Pressure, by its very nature, is not a bad thing in itself. Pressure, and the stress that accompanies it, is actually one of the best tools in motivating people to not only accomplish tasks, but to elevate the quality of those accomplishments. Much like anything else, though, too much pressure (and in conjunction, too much stress) is never a good thing.

I’m feeling stupidly pressured about a Smash 4 tournament tomorrow, and I think I’m approaching that negative line.

I’ve been playing Smash since the beginning of it all, the N64 release. It was a semi-random purchase at the time - a game that I assumed would be somewhat fun to play during the occasional break from Goldeneye. Seemingly overnight, though, it became the mainstay of the system for my friends and me; when Perfect Dark was released the next year, it briefly usurped Smash, but that was fleeting. We played Smash all the time. We recorded ourselves playing Smash on VHS tapes so we could watch it later. We came up with character additions we wanted to see. The release of Melee only intensified things for me, and it was during this age that I entered my first competition. I was confident in my abilities at Melee, given that I was regularly the best among my group of people. I figured I might not win the competition, but I’d do well.

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Long story short, I got wrecked. Or “rekt”, if you prefer, though the beatings I took predated that term by quite a bit.

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Around this time, I realized something that was hard to digest - I would never be a truly great Melee player. The advanced techniques that people used weren’t outside my grasp, but I had neither the time nor the inclination to devote to them. I resigned myself to being a merely decent Melee player and life went on. Brawl didn’t do much to change the situation - I enjoyed the hell out of the story mode and played the multiplayer sparingly with nearby acquaintances.

Smash 4 has changed all of that.

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When I talk to people about why I love this version of the game so much, the first thing that I always quote is that it’s so much more of a mental game in a lot of different ways. It’s still true, as in any fighting game, that some characters are better than others, but this game rewards intelligent play more than the previous iterations have. The underlying mechanics give most characters at least a chance to excel, and strategies for the game have changed repeatedly over the last year, particularly as new patches are released for the characters. Before the game even came out, I’d chosen the character that I wanted to play - easily the most menacing of the group.

The Villager appealed immediately to me, just because he seemed so different from all the other characters. Mario punches people in the face! Link slashes people with the Master Sword! The Villager... ... shoots slingshots, plays with sticks, drops bowling balls, and plants trees. The sheer ridiculousness of the concept sold me on the character long before I’d ever tried the game.

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My time with the Villager extended from the release of the game on the 3DS up to my first tournament. I was relatively confident in my Villager, and he did... ... relatively poorly. I began to search for alternatives. My interests fluttered over to Pikachu, the mascot for adorable rodents everywhere, and I gave him some time until I finally found the character that I’ve stuck with for months now:

Yep, I play this guy.

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He’s the very definition of “high risk, high reward”. Very few of the other characters in the game can rival his attack power... while he’s on the ground, anyway. Once those feet leave the ground he’s a great deal weaker. Predictably, playing as him has forced me to improve what’s called my “neutral game”, which is a fighting game term used to describe a scenario when both characters are generally even in terms of stage control and pressure. Over the past several months, I’ve got from “scrub” to “passable” to what I now consider myself... “moderately skilled”. People have noticed, to an extent. I generally attend two weekly tournaments - one a couple of hours away in Maryland, and one more locally in Virginia. Some weeks I do pretty well. Some weeks, less so. My best result at this point stems from the Maryland tournament, when I took 5th place one night.

Recognition, in of itself, comes with its own pressure. Tomorrow is a tournament called “The Arcadian”, unique in that any players who are or have been previously “power ranked” (recognized as being one of the top players in the general area) are ineligible to compete - think of it, in basic terms, as an tournament for non-professionals. The organizer of the tournament released his predictions for the event, and he is predicting me to finish in the top 5 of it. ... Out of 128 people, that’s no small feat.

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I think I can do it. There will be plenty of good people there, but I have confidence in myself, and my playing ability. ... For the most part. Earlier today, I went back and watched some of my past matches on YouTube, to try and identify missed opportunities or bad habits. I found a few, and then suddenly I began questioning everything I had been doing. The pressure has been building all day. I’m genuinely nervous about this tournament, and about living up to the expectations of not only the organizer, but myself and anyone else who might be watching me.

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Reading the YouTube comments didn’t help me, either - Little Mac is looked down on by most people (because most Little Macs don’t take the time to truly learn the character and get good with him), and a fair number of people remarked on their perception of my skills. In one part of my head, I know that these comments don’t mean anything. The internet provides a forum for people to comment on things without having any kind of knowledge of the topic whatsoever. But part of me worries about their comments being true, about choking and playing poorly.

Then I realized that compared to other people out there, I have it easy. Well-known game players (and athletes, and anyone in the public eye) have this kind of thing to deal with on a daily basis. Ten people might leave comments about me on a video; thousands might leave comments for somebody else.

My current plan for the rest of the day and tomorrow is to just relax. I’m going to spend the evening doing... well, pretty much, whatever I feel like doing, and try to get a fair amount of sleep. This is my first experience with any kind of gaming recognition and it’s been an interesting situation. Do any of you have any advice or tips for how to deal with it?

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If there’s any interest, I’ll follow up this post to let people know how I did. Hope all you TAYers have a good weekend!

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Update, 10/21/15 - the follow-up to this post can be read here: