I had Tweek beat me up for an hour in Ultimate to train for Mainstage 2021
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I’m what other Super Smash Bros. Ultimate players call a Wi-Fi Warrior, an online oaf or an ethernet-less heathen. I only play Ultimate from the comfort of my own couch, waiting to fly off the handle at the next punk who hits the “Well Played” auto response at the end of destroying me with Falco.

I’ve never played at a LAN tournament, but that will finally change with the Ultimate tournament at Mainstage 2021. I’m done sitting through a broken online ranking system. Is it really Elite Smash if I have to avoid Incineroar’s Up B Cross Chop five times a minute? It’s not, but the real thing is going to be so much worse for me.

Still, I couldn’t throw myself into the deep end without some swimming lessons, first. So, I turned to Gavin “Tweek” Dempsey, one of the best Super Smash Bros. players in the world. He was last ranked No. 3 in the Panda Global Ultimate rankings with high proficiency in characters like Diddy Kong and Wolf.

“I don’t play [Quick Play],” Tweek said of Elite Smash as he tossed me around in-game. He mainly trains in private arenas with other top players. “The ruleset just isn’t competitive.”

Training with Tweek

My experience playing online in Quick Play and in Battle Arenas wasn’t going to cut it once I stepped foot in the Ontario Convention Center on Nov. 13; I needed to learn quickly. I hopped onto Metafy, a platform where you can hire players for short coaching sessions, and looked for some of the best players in the world. I’d always struggled against speedy characters like Diddy Kong and Fox, so Tweek was the ideal coach to help me improve before the biggest moment of my brief Ultimate career.

Tweek Mainstage 2021
A preview of how I’ll perform at Mainstage 2021 | Provided by Aron Garst via Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

I main Samus, fresh off an appearance in Metroid Dread, as I have with every Super Smash Bros. game since 1999. Samus is a zoner, which means I use ranged attacks to trap my opponents. That stood in stark contrast to Tweek’s in-your-face characters like Diddy and Wolf. At least it meant playing against him would be good practice for tough matchups.

Tweek and I spent a few moments getting situated in Discord before jumping into a match, but I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen Tweek play dozens of times before in tournaments like Smash Ultimate Summit 3, where he took on other top players in the world head to head. I had also never seen him fight Samus, but it was clear he knew the matchup well. When we started fighting, he closed off nearly every angle of approach, making it a miracle every time I landed a hit.

Slow and steady

“Slow it down, a lot of your decision making is pre-emptive,” he told me as he effortlessly tossed Samus around Pokémon Stadium. “The great thing about Samus’ projectiles is that you can use them to be reactionary and cover space. You can use the missile as insurance to your approach. You can dash up and react to how they deal with it.”

I’m a frantic player, a hyper aggressive guy that rushes at his opponents full speed. I rarely use my shield, which is pretty stupid of me. Playing someone of Tweek’s caliber brought that stupidity to the forefront of our games. Tweek told me I’d almost certainly need to change that heading into the tournament.

“If someone else matches that style then it could work,” he said, without breaking a sweat. I celebrated whenever Tweek made a minor mistake, giving me an opening to deal a couple percentages of damage.

Tweek Smash
Tweek defeated Leonardo “MkLeo” Lopez Perez 3-0 to win Smash Ultimate Summit 3 | Photo by Todd Gutierrez for Beyond the Summit

Tweek is a mad man with Diddy Kong, using his banana as an extension of the annoying little monkey. He barely gives you any room to breathe, trying to make sure you’re always on your back or in the air. I hope I don’t have to face another tiny monkey this weekend, though Tweek did reassure me a little bit.

“Diddy Kong is strange in that he’s not popular online,” Tweek said. “But he’s really popular with top players because he’s been good in every Smash game.”

Tweek wanted to play with his food before eating. Up one stock, he used Diddy Kong’s recovery, the Rocketbarrel Boost to fly from the left-hand side of the stage to the edge on the opposite side. He flew across the arena, leaving a trail of smoke in his wake, before making a sharp turn and headed straight into the abyss below. He was trying to grab the edge of the stage, but it didn’t work out. I didn’t do anything, but it was comforting to see him work on his mechanics as I fumbled with mine. Even pros have work to do.

Metafy, Ultimate and Mainstage 2921

Metafy has become a go-to coaching destination for players at all levels, for those who want to get better and those who want an extra stream of income. Tweek said he tries to do two lessons a day on top of streaming on Twitch and training with other pros.

“It’s really nice that Metafy is there to give me another side of consistent income,” Tweek said. “You can’t just rely on tournament winnings. Metafy is going to give players the funds to travel to more tournaments.”

Other top players in the world, like Mexican wonder Leonardo “MkLeo” Lopez Pérez, also use Metafy to help develop as coaches and competitors. Tweek said that the two of them have found that guiding others helps them pinpoint their own mistakes. That experience has helped both players bounce back in major tournaments, even when they were down 0-2.

“It’s easier for me to notice mistakes thanks to me being a coach, not only a player,” MkLeo said. “I feel like the player isn’t able to focus on every mistake or habit in every game.”

Tweek stayed collected during our session, letting me ask questions as we played dozens of matches back-to-back. Outside an addiction to Pokémon shiny hunting, Ultimate makes up a huge part of his life and he is happy to coach anyone at any skill level — even this hopeless Samus — if it meant more time in Ultimate.

I asked Tweek how he thought I’d do at my first LAN tournament and he hesitated before answering. A number of factors could impact the result, with the biggest one being who I faced and how well they know Samus. He said he couldn’t give me a prediction. I told him that I’d see him in the top eight. He laughed.

“I have to get there first, too,” he said.

You can see Tweek compete in Ultimate at Mainstage 2021 from Nov. 12 – Nov. 14 at the Ontario Convention Center in Southern California. Some matches, including Top 8, will be streamed on the Beyond the Smash Twitch Channel. Maybe you’ll see me there, too.

Aron Garst looks at esports from a different point of view by tackling the ways games are molded and broken by players around the world. He covers Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, and everything else for Upcomer. You can read his previous work at WIRED, Rolling Stone, ESPN and elsewhere. Rise up red sea.
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