Putting together much of what we’ve gone over in past articles in this series, it’s easy to see that a huge part of leveling up involves putting in matches against an opponent. Understandably, the people you play have a major impact on how you approach the game. If you consider that a major part of improvement is reflection, it makes sense that the people you play against will have a big part in that.
That being said, who do you play against to get better? Locally, you have limited control over who you get to play with regularly. Your local scene is a great resource for feedback, but you live where you live; unless you’re willing to travel, your immediate pool of players will be small. However, with the advent of netplay (which we’ve discussed before), you as a player have much more control over your competition.
“Find someone your skill level to practice with!”
I don’t think this is wrong. Actually, this is pretty good advice, but personally, I don’t think it’s enough. Since my goal is not just improvement, but to aim for consistency, when I’m getting started in a new game or with a new tactic, I like to:
- Play someone under my skill level
- Play a random player/someone I’ve never played before/someone I don’t play often
- Play a peer (as in, someone at around my skill level)
- Play someone significantly above my skill level
Play someone under my skill level
Usually, when I want to try out some new tech, I’ll go online and try it out on a random player. If I determine that they are under my skill level, I’ll definitely be sure to try brand new strategies, confirms, strings, etc. (when I say “brand new,” I mean probably 1-2 days old). I like doing this because, personally, it’s hard for me to implement something new. It usually takes me a little while to force myself to try out new techniques, combos or strategies in an actual match.
Play a random player/someone I’ve never played before/someone I don’t play often
I lump this into the same group. What I like about playing someone I don’t really know is that I can’t be sure how they’ll react. If I have no data on the player, I can’t use a player match up as a crutch, and I’m forced to rely on my knowledge of the opponent’s character. This is especially important in a game like Guilty Gear or Street Fighter V, where there can be many ways to play a character since you can’t necessarily convert a hit into a knockdown.
On top of that, because I have little or no information on the player, I am forced to adapt to them quickly if they do things that are unusual or outside the scope of my character knowledge. To be honest, this is probably the best practice for pools; you never know what you’re going to run into in pools.
Playing a peer
Again, playing someone that’s around your skill is commonly given advice to new players, and it certainly is effective. It’s a pretty healthy way to play, as neither of you will overwhelm the other all the time. It’s good to have someone that is improving at about your pace; they understand how you think, they understand your problems (since they likely have similar issues), and you can speak to them about the game at the same level. You can also measure each other’s progress against other players. This point has been a huge help to me in the past.
Playing someone significantly above my skill level
Generally, when I talk or ask people about what types of players they like practicing against, they don’t really mention this one, but I really like this category when I’m starting out. It feels like bootcamp. I feel like getting mercilessly rolled over by someone will give me a lot of input about a character or the game in a short amount of time. Not only that, when I go back to play someone at or below my skill level, I often feel like it is much easier (and it is).
Now, you wouldn’t want to simply play one specific type of player. I’m under the belief that to be your best, you should try to play against all of these types of players. The reason why you’d want to segment them out is so that you can know what you can take from the games (from a reflection standpoint) after the session.