Mentally Dealing with Large Talent Pool Intimidation

By Kevin “PPMD” Nanney of Evil Geniuses

Hey guys! I thought I would write my next article based off of some feedback for what YOU all asked for and I think this topic hits close to home for both new players and high level players alike. Consider the following: you are a new player coming to a local tournament where you’ll be up against people who have honed their skills for years and maybe some have performed very well and their YouTube videos have tons of views. That’s pretty intimidating! This fear doesn’t exactly go away when you level up though. When most players go to EVO, MLG, Apex and try to get into a small portion of the bracket they have to go through players who have all possibly played for years, have home field advantage, have the crowd behind them, use a character you struggle against, and/or possess skills that might counter your own. It feels like any one of them could take you out with little remorse, then the same feeling of intimidation strikes. Now that I imagine I have many players’ attention, I want to say that there are real ways to deal with some of this worry. I cannot go into everything possible here, but I will highlight a few mental techniques, which have provided me and others in many walks of life relief and confidence to beat their opponents. Changing your scope of the competition, trying to beat the guys in front of you, and a sharpening or reminding of your own solid game plan, should be fine starts to bolster anyone who is trying to take competition seriously.

The very first issue that should be addressed is one of scope. Feeling like there is a sea of people who are out to get you will overwhelm anyone! The truth is though, that at a given tournament, you will only have to play a small fraction of the people who are actually present no matter what. If you imagine yourself having to play 5-15 people instead of the 50-700 people that might be at the event, it feels much more doable. This is partly because the comparison feels comforting, but it is also because you can then begin the second step to handling your tournament worries.

That next step is breaking your tournament goals into smaller steps. In a broad sense, this type of thinking is great because no matter how difficult your long term goal is you can always simplify it into smaller goals to achieve right now and in a little while. In the context of tournaments however, it is a great idea to consider that you only have the next guy to beat instead of thinking you have every person to beat. Break your process into steps. When I first broke out at a national almost 5 years ago, I was concerned about the high level of talent there. I was very worried about how the bracket would turn out because I wasn’t very well-known, but I wanted to prove myself. I knew I had to play Darc, a strong Jigglypuff from MA next, and with the support of NC and zeroing in on him I only thought of beating him. That was way more productive than worrying about every other good player there. They weren’t my opponents! It didn’t matter what Mango or anyone was doing at that tournament at the time because in order to play any of them, I had to play Darc first. As I focused in on him and got my support, I felt more certain and began to solve the problem of beating this particular strong player in front of me.

My method of solving the problem of the next opponent is applicable to everyone at every level of play. This solution is to go back over your game plan. It sounds silly, but your own knowledge is comfortable and is also your source of advantages in the match. It makes sense to have it as close to the surface of your mind as possible. I’m not talking about sitting in a corner, reading notes or reciting everything you’ve ever read about a matchup to yourself, but even a simple reminder can do wonders for confidence. When you know what a matchup is like and what you can expect, you can know what to expect of your opponent. If he is a Falco, he’s going to shoot lasers and try to mess you up once you shield. If he’s a Jigglypuff, I had to remember he would be playing slower and be looking for me to make mistakes, so he could kill me. Meanwhile, I knew I could catch Jigglypuff if she landed on the ground with lasers. If I stayed safe, but did some grabs I could not take any huge risks while being able to punish hard if I got any openings. This type of thinking really calmed me and even though I was still nervous. I was now certain I could handle it if I executed what I knew very well.

I ended up having an incredibly nail-biting set with Darc and managed to clutch out a 2-1 come from behind victory, which helped propel me into the Smash spotlight! I am certain that the mental techniques I describe here helped reduce my helplessness and gave me some of the confidence to succeed. A quick note about anxiety and tournaments: some people might be incredibly nervous before events while others might not wake up until it’s time to compete and thrive under pressure. There is no one “best” way to feel. However, having a relatively clear mind and being focused on your immediate opponent, while having some level of confidence is a terrific aid to success in any walk of life. I highly encourage you to try out these strategies as well as find others and that will lead to a great performance! Remember to reduce your scope, your short-term goals and opponents, your own game plan, and you will be surprised at what you can achieve in competition.

Follow Kevin on twitter @EG_PPMD