The Importance of Work

I’m the kind of person who might see a blog just like this one and wonder, “Does this person really think people are reading this?”.  Part of me is just really curious about the state of mind of that particular blog writer, the mentality of writing and writing in the desperate hope of gaining a readership.  But that’s looking at the blog and its writer in the wrong light.  Sure, that DOES happen, where a person wants the be seen and read, but what can all to often be forgotten or overlooked is the value in doing work for the individuals sake.  

Starting to write is hard.  Sitting down to do some task that isn’t inherently easy or quickly rewarding can be nearly monumental at times to start.  There is a large part of me that would rather be watching YouTube or playing a game right now, two things that can bring immediate gratification without any effort at all.  But unfortunately for me, doing those things doesn’t really satisfy me in the long run very often, especially when there isn’t a balance between those activities and other ones.  Writing, working on chores, planning tournaments or other events, these things are tougher to start, even tougher to finish, but leave a lasting impression on my mental state of having accomplished something worthwhile.  That FEELING that doing those tasks gives is SO worth it that you could do work that ultimately is not valued by others, gives nothing to the community, and maybe even seen as a total waste of time by those around you, and it would STILL be worth it.  Very worth it.  

Understanding the feelings and motivations that go into you as a person are very vital to actually BEING content and feeling productive, especially for a person like myself.  I might wake up in the morning and think “I have a whole day to do whatever I want, so playing video games and eating junk food seems like a great plan!”  And in some ways I’m right.  There isn’t anything inherently wrong with doing that.  But for me as a person, I WANT to feel like I’m working towards a goal.  I WANT to feel like my actions matter to others.  And I cant ignore those wants just because they are hard to work on.  The work itself on those feelings is worth it every time.

Sometimes that work isn’t appreciated and sometimes that work ends up being thrown away, like the time spent didn’t even exist.  But it DID happen, you DID do the work, you learned from the work and you FELT the energy that comes from doing work on things that matter to you, and everyone should understand that THAT FEELING is what is the most important part of work.  Feelings matter a lot more than most people think, so don’t forget.  

So if you have something that you want, get to work.  Don’t think too much about how that work will be received, don’t think too much about what that work with accomplish, don’t think too much about all the things you could do instead.  Do the work and feel the feeling of working.  Enjoy it, become addicted to it, learn from your work and use your knowledge on your next work project.  You can only go up from here.

Cultivating Habits

So habits can be good, as we established in ‘Are Habits Good or Bad?‘.  As a player you’ll want to form habits of actions like combos and techniques that are almost never bad.  But some habits fall into a part of the game where if your opponent knows your habit they can punish it.  ‘Always down throw at low percent’ is a pretty good Ness habit, but what about ‘always nair when a player hits the back of my shield’?  The first habit involves a scenario where you are in total control, so the habit will rarely get punished.  The second habit is an escape from a somewhat dangerous situation and while it may work in many cases it’s still able to be punished.  Is this habit BAD?

To answer this, the best way to view any habit is as a tool.  In Smash, your character has tools, their move set and attributes.  Habits are tools but for you as a player.  Habits are mental shortcuts that allow you to perform better, but they all involve risk and reward, just like any move, and you should never take any habit for granted.  Examine your play for habits to determine which to try and fix, and which to keep.  Watch replays of yourself in slow-mo, take note of your actions and try to see where you are making guesses, making decisions, or simply executing a habit.  And when you find habits, and you will, evaluate them based on how well they work in that situation and in future situations.  Some habits are good for certain characters, certain stages, and certain percentages.  Keep in mind too that even though a habit is a good one, knowing your habits can keep you from being surprised when someone figures your habit out.  Tools are as good as their use, so even a really good habit could be exploited, and if you know your habits then you can also figure out how to adjust when your habit is being punished.  

So now you have an idea of your habits, and probably a fat list of bad habits you have, what now?  The next part is a pain, but you’ll be a way better play for it.  Expose yourself to the scenario where the habit is used, and practice doing ANYTHING else, or nothing!  If you jump from the ledge too much, train against CPUs and put yourself on the ledge a lot.  Then make an effort to take all the other options that you can.  That was the easy part, part two is playing real players and exposing yourself to the habit scenario again.  Do the same thing, take alternative options than the one your habit built.  Let them know about your habit and ask them to punish it as best they can, but sometimes they won’t be able to, so don’t rely on them to punish the habit out of you.  Work on taking control of the habit situation so that you regain the decision process for that moment, or form a better habit for that scenario.  

Bad habits can be hard to unlearn, so don’t skimp on the practice.  Make sure that you have good control of the situation before heading to a tournament setting.  Habits have a…habit of resurfacing when you are under pressure.  Don’t sweat it, it’s totally normal but it does mean you need more practice!  Don’t give up on beating the habit out of yourself and continue to actively monitor yourself in tournament matches to watch for progress, or regression.  

Keep practicing your habits just as you would for any other tool in your arsenal.  Keep track of your habits and know that sometimes people will punish you, but be ready to adjust.  Everyone has bad habits, its how you deal with having them that makes the difference!

Are Habits Good or Bad?

Part 1 of 2.  Part 2 is here.

Nothing can make a player feel more helpless then when they lose a match and their opponent tells them, “You’ve got bad habits.” ‘Bad Habits’ can be used as a catch-all term for anything your opponent punishes you for, but lets look deep into this idea and see how you can avoid this dreaded position. It may be impossible to fully escape having bad habits, but as we’ll see, having bad habits isn’t as bad as simply not knowing what your bad habits are.

A habit is defined as a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”  Habits are naturally formed when people do almost everything as a form of energy conservation, if you form a habit about the way you tie your shoes you’ll have to expend way less mental energy every day when you tie them.  The brain looks for any way it can to form habits that can be helpful to simplify mental tasks, but of course your stupid brain cant tell the difference between a good and a bad habit sometimes.  Habits are still good overall though, even in Smash.

The way people talk about habits, you’d think that the best way to play Smash would be totally habit free.  That way you couldn’t be read! (Not true btw)  But no, habits are actually amazing at making you a better player, which I will touch on briefly here but I really should write a whole article about it!  In short, habits are mental shortcuts that allow us to perform complex actions automatically and conserve mental energy and allow for faster reactions.  Have a habit of down throwing as Ness when your opponent is at low percent is a pretty good habit to have.  It will often make your reactions faster at seeing the grab connect and pressing down fast, reducing the time that your opponent can mash out.  So when you start out, you may have to think about down throwing, but as you play more and more the action will become more automatic and faster which can free up mental energy for thinking about the followup.  In Tennis (one of the closest sports to fighting games) players have been shown to expend more mental energy at the semipro level then at the pro level, which is believed to be because the pro players have so much more of the game as a habit.  They don’t spent time thinking about how to do a backhand, they’ve done it so many times that it’s totally automatic!

So habits are both good and bad, but overall they are necessary for high level play and should be cultivated in practice at all skill levels.  But how can you know a good habit from a bad one, and how can you make sure you form the good ones and get rid of the bad ones?  Find out in the exciting conclusion of my blog on habits!

So habits can be good.  As a player you’ll want to form habits of actions like combos and techniques that are almost never bad.  But some habits fall into a part of the game where if your opponent knows your habit they can punish it.  ‘Always down throw at low percent’ is a pretty good ness habit, but what about ‘always nair when a player hits the back of my shield’?  The first habit involves a scenario where you are in total control, so the habit will rarely get punished.  The second habit is an escape from a somewhat dangerous situation and while it may work in many cases it’s still able to be punished.  Is this habit BAD?

To answer this, the best way to view any habit is as a tool.  In Smash, your character has tools, their move set and attributes.  Habits are tools but for you as a player.  Habits are mental shortcuts that allow you to perform better, but they all involve risk and reward, just like any move, and you should never take any habit for granted.  Examine your play

 

Slumps

Slumps happen.  To everyone.  Well now that we have that out of the way, let’s work on what you can do about it J.  A slump is a time when you don’t seem to be performing at the same level that you expect yourself to, or maybe you aren’t getting the results you feel you deserve in tournament.  Often times a player will focus on one factor to blame for a slump, and this focus can blind them to a real solution.  Even thinking you are in a slump can, oddly enough, be the source of the slump itself or at least keep it going. So let’s see what can be done about different types of slumps!
All slumps look the same from the outside, a player is down on themselves about not playing as well as they’d like.  It can be that they aren’t placing as highly as they once did at a tournament, they aren’t beating the players they once did, or maybe they just physically and mentally feel less able to play the game than they once did.

In the first case of not placing as highly in tournament, keep in mind what I mentioned in ‘In Control‘, tournaments are a crazy place where a lot of things can go wrong for you.  All of the blame cannot be on you, but that doesn’t mean you are blameless.  Focus on what you control, practicing playing the game while also identifying problem matchups that you may run into often at this tournament and find a solution for them.  Don’t become too self-critical, make manageable goals towards self-improvement and keep going forward!  Create a positive mindset, this slump you’re in is just an unlucky streak and odds are that it’s about to end.

If you aren’t beating the players you once did, understand that you aren’t the only player that’s looking to improve.  Ask them for some advice, talk to other players who play your character or who play with your opponent a lot and take some notes.  Don’t rely on the hope that you just won’t encounter them in tournament, make a plan to beat them and create confidence for the situation.  The feeling of having planned to play a certain player or character will HELP you play your best and defeat them.  A lot of these games are mental, so do yourself a favor and prepare mentally.

If you are in the unfortunate place of feeling physically and mentally less apt at the game, you need to take a look inside.  Often this type of slump comes from the things that cause other slumps and really goes to town on your confidence, making you feel weak and unfocused.  Firstly you need to spend time practicing the game in training mode to get used to the way the game works, start with the basics and slowly work up.  Build confidence in your hands one step at a time.  Next you need to get some confidence in your mental game; I’d recommend playing with some different players of all different skill levels to reset your idea of your game.  Sometimes it’s best to play some players of a lower skill level to build some confidence too; it really works for some players.  Talk to yourself about how everyone feel this way sometimes and that soon enough you’ll be feeling better, just like if you were having a bad day. It can even help you if you take a small vacation from the game or hold off on playing your main(s) for a bit, the time away can give you a new perspective on the game and even help you develop new strategies.  But whatever you do, know that you are more than capable of playing the game at a high level and if you put time into it you will reap the rewards.

Slumps are only a portion physical and the vast majority is mental.  Create a plan for practicing the physical aspects of the game, and work on your internal dialogue, especially what you say about yourself.  Don’t talk shit about yourself, talk to yourself like you would to a friend or teammate.  “You can do this.”  “He just got lucky.”  “Let’s go practice that matchup.”  “We’ll get them next time!”  And you will.

In Control

In ‘Practice the Things You Hate’ I mention that you have a lot more control than you might think about your emotional state and the things that can affect you.  While this is still true, there are many things that you can’t control in fighting games and you should do your best to learn when to let go and when to take responsibility.  Telling the difference between the two will save yourself a lot of grief, and let you focus on better things to work on as a competitive player.

When you go to a tournament people will ask who you lost to.  When you go to a regional people will ask if you made it out of pools.  These kinds of questions inform us as to what is important about what happened at the tournament!  But how much control do you really have about what players you play, what kind of pool you got, and what characters you ran into?  Not much at all.  If you are lucky enough to be seeded then that can help quite a bit, but other than that its luck.

Rather than focusing on details that aren’t really under your control, ask yourself after each match and each tournament how you did personally.  Did you play your best; did you give it your all?  Were you prepared for the type of tournament it was?   Did you have a game plan for the matchups you encountered?  By asking questions in this way, the responsibility of what matters is squarely with you, and the rest is just circumstance.

Now of course skill is a huge factor in any tournament, and making excuses should never become a habit, but you have to know when to take responsibility and when to let go.  When I played a player who played a character I didn’t know, yes it was a bit unlucky.  He’s the only dude who plays him in all of NorCal! So I can’t get too down on myself for having to play him and losing. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to practice that matchup for next time.  I’m simply reframing what happened to facilitate my own improvment without focusing on extraneous factors.

The next time you go to a tournament, ask yourself specific questions about your performance.  Did you feel prepared?  Were you able to relax? (I’ll link to the blog about Dealing With Stress here later) Were you able to execute?  Did you play as patient as you needed to?  Focus on the parts that are in your control and take each match into consideration on its own, you’ll feel better and will be less inclined to get down on yourself.  Stay motivated and keep improving!

 

Practice the Things You Hate

Generally things like training and practice are not things you enjoy.  Maybe it’s because we wouldn’t call it practice if we enjoyed it, we’d call it play.  Training is a huge part of any serious competitor’s climb to being a better player; it’s where you hone your physical and mental skills between tournaments and serious matches.  It’s good ok? Trust me!  So you sit down to train, what do you do?  Practice some combos? Some movement? Jump online for some For Glory?  Some of these things are WAY more fun than others and you probably spend a disproportionate amount of time doing the fun parts rather than the other stuff.  BUT THAT’S WRONG and here’s why!

People generally like aspects of a game that they do well, and dislike aspects that they don’t do well.  Do you enjoy comboing someone? Chances are that you practice comboing someone!  Do you hate timing someone out? I bet you’ve not put a lot of time into timing people out!  By looking at what you enjoy and don’t enjoy you can learn what parts of your game may be weak and in need of practice. The best players are the ones who see in themselves a weakness or a hesitation towards a certain aspect of the game and do something to change it.

For example a player I know has some stages that he hates to play on.  So when he practices he makes sure those stages get picked a lot.  He even goes as far as to tell people that he loves those stages, and brings people there during tournament matches!  That’s a great way to get over your fear of a stage or anything you might dread.  Telling yourself that you love a stage can help a lot too, acting as if can change your mind! (!) It can also make your opponents scared to pick a stage that they may normally counter pick you with.   All of this gives you a big psychological edge on the competition.

Turning a weakness into a strength can also be a source of pride for certain players and be downright fun.  As a Dedede playing in Brawl, I had a lot of trouble playing against Falco players.  But I lived near a great Falco player and traveled to his house to grind it out for hours, getting way better at it.  While I was never quite on his level and frequently lost that matchup to the great Falcos, I took a lot of pride in destroying anyone who thought they could counter pick the character against me without a lot of practice first.  A matchup that endlessly frustrated me suddenly became one that was really fun and dynamic to play.

Many weaknesses are only weaknesses if you let them be.  Work on them; turn them into points of pride and revel in the challenge instead of dreading them. You are in control of a lot more than you give yourself credit for!

Taking Advice

Learning to play Smash Bros better is tough.  As simple as it would be to just play a ton and try and be a good player all on your own, it turns out that other people can be insightful and teach you a lot.  Woah.  But it’s never as simple as all that is it?

Firstly, why should you take advice?  Very simply, people can offer you a perspective that you might not have.  Even if you think you are the smartest Smash god to every grace our good earth, you can’t always look at problems and issues the way other people do.  Even if your friends don’t always know what they are talking about, or don’t even play smash, they might say something that will get you thinking in a different way.  And asking for help isn’t all that hard…or is it…

Asking for advice can take a certain type of courage to do.  Smash is a game where a lot of emotion can come into play, and a lot of ego.  Like I mentioned in the article on Pop-offs, the whole community is charged with feelings, as you would expect with any serious hobby that takes up as much time as Smash does.  So asking for advice on Smash is like asking for advice in other parts of your life, it can feel like you are admitting a weakness as well as inviting criticism that could feel pretty cruddy.  Don’t be fooled, it is these things, but the growth that can come from exposing your weaknesses will make you even stronger and more knowledgeable about the game than you could be going solo.  Just like you should seek out strong opponents to learn to play the game better, since they will exploit your weaknesses and bring them to your attention the way another player may not, getting advice from many knowledgeable and skilled players can do the same.  Unfortunately for your growth, asking for advice is not nearly as fun as playing the game, but if your goal is to get better then you’d better get comfortable with the uncomfortable.  Often the things you don’t want to do are the things you need the most to get better, because people tend to enjoy the things you already feel skilled at. (!)

So now you are an advice seeking champ who takes shit from EVERYONE, but wait, who are the people who give crappy advice or just want to tear you down?  It’s true that sometimes people are going to give you advice that you shouldn’t follow, so understand a few reasons why they may not be being helpful.

Firstly and most obviously, some people might not know what they are talking about and will give you one reason for what’s happening and it’s just not true.  Always double-check any information that you are given whenever you can, fighting games can have a LOT of misinformation going around.  If they tell you about a habit you have, ask others about it to see if others see the same habit just to be sure.  Simple stuff.

Secondly, people can have some screwed views of the way you play, especially if you ask for advice right after some matches or when they have lost to you.  They may still be emotional charged, or as the kids say, ‘butthurt’, and even if they mean to give you honest and helpful advice they may tell you things that aren’t helpful because they are angry.  For example, if you rush someone down and beat them pretty easily a few games, then lose a few games, then ask for advice they may tell you, “All you do is rush in so I just countered it to win.  You should really mix up your game more and stop rushing in.”  There may be something to their advice, you may really be rushing in to single-mindedly and that makes it easier to be read.  But clearly your strategy has some merit if it won you some games so you shouldn’t abandon it altogether like it should like he suggests, but perhaps mix in more games of playing patient, or only starting your matches with aggression where it might overwhelm a player before they catch on to your ploy.

There is a fine line between being humble enough to take advice and having the confidence to believe in the way you play.  You can’t always change to the way others want you to be, and you can’t be so confident that you won’t change.  Strike a balance.

Some players aren’t the type that can offer good advice because they just aren’t the most cerebral of players.  They don’t ACTIVELY think during matches, so when you ask why they made a decision or why they punished you the way they did they might not know how to answer.  Lots of people play this way and there isn’t anything wrong with that, but they often are at a loss for advice.  For players like this, asking different types of questions can work better.  Instead of asking “Why did you favor using bair instead of uair in that situation?” you can ask a question like “When do you feel threated by my character/me?” or “What’s different about my play rather than this other guy who plays my character?”.  Asking questions that are more about the FEEL of the match rather than particulars will sometimes be easier to answer, and they are still great questions to ask that can teach you a lot!

Finally, some players may not be forthcoming with advice for whatever reason.  In a somewhat small community like smash, it can be hard to get advice on specific subjects when most of the people who play a certain high level matchup just don’t want to talk about it. Maybe they don’t like you very much.  Maybe they just don’t have an answer. Maybe they think that giving you advice will help you beat them next time, which I will write about at a later time (!)  You can’t force them to help you, all you can do is try and become friends with them, ask them some different types of questions, or move on.  Don’t take it personally if someone can’t help you!

Now go out there and ask for some advice!  Oh, and if you think of a way that this blog could be more useful to you or you have an idea I missed, let me know in the comments below or on twitter 🙂

Sponsorship

The dream of getting paid to play games is alive and well here in Smash land and how can you cash in on all the free* money? Let’s talk about sponsorships.

A sponsorship is when a company or person gives a player money to advertise their good or service. You, the player, are a walking talking billboard for the company. But you can be BETTER than a billboard. And that makes you worth more MONEY than a billboard too. As a sponsored player, or a Pro, you are now marketing yourself as a money making tool for businesses. So to get what you believe you are worth, you’ll need to sell yourself like you would with a resume to get a job. And the name of the game is:

Visibility
The reason you expect to see pro players at the top 8 at tournaments is that they tend to be better players. Winning more matches means more opportunities to show your sponsor off on stream. The more people who see your sponsors name, their logo, their cool shirt they gave you, or their cool product is how they get more sales. All parts of a sponsorship boil down to visibility, it’s vitally important.

So winning is one of the most understood ways to showing your value as a visible player, but there are lots of other ways to be visible. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and online forums are great places to get attention and make a name for yourself. By building friends and followers you can be more valuable to your sponsor. A well connected and well liked player also helps the products image, which we’ll get to later. Creating content like videos, tutorials, guides, humorous rants, art, controller mods, music, or blogs are all good ways to gain value as a sponsored player.

If landing on stream is a goal then being a player who everyone want to see play is a good way to do that. Maybe you play an unusual character or have a ridiculously aggressive style. Stream viewers probably want to watch you play and that makes you more valuable to the tournament stream AND the sponsor. You bring viewers to the stream, and you get more visible for the sponsor. Win-win.

Your image as a player is also important to sponsors.  Are you well liked in the community?  Do people know your name?  Do you have good stream presence? Are you looking professional when you are in the public eye?  Do complain on twitter when you lose? Do you exhibit any unsportsmanlike conduct in tournament or on stream?  You can hopefully guess which of these things are good and which are bad.  (Hint: first four are good, last two are bad)  How you are viewed is a huge part of your value as a sponsored player, so treat yourself like a celebrity.  A lot more than an actor’s acting skill goes into creating his image, so think long and hard about your own image.

Lastly, when you are wondering what you can do to be sponsored, act as if you are ALREADY sponsored!  Be professional!  Dress well!  Get yourself out there!  Create content!  Practice!  Oh, and don’t forget that just like getting a job, you have to tell sponsors that you want the job!  Don’t be bashful; let anyone you can know that you are ready to be sponsored and that they can have this gamer on their team.

Get to work!

*: Free money not actually free. It takes lots of work.

So Little Time

In Smash 4 there is a six minute timer for each match. One way you can win is to get that timer to zero and have more stocks and/or less percent than your opponent. Some people treat timeouts as somehow a lesser victory than KOing your opponent but you should do your best to rid yourself of that notion. If you are playing to win and timeouts are wins, then you need to practice for timeouts!

In order to start being comfortable with timeouts, understand that time is a lot like percent in smash, it exerts a pressure on your opponent (and yourself) and must be respected. When percent is getting high a player has to start respecting new options from their opponent, like killing moves. Likewise, when time is running low certain strategies become more viable that normally would be considered subpar. Each player will react differently to this change in game tone, so understand each opponent’s habits when timeouts are possible. Some may attempt to time you out back; others may double up on aggression. Even if the game doesn’t end in a timeout, exerting the pressure of the clock can lead to your victory.

Since many players have little respect for timeouts they become more agitated and can quickly become tilted if a timeout is pushed. This all by itself could be your key to victory, as a tilted player can become much easier to read. (Careful of players who can seem to play even harder when you push their buttons.) If you as a player are known for being comfortable or even relishing in the thought of timeouts, this can make a player feel defeated before they even start.

Go into the lab and practice timing out. Do it in friendlies. Have yourself and a friend both practice timeouts on each other. Matches will be about establishing a lead and holding on to it, which at first may be really boring and not fun at all. In fact, the less fun you have the more necessary the training probably is, since people generally hate training at things they are bad at or that they hate their opponents doing.

Remember, this is Smash. The only rules during a match are win and don’t punch your opponent in the face, basically. You can only gain from being comfortable with different types of wins.

Get to work!

 

Conquering Oneself

A little background on my education: I graduated in 2010 from Chico State with a degree in philosophy, keen on never actually using it to get a job.  Philosophy offered me many things that I wanted to learn, mostly in understanding how people understand themselves and what doing the right thing means. One of my favorite concepts that philosophy wants to instill is that people are fallible and prone to ignoring their shortcomings and overestimating their own understanding.

Western philosophy often comes from a place of doubt, specifically self-doubt.  People automatically think they know everything but that isn’t very conducive to finding knowledge, so teachers focus on establishing a system of self-analysis that counteract man’s hubris and bring us closer to the truth.  Western philosophy’s ideal for being a good person is being self-aware and doing your best to understand the world.

c35f2bc8e59bd7f26d861b18cafc5f5ac6e30da1This vein of self-analysis has run through many philosophies for thousands of years and served as a basis for the scientific method.  It’s pretty important!  So what does this matter in the context of esports?

The ability to conquer oneself is no doubt the most precious of all things sports bestows on us

-Ulga Korbut, four time Olympic gold medalist

As a competitor in any sort of sport, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is vital to improving.  This kind of self-knowledge is not something you get in many hobbies or jobs, it’s very unique.  It’s also very stressful and can become upsetting to know certain things about yourself or to struggle to overcome yourself, which is why people can and will avoid doing it.  Even seasoned competitors will find themselves fighting against the urge to think, “I’ve totally mastered this game/this aspect of the game”.  It’s human, and has been studied (see:The Dunning-Kruger Effect)

Striving for higher and higher levels of self-knowledge is an integral part of improving the mental aspects of whatever game or sport you partake. Check your ego, know what you want to be lazy at and do the opposite, and take pride in your self discovery.  Get to work.