was my worst character by far for many many years. Because I have a good Game Sense now, however, I’m able to learn Yoshi really quickly (at least relative to the rest of my characters), because I’m applying things I know with Peach to Yoshi. Also look at Plup, who probably has a better Game Sense than anyone, considering he does well with literally any character he touches.
So how exactly do you achieve a good Game Sense? How do you quickly achieve mastery in all of those skills that make up Game Sense? To achieve Game Sense the fastest:
Your first main should be a character that thrives off of your individual best skill.
This kinda contradicts what I said earlier about character choice not mattering until you’re good, but there’s an important distinction to make: You can attain a good Game Sense with any character, but some characters might take longer for you to reach that point than others. To most efficiently achieve a good Game Sense, you should hone in on what makes a character’s concept unique, as well as what makes you as a person unique, and if those two aspects match, then you’ve found your first main.
For example, your local Sheik player really likes techchasing, and they’re really good at it. They practice techchasing daily, and they can techchase anyone in bracket. Even though they rely on sketchy neutral wins to start their techcases sometimes (*cough shieldgrab*), they get a kill off of grab every time so they keep doing it.
If you look at a graph of this player’s skills, it looks something like this:
Their Combo vs. Spacies skill is much greater than the rest of their skills, which is as expected, considering that’s their favorite aspect of Sheik and also what they’ve spent time on practicing. For this Sheik player to improve and become a “top player,” they would have to work on everything else (by *cough* reading my guide *cough). The nice part is that a lot of the time, it’s much easier to improve upon something you’re bad at (such as “Grounded Movement” in this case) as opposed to something you’re good at (such as “Combos vs. Spacies”) because of how much room for improvement there is, and how your total understanding of one aspect of the character can help understand the others. (This, of course, assumes you’re willing to put in time to your bad skills). So, the Sheik player improves until their skillset looks like this:
Once they reach this point, they have a good Game Sense, which means they’re fully capable of mid-set Adaptation. At this point, if Sheik no longer feels like a good fit for them, they can easily switch to a different character (because the skills will translate pretty smoothly) that lets them adapt more fittingly for their personality.
So what happens if you pick a starting main that doesn’t agree with your individual best skill?
Let’s go back to my friend (the Marth player). He told me he picked up Marth because of Marth’s combo game and movement. Pretty good reasons to choose Marth, right? However, when I was playing against him, his instincts were to double jump and shield, as opposed to dash back. When I think of Marth, I think of a super smooth grounded character that is always juuuuust out of reach, and is always right there to punish you when you swing (and miss). If you aren’t taking advantage of his tools to do this (such as dash dancing, dtilting, and grabbing) and instead are using tools that don’t align with the *concept* of Marth (such as shielding, platform movement, and double jumping), then your skillset graph will look pretty bad, and your rate of improvement will be slow. I advised my friend to either pick a different character that better suits his instincts (such as Sheik, who thrives off of platform movement) or to ground himself (both literally and figuratively) within the concept of Marth.
Each character has several “best aspects.”
Again, people pick their mains for a wide variety of reasons. Armada like Peach’s dsmash, and I liked her dash attack. When picking your first main, all of the relevant characters have many different aspects that could attract you to them. Falco not only has an amazing punish game, but also a dominating neutral game with lasers and quick aerials. Marth not only has smooth movement, but also a commanding punish game and a terrifying edgeguard sequence. Jigglypuff has complete control of the air, as well as hundreds of rest setups. Whatever the reason is that you pick a character, just make sure that the character is good at what you want to do with them (i.e. don’t pick Marth because of his shield lul).
Learning new characters will help you achieve Game Sense faster.
Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, and playing around with each character can teach you things about your main that you didn’t realize before. I’m learning so much about Peach by playing Yoshi! You don’t need to main other characters to learn from them, or even play as them. Even thinking about other characters if often enough to get you to think about your own character from a different angle, and in turn, help you attain a good Game Sense faster.
Matchups don’t matter until the very top.
If your reason for picking up a secondary / new main is for matchups, and you haven’t attained a good Game Sense yet, then stop right there. Matchups change significantly depending on skill level, and they don’t even become that important until both players have a good Game Sense. Think about how all of the Gods could probably beat you with their low tiers. It’s easy to “better player” your opponent when you have a good Game Sense and they do not. So, until you have a good Game Sense, don’t pick up new characters for matchups specifically.
Pick a character that aligns with your instincts. Get really good at your favorite/best aspect of that character. Catch up with the rest of the skills of that character (often by even playing around with other characters). Then you have a good “Game Sense,” and you are capable of “Adaptation.” You’re now free to pick whichever character(s) you wants that best expresses your personality.
Thanks for reading! As always, let me know if you have any questions.
P.S. No this isn’t validation for me picking Yoshi.
To start off, FB4 was a ton of fun.
The venue was just the right size, the staff was friendly and competent, the event was run efficiently, and the community was passionate and welcoming. I highly recommend this event to anyone who can make it to its next iteration. My only complaint was that the staff started breaking down half of the setup area pretty early on Saturday night (maybe like 12 PM), and that there weren’t many setups towards the end of Sunday, but besides that the event ran very smoothly. My one regret was not being able to play the organ, but next time!
Regarding my own performance, I have mixed feelings. The first draft of the bracket had me projected to play Syrox (who I’ve beaten, albeit barely, at Big House 7), and Leffen (who beat me solidly at Smash Con 2017). I’ve been working a lot towards the Fox matchup, specifically with edgeguarding, and I was excited to put my newfound skills to the test. The bracket changed, however, so that I was instead projected to play 2Saint, La Luna, and then HBox. I was actually REALLY excited for this change, as for the first time in a LONG time, I had a bracket of favorable matchups. Any other Peach would cringe at a bracket of Puffs and Marths, but I excel at those matchups, as they’re pretty slow-paced and neutral-heavy, and they allow plenty of time for adaptation. I’ve beaten 2Saint in the past, during the one time we’ve played (1.5-2.5 years ago?), but I’ve actually never beaten La Luna. He’s beaten me twice in the past, though that was before I started excelling at the Marth matchup, so I was excited to get my revenge. Plus, if I beat La Luna, I would finally have my chance to play against Hungrybox, who told me after SV7 that he hasn’t lost even a single game to a Peach player in like 10 years, and that he’s beaten all the other top Peaches pretty solidly recently.
My set with 2Saint was a lot closer than expected. His mixups were good, but I think I got in my own head for most of the set. I was too afraid of getting rested, and so I stopped playing neutral towards the end of game 1, allowing him to make a significant comeback. I think I expected him to be a lot more aggressive, too, as people always say he’s an “aggressive Puff,” so I was surprised by how defensive his playstyle ended up being. I managed to bring it back in game 2, and he kinda SD’d game 3, so I ended up winning the set. Against La Luna, I was thrown off by his weird cadence, as I could never really lock down his rhythm. To me it seemed like we both played badly, and I just happened to play less bad. Even though I won both of these sets, it didn’t really feel like I showed off my talents, especially considering how this was the first time I’ve had a “good bracket.”
My prize, however, was an attempt against Hungrybox. I didn’t think I’d beat him, but I knew I’d give him a run for his money, as no other Peach plays the matchup like I do. He kinda destroyed me game 1. For whatever reason, I would try shielding his bairs, but my shield wouldn’t come out in time, so he’d just whack me. I wasn’t sure if I was just reacting slow, or if his drift was better than other Puffs, but it threw me off pretty hard, as most of my gameplan vs Puff revolves around shielding Puff’s bair. Regardless, game 2 was suuuuuper close, but I didn’t really use the stitch I pulled too well, and ended up getting drilled->usmashed. Game 3 was close again, but Hbox’s edgeguards were on point. I’m happy with how I played, especially because Peach is one of Hbox’s best matchups. I adapted well, I did some cool tricks, and I have a lot more data for when I play him next. I definitely plan to take a game off him next time I play him (and maybe even win!).
My loser’s run could have been epic, as I had AbsentPage -> Rik -> aMSa to get into top 8, but I ended up losing to AbsentPage 3-2. He went Sheik this time, which I guess threw me a little off, but the worst part was that I was messing up simple edgeguards game 4. It should’ve been a clean 3-1, but I kept letting him back onto stage, and I guess I lost patience with myself and lost game 5. It’s definitely frustrating losing a set like that, because I didn’t feel outplayed. HBox completely outplayed me, as he was calling out my shields with tomahawks left and right, and outspacing my drift almost perfectly. I don’t even remember my set with AbsentPage, though, besides all those missed edgeguards. To his credit, he edgeguarded me very well. I just consider myself very good against Sheik, and I didn’t demonstrate any of that during my set with him. For the future, I think I just need to play against Sheik more (especially since Junebug started dodging me cough cough). My neutral and combos were fine, but I didn’t execute edgeguards and got bored towards the end of the set.
This tournament made me think a lot about my future as a competitor. The “Golden Pathway” I talked about in my Guide to Improvement is designed to minimize variance, and I definitely showed that in 2017, as I rarely lost to anyone considered worse than me. Something changed this year, though, as I’ve already racked up several “bad” losses: Ginger, Hax, Bob-omb, Jerry, and now AbsentPage. Maybe I’m not putting enough time into Melee as I should be, or maybe I’m not as passionate about winning as I was last year. Maybe I feel the pressure being ranked so high on MIOM. I definitely feel more tired in general these days, as work is exhausting and has shredded my sleep cycle to pieces. I usually overcome fatigue with Monster and a drive to be the best, but I’ve honestly felt like I was falling asleep during all of my “bad losses” this year. I was thinking today about maybe not listening to music anymore or changing the song (even though Firework will always be my favorite song), so I guess that’s something to play with in the future. I just want to stop being a part of other people’s “Loser’s Runs,” and instead start taking big names again. I’ll be starting Medical School in the Fall, so this might be my last chance to take Smash seriously. I plan on doing whatever it takes to become the best I can be until then.
I was feeling pretty sad about Smash when I got home from FB4, but now that I’ve had a chance to cool off, I’m excited to start playing again. One thing I realized is how important a support system in a competitive environment can be. I play much better when I know my friends are rooting for me. I’m very grateful for the support I’ve received so far in my competitive career, and I’m looking forward to deepening these friendships and making even more along the way.
Thanks for reading, and if you haven’t already, check out my Melee Mini’s!
Until next time!
BEFORE CLICKING CROSSWORD: The timer starts when you open the link below, so make sure you’re mentally prepared 🙂
Welcome to my new blog! As the Summer of Smash is quickly approaching, I figured I’d create a new space to compile my thoughts and content, so here we are!
I’ve loved puzzles and puzzle games since as long as I can remember: Sudoku, Kakuro, Tetris, etc. My favorite part about these puzzles was that you didn’t need any external knowledge; you only needed to follow the puzzle’s rules and figure out the answer yourself. In that train of thought, I never really got into crossword puzzles, because I’ve never been much of a trivia person, and crossword puzzles require external information to solve. Growing up in an Indian American family, my childhood was erratically split between the American pop culture scene and the Bollywood scene. I never really became familiar with a lot of the “famous” actors, or athletes, or musicians, or politicians, or any of those random-facts/people you’d need to know to be good at Trivial Pursuit. (Another good comparison is that I’m much more of a Wheel-of-Fortune fellow than a Jeopardy guy).
About a year ago, however, I downloaded the NYT Crossword Puzzle app on my phone, just to give it a whirl, as crosswords were something I had never really dabbled in before. Starting out was hard, especially because there were so many things I didn’t know, but soon enough I was able to solve an entire puzzle without any help. This was stressful, however, as each puzzle would take ~20-30 minutes, which was way too much of a commitment, so I started getting into the NYT Mini-Puzzles, which were ~5×5 grids instead of 15×15. I realized quickly that these much better suited my vocabulary, as these puzzles were much more intuitive, and required less external information. They were also quick and easy, and very satisfying to complete them. Since then, I’ve probably completed hundreds of these mini-crosswords (and even maxed out the mini-puzzles on the app, so I need to find a new source of them…). I’ve been so in love with these that I wanted to try making my own!
Turns out making a crossword puzzle is infinitely harder than solving one. I wanted to try making a smash-themed crossword puzzle, as I’m immersed in smash culture and figured I’d have an audience for my creation. Limiting the puzzle to such a constricted theme was really difficult, however, as the pool of words is minuscule. After many many attempts, I was finally able to create one that is cute, quirky, and entire smash-themed, which I have to say makes me really proud, as I was expecting to have to use 2-3 non-smash-related clues just to make all of the ends meet. Even though this mini-crossword does require external knowledge, I think the pool of knowledge is pretty universal among smash folks, so it hopefully isn’t too difficult for the average smash fan.
So, I present to you lloD’s Melee Mini #1, which is hopefully the first of a series of mini-crosswords. This puzzle does have a theme within smash, though I won’t give it away (or else it’d be way too easy!). Good luck, and send me a screenshot of your finished puzzle! Maybe I’ll give a prize to whoever finishes it the fastest (but no cheating!!!!!!).