Hi guys, this post will be in English due to the content being targeted to all the players and not just the Dutch scene. I will go over the aspects that make a top player adapt to other players and where you stand right now. Click on for the full article.
In my last article on the subject of reading your opponent I made references to top players and explained their actions from my perspective. This article will be divided into different categories where one can excel at and what part it plays in the bigger scheme of being able to adapt to your opponent.
Knowledge is possessing the information about your own character, the opponents character and the situations that they create together. This may sound simple at first but it's one of the most intricate parts of fighting games. It's not just being able to punish your opponents unsafe moves. It's also about knowing exactly which options you and your opponent have available at every set time and spacing. It's also not just particular situations either, every few pixels of distance consist of a whole new array of options, with a few most optimal you can never count out the lesser options either.
Let's take Ryu for example. In the mid range hard hadoken and cr.mk are the optimal options because they don't leave room for direct counters. What I mean by direct counters are tools that counter these options on a reactable, visual cue. But if you only use hard hadoken and cr.mk on this range your gameplan will be predictable, even if you switch up your timing. So dash, jumping lk and walking forward are also options you're likely to use, when and how you use these are up to the player but they have a base in logic. If you watch match videos or training mode you can 'feel' the tension to when these options are used. This is also an important part of knowledge, although it is a bit meta, it is definitely studyable.
Now that we've established the options your opponent can use we can take it even farther and study the players themselves. How you do this efficiently is, you take the situations you've practiced and compare them to a real match situation using tournament footage. What options does your potential opponent use often? Does he attack or defend in certain patterns against your character? What visual cues trigger his actions?
In summary there's a lot to be learned just by yourself and these factors contribute a great portion of winning or losing a set. Don't be afraid spent your free evening in training mode instead of grinding ranked!
Yomi is a term coined by David Sirlin which conveys the level of thinking between opponents. In short it's a rock-paper-scissor concept applied to fighting games. I'm thinking that he's thinking that I'm thinking and so on. In SF5 the player who's thinking one step ahead of the other in all aspects of the match will make the match look disgustingly free. Between two equal players there's a balance between who is thinking further than who and they will joust with ideas until one is left the winner. Improving on Yomi is a difficult and abstract task. It will come with experience, you always have a few players you can read like the back of your hand no matter what your level is. Improving on this concept alone can be trained by being consciously aware of the concept itself and applying it to all situations.
For example we take Ryu again. We have thrown a fireball on the block of Ken and we are now at an advantage so we decide to throw another fireball. Ken walks forward and decides to block the second fireball. We wait and see if the Ken will choose a risky option like ex tatsu, v-skill or dash in. He decides to weave in and out of our sweep range so we decide to throw another fireball. He blocked it again and we throw another fireball which he also blocks. He again decides to weave in and out and we get ready to throw our fireball. While our fireball is being thrown he's jumping and we eat a full jump in combo to corner situation.
So in this example the situation resets two consecutive times and the Ken player caught on to our timing and decision. To counter this we could've just comitted to weaving ourselves, being ready to anti air or whiffpunish any upcoming options from our opponent. He would've jumped thinking we would again commit to a fireball and he would've been anti aired into a good pressure opportunity for us.
Being aware of this way of thinking during your matches with any skill of opponent will make you a better player a 100 times faster than just doing your standard setplays in ranked. Even against players you can defeat easily it is a challenge to counter their every thought, you will also notice you will play more solidly with this method of thinking in the back of your mind. Remember, it's easier to win with bad practice and gimmicks than winning solid but the solid way will take you a lot farther in the world of fighting games.
One underestimated aspect of fighting games is timing. A lot of players have a habit of thinking “this is getting punished so it's a bad option” but then they'll see a top player using the same option and succeeding. The key to this is timing, and the ability to consciously see which timing is appropriate for the situation. A sweep from any character in the close mid range is punishable easily. But despite that players like Justin Wong and John Choi seem to hit every sweep from the most risky ranges. These hit because they wait long enough for the opponent to think “the coast is clear, they're not going to commit to an option and I'm going to attack/defend now” and then get swept at that exact moment. Also this is practiced by being consciously aware of that the concept exists and that you experiment with different timings.
Playing various skill levels
You can only improve as a player when you play different skill levels of opponents. When you play a weaker player you have the opportunity to optimize your combo's, grind your meaties and analyse situations thoroughly without the risk of being overrun by their options. These can then be applied to playing players of your own skill level or above.
Playing players above your skill level will train you mentally, they have such an array of options ready for your options it feels like it's impossible to do anything. But when you take a step back and ask yourself “why is this hitting me and why isn't he getting hit by my options?” you have a golden opportunity to polish your own game by eliminating lesser aspects of your own game. Referring to the topics above there is always a lot of room for improvement.
Playing players your own skill level is the real challenge, if you can beat them more than they can beat you after using the previous two methods and rigorous training, well congratulations! You have just become a better player and can set new goals for yourself.
Building tournament mental stamina
Another big aspect of playing competitively in fighting games, and the last one of this article, is the mental stamina of playing a tournament. It's easy to fall prey to frustration, helplessness and salt. The people watching, the consequences of losing, the pressure of your own goals, it's a difficult environment to play the best you can be. The trick I use personally is is viewing the tournament as a positive opportunity, to show myself I've improved and can be a better player than last time, instead of thinking of the consequences of a loss.
Another thing is flowcharting. The tournament is an environment where you most likely had a bad sleep last night, food is scarce and fatty and the crowded area is also mentally and physically draining. The first few rounds of a tournament will be the easiest (most of the time). These are matches where you don't have to think consciously and can grind out a win if the skill gap is big enough. Try to save all your mental strength against the better players of your group and later on in the bracket.
Playing above your average is also very taxing on your mind. Make sure you stay hydrated between sets and matches and make sure to do some breathing exercises or stretching to keep your head in the game. When you crack in game and start to do risky stuff without a reason it's all over for you. Also don't fall into an achievers fallacy. The achievers fallacy is the concept where you can feel you are beating someone who is a lot stronger than you, and during the final round you are already thinking of your pop-off, the stories people will tell and how good you will feel after. Instead your opponent adapts to your gameplan and your head switches to panic mode, you start to play way below your average and lose the game or set. Try and focus your mind on the task at hand. Until the task is complete there's no room for other stuff in your mind.
I feel that applying all these concepts consciously will make you a better player in the long run. The goal of this article was to make you aware of the different mental concepts there are in fighting games without going on the standard execution and spacing rant. So practice your matchups, know your optimized combo's and options and analyze every pixel on screen and come up with new tools to supplement your arsenal. Analyze your different levels of thinking and be conscious of what your opponent is thinking. Experiment with different timings and play a wide array of players.