Friday, February 7, 2014

You Can't Just Show Up

The common anecdote/experience among Smash players is finding some guy who brags that he “beats all their friends.” That person has played the game for years, they’d get together on weekends with the buddies and they would all play and he would always win. So he’s obviously good. He’s been winning for years.

Then you ask him about who he plays and what he does, and he cites his mastery over strategies that may have worked against tournament players back in 2003. That person is rarely, if ever, actually good, because how much you play is not the only factor. What you do with the time you have is the thing that matters. You can’t just show up to play.

Heck, many of us were that guy before we got into tournaments and competitions, and many of us learned the hard way that just beating our friends for a few years isn’t enough. Something else is required.

We often let, in our heads, time equal skill gained. We mentally equate the years If you heard that somebody had been a mechanic for twenty years, you’d be inclined to trust their opinion more than somebody who had been in the game for three years. But not all time spent is equally. They might have just been a bad mechanic for 20 years and done the bare minimum to avoid getting fired and sued. With those twenty years of “just good enough,” they stick around then eventually open your wallet with the magic phrase, “twenty years experience.”

What did you do for those twenty years? When you sit down to play… are you just adding another slash mark onto your tally of weekends spent? Or are you hunting for a specific skill or experience to round out your repertoire? The first step is showing up, but that cannot be the only thing you do.

Improvement requires several things:

1) Something to work on, fixing up some aspect of your game or skill that needs improvement. Whether you are hunting for specific knowledge, or you’re trying to increase how well you do something, you must have a target or your improvement will be either random or non-existent.

I sit down to play people, and they often ask me how to get better. So I ask them, “well, what are you working on?” and they typically fumble for an answer. Don’t you know? It barely matters what you choose! The unfortunate thing is, most people don’t pick anything. They just show up and wait for somebody to hand them the skill diploma. It works for a lot of schools, it doesn’t work for skills.

2) A way to measure how well you do. I talked about [feedback] and how important it is to have measurements. I wasn’t kidding. If you pick something to practice then do it… but then you have no idea if it’s good or not, how do you know your practice is helping? You need a way to know if you’re hitting the target or not.

You need to define the boundaries of success and failure for your practice, and then attempt to play within those lines.

3) Stealing. If you’re the best player/performer/do-things-person of your field… well, you still may want to use this advice. Do what other people do. Copy and steal, then tweak and fiddle. When people ask me how to improve at a given character that I don’t even play, I think to myself, “there is somebody out there writing the guide every time they pick up the controller.” I don’t see them trying to the successful strategies and techniques, I don’t even see them attempting those strategies. These people know who that amazing player is. They know that person gets results, so where the heck is the good-natured theft of intellectual property?

You might not know how to get better. But fortunately there are templates of better players everywhere you look. Can you do what they do? Why not? If you don’t know, just start working! Don’t wait for that player to come and teach you what they do, be a thief.

4) Showing up. It’s not the only thing you need to do, but you do need to do it. Show up, practice, play, and do the other three things while you’re there.

Thanks for reading.


  1. So many players make this mistake in thinking they just need to put in the hours, including myself at times. Great Read

  2. Excellent read! I'm guilty of this as well

  3. I used to think "Ok just ask for advice everytime and hopefully I'll get better that way." I realized I can only trust myself in that I have the most desire to improve myself, and therefore I must put in the work to improve. I have stopped asking for 'tips'. Now I ask *everyone that beats me, or ocassionally beats me* 'What mistakes did you see me make??'.

    Now I'm simply trying to find what works and what doesn't.