If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been posting long reads on Tuesdays about fighting games. They’ve ranged from how-to guides to strategy and philosophy. This column is a continuation of that.
I want to share my experiences with both new and intermediate players who might be stuck. If you read one of these and think, “Well, that was obvious,” then good! If you take something away from these articles, then that’s good too.
For those of you who have been following these, I’ll occasionally add a section for action items at the end of the article. These are a bit like homework – it’s something you can try immediately. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Over the years, a lot of people ask me how I deal with nerves. I think people are hoping that there’s some sort of magic bullet or trick to calming down and playing your best.
Nerves, to me, are one of the many personal things you have to learn how to deal with for yourself. Fighting games, in general, have a lot of these things, but nerves comes up super early – I’ve talked to people who have gotten nervous playing in an online lobby that they knew was being streamed. While I can’t speak for everyone, at this point I know how to handle my nerves, and have things in place in my play to deal with it.
Recognizing and not fighting the feeling
First of all, I personally recognize that I get nervous. Actually, I’m anxious even before my first match of the day. It’s an unavoidable fact, and I let the feeling run its course. I also recognize that for the most part, my opponent probably feels the same way. That doesn’t really put me at ease in the moment, but it’s more of a feeling that we’re both walking into this situation at a similar level.
A big thing that personally works for me is to take a couple of slow breaths before the match. It doesn’t remove the overall feeling of being nervous, but it helps me center myself and become more mindful of the situation I’m in.
Mindfulness has been a very important focus for me as a tournament player in the past couple of months. When I say “mindfulness,” I mean staying in the present situation – in this case, preparing and playing for a tournament match. To be honest, if I pulled up some tournament play, I could point out the exact times where I would go through negative mental dialogue during an important match. Not only is that removing myself from a situation where I need high-level focus, but it also wastes mental resources that I need for the match at hand. The main point of mindfulness, for me, is to mentally stay within the match and avoid any unnecessary waste of mental resources.
I have a lot of little rituals I do during a set, with the main goal being to feel as comfortable as possible in a set. I used to dress really casually so that it felt like I was at home. My favorite thing to do is to get stage and song pick (when available) – sometimes the stage pick is matchup based, but for the most part I like having the same amount of control as I have at home. Think of how many players you’ve seen take their wallets out of their pockets, turn their phones on silent, etc – these both have practical functions, but also, over time, become rituals that become a part of you.
Breaks between matches
Praise be to any game that requires both players to confirm that they are ready to play the next match. Personally, I use the time between games to release whatever stress I’ve accumulated while playing, especially if the end of the game was close, very tense, or went poorly.
Before, while I was taking a break, I’d try to give myself a little reinforcement. I’d think things like “one more game” if I was on set point, or “don’t worry about it” if I got rolled over. I don’t think this is bad, per se – but these days, outside of a quick review of something that happened in the last game, I try to take each game individually. That time between games helps me keep them apart.
Focus on the plan
You might think this goes without saying, but you would be surprised how many people (myself included) act differently in tournament.
For example, back at Evo 2013, I made it to grand finals in Persona 4 Arena against the best Japanese player, Yume. Aigis had actually given me problems when the game initially released, but I focused on building a strategy for her, and came out on top against the strongest Aigis players in the United States.
One important thing I noted about the matchup was that Aigis could, under certain conditions, escape Mitsuru’s corner setups, so I came up with a different way of preparing them so that I could keep her locked down. I played Aigis players on the road to Evo, and successfully used this setup against them. But for some reason, in grand finals, when I knocked Yume down, I didn’t use the setup – and to the surprise of no one, he punished me.
Even though I honed my play throughout the year at smaller events, I still reverted to doing something I would never do in any other situation at the big one. But at the time, there was so many thoughts going through my mind, along with the stress and pressure of playing in the finals, that some of the decisions I made were far from optimal. I remember watching the set and thinking, “What am I even doing in this match?”
The benefit of a solid matchup strategy is that you know how to handle all aspects of the possible interactions between your character and your opponent’s – this, obviously, is great for tournaments. Again, the less time you can spend worrying about other things, the better.
Finally, remember that it’s always better to go for the thing you won’t mess up than the thing that you’re only “pretty good” at. When you’re in a win or lose situation, the worst feeling is losing because of an execution error in a tense moment. When it gets tense, I fall back on things that I know I won’t drop. There are innumerable examples of this happening in tournament if you pay attention.
Every strong player I’ve talked to has different feeling about nervousness, but I hope this helps.
(Images c/o FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)