Forging Champions
The world of improvement is a rather loud place. Between the glut of podcasts, books, YouTube comments etc etc there is no shortage of avenues that will voice their advice. But when it comes to sources not all voices are weighted equally (looking at you YouTube comments). I believe that the best way to find improvement in your craft is to go directly to those that are at the top of the mountain and listen to their words, and even more importantly, look at their habits. So that’s what I did.

This past week I was fortunate enough to spend some time chatting to four of the best Smash Bros players in the delightful state of Queensland. First up is the epitome of consistency with his 13 consecutive PR placements (and counting!) SadHour is one of the all time greats of QLD Smash. Second is Shadrew who’s top tier work ethic has gotten him from the bottom of the pecking order all the way to being recognised as one of the best players in the entire country. Third is the brash Negima who’s enormous character pool has allowed him to have some serious bite backing up his bark. And lastly is Spammage who’s character devotion knows no limits and currently has all of the momentum in the world. With four top level players whose personalities vary wildly let's start by looking at their habits.

First up let's look at how often each player plays Smash outside of a tournament setting. There was a lot of variance here with Spammage saying “Almost every day. It’s important to me that I feel like I’m not losing touch with the game at any point.” Shadrew aims for between one and three hours a day but recently had to tone it down considerably due to ongoing wrist issues developed through constant uni laptop use. SadHour is in a similar boat where he’s prioritising uni and his typically constant practice has been brought down to about once a week. Negima is the dark horse here where he’ll only play maybe two hours a week with that occurring exclusively at meetups.

Next let's look at what each player actually does when they’re playing the game outside of a tournament. To the surprise of no one Shadrew takes this practice time extremely seriously. Shadrew shared with me that “For training mode, some of my frequent uses of it is using lvl 3 CPUs to practice reaction ledge trapping by putting them at ledge then repeatedly reacting to their semi-random option and punishing, and also using CPUs to practice whiff punishing by waiting for them to do a move then punishing if I can.” Shadrew also goes into frame by frame mode so he can finetune combos, look at frame advantage and most interestingly - to break down characters’ animations to improve reaction through familiarity. SadHour and Spammage are very similar in that they’ll both go into training mode to focus on movement and refine certain tech with the bulk of their time being spent against CPUs or offline humans. While Negima doesn’t spend much time physically playing the game throughout the week he’ll often watch back his tournament videos to pick apart what works and what doesn’t, as well as watch footage from top players using his characters. Out of the four SadHour is the only one that straight up doesn’t play Wi-Fi with the other three dabbling in it but recognising its limits for improvement.

Priming is an incredible psychological tool where exposure to one thing can later alter behaviour or thoughts. In a more straightforward terminology, priming is the way that you set yourself up for success. SadHour, Spammage and Shadrew all believe that being well rested and well fed is one of the best ways to prime yourself for an event, with Spammage saying that she’ll straight up skip a tournament if she’s slept poorly. All three also believe that bringing snacks to eat during the tournament helps their stamina immensely. If you’re vying for first place, a single tournament’s set count can hit the double digits so having constant refueling is important. Shadrew gave a shoutout to fellow top player Ari as someone who has an excellent handle on optimal tournament nutrition.

And now we’ve arrived at the tournament. You’re feeling well prepared. You’re walking that fine line between excitement and anxiety. What do you do until it kicks off? All four shared that they’ll aim to get some friendlies in with their tournament characters with any use of other characters being reserved for post-tournament. Shadrew’s friendlies are very intentional in design. He stated that “I used to just warm up without much plan with other people, but I've recently tried practicing my different playstyles of Ken. One game normal, one game no jumps, one game aggressive, one game defensive and a serious set to warm up adaptation.” Outside of warm ups, SadHour does hand and wrist stretches while Negima tries to visualise what neutral looks like for each set in his projected bracket run. Spammage takes the route of intentional self affirmation. “It's important you can walk into an event that you want to win believing you are good enough to.”

Tournament’s over and I’ve got bad news - you kinda bombed out. Mentality is what makes and breaks players. All four shared with me the times that they too have suffered tough losses but instead of beating themselves up over it they use it as an opportunity to learn. In response to a tough loss, Spammage shared “To help with that sting on mentality I grind the matchup relentlessly so it won't happen again. A recent example of this was Jix's Belmont. I lost to it at an FNS, went home, practiced every combo, punish, and neutral technique against him, and the next time Belmont showed his face, I messed it up pretty hard.” The response was unanimous - every loss is an invitation for growth and to not allow the same mistakes to happen next time. Shadrew also said something about halving his relaxation time whatever that means.

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Changing gears into more general advice, I asked each player the tips that they have for different skill levels. For newer or Redemption Silver level players the response was the same across the board - Just keep playing and getting that experience. SadHour was able to break down this concept well “I imagine at lower levels, just playing the game is still very valuable for improvement. So try to keep playing with other people and putting yourself in unfamiliar game situations. Also I think at this level, it would be valuable to try and play with intentionality and to be more cognitively present while playing, not just autopiloting.”

For the fabled mid-level players around the Redemption Gold level the advice was far more varied. Shadrew put forward the idea that at this level it’s worthwhile doing VOD reviews to pick apart any errors that you’re making. Negima had the advice of turning off the auto pilot. “do things like ask yourself why you did that jump in neutral or why you dashed back.” Spammage’s advice was quite surprising to me due to the warranted perception of her being a technique heavy player. She said “I think it's important not to get too wrapped up in the technical side (trust me, I know) and just focus on the simpler aspects, like reading your opponent and having clean movement. The strongest option is not always the best, you're always playing the player more than against the game.” And lastly SadHour did a deep dive on the impact of character choice. “It may be tempting to pick up a new character or switch mains altogether, but that almost certainly won’t instantly fix whatever roadblocks you're facing at this level. That being said, I wouldn’t shut out switching characters entirely. If you’re originally playing a low/mid tier and there’s a high/top tier that you enjoy and feel suits you, then it could be worth switching for the long term. Playing a good character can help you with playing confidently and there can be less doubt as to why you lost when you lose. Again, just don’t expect it to instantly fix your problems, which are likely attributable to you as a player.”

For high level players who are reaching for PR or wanting to climb the PR ladder it can often feel like you've hit the glass ceiling and can’t break through. It may not be what you want to hear, but refinement and consistency is the name of the game. “Think about how to get your play as consistent as possible, how to play as close to your best as consistently as you can. Figure out what makes you play at your best,” shared Shadrew. Negima had a more unconventional insight and said that having a strong autopilot for early bracket matches has helped him maintain his stamina for later in the tournament. Spammage theorized that breaking through at this level is based around mental expenditure “You have to remember that sometimes the optimal punish in reality is just the easiest, most consistent one. You need to become a non-worry to yourself, whether you are dropping combos or over extending, or your movement is lacking, so that you can be the worry to your opponent in full.” If you’re near the top there’s a chance that it’s the same couple of players/characters giving you trouble. SadHour suggested analysing the shit out of your hurdles and taking physical notes on them, down to the level of what stages they like, how they space themselves, how they manage disadvantage etc. He also highlighted the incidental benefits this level of analysis can give you outside of Smash “I think this also just helps develop general life skills like goal-setting, research and problem solving.”

I also asked for any miscellaneous tips that they’d like to share. For the enjoyment of your eyes here they are in dot point form
Utilise well respected resources such as the Ultimate Frame Data website or Poppt1’s “Mind of” video series on YouTube

Always be open to the idea of improvement

If there’s characters that you struggle against consider trying them out for yourself so you can better understand their movement and their weaknesses

Seek advice from high level players

Theorise interactions while outside of the game

Find out the optimal punishes of your character and fine tune them until it’s second nature

Don’t put all of your self worth on your performance in a video game


And lastly I pitched to the panel if by following the right steps and working hard enough, if they believe anyone has the potential to find a high level of success. Shadrew spoke from his own experience in Smash “Yes! I'm sure everyone has heard stuff about this, but I started at a low level too. I went 0-2 for my fair share of tournaments in Smash 4.” Spammage also echoed this, saying that the biggest barrier that you’ll run into is yourself and that any mentality issues can be overcome. Negima also pointed to Shadrew as the success story of hard work paying off. SadHour had some deeper musings around the concepts of hard work vs natural talent but ultimately landed on it being absolutely possible for anyone. “After all, you won’t know if you don’t try and if you don’t believe that you can achieve success, then that can only be a hindrance. There definitely are examples of players who didn’t immediately excel at competition, but put in the work and got results.”

I wholeheartedly agree with those final sentiments. I truly deeply believe that anyone can achieve great heights with the right approach and right work ethic. The top level of QLD is a lovely bunch and are super open to the idea of helping everyone out so never be afraid to send a DM to them. I hope that you found this article helpful and remember -
In the end you’re the only hurdle.

by Mittens 05/16/2021 00:00:00

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