6 months ago
Every year, there are a few big WCA competitions, commonly referred to as the ‘majors’. In the odd-numbered years, the World Championships are held, and in the even-numbered years, the European and Asian Championships are held. US Nationals are held every year.
Since 2013, I’ve attended one of these big competitions each summer. This year, my initial plan was to attend the US Nationals, and potentially compete in one or two competitions in the US beforehand. My idea for a 2 week trip very quickly turned into an almost 7 week adventure.
A while ago, I mentioned to Schwan Park (Max’s father) that I was planning to attend Nationals, and I asked whether he knew if there were any competitions being planned in California for the weekend before Nats. Skipping a few steps here, this eventually led to Schwan coordinating a series of competitions along the West Coast of the US – the West Coast Cubing Tour 2018. Some cubers that ended up travelling and competing on the tour were myself, Max Park, Kevin Hays, Patrick Ponce, and Jayden McNeill, amongst many others.
I think the whole concept of a speedcubing ‘tour’ (started by Natan last year!) is very neat, and is something that I hope can continue into the future for others to enjoy – I’ve already had my share of the fun. It gives younger kids the chance to watch and meet fast cubers they may only ever have been able to see on YouTube, it’s an event that people online can enjoy following, particularly with the growth of competition streaming and spectator speedcubing. It also gives cubers the opportunity to practice the skill of competing, and doing so against very tough opponents.
The only slight concern some may have about these events is that they allow specific cubers to have more chances at breaking records and setting great official times in a small period of time. I’m not too sure how I feel about this point – the competitions are all open entry, and anyone could compete in them if they either live in the area, or are able to travel to them. So, the question transforms slightly into: Is it fair that better-resourced/supported speedcubers, or speedcubers who live in competition-dense areas have more opportunities to compete? Again, I have no strong opinion either way – I can see how it’s unfair, but can also see how trying to equalise things would be very tricky. The only way to really do it is impose an annual competition limit or something like that.
WEEKS 1 + 2 – CALIFORNIA & RENO (July 8-18)
That’s all besides the point though. I ended up arriving in Los Angeles on the 8th of July, where I’d be staying at the Parks’ family house with Chris Olson, Sarah Cook, and Jayden. Pictures and videos are way better than words for this, so I think the best way to check out how the California + Reno competitions went is Chris and Sarah’s epic 46 minute vlog on YouTube.
My results at these competitions were mixed. I had a few nice 3x3 rounds at the first two competitions (LA and Fresno), winning the first two rounds at each of those competitions but not doing the same in the finals. 3x3 at Cupertino was slightly worse, failing to record a sub 7 average. PRs in Megaminx, 7x7, and 3x3 OH were the more positive results from these comps, as well as a victory in 2x2 over Jay and Chris in Reno!
Big thanks to all of the competition organisers who put on such excellent events.
WEEK 3 – SEATTLE (July 18-25)
The final competition of the tour was to take place in Everett, Washington. Max and his family returned home before this one, and Jay and I travelled up to Seattle to stay with Kevin and Zach White for a week.
Kevin was kind enough to take some time off work to show us around Seattle a little bit. On the first day there, we walked around downtown, visited the Space Needle, and went to Pike Place market. It was definitely a nice break from the California heat, and we ended up walking almost 20km on that day.
SnoCo Summer 2018 was a two-day competition, held on Friday and Saturday. The competition ran absolutely perfectly, and felt very relaxed despite hosting over 100 competitors. This was definitely my best 3x3 performance in competition ever, recording a worst time of 6.68 seconds over all rounds. Something I’m trying to think about a little bit are the sorts of factors that influence my competition averages. I’ve noticed that my sup 7 averages seem to come in groups – this has been the case for the last 12 months or so.
My guess is that with good sleep, proper lighting, a warm room, hardware feeling good, at least 15-20 minutes of warmup, and no outlier distractions or reasons to be nervous (eg major championship finals), then I generally do my best. Of course, it doesn’t always happen that all of these factors combine at once, but they definitely did at the SnoCo competition. Or, maybe I just got decent scrambles and cases in my solves :p
I also think that confidence is a really important thing in competition. At SnoCo, I was basically thinking about breaking the WR average every single round, whereas at other competitions on the tour, or in Australia, I often find myself thinking about my times so far, and what I need to beat Max, or avoid losing to Jay.
SnoCo was a great confidence builder heading into US Nationals for 3x3, and it was especially great to get some head to head practice in the finals there. Speaking of head to head, the European Championship finals took place on Sunday morning US time, and despite only getting 2-3 hours of sleep, I was glued to the TV for most of the final afternoon in Madrid. Shoutout to Mats for the excellent recovery after the first 3 solves and the win. It was very intense to watch, particularly knowing how people could save their averages with the easy final scramble. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to watch head to head finals take place.
In the days after SnoCo, we went to the Capital Hill Block Party, as well as drove to upstate Washington to check out some of the scenery there. On our last night, we went to see the Mariners vs Giants baseball game. I barely knew anything about baseball, but enjoyed the atmosphere and the stadium.
WEEK 4 – US NATIONALS, SALT LAKE CITY (July 25-31)
Before I knew it, it was time to head to Salt Lake for the US Nationals. We flew there on Wednesday afternoon, and I competed in the staff competition on Thursday.
A few people asked me why I was on staff at US Nationals this year. Firstly, it was always something I wanted to do at a big competition, and secondly, it would hopefully provide a few insights and things I could suggest for Australian competitions, particularly as we try to expand our Nationals and host next year’s World Championships. Ultimately, I only ended up staffing for Friday and most of Saturday, because I had to compete for the whole day on Sunday. The scale and professionalism of the US Nationals competition was incredible, better than any competitions that I had previously attended.
The competition itself was very intense, with guys like Mats, Michal, and the Weyer twins coming across from Europe to participate. In the semi-finals, Mats placed 5th with a 6.98 average, which is pretty absurd. My goal was to try and podium in my main events (3-7, OH, and Megaminx), and I fell one place short, finishing 4th in OH by 0.01 seconds to Patrick Ponce. Still, it was very very hard to be disappointed, given what happened in the 3x3 finals. This was the first time that I’d ever recorded my best average at a major competition in the final round. Looking back at the replay of the solves, number 2 and 4 had reasonable lockups during F2L, but I was bailed out by a couple of nice LL cases. Sometimes the timing/distribution of your last layer cases can be the difference between a good and bad average.
Here’s a video clipped from MentalBlockTV’s stream of the finals, featuring commentary from Patrick, Weston, David and Kevin (aka the boys). Fair to say I watched this one a few times afterwards. Thanks to Chris Wright for clipping and sending it to me, making my job very easy.
Hopefully my time between US Nationals attendances won’t be 4 years again.
WEEKS 5 + 6 – ROAD TRIP (July 31 – August 15)
In the two weeks after US Nationals, I went on a road trip with a bunch of Dutch guys who insisted on all shaving our heads. Safe to say, I will not be doing that again.
One funny moment of the trip came when we were at Bryce National Park. A guy came up to our group and asked if we were cubers, citing the Cubicle logo on Mats' hat. After we took our hats off and introduced ourselves, did he recognise us. Turns out that the Cubicle logo is more recognisable than Mats and I combined! :p
Speaking of, Team Cubicle shared a few words and pictures from the trip in an article on their website.
WEEK 7 – TAIWAN (August 17-22)
So, I nearly didn’t make it in time for the first day of this competition. Departing from Salt Lake City, I had two flights to Taipei. The first one was with Delta, from SLC to San Francisco, and then an Eva Air flight to Taipei. I booked the flights with ample time to change terminals and re-check my bags, about 4 hours in total. Before leaving, I checked the flight history for both flights – the Eva Air flight seemed very consistent, always getting to Taipei at some stage between 5 and 6am. The Delta flight on the other hand, had been massively delayed on numerous occasions. That’s exactly what happened again, and after stressing out on the plane and running to the international terminal in SFO, I managed to check in for the flight to Taipei with 10 minutes to spare. All good!
The competition venue in Taipei was awesome, up on the 17th floor of an office building. The practice areas and waiting room overlooked parts of the city, the stream was shown on big screens all around the room, and there were plenty of decorations and extra touches which made the comp very special.
One of the highlights from the competition was the special Asia vs non-Asia event, which pitted internationals against Asian competitors in various events. We got destroyed, I blame Tomoya and James Macdiarmid :p
Again, my goal for this competition was to try and podium in my main events (3-7, OH, and Megaminx), and this time I missed it by two places – 4x4 and 3x3. My 4x4 finals average was plagued with parities, my counting solves had OLL parity, double parity, and double parity respectively. I was a little bit annoyed by that round, given that I had been warming up really well before the finals. 3x3 got off to a terrible start with a +2 penalty, and I never really recovered from that. Starting out with a bad solve is a real killer in big finals. It means that you can’t afford to make any mistakes for your remaining 4 solves, which adds further pressure to the finals pressure which already exists. Congratulations to Max on the clutch final solve, and to Nahm for the back-to-back Asian championship titles!
I also had time for a day of sightseeing with some other cubers in Taipei, after the competition.
That’s about it for now, if anyone has any more specific things they’d like to hear about, or any questions about the trip or competitions, feel free to ask in the comments!
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