Friday, November 9, 2018

Local Culture and Sustainable Growth

local culture and sustainable growth
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Super Smash Bros Ultimate comes out on Dec 7th. A new smash game is always a huge opportunity for local communities to thrive. I'd like to use my experience as a TO/regional coordinator-type person to speak to how to turn short-term excitement into sustainable growth by way of investing in the local culture.


WHAT DOES A NEW SMASH GAME DO?

Simply put, a new smash game always generates activity. It creates a buzz both inside and outside your community. First, that means that a certain number of people will come out of inactivity, at least briefly, to try their hand at the new game. Whether they stay on depends on if they have a worthwhile experience or not. Similarly, you'll get a wave of outsiders. Outsiders, who have not been previously initiated into a competitive smash culture, are usually looking to prove themselves, maybe make a quick buck, or see what competition is like. They always get brutally destroyed. But a certain percentage have a good time. As a TO or community, that demographic is your top priority. You want to provide a large wave of newcomers with a good enough experience that despite being humbled they enjoy the experience. The larger the initial wave and the better their experience, the more stay on, the more get good, the more bring their friends, the more take on community roles, the better for everyone.

SOCIAL EXPECTATIONS/CULTURE

While I lived in Wisconsin I saw the smash scene grow through the concentrated effort a handful of individuals. Their enthusiasm and sense of purpose rippled outward. Unfortunately, I've also seen the opposite, where a culture of toxicity or mediocrity transforms a subculture into little more than an insulated social group. In my experience, community-building involves some luck, but the primary causal thing is actually the local culture. A local culture creates expectations for how to treat each other. It'll leave a potent first impression, as well as act as a motivator that primes initiative (or lack-thereof) over the long term.

In practice, maybe the main thing to do is to crush egoism like a malevolent weed, because it is one. If in your local culture it's remotely ok to talk down to people then IT WON'T GROW. You'll get a slowly dwindling group of regulars that love to talk shit and wonder why their numbers are stagnant. Don't tolerate putting other people down, sometimes not even jokingly. It can be as simple as telling someone, "Don't be an ass, his experience is valid too." The experience of other players, no matter their skill, is more important than your ego. Sometimes this can be more subtle, like going out of your way to ask questions instead of giving pedantic advice. Careless words have a big impact. A couple of unkind comments can not just drive individuals away but shift the expectation and thus the behavior of everyone there.
Competition can bring out the worst in people, but it can just as easily bring out their best. Work hard to create the social expectation that this is a place to build each other up, not to tear anyone down, and you will be rewarded proportionally.


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OTHER HACKS

Friendlies:
OMG tournaments with no friendlies/limited setups suckkkkk. Some people want a chair to watch top 8, but more people want an open setup. I'm here to play games, let me play games please.

Asking Questions:
Who is this guy?
How are they doing?
After every event ask yourself/others, what could have made this experience better?

Ease:
It's always as easy as you make it. The more someone has to go out of their way, the less likely they will do something. This applies to things like, practicing, driving, complimenting each other, everything. Similarly, if you don't do something yourself you can't expect it from other people. Be proactive! Set a good example!
If you can make a little change to make good behavior or good numbers or good protocol or what have you easier or more frequent, make the change!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Case For Playing To Win

The Case For Playing To Win

The last post spoke to the variety of motivations for playing a competitive game. Brackets are filled with different people trying to fill different needs, and that’s fine. But playing to win does come with benefits that I’d like to expand on here.

First, we should hit on an unhealthy achievement-focus vs a healthier process-focus. This is easiest to illustrate using results. Results are clean, unambiguous feedback; you either played well enough to win or you didn’t. Anything more specific gets very slippery very quickly, so as a competitor you have to use them as a foundational metric for your progress. Because of this singularity, results can be a bit of an ego-fest, can’t they? It’s tempting to use them to inform our social dynamics, including who we’re allowed to look down on. Certainly, craving the recognition that comes with wins is unhealthy. And measuring your self-worth with results is extremely unhealthy, win or lose.

But playing to win can actually be an ego-killing process. And this is, I think, it’s ultimate worth.

To a “pure” competitor, the rules of a game are an arena. Within that arena, they will use any means necessary to get the W. They play to win. They seek out and abuse the best characters, tactics, and strategies. Eventually, they have to start making decisions as to how to best use their time in order to win. But because the task (to dominate) is simple, prioritization is relatively simple.

This is in contrast with a “less pure” competitor that has other priorities, be they mastery of their character, fun, experimentation, a want to impress others, or what have you. Having other priorities is fine. It’s just more complicated because they have to reconcile those priorities within the same win-or-lose arena.

The chief value of playing to win, as opposed to an alternate priority, is that it is totally impersonal. Any conflicting desire is just that, conflicting. In order to commit to your best, you have to somewhat arbitrarily reject those desires that would have you play suboptimally. That takes discernment and grit. Chasing the W becomes a means by which you rearrange and overcome your inhibitions and subordinate impulses. That is the sort of tao of games. You commit to a process by which rather than self-assert, you may self-empty so that you can realize.

Lastly, it should be emphasized that playing to win is not some kind of moral superiority. 

Games are NOT an arena for your moralism.

Rather, there are benefits that I appreciate. Someone else at this time in their life may or may not and I should be cognizant of that.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Identifying Motivators / Why Play Melee

Identifying Motivators / Why Play Melee

Why you want to play melee influences how you can best play melee.

You can play melee for fun, for mastery, for achievement, to learn, to invent, for the social dynamic, etc. Any reason that you want to.
ALL of these are viable reasons to play. They are also attached to different systems of prioritization. As such, the best advice for each type of player would be different.

Sometimes, well-meaning individuals create unnecessary roadblocks for other people because they don’t discern or ask about their motivations. It’s easy to imagine a more competitive individual degrading a Yoshi main for not “playing to win,” or “wasting their time” but actually the personal prioritization places “achievement” lower than another aspect of competition such as “mastery.”

Similarly, we can imagine a Ganondorf main that finds it difficult to reconcile “playing to win” with “play who you find the most fun.” Despite finding some success, the tournament grind feels like an uphill labor. Is it worth it?

Before we can solve for that kind of struggle, we have to ask ourselves, what does playing melee do for me? What need am I trying to fill? After identifying motivators, it’s easier to understand our relationship to the game.

Consider your most rewarding experiences with the game. What exactly was that emotion? What were you doing? Seriously, journal it out.

It might not have been winning. It could have been learning or even discovering new tech. It could have been experience with friends. Maybe you have a list of different experiences. But chances are there is a highlight or a theme that you can better engage with. That might mean you keep doing what you’re doing, or playing a better character, or playing more often, or playing less often if at all. Maybe it means backing away from tournaments and all-inning on a tangent like TOing. You have to consider. Why commit to a process that isn’t fulfilling? Why not better engage with the parts that are?

Despite what I think is a prevalent subtextual expectation, “play to win” isn’t a fix-all. Achievement isn’t the sole good of competition. It can actually be misleading insofar as it conflicts with (rather than enables) a stronger motivation.

As such, judging the worth of your experience and orienting your behavior solely around your results is perhaps unnecessary. What is necessary is of course for you to decide. Whatever you come up with, try not to use it as an excuse for laziness. Instead, try to tailor your involvement to better achieve what you really want!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Long And The Short Of It

The Long And The Short Of It
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Soft and I developed a funny shorthand for spotting ineffective attack patterns, especially for floaties. It’s a good way to shift your perspective.

In summary, you can categorize actions roughly (by duration of commitment) as Long, Short, or Feints. Deep or lengthy attacks are long, Shallow or quick attacks are short. Empty approaches or anything particularly flexible that allows you to bait and react quickly can be considered a feint. Note: this is a general construct, not an exact science. There will some ambiguity.

The value comes when you look at sequences and responses. Repetition is generally ineffective and wasteful. A long following a long rarely works. Same with a sequence of shorts. If someone is doing well against attacks, you can introduce more feints. If someone doesn’t respond to feints then you can attack more liberally.

There are far better methods for a more comprehensive analysis, but this is a quick, easy, and immediately revealing way to locate superfluous habits that you might not otherwise spot in real time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Melee Principles

Note: the body of this outline depends on a few concepts that I’ve defined in Key Concepts, including Reaction Time, Relative Frame Advantage, The Unreactable Zone, Reads/Reactions, Risk Reward, and Mixups.

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Melee Principles

1. Everything you do should punish your opponent. (Melee is a game of punishes).


2. There are four characteristics to exploit. (There are four things to punish).

    2a. Errors (abuse his mistakes or ability).
    Misclicks or other unforced errors temporarily take your opponent out of control, as if he is off balance. If pushed, he will fall.
    Similarly, if he doesn’t have the skill or speed to keep up, he will be overwhelmed by technical skill and speed of decision-making.

    2b. Character (abuse the matchup).
    A character is a set of resources. At least some of those resources cannot profitably contest your own. You can develop tactics to consistently beat that character’s options or else avoid them, while consistently engaging in EV+ situations.

    2c. Gamestate (abuse game mechanics).
    These include stage position (by which tactics are locked/unlocked), relative %s (CC/trades from center or from winning), projectiles/timer (who is obligated to act, zugzwang), down-holding, etc.

    2d. Decisions (abuse his (mis)understanding).
    You can interpret his ideas. PE/CP. Interpreting how he uses tactics renders them easy to abuse. You can use feints to counterplay his counterplay.
    A mixup inside of the Unreactable Zone is a game of incomplete information.


3. There are two types of punishes. (Melee is a game of direct and indirect punishes).

    3a. Direct (in this moment).

        3a.1 Reads
        You can interpret his behavior and guess at/simple react to his option to punish it.

        3a.2 Reactions
        You can position to allow yourself to punish overcommitments on reaction.

    3b. Indirect (in a following moment).

        3b.1. Staggered Reads/Reactions.
        Instead of attempting a direct hit now, you can instead contest the next thing he does. Depending on the time you have and the options available/displayed, you can punish that option on reaction or it might require a read.

        3b.2. Positional Punishes
        Instead of attempting a direct hit now, you can move to a superior position/take space.


4. Melee is won by accumulating winning chances better than your opponent.

    4a. Curating EV+ situations while maintaining the flexibility to capitalize on unforced errors or flashes of insight is the shape of a high-level neutral game.

    4b. The stronger your punishes, the fewer winning chances are required to win the game. It’s entirely possible to win a game off of as few as four strong capitalizations.

Key Concepts

Key Concepts
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Reaction Time

Human reaction time determines how Melee is played. It, more than probably anything else determines the actual level of risk attached to any given action in neutral.

While a personal peak reaction time is genetic, it’s better to term that hard-coded peak as a reflex. In this context, a reflex is distinct from a trained reaction. In Melee, how quickly your knee jerks when tapped doesn’t matter. How well you’ve trained your brain to press Z upon recognizing tech in place does. That is to say, your personal trained reaction time is going to depend on training, on your level of focus, and on time of day/sleep/diet well before your DNA comes into play.

Reaction speed is accelerated with the presence of other sense information i.e. you will react faster to a move with a clear sound effect than to one that is silent.

The other relevant concept in regard to reaction time is Simple vs Complex Reactions. In short, if there’s only one possible stimulus to react to (Simple) then your reaction time will be better than if there are multiple possible stimuli (Complex). Accounting for console lag, you can reasonably expect your simple reaction time to hover around 16 frames or so, maybe better, maybe worse. You should test yourself to see. Complex reactions are a bit more complex. The more options possible, the slower your reaction will be.

However, you can often stagger reactions to make a complex reaction simpler. For example, if you are reaction techchasing, rather then reacting to one of the four possibilities at the same moment, you can stagger them according to the time needed to punish, resulting in a sort of setplay in which you react to “tech in place y/n,” then “missed tech y/n,” and finally “which way are they rolling?” This kind of staggering will render a borderline impossible complex reaction a manageable (if still difficult) series of simpler reactions.



Frame Advantage


Frame Advantage is basically “which character can move first?”

There are two main uses for the terminology. First, how hitstun or shieldstun lines up with endlag determines how safe something is on hit. The basic metric is if something is better or worst than -7 frames. If an attack is -7f on hit then it’s shieldgrabbable. Obviously Shine OoS and other OoS options have other values to consider. CC works similarly and normally has better frame advantage than a shield.

Second, you can use frame advantage to describe “which character can move first” in neutral situations. For clarity’s sake I call this Relative Frame Advantage. As characters move around they commit to lag. If one character wavedashes but the other doesn’t, then the character that stood still is not in any lag, whereas the wavedasher has a small amount. That small frame advantage may or may not significantly alter what following options are safe/unsafe because you get that much extra time to do what you like at no risk whatsoever. This concept gets more complicated— but is still intuitively appreciable— if you consider that space takes time to cross. Similarly to how an opponent can’t contest your startup etc if they’re at significant enough frame disadvantage, they also can’t contest you if there’s so much space for them to cross to get there. In regard to frame advantage, space = time.



Unreactable Zone
If we consider space = time with your reaction speed, we get a concept that I call the Unreactable Zone. This is easily illustrated with Fox’s nair. Let’s say that you have a hypothetical average reaction time of 20f. Fox’s nair has a startup of 4f, +3f of jumpsquat. That means that Fox can potentially run/travel for about 12f and nair before you can react to his movement. If you boot up debug mode and look at how far that is, Fox’s reach at 20f is the edge of the Unreactable Zone. If you’re inside of that zone then you can’t react to Fox’s movement before getting hit. If you’re outside of it then you can.

The interesting thing about the Unreactable Zone is that, because of Relative Frame Advantage, it’s fluid. That is, if fox is in 13f of lag from wavedashing, then the unreactable range is cut by 13f, giving you that much more leeway to play around it. We do this kind of mental calculation constantly, so it’s good to be aware and deliberate about it.



Reads/Reactions
There are several ideas to keep in mind in regards to when you can/should guess and when you should use your reactions.

Every time you guess you run the risk of guessing wrong (Frootloop says "Tricking someone always loses to not getting tricked."). Every time you guess wrong you open yourself up for punishment. As wrong guesses stack up your opponent’s winning chances dramatically increase. If you want to win a tournament you have to win a large number of sets in a row. In order to do that you need to be winning a lot more than 50% of exchanges. This is not the case for reactions. You can’t react wrong, you can only react slowly— and if you’re playing well you’ll be able to notice that the reaction is slow in time to stop yourself from overcommitting. This renders reaction punishes much more consistent, i.e. more winning, than reads. All in all it’s generally best to heavily favor reaction punishes over reads.

That being said, there are really two kinds of reads. The first kind is just a raw guess. The second kind is a simple reaction, a sort of half-way point between a reaction and a guess. An easy example is puff reading a roll. Puff can guess that option and timing and press downB as if she had her eyes closed OR she can choose to treat it like a simple reaction, get into position, and press downB on confirmation of the roll. If the opponent does anything else then puff won’t be able to punish and it’ll likely reset to neutral, but this way puff can cover a common option with little to no risk attached to guessing wrong.

Finally, reads/reactions are again complicated in an interesting way by the Unreactable Zone. If you’re at or inside of the Unreactable Zone, you obviously can’t react to all actions or movements. As such, you frequently (but not always) have to guess at what will happen. You have to abuse your better understanding of the MU/the other player/game mechanics/etc and use better risk reward than your opponent to come out on top. If you’re outside of the Unreactable Zone then reads are almost always superfluous and stupid. There’s no reason to guess if you can just use your eyeballs.



Risk Reward

Risk reward is easiest to illustrate using reads but the principle carries over to other parts of the game. Simply put, you want to optimize the ratio of what could go right for you vs what could go wrong. A lot of that is determined by endlag/the duration of moves— A WD uptilt in neutral is safer than a raw upsmash because it has less endlag and is thus much harder to whiff punish, especially on reaction. Unless the upsmash has dramatically better reward attached, the uptilt has better risk reward and is the better play. Similarly, moves that have better disjoint or are for some other reason safer/less likely to trade generally have better risk reward.

The risk attached to a move is usually more or less obvious, but the rewards can be ambiguous unless you’re very familiar with your character’s punish game. Maybe the reward is just two hits, maybe it’s two hits into a 50/50 gimp. It’s hard to say without charting some stuff out. This is one of the reasons that it’s more efficient to develop a robust punish game before focusing on neutral.

Keep in mind too that any commitment costs time and has an opportunity/frame advantage cost. That cost matters a lot more often than you'd think. Doing nothing is usually better than spending that time committing to something low risk low reward.

All in all, risk reward a bit of a complex calculus, but is largely intuitive and definitely a fundamental issue. If a given situation is usually going to work out in your favor we call it EV+ (expected value positive). Stacking up EV+ situations is synonymous with stacking up winning chances.



Mixups

Proper use of mixups is best illustrated by contrasting it with the popular (bad) usage.

Popularly, mixups often refer to options that can be used seemingly at random in neutral i.e. things that you can do. “It’s good to do this sometimes.” This isn’t exactly wrong, but it’s definitely unhelpful. Properly, a mixup should be designed to punish specific options in common scenarios. If you do a mixup on shield then you should have written down on a piece of paper what they can do our of shield, what you can do to cover those options, and have struck out the superfluous/overlapping punishes. This way your mixup is a) informed b) always has really good risk reward and c) deliberate. It will ingrain good, relevant habits and stack winning chances.

I think that using a random “good” option at a random time is a bad mindset. It fosters desperation and can stand in the way of understanding. Instead, I think that you should be trying to proactively cover/punish options, preferably with good risk reward. The better your risk reward, the more situations that you understand to be EV+, the more winning chances you accumulate. Obviously you shouldn’t telegraph your intentions to the extent that you’re predictable, but if you actually understand the options/mixup scenarios that you’re attempting to punish then that’s not an actual concern. This is a distinct and strictly better point of view from “Mix it up. it’s good to do this sometimes,” and leads into the following article, Melee Principles.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Crossups vs Shield

Crossups vs Shield

Content:

Shield Pressure
Why Crossup?
Vs Shieldgrabs
- Delayed Aerials
- Vertical Aerials
Tangential ideas
- Pokes
- Grounded Crossups
- Empty Land Grab


Shield Pressure
By shielding, your opponent severely limits their pool of options. Effective shield pressure exploits this limitation. Shield pressure is fun and interesting because out of shield options are manageable in number and relatively balanced, so the mixups involved are varied and can contain a lot of depth. Within this rough design, crossups can fill a valuable role. However, if misused or misunderstood they can also give your opponent a free punish or out. This article aims to clearly articulate their use and design.

Because different characters have different drifts, fall speeds, and options, crossups will work a little differently per character and even per MU. In the interest of brevity I won’t go into many exceptional specifics. Rather than the universal rules, consider the content of this article as the context.

Why Crossup?
There are two primary reasons to consider a crossup.
First, characters can’t shieldgrab behind them. Even though they can still shine/upB/bair/etc, the absence of high-reward grabs renders shield pressure more effective.
Second, crossups can be used to re-establish footing closer to center stage. Even if you’re hit away immediately after, it’s generally better to be hit toward center than off stage.

Vs Shieldgrab
The process of crossing up after an aerial without getting grabbed can be tricky, but the basic idea is: All aerial crossups are grabbable if they take 7 or more frames to pass behind someone after shieldstun. That sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Shields are pretty wide and that distance takes time to cross. In order to spend less than 7 frames within grab range, you usually need to reduce that distance by bumping shieldstun back and/or attacking more vertically. Let’s look at each in turn.

1) Delayed Aerials
Let’s say that it takes 20f for your character to cross up a shield and your nair has 10f of shieldstun (I’m making these numbers up fyi). If you do the nair early then that still leaves 10f after shieldstun, which is 3 more than it takes to get grabbed. You’re gonna get grabbed basically every time. But if you delay your nair until after you’ve already started to cross up then you can nair when there are 16 or fewer frames of travel time left and your crossup is guaranteed to be safe (from grab). Pretty simple, but often contrary to your muscle memory. This technique is vulnerable to preemptive grabs/attacks, which are rare in this scenario so used semi-sparingly it’s very very strong.

2) Vertical Aerials
Let’s say that you attack a shield vertically from above. If you hit closer to the top of the shield, the drift needed to pass to the back of it is minimal. In this case avoiding the shieldgrab is easy peasy and the difficulty comes from keeping the drift slight/ambiguous enough that it isn’t telegraphed, i.e. if they see the crossup coming then they can just WD/roll/etc and you pull no profit.

It should be noted here that the big caveat to both of these ideas is Shine OoS. Shine is fast enough that usually a spacie player will opt out of any ambiguity and just shine anything that touches them. You’ll have to look at this on a per MU perspective to see how that influences things.

To emphasize: early, horizontal aerial crossups are almost never safe. Because they’re a free grab or bair on recognition they aren’t a mixup so much as a pretty darn low knowledge test. It’s a very common bad habit, particular on floaty mains.


Tangential Ideas:

Pokes
Because of their posture, many characters’ hurtboxes are most vulnerable to pokes at the top of the head or the back heel. On a per MU basis you can err your timing toward a poke during your crossup or at the very least you’ll have easier access after.

Grounded Crossups
If you are running at an opponent and they shield in expectation of an attack, you can instead run through them at which point you are threatening their back rather than their front. You can then punish them directly (by grabbing/attacking their back) or indirectly (by looking to punish their following option on reaction). Grounded crossups work because the opponent doesn’t have the time to react to your staying empty before you pass through them. As such, characters with high horizontal speed can do this well but it is not viable to attempt with slower characters. Should the opponent react to or guess your intention, they can grab or attack into it preemptively.

Empty Land Grabs

Empty land grabs work very similarly to grounded crossups. A well-executed empty land grab is done quickly enough that the opponent can’t react to your having landed empty in time to avoid the grab. In order for this tactic to be consistent, your opponent has to be watching for low aerials on shield. Otherwise they will recognize any emptiness as an empty land and FH away. If your aerials are habitually high then your empty land grab attempts are not a true unreactable mixup.
Note: it doesn’t matter if you empty land in front or behind the shield. In fact, landing behind the shield might make it slower. Usually grabbing from behind is a psychological idea rather than a tactical one.