Glass Ceilings Hurt
The tournament started out good enough. You know how at the beginning of Metroid Prime 3, you've got a lot of your old abilities (for once) and right away you're confronted by your biggest enemies (Ridley & Dark Samus)? Well, my first match was with the winner of my last tournament.
Back then, I was completely unprepared for the Zangief mirror match. It never even occurred to me. I was put against him early in the competition and proceeded to get steam-rolled. As fate would have it, he ended up winning the tournament, and he was nice enough to offer some training to me. We got some more mirror matches in, and although it took a while, I finally started to figure out what advantages he was taking.
Back to present-day, I've become quite knowledgeable on how this match works. What's more, I had an advantage. I'd been practicing Zangief's new ultra ever since I had heard about all the perks to it (invincible while aerial, beats out a lot of problems, and I later learned it's most deadly while I'm recovering). I'm convinced that in the mirror match, Siberian Blizzard is superior to Ultimate Atomic Buster, because the best thing Zangief can do to a downed clone is to jump, leading into whatever the player has planned during or afterward. Given proper buffering, Zangief can easily get an inch off the ground into his Ultra, stopping just about anything that would happen above him. My opponent, well he was still stuck in the old days and hadn't mastered the new ultra yet. He was only able to land the ground ultra when I was helpless, while I was free to bring out mine quite by surprise (he did try one genuinely risky attempt, though I was prepared with a jump). I've actually grown quite fond of this mirror match, because I find it a lot of fun.
I do not mean to state any of this as a taunt to the guy, as I'm sure he's reading this. However, this victory gave me a huge boost of confidence that I might actually win this thing. I was a little racked when he decided to counter-pick Guile against me, though. I know this matchup well, but it's still a problem. Guile can play in a great variety of ways against Zangief, and surely enough, it took me a while to figure out his strategy. Fortunately, I've practiced this classic bad match-up heavily, and I managed to throw out just about every trick I know to beat him (barring an EX glove into Sonic Hurricane).
Unfortunately, I don't remember my next match quite so well. All I remember was that it involved a Ryu player who apparently was unfamiliar with how to get in at Zangief. I probably had a bit of a fear aura going on at the time. I have to admit, I've had numerous people tell me that Zangief is just plain scary, especially mine. He got some good hits on me, but Ryu is one of the most popular characters to play. I've played with all manner of them, so I took this one down without much issue.
At this time, I should note something that had been happening in the meantime. Most of the gallery was rather unimpressive. I saw a lot of good gameplay, but I knew I could take most of them out without any problem. I had practiced most of the matchups, and the characters that give me problems did not show up often. Strangely, that was because they showed up... together. On at least 3 separate occasions, I witnessed Boxer (Balrog) vs. Blanka matches happening. This made me a little giddy of course; no matter the outcome, it would work out in my favor. Unfortunately, the more I watched, the more I saw Boxer winning. It didn't even matter the matchup. I did not witness a single Boxer loss. Granted, there was a monitor I wasn't watching at all, but this scared me to no end.
The next matchup was very much a surprise. It was against a Claw player, a character who just a few days ago managed to get me in a match of almost exclusively wall-jumps. I was a little frightened, but I had to see how this guy plays. They really do play very differently for each player, although some combos remain the same. All that I can really say about this match is that I look forward to getting a rematch. He got the win, but it was a close fight the whole way. This isn't over between us. ;)
I recognized my next player right away, and I was initially pleased. He had come out to most of my Stonefire tournaments, and the last time I played him in Janesville, I clearly had him eating out of my hand. He was intimidated and I knew it. I made a point to say very little, and let him think I was the calculating genius he remembered. He was also very mute; there were no words to share between us. We knew each other too well for that. We would do this in the ring.
Then it hit me. I was against Boxer. I was dreading this, but if I was to win, I knew this would be an inevitability. I went with my Zangief and let the chips fall where they may. I knew that Siberian Blizzard would be useful for little more than headbutt bait, but I realistically could get a focus crumple for Ultimate Atomic Buster. I was running through all my memories of Boxer to formulate a plan against him, and hoped it would work out. Surprisingly enough, it did. He was making a bunch of mistakes, and I think I convinced him he could not beat me this way. I couldn't believe my fortune, but I certainly wasn't going to say anything for fear he should stay as he was. I simply put on a bit of psychological pressure by picking my character as required, but vocally claimed my right to change the Ultra if I deemed it appropriate. The tournament post did not say I could do it, but I checked before starting the tournament to see if it was legal (I had heard EVO used this rule, and tournaments tend to follow that).
I was rather stunned to see that his next pick would be Sakura, but I enthusiastically went with Siberian Blizzard. This turned out to be the game-breaking play. At the end of the last round, I had piledrived him and used Banishing Flat (green fist) to get close as usual, all the while buffering in the command for Siberian Blizzard. I expected him to anticipate a grab, and would jump to counter. He tried an EX Reversal Shououken instead, and once my Ultra animation happened, I really had no idea what would happen. Right there, in the middle of the tournament, I learned that she's aerial for that move during her first hop, and that's when I had caught her. I couldn't have done any better with it if I tried.
At last, I hit my brick wall. For the first time in a very long time, I had absolutely no idea what I was up against. My opponent picked Boxer, but he used a style against me that I've never seen done before. The whole thing was over before I had a chance to think, and I'm sure he planned it that way. I never did more than 1/4 damage to him. Gouken is who I typically use to counter Boxer, but nope, the exact same techniques got me a second time. I got the guy's screen name and hope I'll be able to train against him in the future. This whole thing did a number on me, though. I think he literally knocked my Zangief into next week, because it'll probably take that long before I'm ready to play again. Clearly, that guy is on a whole level above myself, and I'll have to be able to beat him consistently if I am to break through that glass ceiling.
The time that followed was a long symphony of mediocrity. I was mostly just existing there, though I did get some casual play going sometimes. It appears that I was the only one who had wireless internet access, so I provided my Xbox for the "cross-tournament" that had apparently been going on. I entered the HDR tournament just because I could, and I already considered my money to be all gone, anyway. I hadn't played it in months. I hadn't expected to win anything, and the one tournament round I did win was a big surprise to me. It's not like I was really depressed, just not motivated.
I probably would've left much earlier if I had my own transportation, but because I was being transported by another, I was stuck. I ended up just sleeping the last few hours away. I was trying really hard not to be a prick about the whole deal, but this tournament did mean a lot to me. Still, I think I did well enough that I'll be willing to risk a future investment (if I can).