Collaboration and Playing for Someone Else

This past month led me to try something I never really cared about in the past, which was Melee doubles. For a long time I found static teams in Melee interesting, especially when I first started playing the game and there were teams like Armada & Android and PewPewU & SFAT. Being an avid sports fan before playing Melee, it made more sense to stick with one teammate and improve as a whole instead of swapping teams every tournament. However, most top players didn’t see doubles the same way as me, making it difficult to get invested as a viewer, and without a static partner of my own playing teams didn’t interest me.

When I went to the Smash World Tour Championships in December though, I decided to enter the doubles tournament with Akir (who I’ll be referring to as Joey). We hadn’t played much doubles together in the past, nor did we prep for the event, but I still thought we could perform well. As the event went on, I noticed how, despite Joey being much better than me, I still served an important role on the team.

Joey was designated as the person who would be more active during the games and play in front, while I would assist and play further back. I had the goal in my mind to stock tank so Joey could continue being aggressive and create winning opportunities, but I also helped make those approaches safer by jumping above him to cover an opponent trying to punish him. Joey held grabs longer so I could stomp and set up a combo, or I could cover less tech and recovery options to get a harder punish since I had him to cover the other options.

It felt like he covered the holes I normally had in my gameplay when playing singles and he could amplify his own play since I was able to stop him from getting punished as hard as he normally would. Maybe I’m exaggerating sitting back, throwing out “zoning” aerials, and shield grabbing people into a tech chase while Joey did all of the hard work, but it felt like we had individual roles that supported our team effort.

This is quite the opposite with group projects and collaborations in many other aspects of life. Instead of being a team effort, most of the time one or two people often end up doing most of the work while the others “forget” about meeting at the library and completing their part of the assignment. A computer science project from last semester was so frustrating that it inspired a salty tweet where I had these same complaints.

Even when a group project works and everyone contributes equally, it feels like each member is isolated from the others and rarely combines to create a greater result. It’s quite literally a sum of its parts, not a product that required collaboration to improve its quality.

I’m upset with how most people view collaboration as a way to freeload and, as a result, I prefer working on my own for a lot of projects, because when larger projects work it feels amazing. As a tournament organizer, bringing together streamers, graphic designers, commentators, volunteers, and players to create a unique event that everyone enjoys feels incredible. Playing Ultimate doubles at my college LANs until 7 am (shoutouts to Sumgai, Pilot, and whoever we can find as a 4th player) is fun because I’m sharing the victory with someone else. Programs have more meaning when you share the frustration and triumph of finding and squashing 10 bugs in Python with others.

Which brings me back to Smash World Tour. When I only beat one player in the singles event, I was disappointed in myself and my placement, but I quickly got over it and knew I had a lot of areas I could improve in if I wanted the results I was aiming for. In the doubles event though, there was someone else who was affected by how I played. Joey put his trust in me to be a good teammate when he could’ve chose someone better, and I didn’t want to let him down by playing poorly and not making it out of pools like we wanted to.

I wasn’t just playing for myself, I was playing for someone else.

The nerves I felt in every set were unlike any other, but I felt more determined to win than ever before. With every stock I lost my heart pounded louder, and when we sent our opponents to the blast zone the tightness in my chest eased, if only a little.

No opponent felt unbeatable. Even against 2saint and Jflex, the team that ended up winning the event, we played to our strengths and had a two versus one advantage in the second game before Jflex was able to win and sent us to the losers bracket.

When Joey and I defeated our final opponent in our pool to determine who qualified for the top 16 bracket, I was ecstatic. I accomplished what I wanted to for the event and I got to share that moment with my best friend. It was far and away the best part of that weekend because it wasn’t just about me, but about him as well.

After Smash World Tour I started going out of my way to play more doubles with Joey online, which is a horrible thing when your teammate lives 1,000 miles away from you. Unfortunately, it will be a while before the two of us can compete again at an event together, but I’m starting to understand why people get invested into Melee doubles so much when I couldn’t years ago.

While I lost my faith in collaboration a while ago, maybe it’s time I start believing in that again too.

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