Fiction talks Smash tourney format changes, including 20-game Grand Finals: "I don't see why we don't do anything like that"


Shephard "Fiction" Lima has irons in many different fires right now. He's developing his game, Breakneck: Emergence. He coaches players and makes some of the most in-depth Melee content available. And he has one of the sickest Falco's in the game. Inven Global had the opportunity to speak with Fiction, to discuss his thoughts on his Falco, the best way to coach Melee players, and his thoughts on changing Melee's format. 

A different approach to Falco

You’ve expressed a lot of optimism about your Falco — that you have a lot of ideas of where to go with the character. What are some of those?


I think there are just a lot of small things you can do to improve. A lot of times, people will sort of play out bad situations where you don't have to. Or there's a lot of laser-height stuff, and an approaching laser versus a slightly different approaching height laser, or a slightly different position laser can change a lot. And I think that's sort of overlooked right now.


Compared with players like Mango, Magi, and Ginger, where does your Falco fit in?


I think I have a pretty different approach to Falco compared to any of them. I'd say Ginger and I have similar ideas about trying to play Falco specifically in a way that makes Falco the strongest. But I think we have different ways we go about that. So we definitely have different opinions, but I think the general style of our approach to the character is closer. 



How do you contrast with the other two?


I think everybody has a different way they approach the game. Mango's just really good at certain baits — so he can play the character messier. He doesn't really try to play completely super optimally. He kind of plays to his strengths as a player, which is very good at getting close into people and stuff like that. But I don't pursue the style. It's a style that he is naturally suited for. And I think you have to play the style that you're sort of naturally the best. 

A different perspective on online play

Recently you talked about getting gaslit in netplay? Can you elaborate a bit more on your mentality approaching this game type?


It's just that when I'm on a CRT, I know that all the CRTs are different, and that's kind of annoying. But when you're on a CRT, the game will be consistent (if it has polling fixed turned on). So the game is going to be consistent. There's never going to be a connection issue. But sometimes netplay does have stutters. Or Windows update could randomly decide to pop up during a match. 


And a lot of times, a connection can have the same ping but sometimes it'll be jittery, and sometimes it'll be smooth. And that's just kind of how it is. And I think that sometimes it's really hard to tell, because you can be playing on CRT and you're missing every input. And it's sometimes hard to tell what's really going wrong on netplay because of that inconsistency. You're like, "Was that a lag spike, or did I just hallucinate that the character is doing this other thing?"


You've been one of the players participating in the freshly-sponsored TMT. Do you see online events like this still attracting players once big offline events are back?


I mean, they're offering a $500 pot bonus. So I will be there. [laughs]


Do you think that's mostly what it comes down to?


Yeah. Like, I'm not going to enter a free netplay tournament. I would rather just practice with some other good player. I don't need practice being in tournaments, I need practice at matchups and stuff like that. But if they're gonna offer a bunch of money — that's kind of how Melee is. You offer a prize and I'm gonna be like, "I can win that." 


That's true for me, I can't speak for anybody else.  If it's like, "Oh, here's three hours of your night where you have maybe a 50% chance to win a few hundred dollars." I'll take it. And I got fourth at that other TMT and I still got like 50 bucks. So I'll show up.


It does seem though that there are quite a few players not attending many online events, though.


It seems like there are quite a few weeklies, at least. There's The Salt Mine and Garbage Connection, and East Coast Fridays and stuff. And a lot of times those have had pot bonuses. They're basically just like a local, and we get decent attendance at our locals, but it's not insane. If it was two or three top players, that's pretty good. It's not like every person who plays and competes in this game is trying to be in a tournament seven days a week. It's a pretty stressful experience. And a lot of times, once a week is enough for people.


But if they're offering money, I will be there. Just saying. [laughs]


A unique coaching opportunity

So speaking of money — you’re one of the most prolific Melee coaches. Not every top player is like that. Why do you think you’re so effective at it?


I think it's because I take teaching very seriously, and I've done a lot of programming tutoring in the past. I just take teaching very seriously, and try not to be like, "Well, I'm a good player. So, therefore, I can teach this."


I think it's something that you have to get better at every day that you do it. And you have to think about how well you really explain something to somebody. Or you see the direction they go, and you kind of realize that you didn't maybe present something quite as well as you could have — stuff like that. I think it's just something that I've ground out. It's something that I don't take for granted — that I can teach somebody Melee. And my general approach to learning options and stuff is probably conducive to being able to teach it, rather than just playing by feel.


The fact that you cite your programming tutoring background — what philosophies there do you apply to Melee?


What can work is just the idea of giving someone a very clear next step. Because there's an infinite number of steps. And trying to lay the groundwork for things is not usually as good as giving people something tangible to do — you can be like, "Oh, these last three tangible things that I gave you: see how they demonstrate this concept?" Rather than just teaching the concept. 


And I don't think about it like, "Oh, I need to teach every person the exact optimal options for situations." Because I'm just trying to show them what is the next thing — what are they missing, basically. That's the way I currently do it, it's subject to change. But that's the kind of approach I take.



You’ve made a lot of jokes about your analysis videos. You joke a lot about how they don’t do big numbers, but in the end, you’ve continued doing them. What motivates you to do that? What keeps you making them?


I think just because I want people to know the stuff. I just think the game is really cool, and I sometimes want to express that. I don't think there's much of an external reward for anyone making educational Melee stuff that's a low level. You're not gonna get anything back. Some people will be like, "Yeah, I started doing a thing because you made a video." "Okay, cool." That's all you're really gonna get. So you have to just do it because you want to make something cool.


Do you have hope it'll gain more popularity? In games such as StarCraft 2, there were popular in-depth analysis videos. Could Melee follow suit?


Hmm, that's difficult to answer. I think I would like it if it went in a more analytical direction. And I think that it definitely is more in that direction than it was in the past. So I could say there's momentum towards that direction, but I don't know what the limit is, or what would be even the limiting factors or anything like that. I don't have enough perspective for that. But it would be nice if it got more analytical. It'd be more interesting.


Would you say the Smash audience has matured a bit from the past for analysis?


I mean, the further you go back the game was very surface-level and casual. The game has become incredibly developed over the years. If you just mention, "This move is this frame." Nowadays, that's normal talk — but that didn't use to be the case. People would not really be down for frame data way back.

An insightful look at Melee gameplay

I wanted your perception of Ice Climbers as someone that knows a lot about the matchup. In some ways, it’s been seen as a dead character ever since wobbling’s been banned. But a character that has wavedashing, jump squat, tech chase, interesting handles, and a complex neutral — is it as bad as people think? What are your thoughts?


I think Ice Climbers are better than a lot of people think. I'm still definitely super pro-Wobbling ban. The character's definitely nerfed by not having the super broken ultragrab. But I still think they're viable. I think they're pretty good.


Where would they rank? Around Samus level?


Probably a little worse than Samus still. Hard to tell. Because they're still not fully developed.


Basically, they just have a lot of options. So if somebody masters all those options, the character can clearly do quite a bit. What people do is they'll just look and they just look at the character's weaknesses. The character will be able to hide those weaknesses really well and make it almost feel like they don't have them.


And I've seen glimmers of that when playing different Ice Climbers players over the years, like, "Wow, okay, this character can really do some stuff." But I haven't seen anybody put it together into a full package, and definitely not at a high level yet. It's impossible to know exactly how good they are. But all I know is that there is a lot more that they can do.


A tweet from you I thought was interesting was you discussing format changes. You said best-of-three’s are trash, with best-of-fives not far behind. What would you like to see for format changes? 


I think best-of-threes are obviously bad. I would be down for pretty fast timers in matches, or at least be down to test it, and play best-of-fives or something like that. Because I think the main issue is that if you're playing a best-of-three, and one game doesn't go your way, you're already fighting for your life. There are a lot of variants in Melee to some extent. You could drop a game to a lot of people. And to be put in a position where you're already on the ropes is kind of extreme. I think it's a lot easier to get an upset in a best-of-three than a best-of-five. 


I understand tournaments not having huge things, but it would be nice if we got more long format sense and more of an interest in it as a way to play the game rather than everything being so focused on a five-game set with clean counter picks. "Marth gets one game for free on FD!" And stuff like that. It just makes the game a little simpler, in some sense, when I don't think there's really a need to always play it out as a best-of-five game.


How would you see that playing out? What sets would we have in tournaments?


I think a couple more games. Think of how many times you see a 3-0. They're pretty common. If that was the best-of-three, that would have been a 2-0. There could be 3-0s that are reverse 4-0s. Your gameplay needs to be a lot more solid if you know there are going to be long sets. Studying people's VODs to look for possible cheese attempts and stuff like that — the shorter the set is, the more valid those are.


What occasions would you like to see that? Something like best-of-nine in Grand Finals?


There's plenty of things like chess, where they'll have a huge number of games. Best of 14 or something like that. They can do that, where it's like, "Oh, we're just gonna take the number one and two rank players in the world and make them play out a World Championship match that's like twenty games long." I don't see why we don't do anything like that. I do understand why we don't do it — because we got a small community and stuff. There's no reason not to do stuff like that.


So grudge match?


Not even a grudge match. But you can do grudge matches too, you know? They already have things like show matches. They'll do it in some streaming event or something, and they'll have like three or four first-to-fives in a row. I think you could just do those and then have it count for rankings.


If we had longer sets, how would players approach counterpicking? Would it be a lot more involved?


I think it's a lot less. That's why I kind of like it. Because the best-of-five, it's this very well-oiled machine. And for the longer matches, you kind of just have to figure it out.

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