Saturday, April 25, 2015

Knowing Matchups

You can know all the facts about a matchup you want, it does not mean that you will win the matchup every time.

Being strong in a matchup can go beyond knowing about the matchup. It can mean knowing facts, implementing them, understanding nuances, and executing well. However, just because you are strong in the matchup does not mean that you will still defeat the opponent.

Why should this be so?

Consider games like Street Fighter, where certain characters have remained--in concept--nearly identical over the years. Specifically, the one that comes to mind is Ryu. It is hard to imagine being surprised by Ryu if you’re at all familiar with the game. It is also hard to imagine that somebody familiar with the series doesn’t understand, on some level, how to deal with him.

Little differences could easily matter, of course. Without being a Street Fighter frame-data guru, I could imagine variations of Ryu’s fireball that are more or less easy to deal with based on frame data and hitboxes and whatever; these things are facts about the matchup, and whether you know those facts would be a factor in deciding how strong you are. That, in turn, could influence how well you know the Ryu matchup for a given incarnation of the game.

And yet, even though everybody sensible ought to “know the Ryu matchup,” Ryu players can still win. Because sometimes, despite your matchup knowledge, the Ryu is just the stronger player.

(Side note: I would argue that this is one of the hallmarks of a game that has a robust foundation; if knowing a matchup means winning it 100% of the time, the character is probably very gimmick centered without good basic tools, or to put it less nicely, awful.)

This is because knowing a matchup does not mean you are prepared to fight the strongest version of that matchup. It also probably means that there are fundamental elements of the game, things that have a say in the outcome, which are independent of matchups.


This concept is interesting to me because I think it applies elsewhere, outside asymmetric competitions like fighting games.

People ask me for advice on handling anger and stress during competition, because I have allegedly become pretty good at doing so over the years. You could say this means I understand the matchup between myself and my anger, my frustration, my stress.

But does that mean I am prepared to fight the strongest versions of my angers, frustrations, and stresses? Does that mean I will always win?

Without visualizing myself as a character in a goofy 2D fighter trying to zone out the embodiment of my own salt (too late, just did), I feel like the answer is no. There may be times when I encounter an incredibly strong version of my own anger, and it attacks me harder than other versions. Though I may know how to deal with it, I may not succeed.

Not only that, a player’s performance can vary on a given day. Why can mine not? Maybe you and the best Ryu player in your city normally go even, but you generally win. Then you play on a day where you got barely any sleep, and on top of that you had a stressful day at work. You play, and you lose.

Does this mean you suddenly don’t know the matchup? No. But it does mean that you will not always be equipped to handle every version of a matchup that the world can throw at you. It means that there will be times where your performance varies, and things get the better of you regardless.

And sometimes, even when you think you know the matchup, somebody finds a little hidden technology to throw your way, and get the upper hand. In parallel, sometimes you find something unexpected depressing you or upsetting you, and you’re not really equipped, in that moment, to deal with it. So, for the time being, it defeats you.


This isn’t really one of those advicey posts where I have something clever to say to handle everything. But I’ll throw out a little bullet point of ideas that might pertain.

  • For reasons above, just because you lose a matchup (literally or proverbially) doesn’t mean you don’t know it. You might have forgotten something, you might have been a bit off, or it might have just been the strongest version of that matchup you’d ever encountered. Don’t overreact, analyze and try to understand.
  • If you’re in the heat of a moment and the matchup throws a curveball at you that you’ve never seen before, two options come to mind. First is solve it very quickly. If you can’t do that, then your best bet is avoid the situation entirely until you reach a point where you understand how to deal with it.
  • Steal. See how somebody else better at the matchup handles the thing you don’t understand, do what they do, and see what happens. It might not work for you perfectly but at least you’re gathering data and learning.
  • The best way to learn a matchup is to encounter it repeatedly, often losing in the process. The only way to learn how to handle an emotional issue is to face it and experience it; avoidance can only last you so long.

Those are my thoughts. Thanks for reading. Let’s try and get another update soon, I have been away far too long.