Content from 2015-09
The First Year
It's funny that Melee has been a hobby of mine for 2 years and I'm just starting to learn the game. I started getting serious like many do, saw footage of pro players and immediately started practicing tech skill against CPUs.
Then I spammed that tech skill against other scrub friends that also were just learning about the world of SHFFLing. Literally just throwing out moves that are cool in place and hoping the opponent runs into them half the time.
Jump forward 12 months and I've spent a lot of time having fun practicing platform movement, gotten a basic grasp of the hitboxes, knockbock, and lag times of moves for a half dozen characters, and still have no idea how to play.
I became aware that I was practicing tech wrong, I could repeatedly execute techs but not combine them fluidly in combat.
And I was still hopping between characters based on whoever felt good that day though mostly mained Sheik with occasional bursts of Marth or Fox.
The Second Year
Then, I started recording matches semi-regularly but was disappointed at how much my play varied from day-to-day. I still didn't go to locals. And on some level, I still thought my tech was the problem.
Somewhere along the way, I decided that the measure of my progress would be how badly I could beat my only practice partner. I expected to be able to 3 and 4-stock him consistently just as soon as I could get my tech down. You can imagine how that went.
My practice sessions shifted towards working on fluid movement, and more reactionary, thoughtful punishes. I finally settled on Sheik at some point, mostly because it "feels" right.
That said, Max and I still played a lot of Fox and Falcon dittos. He was still the only person I played against. Our play starts to look like two beginners, two bad players, as opposed to just clueless. Baiting starts to become part of my play, I try to recognize and think about neutral. But I still go back and forth with Max.
His punishes have gotten better, his movement is fluid, but more importantly he's thoughtful and adaptive. But I didn't see that. I wasn't pulling ahead, and I was salty about it.
Then, about 3 months back, after a particularly bad night of salty runbacks I decide to change my relationship with Melee. I had been beating myself up for not being substantially better than Max out of thin air.
I thought about the hours I'm putting in and berated myself for not being better than Max already. But what am I really doing to get better? And if I'm not enjoying it, why play?
The Iron Yard was in between semesters so on a whim, and at the advice of various Melee folks, I watched Ping Pong. Skeptical that I'd like it, I plowed through it in 2 days.
Two things jumped out at me about my relationship with Melee:
- My mindset was terrible.
- My efforts were unfocused and misdirected.
Who do you play Melee for?
Some days I just had fun playing Melee, no pressure. More often than I'd like to admit, I got salty when I lost. I didn't want to acknowledge and respect my opponent. And that's not intended as a slight against Max.
It's more that I didn't want to have think about why I was losing, or what I could do about it, what I was prepared to do. I wanted to semi-mindlessly play and get acknowledgement for knowing how to do some flashy things. Hell, half the time I would make myself play when I wasn't in the mood because I'd put in so many hours that I should be able to just "turn it on".
I said all kinds of unreasonable things to myself about melee. And I gotta say, playing to win is a piss-poor goal. These days, I'm playing to have fun and to learn. I don't want to be the best. But I want to get better. And I'm going to have to lose. A lot.
Winning begins with seeing your opponent, and the game, as a system that you may not understand but have to respect.
A Man without a Plan ...
For a long time, to the extent I had goals and a plan to achieve them, it was to practice tech skill and flashy platform movement until somehow I just won.
Now, I'm looking at situations where I fail, finding bad habits and coming up with meaningful alternatives to them.
I'm playing competitively via netplay with new people. People who I win and lose to. People who I learn from. And I'm planning to go to locals every once in a while.
I'll keep it up as long as I feel like it. I'll do it as long as it's rewarding. There really are two goals:
- Get good enough at Melee to make it out of pools at a local.
- Practice being mindful during the game, respectful of my opponent, and kind to myself.
On Expectations and Guilt
I didn't think consciously about my goals in Melee for a long time. I think a big part of that was because I was, for whatever reason, fighting a difficult internal battle with another goal.
Namely, I didn't want to write code as a hobby anymore. I already wrote plenty of code at work and didn't want all my time to be staring into a screen.
But I felt subconscious guilt about this for a long, long time. At some point, I was telling myself I would drop Melee when I was less burned out on programming. But it wasn't burnout.
I never learned to practice or study hard. Partially, that's because I never learned to be kind to myself when I wasn't good at something. I'm learning that now since I'm priviliged to help others struggling to learn to program.
I've spent a large portion of my life tortured by expectations that I largely invent for myself. I've thought of my worth as being tied to meeting those expectations, and being recognized for it. I've worried about being rejected by those I love for not performing, or for not demonstrating my worth.
A huge part of this year for me has been trying to change that mindset. And explore how to live for whatever enriches me, and brings me joy. So far, that's meant more Melee, some ping pong, reflective conversations with dear friends, more time outside, and faith that I can teach my students a bit about the craft of programming. If I'm lucky, I just might love myself yet.
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