The ego and fighting games: Why it’s the biggest detriment to player development

By on February 16, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Recently, I played a Street Fighter V tournament online; I primarily play offline —  so my online rank might be a bit low to accurately reflect my offline skill level — but that night, I had the free time and wanted the extra practice. During the event, I played a significantly higher-ranked player, whom I beat 2-1 — eliminating them from the event. I sent them a cordial “good games” message in Discord, only to recieve derisive and demeaning comments in return.

Come the next morning, I found him continuing to insult me on social media, attempting to goad me into a runback. Given his less-than-friendly attitude — and his goal clearly being only to fix his bruised ego by proving that he could “beat that Gold-ranked guy,” I opted to tell him to hold the loss. He equated my actions to cowardice, and blocked me.

The ego is a funny thing. It can propel us toward great things when we have to prove ourselves capable, but it can also be our greatest detriment. It can get us to say and do things that we normally wouldn’t — nor shouldn’t — when it’s damaged. It can cause us to overestimate our own abilities, and even cloud our judgement when our over-estimations are proven wrong. Moreover, in fighting games, it can lead us to believe that winning is the only thing that matters, and blame other people than ourselves for our losses, without giving any regard to our own responsibility in a loss.

Long story short: while we may have rivalries, and certain players that always seem to have our number in tournaments, our biggest enemy often is ourselves and our own egos.


Check it at the door

It is not wrong to aspire to win. It’s also not wrong to use every tool in game at your disposal to earn those wins. However, the moment a player becomes so possessed with winning that a single loss becomes a personal affront to them, they have lost the entire point of playing!

If your only goal in playing fighting games is to get wins to inflate your ego, then it’s probably advisable that you find another hobby. Show me a person who has claimed to have never taken a loss in a fighting game, and I will tell you that you are either looking at a player who either just makes punching bags out of their less-experienced friends, or a really bad liar.

The fact is that if you play fighting games, you are going to face losses. Some will be by a razor-thin margin, and some will be a complete blowout, but let’s confront the fact that you will lose. Let’s go even deeper than that: You will lose a lot. For all those that just seek to puff out their chests, that should be a huge gut check.

Yes, winning is a great feeling. There’s a lot of people who got hooked into this genre by either going to an arcade and winning a game, or having the controller passed to them at a party and enjoying some beginner’s luck. But most likely, they also lost just as much in the same outing. The thrill of victory is a great one, and often propels us to keep moving forward with our play.

Like everything in life however, there has to be an antonym. Whether it’s light and dark, good and bad, hot and cold, or winning and losing, to understand one you must also accept the fact that the other exists. Winning without losing is vapid, and you don’t see tournaments handing out participation trophies like Oprah Winfrey lavishing her audience with gifts, declaring everyone in the FGC a winner. So for you to win, someone else has to lose. For you to lose, someone else has to win.


I know that right now I’m speaking the obvious — even people whose egos ride on every win or loss knows all of this. But their expectations are deluded if they feel as though they should always be the victor, and something is wrong with the game, the system, the netcode, or the other player, if that is not the case. And this creates a toxic scenario in which nobody wins.

The ego-driven runback


When someone feels that their ego has been damaged, their natural reaction is to immediately try to repair it. Their knee-jerk attempt to do so is often what does them in, and often causes more issues in the community than necessary.

They immediately want a runback. This is only to prove that they could’ve won — despite the fact that the runback will not be reported on any tournament report, and the tournament outcome won’t be changed — and will likely still be the outcome most-remembered. In order to attain this runback, they will do anything in their power to make it happen, including raging at the person who beat them, often belittling them, insulting them, attempting to emasculate them. They will make off-color remarks and even bring personal matters into a video game, in the hope of bruising their opponent’s ego enough that they will abandon logic for anger and give them that runback. [Video below NSFW, unsurprisingly!]

On the opposing side, the player who won the initial encounter will be wondering why they should run it back in the first place. They already won; what do they have to prove? What do they stand to learn playing against someone who is coming after them based on raw emotion and a thirst for vengeance?

If the runback happens, someone will lose, someone will win, and regardless of the outcome, the tension will remain. If the initial loser wins the runback, he will feel a temporary sense of accomplishment, only to realize that it’s empty — since his opponent still placed higher than him in tournament, and will reap whatever rewards that provides. If he loses again, the anger will only worsen — and the humiliation felt by his pride writing a check his skill couldn’t cash will only set back his development as a player.

The purpose-driven runback

ryuDespite what I’ve stated above, I’m not against running it back against players who beat you, or accepting rematch requests from players whom I’ve beaten. The motives for these runbacks must be evaluated, however. If you are serious about these games, you should endeavor to make the time you spend playing these games productive.

So, let’s say that you lose a match against someone, regardless of how lopsided the outcome was. Your inclination becomes to ask them to run it back. Before even opening your mouth to ask them, you should be prepared to consider the reasons you desire to do so.

If you feel that you would have beat them and want to simply prove that you could, stop and walk away. Come back clearer-headed and try to figure out what frustrated you so much about losing to them. I feel like trying to play someone in order to right some cosmic wrong that has affronted you is the worst way to behave, as you will possess yourself with beating them to the point that in order to get the chance, you will often find yourself crossing boundaries that you would normally not cross.

tekken 7 kazuya close crop

So when should you be asking to run it back? If you feel like you can learn something from playing them again, it is definitely worth asking to play again. If they were doing something that you were not prepared for, and you need to learn how to beat that situation for later on, that is a worthwhile reason to run it back. That is the hallmark of a learning player, looking to improve. If someone approaches me for a runback in order to improve their game, I would gladly offer them the chance to play again. This allows me to give them chances to learn, as opposed to leaving them in the dark on what went wrong in their match.

Of course, you could simply refuse the offer from someone to run it back based on self-preservation of your own ego, and this is something we should be vigilant of. Remember, we are talking about abandoning our ego within fighting games, not protecting it. If you become scared to run a set in order to keep your ego intact, then you have completely missed the point.

A message from the choir, to the choir

I have had a lot of time to reflect on these sort of things, as I am just as much an offender of these principles as anyone. One of the biggest examples of me letting ego dictate my feelings about a match occurred this past year at Canada Cup.

I played Nagata Lock II in Super Street Fighter II Turbo. I felt confident that I would do well against him. While he played Claw (Vega), I had learned a lot about that match-up, and had counter-measures should anything go wrong. I started out with O.Chun-Li, my staple. He dismantled me, finding holes in my game, and detecting patterns that allowed him to get wall dive grabs. 1-0 Nagata.

I switched over to my counter-measure, Dee Jay. Seeing him going off the wall before, I assumed he would do the same, which I could punish with light upkicks. I instead saw a lot of corner roll and slide pressure, not allowing me the opportunity. 2-0 Nagata.

Exasperated and angry, I went back to O.Chun. I did slightly better, but the end result was the same. 3-0, and I was eliminated.

Frustrated, I shoved my stick out of my lap, breaking the lever. We shook hands, but deep down I was salty. I couldn’t shake that loss for the rest of the night.

When I finally calmed down, I started to realize that I hadn’t been wrong to play the way I was, but my salt was out of control. I didn’t ask to run it back for a while, but about a month later, we were at a venue and decided to run it back, to see if I was right that he just outplayed me. The result was the exact same, which gave me the realization that I was simply outplayed. Seeing that I was way off on my approach to the match, I began to learn more and bring the rounds closer as the set went on.

Had I have just went after him immediately based on my own damaged ego, I would have learned nothing, and only served to add to my frustration. But allowing myself to figure out that I didn’t know everything allowed me the opportunity to grow as a player when we did play again. Despite the damage to my own joystick, it was a lesson worth learning.

Just ask our satisfied customers

These kinds of lessons are a common trait I have seen among top players, and one dividing line between the people who win tournaments and people who bow out early. One of the best examples of this attitude of staying humble in losses comes from American fan-favorite Smug, who when asked about this very subject at Northern Arena stated, “If I win, I beat you, but then we’re eventually going to have to run it back, and then I’m going to forget how I beat you. I could watch my match but now you’ve probably found something new. I like losing more because I learn more when I lose than when I win.” He put these words to task at Evo 2017, losing to China’s Abao in his very first match, only to turn around and defeat him in the runback in losers finals of their second round of pools.

Tokido has also shown humility in both victory and defeat. In victory at Evo 2017, he was quick to offer guidance to second-place finisher Punk. In defeat at Capcom Cup 2017, he was quick to admit that he wasn’t fully prepared for MenaRD, and congratulate the champion. A later salty suite match after Capcom Cup would see an adapted Tokido who still fell to the Dominican’s Birdie.


This is part and parcel to the psychology of champions. As much as we have begun to hail fighting games as esports, we often neglect to look at the sports psychology that is attached to it. Champions are crowned off of a stronger mental state than their opponents. Someone who is weak-minded is more apt to not only crack under pressure, but not be able to find their own faults, and instead attribute their failure to external forces.

If you look at sports as an example, preparation for championship games are one of the most vital things to a winning team, to the point that the Super Bowl is staged two weeks after the NFC and AFC championship games. This is how long it takes for teams to prepare. The victor of these games are often determined by who is the most mentally tough and most-prepared team on the field that day.

Just imagine if say, in Super Bowl XLIV, the Indianapolis Colts complained that they were robbed of a championship because the New Orleans Saints surprised them with an onside kick at the start of the second half. Yet it is a perfectly legal play, that just happened to work because the Colts were unprepared for it. Whose fault is it that the Colts were unprepared for it: the Colts for not taking that variable into account, or the Saints who decided to try to catch them off guard?

If we would scoff at this above hypothetical, then what makes it different than a person who lost a tournament set because they couldn’t figure out how to beat or block the setups that their opponent hit them with? Would John Choi crying foul against Alex Valle for using the Valle CC in Street Fighter Alpha 2 have changed the outcome? Likely, it would’ve made it worse for Choi, as he would have spent more energy on being frustrated than reading the situation and adapting. It is, in this instance, Choi’s job to prepare and adapt, and not Valle’s job to lob softballs at Choi with situations he already knows how to deal with.

Final Thoughts

If we are taking these games seriously enough to seek out strong competition, then it is imperative that we take our own psychology seriously as well. This not only equates to trying to maintain an even keel during a match, but extends outside of it, when our egos are bruised after a loss and we have the choice to make excuses — or to learn. When we make excuses, we are more inclined to dehumanize our opponent, and do whatever it takes to put them beneath us, in order to attack their egos because our own egos feel bruised.

Rather than look at it as an affront to our ego that we lost, it is imperative we learn to recognize why our pride is hurt. More often than not, it will boil down to the fact that our egos were bruised simply by the fact that we didn’t understand how to overcome the situation. It’s easy for something like that to make us feel stupid.

It is not wrong to not know something. It is wrong that after we realize that we don’t know that we continue to not know, and by not addressing our injuries to our ego, we decide that not knowing is less important than acting impulsively. This is a grave error to make not only in games, but in real life.

One of the best things about digging deeper into fighting games is that it does force you to work on your own psychology. These types of lessons, especially regarding the ego, can greatly benefit you in all aspects of your life. Just imagine how many times you have reacted negatively to someone over a perceived insult or affront to your ego. How could understanding why the damage was done to your ego have prevented your negative reaction to the person?

This is food for thought as we continue to dig deeper into becoming not only greater players, but better people as well.

sfiii 3rd strike ryu ken bump

Additional source: Diosx

Corey "Missing Person" Lanier is a full-time writer, and one half of the "So Smart" team that did commentary for Street Fighter V Crash. A former English teacher, he has spent 5 years living between China and South Korea before moving to Canada. When he's not busy writing, he enjoys streaming, playing mafia and elevating his Super Turbo game. He also believes Sailor Moon S is the best fighting game on the planet, and if you don't believe him, see him in Sailor Moon!