Hello friends. My tag is Surge and I’m a Melee player from San Diego. In this guide I hope to introduce you to the base-level concepts of effective trash talk, such as how to pretend you were just kidding, how to not get kicked out of the venue, how to not lose all your friends, and most importantly, how to live with yourself afterwards. As someone who goes 0-2 in weeklies, being a snarky little shit is a critical skill, and I hope to impart my wisdom onto a future generation before I stop doing this shit and get a real hobby.
Before we get into the most optimal ways of talking trash, we need to explore a few underlying ideas that help us understand our context. As we follow the canon of Melee think-pieces and “social guides” that nobody asked for, like those from the minds of such greats as Tafokints and Nicholas M. Whittier, we must instead take care to not take this all too seriously, lest we ourselves become the subject of marathon roasts on the internet. Melee is a party game for children, and we should constantly recognize ourselves as embarrassing man-children (or women-children!) for playing it at events for money and recognition. Any trash talk surrounding Melee should be light, fun, and reflect the low stakes and inherent absurdity of our time sink of choice.
This helps to lay the foundation of what is undeniably the cardinal rule of talking trash in Melee: If you’re serious, you lose. Shitposters and memers should already be familiar with the position of being loose and vague enough that people can’t tell if you’re joking, and it’s an ideal position to take if you’re tryna start some shit. If no one can tell if you’re serious or not, they run the risk of looking like they aren’t “in” on the joke, and as our primal, hunter-gatherer brains know, being on the outside of the group risks isolation, death, and missing out on all that sweet caveman ass.
This is known as Tactical Ambiguity, and in case you’re not familiar with being a complete loser on the internet, it’s how all the cool kids post online. Think of this as you might think of ideal positioning in an RTS — as long as no one can pin you down to a single position, you always have more options than if you had said anything of value. For example, let’s say you claim to enjoy playing against puff. If you’re able to say this in a way that’s intentionally low quality, you can always rescind and claim that no one enjoys playing against puff, which is objectively true. If no one calls you out on that, continue to claim it takes true skill to play the puff matchup, as a joke. The flexibility is that you can claim you meant it however you want; because you posted poorly on purpose, you were either kidding, or not kidding, but always appearing casually indifferent. Only you can tell, and thus you have the flexibility to later commit in one direction or the other as the discussion develops.
This skill is essential for effective trash talking. Not only does ambiguity afford you the flexibility of plausible deniability, but the bit of mystery allows your opponent’s imagination to fill in the gaps, letting their own latent feelings of fear and inadequacy bubble to the surface. The idea comes from their analysis and not your words, which is much more powerful. It’s like Inception, if Inception were about a bunch of losers getting mad at the Ice Climbers.
Once you feel that you’ve got a grasp on tactical ambiguity, we can move on to the act of lobbing verbal trash towards another. First of all, however, it’s important to make sure you don’t take things too far. Don’t say any legitimately offensive shit. We’re playing video games for children, nothing that will ever happen in or around a tournament will justify saying something racist, sexist, or bigoted. You’ll look like a dick, and someone will probably try to cut you while you’re carrying your CRT back to your car.
Keep your trash talk light; ideal topics include region, choice of main, opinions about Pokemon Stadium (it’s shit), and moms.
Don’t just tell someone they suck, either. Someone better will come along and shit on you, guaranteed. It’s a losing strategy. When questioning an opponent’s skill, you must do it by throwing shade: subtle, indirect jabs that leave them questioning exactly how you meant it. Maybe struggling with edgeguards is something that a Falcon main would say. Maybe you can’t imagine how Fox could struggle in the Peach matchup, just on the heels of someone complaining about Peach as Fox. This is a skill that comes with time and learning just the right gentle touch, much like rolling a joint, or eating a taco without all the fillings falling out.
“But surge!” I hear you exclaiming, somehow “I don’t understand how you can be bad at talking trash, don’t you just insult the other guy?” Similar to how the best strategy in Smash might be to “not get hit,” you are right in the simplest possible way, but missing the nuance. You could call someone a loser and tell them to kill themselves, but this is akin to spamming forward-smash repeatedly — predictable, easily punished, and unimpressive. Just as you must use tact, good timing, positioning, and subtlety to win in Smash, you must also use these skills to roast someone so bad that they rethink the sum of their very being.
Let’s examine a few difficult exchanges. The brave netplay warriors of San Diego Melee were generous enough to share these terrible roasts with us, so we might analyze and learn from them.
This seems pretty straight forward, and this might even resemble your current shit-talk game, which is okay! We’re here to learn. Unfortunately, like Hbox’s Fox, it’s a pretty mediocre effort.
As we can see, the overt insult really just makes you look mad. Looking mad is bad because it’s a committed emotion and we’re more flexible if we don’t commit. It would be much better to come from a place of cool control. Instead, we can create an insult with more tact but a similar message by making it implied in our statement. If we want to refute the notion that our opponent should provide advice, we could instead say, “wow r u a professional melee coach?” This both underplays your commitment to the game and forces the opponent to ruminate on his own perceived skill. However, our subject here has already lost the war of casual indifference long ago if he had indeed been “taking friendlies so seriously.”
Here’s another example from netplay. This is better than the previous example as the poster at least attempts to make the burn less direct. Where this poster falls short is context: posting your roast in general chat means it’s important to you that others see it, and relying on others for validation implies that you don’t already have it from them, and just like that, you’re in the outgroup. Everyone can smell the desperation on you like the sweaty sock miasma on a garage tournament. If an audience is part of your play, it’s doubly important to retain a detached persona to offset the implied need to be heard by others. In addition, when an audience is incorporated into your trash talk, they ultimately decide who is the roaster and who is the roasted. This poster might have messaged him directly and been much more successful.
Let’s look at something a little more nuanced:
At the core of this tweet is tactical ambiguity, Chroma doesn’t look like he’s taking it too seriously, which good argumentative positioning, and he phrases it as a throwback to a legendary tweet by Hax. Additionally, he posts it out for everyone to see, which usually implies desperation — but he evades this by making it not directed at anyone in particular, through astute observers can use context clues to show us exactly who he’s talking about. This level of subtlety, tactical ambiguity, and casual indifference is what we should reach for in our trash talk.
Keep these points in mind, and you can easily see your trash talk game improved, which is a hell of a lot easier than learning some actual tech skill. The last bit I’ll leave you with is to just have fun with it. You’re playing a kids game, be open to a little spicy banter. I’d encourage you to review this guide before attending majors, locals, or just kickin’ it at a smashfest with the boys, as your trash talk game is your only hope for salvaging your ego after going 0-2 to a PR player’s tertiary and a wobbler named BONERLORD.
Join us in part two, as we graduate to advanced trash talk and double down on all the reasons our parents don’t bother asking what we’re up to anymore.
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