Are you really as good as you think you are?
“I play this game 50 hours a week” ,”I should be a pro gamer” ,”I’m so much better than you it’s not even worth playing” .We’ve all heard it one time or another. Perhaps one of your friends or maybe even you are one of these guys who is so sure they are the best ever. Simply log into any console multiplayer game or a competitive PC game like LoL and you’ll be amazed at how many “pro-level” gamers you get matched up with. You might argue that it must mean you are just so good that you get matched up with other good players. No, you suck probably. It’s human nature to believe yourself to be unique and skillful at whatever you do, but it’s even more natural to believe yourself to have super human abilities when it comes to games.
During Dreamhack a few weeks back a Street Fighter IV tournament was held that pitted some of those expert players against some less than experienced players. During an internet televised matchup against a pro player and an amateur something amazing happened, the bad player won. Not only did he win but he won in devastating multi-round, multi-match fashion. Have a look at the video below to check out the match itself.
One of the most interesting aspects of the match is listening to the shoutcasters try to call the action during the fights. They truly can’t handle what is going on and just laugh as the bad player (Ghandi) completely destroys the “master” player (FSA). Throughout the rounds FSA proves himself completely unable to defend against even the most basic of attacks that Gandhi attempts. While it’s easy to dismiss the whole thing as FSA and the shoutcasters attempted to do by blaming it on lag (or lack thereof) due to FSA being used to playing online only, it’s quite clear something far more sinister was at the core of the issue.
When it comes right down to it FSA learned how to play and bases his own playing decisions off the style of other so called “experts”. The idea behind a lot of fighting games is that there is a very deep “correct” way to play. Follow that formula and you should win more often than not. Certain moves cancel others, some actions take priority over everything else, certain moves are easier or harder to block based on frame data, etc. When you only play against other players who adhere to this formula it essentially becomes a contest to see who can match the dance steps the best.
Old school Halo players might recall the double melee glitch that all seasoned players used. By quickly pressing melee, grenade, melee you’d be able to perform all 3 attacks in the same amount of time that a single melee attack normally would occur. This bug was due to animation cancelling where players found that throwing a grenade would take precedence over other commands such as reloading or melee attacking. By throwing a grenade immediately after meleeing the melee hit would register damage on contact but the rest of the animation would take a backseat to the grenade throw animation which cancels out melee animation. That’s bad enough but then performing another animation cancelling command (meleeing again) would then cancel out the grenade throw animation. Put all together you have a super fast attack that meleed twice and dropped a grenade at your feet.
Using and mastering the double melee attack became a required skill for all Halo experts pretty quickly. In a match with lesser skilled players double melee was a surefire way to win all games because they simply weren’t aware of the danger of getting close. They perceived themselves to have an equal chance at winning a melee encounter while the expert player knew a trick to ensure their death. In pro-level games though the double melee was so widely used that it became the only correct way to melee, so much so that missing a double melee was an error on the players part. The double melee attack became an essential skill that gained no advantage because everyone else was doing it too. Much like FSA and other Street Fighter IV players, expert Halo players were following an established formula of rules that all of their opponents were also adhering to.
MOBA players such as those in League of Legends call it the “Meta Game”. The style and formula for the “correct” way to play is staunchly obeyed by a large amount of the player base. Out of the box thinking is largely frowned upon and a style of play with certain positions and item builds becomes popularized across the region. This is especially evident in a game like LoL with global reach but regional home servers. The meta game in the U.S. is not the same style of gameplay found in Eastern Asia or Brazil. The players learn new tricks and demonstrate those tricks to their opponents who in turn may try to emulate what they just saw. Eventually a distinct style of play emerges that everyone believes to be correct.
Sony Online Entertainment recently debuted their next game in the Everquest series that is a far departure from the traditional gameplay in the previous games. SOE argued that essentially all MMORPG games are the same and that a lot of the gameplay featured in the genre is based off of design decisions SOE made back in 1999 during Everquest 1 development. It’s crazy to think about but it is sort of correct. A lot of the traditional fantasy MMORPG style that we’ve come to know is largely based on the formula that Sony put into place nearly 2 decades ago. We as players have grown accustomed to the idea of strictly one-dimensional classes or (gasp!) “hybrid” classes such as Fury, Druid, Beastlord, or Shadowknight that could do a few roles at once but never master any. We learned the “correct” ways of playing, raiding, tanking, healing and have done pretty much the same exact dance steps across multiple games since the 90’s.
Going back to FSA vs Gandhi, the matches are almost painful to watch because of what happens. FSA is just at a total loss for counterplay moves even against the most basic of attacks. At one point during a round Gandhi simply hammers the light punch button a few times directly in front of FSA who simply sits crouched under the punches and waits for them to stop. The shoutcasters burst out in laughter but this is a perfect example of player being taken so far out of his element that he essentially becomes helpless. FSA learned the “correct” formula for playing Street Fighter IV and when a player threw absolutely everything out the window and just hammered punch in front of him FSA had no way to answer back. None of the higher ranked players he’s accustomed to encountering just jump back and forth kicking in the air or standing in one place punching. That style of gameplay is so far off from the perceived correct formula. Those dance moves were never learned, nor were their counterattacks mastered.
This phenomenon can happen in any game, though it’s easy to argue that certain games are more prone it. Well seasoned Call of Duty players rage all day about things like noobtubes or quickscopes while every person ever to play Maxi in Soul Calibur manages to replicate the FSA vs Gandhi results any time they play against their friend who is really good at Soul Calibur for some reason. It’s easy to think you’ve learned a game and the exact right way of doing something and it’s even easier to dismiss other players tactics as cheap, hacks, lag induced, not ideal, or simply incorrect.
Regardless of the game you choose, what this 8 minute long Street Fighter IV match should remind us all of is the importance of self analysis and modesty. For me it was bad enough that while in between matches FSA blames his performance on being accustomed to a higher latency, but the real worse part of the video was how the moment he was defeated he jumped up grabbed his things and left. No humbleness in defeat, no show of respect for a competitor. He jumped up and left probably thinking the rest of the day he was somehow cheated out of a victory and that he was the better player. He might be the better player against other better players, but he was no master against the hardest style to play against of them all, no style.
Peter Downey is an American video game writer, technology expert, and web designer living in Winter Park, Florida. Born in 1983 he is fortunate enough to have experienced life before and after the internet and spent his teenage years playing games such as Quake, Starcraft, and Everquest.