Tournament Tips for First-Time Competitors

By on September 26, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Attending your first tournament is a huge step as a player. You’ve chosen to support your hobby in one of the best ways possible, setting aside several hours (or even several days, if it’s a major event) to show up and compete in person! Yet even after you’ve made that decision, you might have questions. How do we run events? What happens if you make a mistake? How can you prepare yourself, and what sort of expectations are realistic? This article will cover a variety of topics, all meant to get you ready both physically and mentally for your debut.

General Behavior

The most important thing to know about fighting game tournaments is that we’re pretty relaxed. Most of the rules are common sense, and we genuinely want you to join us! (No, not just because we want your money for the tournament pot.) Nobody is going to devour your soul for violating Article 8, Sub-Section B, Paragraph 4 of the United Fighting Game Community Bylaws; anyone who can follow the basic ideas below will be just fine:

  • Bring your own controller (“BYOC”). If you don’t, you probably can’t play. Also, mind your own controller; keep it on you and don’t leave it lying around. Make sure it’s a wired controller for the system(s) the tournament is using, since wireless ones are usually banned for technical reasons.

  • Entry fees. Without this, you won’t be allowed to compete. Most tournaments are pretty inexpensive, so don’t worry about busting your wallet.

  • A little paperwork. You’ll have to either sign up ahead of time online, or at the front desk when you get there. Some tournaments require you sign up online well in advance, so find out what’s required! Larger events may ask you to sign a release form in case you’re shown on-camera, as well.

  • Keep track of time and listen for updates. Tournaments expect you to show up for your pool on time, and be ready if your group is called over loudspeaker or other means. You might be disqualified without a refund if you’re late.

This happens if someone is late to their match with no excuse.

  • Notify staff if you’re stepping out but are scheduled to play. Whether you’re taking a minute for a bathroom break or completely leaving the event early, tournament staff need to know so they don’t accidentally disqualify you for ‘being late’ or delay things waiting on someone who is no longer there. This doesn’t apply if you’ve been eliminated from everything you’re playing, just if you’re still on the competitors’ line-up.

  • Be civil. This doesn’t mean we require a suit and tie while you drink tea and play Chess. It means don’t start fights, know the difference between playful trash-talk and being a jerk, and don’t cause trouble. If you can behave in normal society, you’ll get along fine at tournaments!

Preparing Your Mind

Once you’re actually playing, you may find yourself making mistakes you’d never make in casual play — dropping combos, missing anti-airs, and other simple stuff. Here’s how to recognize and work around a few common mental mistakes.

  • Forgive Your Mistakes. This is the single most important thing you can do. If you mess up a combo or fail to block a cross-up you normally know how to deal with, or any other number of dumb things… remind yourself that you are not a perfect fighting game AI, quickly determine how to correct your error, and move on! If you’re still mentally beating yourself up for a whiffed crouching medium kick that lost round 2 while you’re in the middle of round 3, you’re going to lose. In other words, don’t be your own worst enemy.

  • Performance anxiety goes away with experience. If you just made a mistake because you are nervous, understand that this is natural and it happens to a lot of people. It’s nothing to be ashamed of! Your mind and body will get used to it in time, so just toss yourself right back in there and sign up for the next tournament. Don’t worry about things like, “oh no, the stream monsters are going to make fun of my mistakes.” They make fun of everyone, and they’re not the ones out there actually competing; you are.

  • Don’t forget to eat and drink. Being hungry, thirsty, or hopped up on way too much caffeine is asking for trouble. Stay hydrated  (with water, not just soda or energy drinks!), and make sure you’ve eaten and have snacks handy. If you only take away one thing from this whole article, please let it be that caffeine is not a substitute for taking care of yourself! I’d like to speak from personal experience here: becoming reliant on caffeine is one of the worst things you can do. Your health will suffer, and when its benefits diminish you will have done more to defeat yourself than your opponents ever will.

  • Nobody is going to take it easy on you. Use this as a learning opportunity; prizes and pride are on the line, so don’t expect anyone to hold back just because this is your first time. This may sound harsh, but it’s actually a sign of acceptance; most competitors aren’t going to ‘troll’ you or do stupid things mid-match just to rub in a skill or experience difference. The majority of opponents will play seriously, so observe what they did and you can become a better competitor.

  • Don’t repeat a failed move. If you screw up an input, don’t retry it just to prove you know how to do that technique! Tournaments don’t give out prizes for correcting errors, and it won’t help you. Proving to your opponent that you actually do know how to throw a Hadouken won’t do much for you when they see that’s what you’re going for and punish it.

  • Use your controller’s lock switch. If your controller offers a lock switch that disables the Start and/or System Guide buttons, you want to use it. If you pause a game mid-match, you forfeit that round, which is an incredibly embarrassing way to eliminate yourself.

Using the lock switch can save you a lot of frustration.
  • Ask for a button check. Tell the opponent during character selection that you intend to do a button check before serious play happens. Players are given a reasonable length of time to configure their buttons and test them. Use this opportunity to make sure your controller is still working, and do it before every match; you don’t know if someone changed the controls since you last played on that system. If you’re using the aforementioned lock switch, this is also a good time to ensure it is indeed blocking your pause and menu buttons.

  • Keep realistic expectations. It’s fine if you go in wanting to win; you should have that goal. However, what you actually expect to happen should be more plausible. It’s possible to win in your debut, but history shows us that ‘miracle rookie’ outcomes are extremely rare, and virtually unheard of at larger events. Don’t get discouraged if you lose your first few tournaments; just stay ‘hungry’ for the win, study, improve, and continue to compete.

Accommodating Disabilities and Other Requests

Tournament organizers want everyone who comes to their tournament to have a good time, so don’t be afraid if you need to make a special request — like changing the stage or color scheme to accommodate colorblindness, for example. However, you need to let people know either when it’s relevant, or in advance depending on how complex the solution is.

Among the more common disabilities we’re familiar with are various forms of color blindness and other vision problems, and there’s an easy work-around. When you sit down with your opponent, tell them (or a judge, if there’s a language barrier as can be the case at international tournaments) about it and how they can best accommodate you. To use Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 as an example, you might say: “I have a vision problem and can’t see black on black very well. Can we please not play on  Helicarrier at Night? It would also help if you avoid dark blue or black character colors.” So long as accommodating your disability only bars cosmetic choices that don’t affect play, the opponent ought to cooperate. Just don’t expect your opponent to not pick his preferred team; losing to Zero isn’t considered a disability.

Other situations may need to be brought up to the head tournament organizers themselves, so please let them know in advance. If some equipment needs to be moved so a wheelchair can get through, that’s best brought up a few days before the event so it can be planned for when tables and chairs are being placed. If you need to take a minute before a match to take your medicine, let the referee know before they disqualify you for being late. Whatever it is, communication is key since we need to know before we can help.

Remember that a disability doesn’t have to be permanent for us to care about it. To share a personal story about this, I was once late to a match because an accident injured my leg on the way to the tournament hall. There was no way I could make it there in ten minutes at a limping walk, so I called a friend and asked them to tell a judge that I was on my way and would be there, I just needed a little time. They were sympathetic and bumped my match a few minutes down the schedule, giving me long enough to show up and play. I lost anyway (no excuses, my opponent was the better player), but at least that was far more dignified and fun than being disqualified.

After the Event

  • Ensure you have everything. Got your controller? Cell phone? Car keys? If anyone was travelling with you, are they accounted for? Did you loan the tournament any equipment such as game systems, discs, and so on? Get them back before you leave. If you miss any of this stuff, you’re going to realize it when you’re an hour away, and you won’t be happy about it.

  • Clean up after yourself. If you brought in any trash (food wrappers, drinks, etc.), take care of that. The organizers have enough to take care of without having to deal with this.

  • Ask if tournament staff need help. See if they need a hand hauling equipment out or some other assistance. It may only take a few minutes of your time, but if they need some help they’ll gladly take you up on this offer. Remember, they’ve put in hours (or even days) of their time giving you some fun, low-cost competition… giving a little something back to them is entirely fair. Just remember to ask before helping; if they see some guy randomly walk over and pick up a TV, they’re probably going to shout something like “stop, thief!” and things will get very messy.

  • Stay in touch with friends. Tournaments are a great place to meet people who have the same interests in characters and games that you do! Feel free to tell them what your username on the forums is and keep in touch if they’re willing to do so. Chances are they’ll be able to share useful tips and even train with you online. Being able to identify xXLordViperSniperWolf420SephirothXx as a fellow Zangief player in Street Fighter or Yukiko user in Persona (or whatever else they play), with a name and face, is a lot more fun than him being just ‘some guy on XBL/PSN/Steam.’ Not everyone will be willing to do this, but you’re likely to meet someone who will take you up on the offer.

See You There!

While attending your first tournament can seem daunting, it’s actually one of the greatest steps you can take in making fighting games even more fun! While we do have some rules and basic expectations of competitors, we are definitely inclusive of newcomers and we truly want you to join us. All we ask is that you bring your controller, entry fees, be a decent person, and play your best. There will probably be some anxiety at first, but that’s only natural; keep playing and soon that nerve will be replaced by the excitement only top-notch competition can provide!

Picture courtesy of Kara Leung.
Picture courtesy of Kara Leung.