Chapter 8: Planet of the SF-Playing Apes
“Laugh while you can, monkey-boy!”
Its somewhat difficult to find types of mistakes that occur across a wide variety of games (apart from just “sucking”, which isnt too hard to find). Face it- in the details, games like CVS and say, MVC2 are just fundamentally different. So instead of looking to the game, we can look to the player to find common scrubby ground. This week I want to examine the habits of the SF-player I think of as the monkey-man. This subspecies of scrub manages to lose by performing a special move midway through a match: he reverts to his angry pre-human form, forgets everything he knew coming in, and plays like a moron. Here are a few of his more significant no-nos that seem to show up every tournament.
The “revenge” (and very obvious) counter-super/CC/VC/etc:
Ive never seen a tournament where someone doesnt lose a match because of this. Its perhaps one of the biggest pitfalls of sub-great players, and even the best have to fight against this basic urge. Its primordial, because its essentially just the familiar urge to “get back at someone”, videogame style. However, just like in life, revenge is a dish best served cold. Or something.
You face this “challenge” whenever you get hit with just about anything big. A combo, a VC/CC/Super. Youre hurt (literally). Youre angry. And, like any healthy primate, you want to hit back. Problem is, youre not well served by lashing out as soon as youve been bitchslapped. If youve been “humiliated” by a big combo, super, etc., dont be falling all over yourself to super someone back the moment you get out of hit/block stun. Give it a minute, take your time, reset your gameplan, and choose your shots. Yes, this seems depressingly level-headed, mature, collected, etc. But its the right play. Dont think of it as being weak- think of your favorite cartoon villains: they bide their time, they plot, they wait for the heros moment of weakness, and strike. This should be you. The “surprise revenge attack” wont work. Heres why:
-It isnt a surprise. The immediate (or near-immediate) counter super is in fact, very obvious. When something is very obvious, it tends not to work. Everyone can see it coming, and will avoid getting hit by it. Duh. I know, I know, youre thinking “this will be a total surprise- after all, Im not reacting to anything theyre doing- Im just whipping this out of nowhere!”. Sit down Jethro. No one is fooled. Its true, you are just interrupting the normal flow of the match with a big counter-attack, but when you consider it in context, while the move itself may be a surprise, the timing is anything but. Even if it was just a vc/cc/super out of nowhere, this is a low percentage tactic even under the best circumstances. And instead, youre doing it at the most obvious of times- when youre most “angry”.
-It also depletes the resources necessary to mount a real counterattack later, making you less effective overall. Basically, youve just lost a big chunk of life. And what do you do for an encore? You give up something they *couldnt* have taken from you without your stupid help- your meter. And again, youre wasting it on an extremely low percentage attack. In most games/matchups, big comebacks take meter. When you throw that away on top of the life you just lost, youre taking yourself almost entirely out of the match.
-Good players will anticipate your childish urge for revenge. Sometimes theyll even back off a little, seeming to surrender the huge amount of control theyve just established. What gives? Its called giving you just enough rope to hang yourself with. They back off, and let up enough to allow you space and time to do something really stupid and reactionary. Its an invitation for you to put your own foot in your butt, and if youre anything like everyone else, you probably will.
Where does this leave you? The (pathetic) *best* case scenario here is that a good opponent will end up just blocking your vengeful little fit. However, depending on the game and super/vc/etc, it may actually get worse- a lot of times a savvy opponent is waiting for you to blow it like this, and can actually beat you down *again* for trying, countering your big “surprise” counter. They blow through your “surprise” super with an AHVB, “psychically” DP your VC, etc.
This is where you completely give up because (again) it seems like theyre reading you like a book- and they are, but only because you are a childrens book with no big words. There are no happy endings for you if you lack the self-awareness to control your reactionary impulses. Get some perspective, and wait for a genuine opportunity.
Supposing you ignore all of this, youll need to avoid the second monkey-man mistake I want to talk about : Failing to understand why you lost a game.
Though it will come as a shock to every scrubby little regional champ, at some point, in some tournament, youre going to lose a game. Sometimes you get out-selected (they blind selected a lineup that is just rough on yours), sometimes you get unlucky, sometimes, of course, you just get whipped. How you handle the loss is another test of your tournament mettle.
Im not just talking about “keeping your chin up”, or a stiff upper lip, or any of that nonsense. If youre too sissy to do that, the tournament is wrong for you in the first place. Im going to go out on a limb and just assume you can refrain from crying, etc. Its an important juncture because (of course), youve got the option to switch characters. The question is whether or not you should. To switch, or not to switch? That is the question.
Some players help themselves to prevent problems by having a preset gameplan. There are lots of ways to go with this: “Start 4 ratio 1s, switch to Guile/Ryu if you lose”, for instance. Or some people open a match with an oddball character, expecting to eventually lose, but hoping to get a lead before they do, and then get a shot to play a counter character, coming in to sweep up for the win (this is somewhat analogous to the way certain MVC2 (or CVS, to a lesser degree) teams work). Losing in these situations, while not exactly “good”, shouldnt be as much of a worry- if you did get that lead before getting taken out, youre still sticking to your meta-gameplan, things are going the way you set them up. The harder questions arise when you lose and its not a part of your overall design. What to do then? How can I avoid changing into monkey-man?
Just picking (or re-picking) the characters youre “comfortable” with is the conventional wisdom, and may be the safest overall bet, but its certainly no guarantee you wont still get killed (you can feel “comfortable” while getting annihilated- its imperative to have backup characters). Youll need to do better.
To determine whether or not to switch, you have to be able to judge *why* you lost. This is the critical skill. An apt judgment here requires at least three things: The first is self-awareness (“Was I just making stupid mistakes? Getting baited?” Etc.) Second, you need a good knowledge of the basic tiers and matchups in a game, as well as your opponents habits (“Who can I play that beats this? Who can I switch to that can win without getting countered for free?”). Finally, it takes speed. Youre not making this judgment watching the replay at home on the couch, feet up, finger in your nose. Youre making it in the 30 seconds following your loss, with everyone watching. You have to know your stuff coming in, especially if the opponent is doing something new that you have to incorporate into the calculations. I obviously cant tell you how to be self-aware, nor can I helpfully summarize tiers, matchups, and opponents for all or any games. What I can try and do is tell you what to avoid.
There are lots of mental pitfalls that can distract you and interfere with your analysis of why you lost. One is the lure of the delicious, potassium-rich banana- notably absent from most tournaments. I cant help you here. The next most insidious pitfall is noticing that youre one match away from elimination, OR that the other guy has to win 3 in a row to beat you, etc. Focusing on your nearness to elimination puts you under a needless stress, and tends to make people play more conservatively than they should (scaredy-ape). This almost always works against you. On the other hand, when people realize they have a substantial lead (or even a minor lead), they tend to get complacent, and also play lazily (800lb gorilla). You want to stay away from thoughts like this entirely. If you won (and therefore cant switch), dont think about anything. Stay focused. If youve lost, think only about your next pick and how it will set the tone for the remainder of the match.
Ive seen a lot of people really psych themselves out by focusing too much on the dynamics of the match. If they were up one, and lose two in a row (in a best of 5), they start to wonder if the other guy is working some kind of magic, or has just “figured them out”. While this *could* be true, more often all that happened is that they got counter-teamed, and then lost again- a completely typical situation that doesnt point to anything magical about your opponents play. Youve got to think about your position in the overall match only insofar as it affects your character choices- dont let it seep into your play itself.
When monkey-man fails to judge the “why did I lose?” question accurately on the fly, it can lead to a cascade of more serious problems that will take him right out of contention.
The #1 trap people fall into here is stubbornness. Theyll stick to whatever they were playing, come hell or high water. There are a million knee-jerk justifications for it: Youre going to “show this guy whats up”. You *know* you can beat that crap. Hes not going to scare *you* away from (your character/team) that easily!, (climbs to top of nearest tree, pounds chest), etc. Sometimes this is right- you did get a bad break, you really can win this match, and doing so will leave you with a character you really are comfortable with, come what may. These are called “good reasons”, and they come from a clear judgment of what just happened. If, however, you find yourself taking the loss personally, and start looking at a certain choice as “your mission” or some such nonsense, youre probably headed for trouble. These are personal (aka “bad”) reasons.
Look at the how “stubborn picking” typically plays out: suppose you lose your first game (in a standard best of 3). Out of stubbornness, you “stick to your guns”, and even go on to dominate the second game (the rematch, if you will). This may seem like a victory for you (and it is, of course- obviously better than losing the match), but now your post-first game mistake comes right back to haunt you. Youre stuck with a particular character/team going into the third match, and your opponent has complete freedom to counterteam/character you. Avoiding stubbornness doesnt mean you never go into a final match with the risk of being counterteamed- *whenever* you lose the first round, youre open to third round counterteaming. Avoiding stubborn picking just means that youre picking characters that minimize the severity of these problems by thinking ahead, instead of giving in to monkey-boy impulses. Dont repick the same character just to be a tough guy. Even if you manage to win the next game, your little triumph will seem even littler when youre sent packing to the losers bracket after a third round loss.
When you play the stubborn game, the winner of the first match is essentially getting you to admit you were beaten so badly, you now have to punish yourself by making a less-than-optimal pick. You took a beating already to get to this point- dont voluntarily let it continue in an arena where you should be in complete control (the selection screen). Making a stubborn pick is just your opponent making you dance like the monkey you are.
While its already a mistake on its own, in longer sets, stubbornness is often comboed into yet another pitfall- the heroic, last-minute, wtf-were-you-thinking “surprise” switch. You stick to your guns until your backs against the wall, at which point you feel somehow compelled not to make just a poor choice, but a *really* poor choice.
To you, it looks brazen and daring. It will draw “oohs!” from the crowd. But while youre feeling all dramatic (“From hells heart, I stab at thee!”), youre opponent is all “Hey hey! Free win!” Hell be secretly smiling, because he knows youre beaten, mentally at least, and thats a lot more than half the battle. In professional poker, this is sometimes referred to as a player on “tilt”- playing recklessly, out of control. You might be able to take a game this way, but it very rarely works out in the long run. The saucy little monkey-man is essentially picking a character theyre less comfortable with, one they know has less of a chance of winning, and virtually no chance of winning several in a row if the opponent has the opportunity to switch every time. And theyre doing it out of some kind of regressed “defiance”. I cant tell you how many people I see make this play every tournament. But do I remember any of their names? Nope. Neither does anyone else. Boldness and defiance are remembered only when they win.
The road to tourney-washout hell is paved with the bodies of those who were either unwilling or unable to think one step ahead. Thinking ahead is the only thing that prevents regression into the monkey-man. Dont take yourself out of a match by acting from unconscious anger, or making stupid, emptily stubborn picks. When you lose, keep your focus on the immediate. Dont be a “hero” at the expense of your best shot at winning. As single-elimination tournaments (or even single-elimination qualifying rounds) become increasingly popular and necessary, these issues become that much more significant. Youve got less room for error- less space to play around and experiment. Make your choices count by making them as cool and collected as they can be.