This week’s glut of news—character reveals, hands-on impressions, and even a release date—left me, as many of you, impatient for more. There’s really no antidote for it; the more I find out about SC5, the more I find myself drifting off into happy fantasies of the horrible, borderline unjustifiable things I’ll be doing to you people once the game drops. It also got me thinking generally about the ways in which information of all sorts spreads throughout our community. Everything from juicy pre-release teases to advanced post-release tech comes to us through the same vectors: our fellow players. Whether by attending an event with a demo, working hard in practice mode, or, often enough, just getting lucky, many of us will find ourselves in possession of information that might confer an almost insurmountable short-term advantage. I’m here today, though, to convince you that sitting on information, no matter its short-term benefit, is almost never a good idea.
The Wolves are you when you share, and the carcass are the STSFN guys
An astute reader PMed me not long ago with a list of what he felt were the qualities of a good player. One of those qualities, “[t]each other players things they do wrong. And how to improve (in a nice way),” is utterly pedestrian here. Skilled players, if they’re interested at all in winning, have an obligation to do precisely this. “But Hates,” you whimper, “when I teach my friends how to get out of my [insert setup, tech trap, mixup, or non-guaranteed pseudocombo here] they start beating me, and I’m playing to win!”
True, gimmicks, parlor tricks, and all sorts of smoke-and-mirrors crap will float you along for
a little while with local competition. Hell, stumbling upon something cheap early enough might even lead to a decent showing at a major. That said, relying on the ignorance of others is not a viable long-term strategy. There are some players out there, though I won’t name names, whose entire strategies consist of a desperate struggle to remain one lame trick ahead of their competition. This sort of play is ultimately a house of cards. It will fall and you will fail.
Sharing information primarily works to combat this by keeping you honest. For example, when I uncover a strong tactic or cheeseball trick, I make certain to at least tell everyone with whom I’m practicing regularly. If it’s particularly nasty, I’ll share it with the community at large. I wouldn’t do it for recognition or some other form of retrograde nerd fame (not when writing a column is far more satisfying, anyway) because that’s just akin to being the “combo video guy” or “that dude who beat 3 opponents with Rock at Evo.”
I left Yoda and Taki out on purpose.
If that sort of thing appeals to you, great. Make yourself a little trophy and put it on the shelf next to all the other ones you undoubtedly have labeled “Most Improved” or “Participant” if that’s what it takes to get information flowing. The reason I do it (and why players truly invested in pushing their skills to the absolute limit should do it, too) is so I’ll be ready when I finally face off in a tournament against someone who knows all of my silly little tricks. Rather than being worried about whether our opponent has experience against our characters, we can move forward with extreme confidence.
Moreover, sharing strategies saves both time and energy. Think for a moment: sometimes we’re
all “too close” to a particular strategy and therefore fail to see its flaws. Most of us have at some point invested a great deal of time and energy into perfecting what I’ll generously call non-optimal tactics.
Something may strike you as a borderline degenerate strategy (see last week’s column), but another player might be able to crack it in almost no time. Rather than wasting time trying to think through every possible scenario or, even worse, building an entire playstyle around something that simply doesn’t work, sharing tech essentially allows you to outsource your thinking and problem solving. If I tell five people about something I discovered, I’ve multiplied my ability to test that tactic by at least a factor of five, and probably more if they go on to tell others. This, in turn, will bring to light all of the flaws in one’s game plan and give you the opportunity to address them.
Non optimal tactics meets someone who hit training mode. Watch and learn.
If a tactic is truly sound, you’ll be able to use it effectively irrespective of whether your opponent is
actually familiar with it. In fact, it’s often the case that with a little practice you will be able to use your opponent’s knowledge against him. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but recall how frustrating it can be to play an honest to goodness button masher once you’re beginning to figure out what you’re doing. You can certainly steamroll a masher, but you can’t really mix one up because they simply don’t know enough about the game to realize when they should be on the defensive. Pushing your tactics out into the community goes a long way toward inoculating yourself against losing to someone who doesn’t know enough to realize he should be afraid.
In the end, much of this is about scale. If you consider your overall pool of opponents to be the
computer, your mom, and whoever on the block is brave enough to venture down into your basement apartment, then by all means, be stingy with your knowledge. Those of us interested in competing at the highest levels, however, must consider everyone with a copy of the game as a potential opponent, in which case it’s outright foolishness to put all of your faith in the ignorance of others. The community we have is a valuable resource. It’s important we use it to help ourselves, even if others benefit during the process.
Work Smarter, Not Harder, Redux
Before closing, I want to mention the inverse of the problem I discussed above—namely, the people who want to “figure things out on [their] own.” Again, this community is a resource. There’s no special prize for reinventing the wheel, so it’s foolish not to take advantage of the work done by others in terms of figuring out optimal strategies and combos. Never take anything as gospel, of course, but do not under any circumstances succumb to misplaced pride. It’s antithetical to a winning attitude. There’s no point in debating who discovered what, who ripped what off, and the like, because ultimately whoever uses these tactics best ends up winning. Save brain cycles on discovery and use them for devising new applications whenever possible, then let us know about them. The net result is that everyone gets better. Work smart and you’ll stay ahead of the competition.
If you’re part of a regular scene, fill people in on your most cherished tactics. See if they can’t force you to step your game up. Or rant at me about sandbagging. Sandbagging is way cool.