Lab Notes: Inside Jay “BT|Viscant” Snyder’s Competitive Mindset

By on August 28, 2014 at 10:37 am
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If I could, I’d interview BROKENTIER’s Jay “Viscant” Snyder every week. In addition to being a solid competitor, he’s also a really smart guy who excels at understanding his own strengths and weaknesses and explaining how he thinks about fighting games. Read on to find out how Jay criticizes his own performance, why he chooses characters, and a handy training mode trick to help your execution drills courtesy of Mike Ross.

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Photo by Kara Leung.

PM: First off — what’s your evaluation of yourself as a player? Who do you consider your peers, and who is in the tier above? What are your strengths and weaknesses, and how did you develop that kind of self-critical perspective?

JS: I’m pretty realistic about where I am as a player in Marvel right now. My results through the last major season were consistent; consistently mediocre. 13th at SCR, 17th at UFGT, 13th at CEO. I can’t complain that I had tough draws or that I deserved better. If anything those are slightly better results than I actually deserved.

The top group of players goes four deep. Justin Wong, Chris G, Filipino Champ, and Flocker. Those four are basically locks to make top eight and have a shot to win at any tournament in the world, and obviously I’m very far from this group. There’s a second group underneath that of players that have consistently strong results and can be threats to win tournaments as long as they’re playing well that day and have good draws, players like PR Rog (who would be in the 1st group if he cared enough about Marvel to practice), ApologyMan, Flux, CoachSteve, Angelic, RayRay, Clockw0rk, Cloud805, Full Schedule, and a few others.

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I haven’t earned a place in that group either. I would put myself in that next group of players that goes about 50-60 deep right now. Still good enough to be somewhat of a threat but haven’t shown any good results against the top group of players in a while. There’s a big difference between the top thirty-two area players and the top eight area players and if anything the gap is growing wider, not narrower, as the game matures. The top four are further away from the rest of the pack in skill than at any time during the lifespan of this game.

Personally, I think my main strength as a player is that I can quickly figure out what’s dominant in a game and where character trends are going. I’m not always right, but I think I’m better at taking the pulse of a new game and adapting to the first few gameplay problems and roadblocks than most people.

I have a lot of weaknesses, inconsistent execution being the most obvious, but I also have poor practice habits. I’ve had the opportunity to watch a lot of amazing players sit down in training mode and actually work at the process of getting better at a game. Watching MarlinPie prepare for showcase matches and watching him just practicing in general at the Danger Room event showed me just how much less I get out of training mode than other people do.

I think I’m better than most people at coming up with concepts that rely on player tendencies, but when it comes to actual mechanical stuff like optimal combos and perfect incoming setups I’m behind the game. I think this is an area where I’m catching up a bit; once I saw how far behind I was, I made a point of trying to improve myself, but I still consider it one of my weaknesses that I have to improve if I want to get back on that next level.

As far as being self-critical, I made a significant part of my income through internet poker and sports betting. In poker, being brutally honest with yourself about where you are, and the mistakes you’re making, is really the key to staying in the game. I think I’ve always been naturally conservative when it comes to playing video games, but my time in poker brought that side of me out even more.

PM: You’ve always struck me as very cerebral player known for developing unorthodox teams (triple-option Zangief in Marvel vs. Capcom, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 Anakaris, your vanilla Marvel vs. Capcom 3 team, etc.) — what do you look for in a team/main character, and do you think your thought process in that regard works differently than other top players?

JS: When a game comes out, I like to play everyone and develop a general familiarity with the entire cast. I think I learn system mechanics and overall matchups easier if I can see the game from every character’s perspective instead of just the handful of characters I picked first. For the first few weeks a game is out, I try to learn as much as I can about the game and not care too much about winning and losing, that part comes later.

But usually during the experimentation process I’ll find little things that other people may have missed or not taken seriously and I’ll just kick those around in my head and bring them out every now and then just for fun. Like you mentioned MvC2 Anakaris. Lots of other people learned to play the character better than I did, all I really did was just get an idea and expose the concept in a few high-profile matches and other people would get way better with him than I ever did. But it shows the power of experimentation early, you never really know what you’re going to find and you might find something you can use to ambush someone in a big match someday.

When it comes to picking business characters the answer really isn’t that exciting. I mostly just pick characters I like who aren’t too execution heavy. Generally I prefer grapplers but it’s not an ideological thing as much as it is that Capcom grapplers tend not to be too demanding combo wise so I can quickly get a few BnBs down and be ready to go. When I pick characters for a main team I’m mostly in until the bitter end.

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It’s funny that modern audiences think of me as a tier whore, when really the main criticism of me pre-MvC3 was that I stuck with characters for too long. Occasionally it would work out fine; I’ve been playing Super Turbo Vega for 20 years now and that’s great, he’s top tier! But I stuck with K-Yamazaki/Hibiki in Capcom vs. SNK 2 from day one until the day I put the game down. I stuck with Blanka/Dee Jay throughout the entire Street Fighter IV series up until Ultra where Capcom’s (unnecessary) Dee Jay nerfs finally broke my spirit. I stuck with Alex/Hugo throughout almost all of Street Fighter III. Really, the modern games are the only times I’ve ever decided my characters weren’t good enough and that I was going to make a change.

I don’t think I’m unique in this; most of the best US Street Fighter players are character loyalists. Maybe everyone doesn’t take it to an extreme like Alex Valle does, where he plays Ryu in every single game the character is in, but it seems like most of the top players don’t tier whore and just stick with their characters. Ricky and Justin have been playing Rufus since early in vanilla and are still there, even when the character wasn’t that spectacular. Justin is still playing that mid-tier garbage team in Marvel that everyone has been telling him to drop for years…oh yeah, that team just won Evo, didn’t it? If anything I think the US’ top players should be more open to playing multiple characters or just picking a top tier, to paraphrase someone else who’s also a little too loyal to his character.

PM: You’ve spoken rather frankly in the past about how you think of your execution as one of your main weaknesses. Are you making gains in your execution, or do you feel like you’ve plateaued out on how good it can get and you’re just working to maintain your current level? What do you do to practice execution, anyway?

JS: I’m never going to be great, execution-wise, but I definitely think I’m improving. Like I said above, seeing firsthand what other players do in training mode and how they get the most out of that has helped me out a lot. Something Mike Ross told me about working on tight links has helped me out a lot, not just in Street Fighter but in Marvel also. Practice one particular link or combo for half an hour, go do something else, and then practice it for another half an hour. I’ve made more progress on this method building muscle memory and making long term improvement than I have of practicing for longer sessions.

Another area I’ve improved is implementing as many option selects as possible on my incoming mixups. My Zero/missiles incoming is basically one giant option select. A single towards+H can act as a crossunder if they pushblocked in the air, a strike to stop them from mashing out, or a throw that missiles will pick up for me. Something I’ve learned about myself is that I’m really bad at thinking on my feet in a tournament match. A lot of drops are just plain execution errors but a lot of my drops are because I wasn’t ready for a situation. Like I didn’t think the other person would get hit when they did, and I wasn’t ready for it. So learning as much as I can about possible option selects and then implementing them has helped me out a lot.

PM: From my perspective, it looks like the way you approach your path to fighting game improvement is characterized by your humility; you often sound as though you’re playing and winning with a worse hand than other high-level players. Do you feel like you can get away with shenanigans? How does confidence play into your competitive game?

JS: I think I see variance fundamentally differently from other players due to my gambling background. I come from that deep stack heads up poker mentality of increasing and decreasing variance depending on my perceived advantage vs. the opponent. Whereas other people like Marn and PR Rog just play a high variance more “crazy” style of gameplay just as their natural style, I only up the variance when I think I’m at a big disadvantage vs. the other person.

So I guess you could say it is a matter of confidence, but probably not in the way you were intending. If I think I have a significant edge on the other person it’s not that I’m going to have the confidence to go for more crazy mixups and wild setups designed to open them up. My confidence is expressed by me NOT going for those kinds of things, and just believing that I’ll get the hits I need without exposing myself to unnecessary variance.