Where's Wife?

Real interview I did with a fan/reporter:

Rutherford D. Actualperson: It seemed like for a while there your bespectacled face was everywhere. Now you're a ghost. What gives?

Wife: I know, right? But it's irrelevance by design. I'm actually living out a long time dream of being a full-time spectator.

RDA: Is that sarcastic?

W: No! I used to feel like I had to be around for Melee, you know like to protect it, but these days there are so many passionate and talented community leaders that I'm no longer needed. It's wonderful.

RDA: So you've just walked away? Don't you love us anymore?

W: As if. Melee is as big a part of my life as it ever was - just in different ways. I still watch tournaments every weekend, I frequently attend regionals, and I play Event 51 every damned day. Melee has been a super-hobby of mine for 15 years now, and it's going strong as ever.

RDA: Only now, you suck at the game and nobody pays you to talk?

W: Exactly.

The Astounding Growth of Super Smash Bros Melee

I'm no statistician, but through the shear force of organizing numbers, I do like to keep an eye on trends, especially with respect to growth. Let's take a look together, shall we?

Here is a very simple chart that displays SSBM Tournament growth as peak number of entrants by year:

(Admittedly this doubles as a chart measuring Evo's growth 2013-Present)

Takeaways from this chart pretty much center around, "holy bananas, Melee is growing quickly."
Around 2014 I exclaimed that Melee was "experiencing a renaissance," but I'm not sure that term is adequate in 2016. Alternatively, Smashers have adopted the term "platinum age" to describe the post-documentary era ... but looking at this growth chart, do you really think that's fair? I don't. I look at this chart and I see 2004-2012 as pre-history. 

And the growth isn't just among the biggest (read: Evo) yearly events, it's present across the board. Here are few slightly outdated but wholly jaw-dropping examples from my favorite statistician JuggleGuy:

  • 2015 saw more 300+ entrant SSBM events than all of 2001-2014 combined
  • There were more 100+ entrant SSBM events on 1/24/15 than during the entire year of 2008
  • In 2014 we saw 18 straight weekends of 100+ entrant SSBM events. The previous record was 3.

That's not an explosion of growth, that's a metamorphosis. And this change is forcing us to confront a whole slew of issues we're only marginally equipped to handle, including monetizing, burnout, and international rankings. But let's not digress.

Here's a question: when will this explosion end? Growth like this isn't sustainable - it has to taper off somewhere - but there really isn't data available to predict that. This growth is due less to existing Smashers being mobilized, and more to the introduction of hundreds of new Smashers every year.

Let's take a look at a few annual tournaments that give us data over 2013-2016:

(I made a loose projection for TBH6 which is in Oct)

  • Due largely to the stellar reputation of its tournament staff, TBH grew >100% across each the last two years. But if that same proportion of growth continued, 2016 would see over 3,000 entrants. This is improbable, as a Smash-only tournament lunging ahead of Evo this year is extremely unlikely (though it will definitely happen one day). I've instead projected a conservative growth of 50%, which would still be the 2nd biggest Melee turnout in history.
  • After a massive jump from 2014 to 2015, Evo 2016 Melee saw the smallest amount of growth yet. Is this evidence of growth tapering? Are there only so many Smashers to be attracted? Or could it instead indicate a growing taste for events run by Smashers, for Smashers, as those events evolve? TBH6 numbers (as well as those from other massive fan-run events like SSC16 and G3) will help answer that question.
  • With a growth of -83% in 2016, the downgrade of Apex from supermajor to regional in one year represents the first time the Melee community has collectively turned away from an event. This communicates a great deal to the historian, because it is evidence of the novelty that is a tournaments surplus.

In conclusion, it's a good time to be a Smasher. Smash 64, Melee, and Wii U will each see their biggest tournament ever this year, and will almost certainly repeat the process next year. Heck, even Brawl is getting some attention.

So when Twitter drama has me down, or I'm stressed out by the demands of organizing Super Smash Con, I try to remind myself that this chart exists. I hope it makes you happy, too. Because while happiness is overrated, we ought to take it where we can get it :-)

A Hero Will Appear

Ping Pong: The Animation

I finally watched it, per the insistence of my Twitter feed, and it spoke to me right away. Tempted though I am to write about it, I found more power in the imagery. Drawing parallels to competitive Smash, and showing off my rudimentary Photoshop PowerPoint skills, I created these.

Ping Pong: The Animation is only 13 (22 minute) episodes, and you can watch them on YouTube. It comes with my most emphatic recommendation, even if you've never seen an Anime.


Ramblings, Anxiety, and An Important Question

I’ve been experiencing some anxiety recently around Melee, and my place in it. One of the greatest causes of anxiety is uncertainty, isn’t it? Am I supposed to be with this guy/girl? Should I pick a different major? Should I be doing something else with my life? Even when we’re happy, we tend to ask and ask ourselves what we should be doing. It’s a burden of living in a privileged society - too many options.

You know what happiness is? It’s knowing exactly what you want. Or to phrase it in the inverse, and to quote Mr. Glass, “You know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world.”

Back in the Golden Era, what I wanted was simply to be good at Smash. That was one reason why Smash was the most important part of my life at that time - it was a definable goal in a world of ambiguity and subjective success. Free time? Watch videos of your opponents. Husband’s coming over? What matchups are you feeling weak in. Every minute spent practicing Smash was a minute well-spent ... I never questioned it. That’s what I mean by happiness is knowing what you want.

Then everything went south and I went through an extremely difficult process of grieving the SSBM dream. And then suddenly it wasn’t dead: it was miraculously alive and eventually thriving again. So for me, everything in the Platinum Age is like an afterlife. I’ve had so many dreams about Ben coming back to life, and the feeling I get when I see JuggleGuy’s statistics on record-shattering attendance isn’t terribly different from the feeling I wake up with after those dreams. Except this is real.

So it was easy in the beginning, because my head was just spinning. MLG wants us back - wants me back? I’d be honored. We’re at Evo again? I’ll feel privileged just to watch it from home. 5,000 Twitter followers and an AMA that - if I earned at all - I earned years ago? I don’t even know how to digest that, but sure, great!

Then the devil comes, accompanying uncertainty. I have 10k Twitter followers … what can I do with that? What if I had 25k? How can it benefit me? There’s money being made … but I despise money; money often makes me feel dirty and I know that, but it’s hard not to think about. It’s hard not to think about success. It’s hard not to hear the people singing my praises and think - but how much more could I do? How far can I take this? Doing Twitter is a lot of fun, but before I know it I’m branding my YouTube page, even though I have no interest, I’m designing an entire Twitch brand even though I don’t entirely “get” streaming and always said I wouldn’t, and keeping track of all my social media statistics even though I’m a private person. It’s because I don’t know what the goal is, yet still feel those competitive impulses.

And THERE comes the anxiety. What am I working toward? Without an answer to that question, I end up just feeling lost. Sometimes silly. Which is unfair, because Smash and Smashers have always accepted me as I am, throughout a few different phases in the last 12 years.

So it’s time to answer a question, Wifey: what do you want?


Hey Look, I Found Some More Words

When I'm reading a book and I come across something wonderful, I fold down the page. For this blog post, I pulled books off my shelf and chose five somethings that I wanted to share.

These are words which I have found remarkable enough or powerful enough or clever enough that they stand, in my opinion, as meaningful on their own. You might call these "quotes," but I wouldn't. As we are having this conversation in a blog, I thought we could all agree to be a bit more melodramatic about the whole affair.

Deal? Here we go.

"I believe in nature. Nature is my God. I don't believe in the hereafter. This world is where we get all our punishment."
- William F. C. Nindemann. Arctic explorer, Medal of Honor recipient, and all around badass. Excerpt is from the fascinating and heartbreaking book In The Kingdom of Ice

 "On one side of the river a tower of imperishable granite would be rising straight into the sunlight, while on the other side, mortal men would be descending beneath the tides and into the earth."
- David McCullough's narrative in his unexpectedly compelling book The Great Bridge, which details the massive and novel undertaking that was the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of the 19th century. 

"The noise of the impact, thundering round the planet at a thousand kilometres per hour, probably deafened every living creature not burned by the blast, suffocated by the wind-shock, or drowned by the 150-metro tsunami that raced around the literally boiling sea."
- The incomparable Richard Dawkins painting a picture of the event which likely killed the dinosaurs. From: The Ancestor's Tale, perhaps the most important nonfiction book you'll ever read. 

 "Simon Thibault would never die in a foolish gesture for Edith. On the contrary, he would take every cowardly recourse available to him to ensure that their lives were spent together."
- Ann Patchett's narration in the touching and inspired novel Bel Canto

"If one's actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others, only their rational perception. The person who craves a moral blank check of that kind has dishonest intentions, whether he admits it to himself or not."
- Francisco d'Anconia, a fictional protagonist from Atlas Shrugged. In this and The Fountainhead, author Ayn Rand creates characters endowed with the superpower of super integrity. 

Thank you for reading!

And I don't mean thank you for reading my blog post, I mean thank you for reading words. I hope you'll pick one of the books linked above and give them a shot. Or anything. Read anything; your brain will be better for it.

Here, Have Some Words

I love words.

I love rich, chocolaty words like filament. I love the famed phrase, cellar door. 

I love song lyrics and impressions and accents and books. I've been itching to write another one, but until the proper inspiration strikes, I thought I'd share a selection of my favorite words here.

When Smash was on the come-up I made a lot of sacrifices. I routinely bled for it, every day I sweat for it, and on more than one occasion I wept for it. I lied about it, fought about it, and far too often complained about it. The early years were a constant struggle. But it was a pleasure, through and through, just to be a part the movement. If competitive SSBM had died in 2008, as it nearly did, I would have wrapped up my controller with dry eyes, proud and contented. But it didn't. Everything that has happened in the past few years has been a fantasy, and fantastical. I'd even call our good fortune a blessing, if I weren't an atheist. For me, it has been thoroughly unexpected, profoundly humbling, and . . . well, I often catch myself grinning like an idiot.

Who is Johnny Kim? I wouldn't go as far as to tell you I'm obsessed with Johnny Kim, though it's not hard to imagine why a person might be. I am however decidedly fascinated by him. And every other Sunday Johnny Kim endears himself to me a little more. He appears to be entirely unflappable and just generally immovable. Is he high when he competes? Has he seen some serious shit on the street? Or does he just enforce upon himself a rare kind of discipline, a personal code, not handed down to him but developed out of necessity, which includes three inviolable rules, one of which is "always play with your cards close to your chest"?

Do you know what the worst word is? Should. Found in sentences like "I should go out tonight." Should, assassin of individuality. Should, enemy of the id. Should masks our true feelings and convinces us that the choices others would make are better than the choices of our own. Should is powerful, seductive, and righteous; watch out for this poisonous word when it attempts to convince you to live by a code other than your own.

Juggleguy tells us that 2014 has seen 60 SSBM tournaments with 100+ entrants. And he reports that the previous record, established in 2007, right before the Smash bubble burst, was 14. This kind of growth would be impeccable, if it were growth. But it's not growth, it's explosion. It's not evolution, it's the phoenix out of the ashes. It's not measured expansion, it's a sudden and violent chemical reaction. How can we possibly know how to properly leverage the opportunity we have been gifted? To answer this question, we'll need many great minds, strong coffee, and lots more (proverbial) paper on which to write.

The Mystical Chinese Banana Man That Saved My Best Friend's Life

"Best friend" seems a bit inadequate, so when people meet Erik I introduce him as my "hetero life mate." A title I feel is more thoroughly descriptive, with the added bonus of making people uncomfortable. I've known Erik for about twenty years now, and they haven't been easy.

To paint the picture for this story, one of my favorite stories to tell, the reader needs to imagine Erik as a thoroughly intense person. Like Jack Shepherd intense. When Erik got his first tattoo, he went right for his spine, because he heard it was the most painful place to get stabbed by a needle over and over again. It would be more meaningful that way, he felt. And when Erik learned about the early onset of arthritis nesting in his 24 year-old body, it didn't really occur to him to complain, or to alter any part of his lifestyle. He did things exactly the way he did before, only now they were harder. His sentiment was, "So there's pain - what of it?"

He just stretched several times day, took the multitude of pills prescribed to him, and ate a shitload of bananas. "The potassium" he explains, "is extremely important." Almost without exception, every  time Erik walks into a store he walks out with bananas. He eats them in 2 or 3 bites.

So when Erik and I set off on our first "hard" back country camping trip, as rated by the Shenandoah National Park website, Erik's pack was stocked with plenty of bananas. And tuna and cliff bars and peanuts and a trowel and four flashlights and five knives and his tent and his 9 mm. Again, intense. My pack had some of those things, minus the firearm, plus a few gadgets like the expensive GPS unit and the water purifier, plus a journal to record mileage and wildlife and things. 

The trip was planned for nine miles to the site and another nine back to the car, which isn't so daunting. Just a single night, and the Spring weather would be nice. But a couple hours into day 1, we began to notice how we'd been hiking downhill almost nonstop. Due either to hubris or ignorance, we weren't seriously concerned. It's not like we had to run back up the hill, we could go as slow as we needed to. How hard could walking get?

We found a place to camp on the crest of a hill, with a breathtaking view of the famed Shenandoah valley and plenty of flat ground to pitch our tent. We actually slept pretty well, and at first light we packed everything up, reset the GPS, and began the climb upward. 

It was somewhere between steps 25-30 that I thought to myself, "We've made a huge mistake." My legs were crying out in pain from the downhill hike the day before, and I started doing the math. I considered how much food we had, our access to fresh water, and the remaining hours of daylight - to that I added the elevation deferential between us and our car: 5,186 feet. Not good.

I wasn't imagining our emaciated bodies picked apart by carrion, mind you, as on the way down we saw a troupe of cheery boy scouts who surely would have carried us back to our car like dutiful Oompa Loompas. But even still, for me anyway, the fear was real; we were 1/10th of the way up the mountain and my body was already begging me to quit. 

I didn't say anything because I usually internalize my fears long before I express them. And Erik didn't say anything because he thinks and acts like a Combat Carl. So on we trudged for a little while, until I had my first breakdown. I leveled with Erik: "I'm going to have to leave my pack here on the mountain. I can come back for it next weekend. There's no way I can make it with the pack."

Erik was disgusted by my bargaining, and wouldn't consider it even for a second, even after I begged him. He said, "If you drop your pack, I'm going to carry it. But nothing is getting left on this mountain."

Combat Carl finds a way. 

He told me not to think about the miles ahead, or the depressing nature of the elevation behind us and the elevation in front of us. "Just focus on your next step," he said, "and when it hurts, just scream." And so I started to scream. Which means on that particular Sunday I had cried and screamed before 9:00am. 4,000 vertical feet to go. 

A mile or so later Erik sort of  . . . crumbled. Not in a metaphorical way, but was walking and then like a sandcastle he just sort of crumbled onto his ass. Through a grimace, he revealed to me what he'd been hiding: his arthritis was acting up and his legs, as I understood it, were losing flexibility. I fished through his pack to grab his medicine kit, and he found the medicine he had been prescribed to fight particularly painful attacks,

"You should take one too" he said. "It'll help."

He was not wrong. The next 8 miles were still miserable - we ran out of both food and water, and at times we moved so slowly I was worried the sun would set before we made it up the mountain - but we made it to the top, packs and all. I was emotionally compromised and physically shaking, but we were back on asphalt. In the car, a left on Skyline Drive, and back to civilization.

Except that's when the next attack came. Erik's legs seized up and it was all he could do to veer off onto a clearing on the shoulder. He spilled out of the car and onto the ground, and I looked on in horror as he seemed to be fighting through a considerable amount of pain. He was telling me not to call 911, but it didn't matter anyway because we were still up in the mountains and my phone had no service.

Suddenly, a small Chinese man was beside me. Looking back, I suppose he must have seen us and pulled his car over, but at the time I could have sworn he emerged from the forest. He wasn't ancient, but he was very old, and he spoke in whispy, broken English - and he wanted to help.

Erik got out ". . . bananas"

The situation was already pretty absurd, so I just threw it out there. "Sir, do you have any, um, bananas with you?"

"Yes, yes, wait." He went back to his car, and returned with an entire sack of bananas. There were perhaps three or four bunches of them. Apparently unphased by the sheer improbability of his good fortune, Erik began crushing the bananas one by one and throwing the peels to the side.

Largely useless throughout this whole ordeal, I began collecting the discarded peels. I then took a bunch out of the bag, and tried to hand the rest back to the Chinese Banana Man, but he refused. They were a gift, he said, and as Erik - still flat on his back on the side of the road - regained his sanity and control of his legs, I thanked our hero and sent him on his way.

We made it back home safely. I'm careful to check for elevations now before embarking on a trail.

The moral of the story is this: Thank you Chinese Banana Man, wherever you are.


Me. The Author. @War_and_Peach