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Fighting games will expose you to a million different flavors of frustration, and you have to find ways to deal with each one. Personally, I think it’s super cool that video games can get people to learn real-ass life skills like this! But, just like anything else in fighting games, it’s ten times harder to learn this stuff on your own than it is to get some tips from others.
So: Here’s some real anti-salt tech. None of that wack shit like terrible excuses or “I don’t even play this game” option selects. It’s not easy to execute, but it gets easier the more you practice it. And if you’re playing fighting games, you’ll get plenty of chances to practice.
Salt makes it harder to play
Broadly speaking, high emotional sodium levels pose three different risks for fighting game players:
- In-game, you’ll make worse decisions when you’re salty, which smart players will use to their advantage
- Long-term, salt will weaken your mental well-being, meaning you’re either going to stop playing fighting games because you’re not having fun, or you’re going to keep playing them and make yourself even more miserable
- If you’re too salty in a social environment most people will not want to talk to you, hang out with you, or play with you until you get over it, so you’re gonna have to deal with that shit
There are some people out there who are proud of how salty they get, saying that is how they fuel themselves to get better. I suspect that for every person who has won a major tournament with this kind of attitude, there are probably a hundred folks who have dropped out because the salt is too much. So first, let’s talk about how you can get stronger from your salt.
Get stronger by sorting your salt
Fighting games give you a lot of things to keep track of, and one of those things is your own emotional state. Players who do not keep an eye on their mood during a match may often find themselves suddenly just consumed with intense frustration, which leads them to make rash decisions.
In most cases, I’d bet that this frustration was not triggered by one specific event, but rather a series of smaller moments, each contributing to a buildup in salt that the player didn’t notice. That player might point to a specific moment, like dropping a combo, that caused the salt to peak, but that wasn’t the only thing that led to them feeling frustrated, just the thing that made them boil over.
This is bad because if you hit a high enough salt threshold to go on tilt in a match, you’re probably screwed, so let’s figure out how to deal with it in the moment. Personally, I’ve had good results from keeping track of my salt while it’s happening. When something makes me upset, I make a mental note of what happened to make me upset and why, which is important because different sources of frustration have different risks and action plans.
In my experience, I’ve found that most fighting game salt comes from one of three sources:
1 — I expected something in the game to happen, but it didn’t happen. This is what happens when I drop combos or misread a situation. I have to fix this by practicing something specific in Training Mode, but during the match I can’t do that, so I’ll just take a note about it after the match and follow up on it later.
2 — I ran into a problem that I didn’t know how to answer. It can get pretty frustrating to have your matchup knowledge gaps exposed. During the match, I want to minimize my exposure to situations where I don’t know what’s going on, so I’ll focus on trying to avoid that situation over trying to find a solution mid-match (unless it’s casuals, in which case experiment away). After the match, I’ll ask the player how that situation works and what I should do to deal with it — most folks tend to be pretty open about helping out after the game.
3 — I thought my results should have been better than they were. Getting sent to losers by someone you think you should have beat; losing ranking points to a lower-division player; pissed because you went 0–2 when you usually go 2–2; all of this is some Big Salt. For this kind of salt, I’ll start by unpacking why I felt like “I should have won that one” — the reality is that online ranking divisions are not reliable indicators of skill or projected results, there isn’t really a big difference between going 0–2 in pools and going 2–2 in pools, and if I just straight up underestimated my opponent, I deserved to lose and I just gotta hold that.
Another trick to dealing with this stuff is to make an effort to set my expectations based on what I’m working on, not based on “how I feel like I should do”. If I’m specifically practicing to deal with Leo, I don’t need to bother getting salty if Johnny sent me to losers; I’ll just work on that matchup next.
I’ve found that breaking up the salt into specific, understandable chunks makes it easier for me to deal with it and learn from it. There’s something about thinking to yourself, “Oh, thing happened and that made me feel frustrated” which takes a bit of the pain away, and having an ready plan to deal with thing later makes it easier to learn from the frustrating stuff!
But let’s be real, that’s also some Grown Ass Adult Shit that takes a while to get good at, so while you’re working on that, here’s a few more tips to tone down your salt levels.
Distract yourself immediately after losing
People are pretty simple creatures, and it turns out if you give them something else to do, they’ll do that thing instead of thinking too hard about whatever just happened before that. So if you lost a match and you’re feeling frustrated, just check your phone and do something else for a little bit. If you’re netplaying, queue for matchmaking from training mode so you can just hop right back in after a loss.
The main thing is to minimize the amount of time you’re looking at screen telling you that you just lost, because the longer you’re there with nothing else to do, the worse you’re going to feel. (This is also why I’d generally recommend going to character select to collect yourself instead of waiting at the post-match menu — that way you don’t need to see your opponent’s winpose any longer than you have to.)
Frankly, this is trick works so well it makes you feel kind of silly. But hey, here’s a neat study showing that playing Tetris within hours of experiencing trauma can prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, so cracking open whatever trashy gacha mobile game you’re into can probably do something to help you process getting double perfected on stream.
Give your opponent some credit
It’s true: Everything that happens in a fighting game is your fault. There are no teammates to blame things on, and very little built-in randomness. If you got hit, it’s because you weren’t blocking.
But you’re playing against another human being, and they’re probably thinking the same thing. If you think of your opponent as a good player and you win, you get to feel good about the win, and if you lost, it’s not such a big deal because you lost to a good player. It’s like being nice is an option select!
So when you get hit by something clever, nod and say “Good shit”. It’s not like you win extra points for being harder on yourself, and acknowledging good play in your opponent projects more confidence than saying nothing.
Increase the stakes
This is kind of a weird one, but bear with me: The Salt Potential of any given match tends to increase proportionally to the intensity of the match. Think about the emotional energy you’d bring to a $10,000 money match — if you lose, you’re not just going to feel salt, you’re going to feel the salt of losing $10,000. However, once you’ve had that experience of -$10,000 salt, things like losing at locals doesn’t feel nearly as bad.
This doesn’t mean you should immediately hop into a $10k money match, but it does mean you should be actively trying to get more expensive losses, because that’s an investment in making the rest of your losses suck less. So play more money matches, go to more tournaments, that kind of thing. If Ranked Match netplay is the most intense mode you play in, you’re going to spend most of your time getting really mad at the Internet when you could be having fun playing fighting games, but if Ranked Match netplay is just something you’re doing to prep for Combo Breaker, it’s not something to get mad about.
Netplay just doesn’t fucking matter
A fighting game tournament tests your ability to Not Lose. Online ranking modes test your ability Win More Often Than You Lose while also dealing with variable amounts of internet lag, random opponents, and all kinds of other confounding and distracting factors. They’re different meta-games that incentivize different kinds of play — netplay tends to reward risky behavior a lot more, for example, and the lag can force you to guess against some moves that would be perfectly reactable offline.
Playing fighting games to prove to your friends that you’re The Strongest is fun. Playing fighting games to test yourself at in-person tournaments is fun. Playing fighting games to get a high rank in online netplay is lonely and awful. Netplay is a convenient tool for anyone looking to improve (back in my day, I had to walk five miles to the arcade, etc.) but it’s not worth getting salty over.
It’s okay to feel salty
In the end, losing feels bad, and feeling bad about losing is an important part of competing. If we weren’t salty about this stuff, we probably wouldn’t care as much about it. So once your tournament run is over, go ahead and feel bad for a bit.
Then go play casuals. You got work to do.