I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately regarding consistency in tournaments, and I have to say it’s one of my strengths as a player. Keep in mind, this is NOT a guide on how to get better. It’s a guide on how to play your current best at every tournament.

Create a Routine:

I’m going to start by talking about a movie a saw a couple of years ago that you all may have seen: Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I only saw it once, and I hope I don’t butcher any facts. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Jiro is a man who runs what is arguably the most reputable Sushi restaurant on the planet. People clamor to end up on a waiting list a month in advance. Even then, you only get on this waiting list if you called on the right day of the month, with a Japanese speaker doing the talking, and with the right kind of tone so as to let them know you are worthy of the culinary honor they will be bestowing upon you. It’s serious food, made by a very, very serious man.

The main character leads a life that is lived through a constant pursuit of perfection, and he comes closer every day that he lives. The success derived from his dedication, discipline, and ambition could not be denied. I mean, he is the man behind what many consider to be the best sushi worldwide. It’s strange, but I never expected to find any parallels between his ambition and my own.

His art: sushi.
My art: Super Smash Brothers Melee

One of the best takeaways I gathered from Jiro was his insistence on maintaining a routine. Every single day he would wake up at the same time, take the same train to work, and walk the same path. When he’d select his fish, he’d deal with the same fishermen, and taste the fish himself to ensure he was getting only the highest quality of food. Hell, even some of his employees were stuck making one kind of sushi for years, only being allowed to move on to something new when they perfected it.

I recognized the genius in his approach. He minimized the variability in his life, and pinpointed areas of weakness with surgical precision, all to come to one end result: to make the best damn sushi in the world. I don’t go through the same extremes as Jiro, but I do what I can to apply his thinking.

I wake up at the same time before a tournament to arrive at my desired time. I make sure I play 1.5 hours of friendlies before the bracket starts. I refuse to work-out on tournament days so as to keep my muscles in a fresh state. I drink the same energy drinks in the same quantity spread out in the same timeframe during the day. I play easy friendlies during the easy parts of the bracket, and work my way up to more difficult competition as my bracket gets tougher. I get my hand-warmer before every match, no matter how inexperienced my opponent is. I stage strike no matter what, even if my opponent claims to know exactly where we’re going to end up.
Opponent: “Want to just start on Battlefield?”
Me: “No. Let’s stage strike”
*Starts on Battlefield anyway*

My purpose in doing this is so that when I have a bad performance, I can pinpoint the exact reason I failed. If I got my sleep and got my warm up, what went different today that caused me to lose? Was I talking crap on twitter before a big match, leading to an unfocused mindset? Maybe I should cut that out. Now, a lack of social media trash talking during bracket will be a part of the routine.

I don’t expect everyone to benefit the same way from my routine mentioned above, and there are other parts of my routine that I haven’t mentioned. Also, my routine will constantly be tweaked until I see myself getting 1st place everywhere I go. For example, one time I drank coffee and played amazingly. Another time, I drank coffee and played horribly because I was too jittery. Eventually, I found the amount of caffeine that helps me focus without putting me over the edge. I used the same approach to find the perfect amount of warm up time that gets me ready without burning me out.

Find your routine, tweak it, and see where it gets you.

Be Performance Oriented, Not Results Oriented

Often times in my career I found myself worrying a lot about the result of a match. What happens if I lose? What happens if I win? Where will I be ranked? Will people make fun of me? Will I confirm their suspicions that I’m washed up?

In order to win, you have to understand one extremely important fact: the possible result of the match has absolutely no bearing on whether or not you’ll win the match. The only thing that leads to a win is how you perform.

In other words, the possible result of a match has nothing to do with how you’ll win a match.

So, thinking about anything other than how you’ll perform is a waste of time, and it’s actually disastrous to your tournament mindset. When I won my first major Socal tournament since my return from retirement, I actually thought nothing of the pending accomplishment during grand finals. I was about to win a Mayhem over several top 25 players, and I didn’t think twice about it. In fact, after I had won, I seemed almost uninterested in the victory. People asked why I wasn’t more excited, and my response was that my lack of excitement is the reason I got there to begin with.

That being said, it’s not easy to forget about the implications of a tournament match. However, I have a few mental exercises/thought processes that will help you calm your tournament nerves:

– No one ever died from losing a video game tournament match. If you lose, you’ll still wake up in the morning, you’ll still get to play video games, and you’ll still get to enter another tournament in the future. You will get another chance.

– Opinions are fickle. This time two years ago, I was a washed up veteran. A month and a half ago I was a shining sponsorship prospect. Last week I wasn’t top 24 material. Today I’m a top 8 EVO contender. Maybe after EVO I’ll be the guy who drowned in pools. With so many different opinions going around, should I really consider any of them during a tournament match? Absolutely not. My only concern is how to play my best at that moment.
– Think of overarching strategies that apply to the match. You can’t possibly know exactly what your opponent will do in advance, but you can ground your jumble of thoughts into an overarching, cohesive idea. For example, when I play X player, I’ll tell myself “if he laser camps too much, shoot missiles to force him to defend before you approach”. Or, when I play MacD: “don’t jump at him when he lands on a platform.”
– Laugh when you’re nervous. I know it seems silly, but when your heart is about to jump out of your chest as you play your first streamed match, and your brain is about to explode as you think about all the tech skill you need to implement, just laugh. Laugh at the idea that you’re more nervous about a video game than you were about asking your crush to prom. Being nervous about a game is silly and dumb. Just laugh, grab your controller, and play.

To conclude, I hope this helps some of you overcome tournament nerves and I can’t wait to see some new faces make an impact at EVO. As always, play your best out there 

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