“How do I avoid feeling disappointed with myself?”

Patrick Miller
12 min readJun 10, 2024

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Hey, hope everything’s going well!

Same guy from this submission two years prior with yet another plateau that feels insurmountable to overcome. Since that post, Granblue has, of course, exploded in popularity, and I feel confident and happy that Granblue is — albeit currently not perfect — *the* game that I love and am dedicating my time to. I’ve been playing Rising nonstop over the past year, and I’ve been playing, VOD reviewing, writing down matchup notes, practicing, and (yes) playing ranked and getting hardstuck. I would say pretty confidently I worked the hardest I could going into Combo Breaker. Obviously, Combo Breaker to me is an event that’s a bracket second and a chill time to enjoy the fighting community first, but at the same time, I came into it with a certain amount of investment in how I did.

Well, I went 1–2 and drowned in pools. There’s a plethora of johns and excuses I could make (in losers I lost to Lowain’s iconic Yggdrasil super 3/4 of rounds) but ultimately, my opponents were simply better than me. Since then, I’ve felt a lot of mixed emotions. I’m no stranger to doing bad in bracket, but the amount of investment I had prior means I ultimately still feel bad. Since then, I’ve been playing but really had the whole experience kind of weigh in on my mind; I’m feeling worse about my play and been losing a lot more (and Beatrix definitely isn’t helping that).

Obviously, it’s not green fuel to be this bummed about eating shit in bracket and missing out on a Chipotle card. At the same time, my primary insecurity boils down to the fear that I’m incapable of significantly improving; since then, I’ve gone back to look at old recordings of my play from January and even launch Rising, and feeling like I have not visibly or tangibly improved. The frustration of being plateaued is kind of weighing tough on me mentally. Sure, injecting logic into this reminds me that, in fact, I didn’t even 0–2, but at the same time, I’ve felt driven by my own sense of self disappointment and frustration in an attempt to push myself to feel the dopamine of improvement.

So I guess my ultimate set of questions are:
1. What’s the best way to process this self disappointment and frustration, even on something as micro as drowning in pools at Combo Breaker?

2. Is it “bad” to to be using that as a motivator, and if so, how can I even suppress or replace that with something a bit less…tilting?

3. Is there any remedy to the malaise I’m feeling from just flat out not getting closer to winning more consistently despite working to “improve” correctly?

Thanks,

Repeat Customer

Oh hey there! Thanks for writing in, and glad to see you’re still playing.

What you’re describing is pretty normal — the more effort you put into improving for a tournament, the worse it’s going to feel when you fall short of your hopes and expectations. Your time spent and effort expended is the cost you’re paying to ride this ride, and when you spend more, your expectations increase, and the gap between expectation and reality gets bigger. Wanting to avoid that feeling by grinding more is also perfectly normal and a very common motivator, though I wouldn’t consider it long-term sustainable by itself; typically what happens is that a person can only endure so many major failures before they decide to hang it up and do something else.

Even Glass Joe has a W.

For starters: Everyone learns in different ways, at different speeds, and from different starting points. I don’t know what your expectations are informed by or how well you expected to do, but I have seen some people be very bad at fighting games — far, far worse than I ever thought people could be at them — and even they get better over time and have fun doing it. I have never met someone who is wholly incapable of improving, but I have met people who have a harder time at it than others, and they are far and away the FGC’s strongest soldiers. I suspect you’re not one of them since you’ve been around for a couple years and probably wouldn’t have stuck around for that long if you had run into a wall early on, but consider that there are plenty of other people out there who have a much harder time making half the progress you’ve made and are still having fun making the gains at their own pace, and adjust your perspective accordingly.

Also, if your expectations are inflated by feeling like you’re doing things ‘the right way’, well, that way might not be right for you if you don’t feel like you’re getting better or seeing the results you want. Discipline and rigor are valuable tools for practice, but if you leave no room for joy, you may not find that an ‘optimal’ practice is sustainable for you in the long run. Personally, I drill when I feel like it, VOD review when I feel like it, and just mash games when I feel like it. I’ve gone through a hundred different versions of a ‘routine’ and what I’ve gotten from it is a set of tools that I can choose to apply in any given day depending on how I’m feeling and what I’m interested in working on.

Now, let’s talk about the emotional management bit. The reason I advocate for finding sustainable emotional motivation is because the path to improvement in fighting games is long, complicated, and highly variable from person to person; the only constant truth I have found is that the longer you play these games, the better you’ll get. So, if you find yourself a way to play these games that feels indefinitely sustainable over the long haul, you’ll get to see the satisfaction of your self-improvement without so much of the drama and inner turmoil that so many fighting game players experience early on that causes them to burn out and churn out.

I’m more of a Gouken than a Gouki.

I think that process starts by learning to embrace the lows as well as the highs; they are an intrinsic part of this activity, and frankly, the highs don’t taste as good if you don’t know how lows the lows can get. (If you want some support here, I highly recommend watching Hajime no Ippo if you haven’t already; the arc where Ippo learns to deal with losing is fantastic.) Fighting games can make you feel great and fighting games can make you feel terrible, and you don’t get one without the other. Over the long haul, you’ll get used to both the highs and lows in ways that make them both feel less intense, and if you stick around long enough you’ll start to feel nostalgic for the days when those feelings felt unbearably sharp and heavy. It’s kind of like how a breakup feels like the worst thing in the world when it’s happening to you for the first time, but ten years later you can look back on what might have been the saddest point of your life to date and reminisce fondly on how thoroughly you felt those feelings. I have some of my old breakup playlists, and I listen to them when I want to feel a faint echo of how they hit when I was in depths of it.

For the sake of comparison: I also went to Combo Breaker and had fairly reserved expectations for my performance in Xrd. I actually blew those expectations out of the water and got 9th, but since I was one hit from making it into top 8 (over the guy who won the tournament, no less), I have been haunted by that last hit for the following two weeks. During that entire time, my rational brain was doing its best to make myself feel better (“Best Combo Breaker performance ever! Way better than you expected!” etc.), and my heart was masochistically insistent on replaying that last moment over and over and over. Of course, it didn’t feel great, but I was cognizant enough of what was going on in my head to appreciate it for what it was — I wouldn’t feel this way if I didn’t care deeply about this game and how good I am at it (and I now understand why 9th place is actually the worst placing possible in a major bracket). I cannot stop myself from feeling those feelings, but I can appreciate that I have the emotional management tools to prevent myself from being overcome by those feelings and place them in perspective. It doesn’t make the bitterness go away, but that’s not the point; the bitterness is a critical part of the whole flavor, and I just need to be able to prevent it from washing everything else out.

“When defeat comes, I won’t even notice, because I’ll be too busy looking good.” (Photo by Robert Paul.)

So if you stick with it, you’ll get used to it and appreciate it for what it is. Every dramatic popoff you’ve seen on stage (and maybe mentally rehearsed in your head for when it’s your turn) comes from the pure exhilaration of being the guy that won and gets to feel good, and not the person in the other chair that lost and feels bad. It’s an explosion of all the tension and stress you feel while playing, and all the effort you put into preparing for that moment. We do these things so we can feel both the highs and the lows, not just one or the other, and if you’re only here for the highs then you won’t last long. However, there are certainly things you can do to stabilize the experience so the lows don’t hit quite so hard.

The first thing you can do is to be honest and deliberate with yourself about why you’re doing this at all. If the only thing you’re here for is to feel the reward of seeing your hard work pay off with better results, frankly, there are a lot of other activities which won’t have quite as profoundly low lows when you’re bad at them. I started learning to play golf relatively recently, and the nice thing about golf is that even though the game reminds you that you fucking suck about as often as fighting games do, you can finish a round of being bad at golf and you still got to go for a good walk and get some sun that will ultimately leave you feeling better about the day than before. If you go to Combo Breaker just for competition, you’re missing out on the best part of Combo Breaker, which is literally everything besides the competition. A bracket is a bracket no matter where you are, but that late night hotel lobby is where true legends are made. As I found out this year, competitors who do well at CB actually have a worse time than everyone else because everyone else gets to lose, go eat, and have fun.

When I go to Combo Breaker, I’m looking forward to seeing my friends again, meeting people who tell me they appreciate my work, and seeing new parts of the fighting game community that I didn’t know existed. The competition is a good excuse to fly to Chicago, and a good motivator to stay grinding the games that connect me to my friends, but the people I see having the best time at Combo Breaker are actually the people who have decided to leave their competition days behind them and just go to play games, eat, and vibe. The sadness of getting 9th is strong, but it is easily overpowered by the joy of simply being with old friends for a weekend.

Chicago Ramen Annex is legit btw. Get the Jiro style if you want to knock out.

There are all kinds of things you can do to find joy in fighting games outside of competition, and doing those things helps take the edge off of the lows. By teaching others, I get satisfaction in their growth. By running brackets and commentating, I get to find joy in helping others play the games they love with each other. By building community resources, I get to share the depth I find beautiful about the games that mean the most to me. By making fighting games, I get to create new moments and methods for people to connect with each other. Even as a spectator, I get to enjoy watching the tournament narrative unfold after my small part as a competitor was done. If you only think of yourself as a competitor, then you don’t get to feel any of that. After all, a competitor’s joy is fundamentally selfish; every win you get is a loss that feels bad for someone else. But when you engage with fighting games in other ways, you can find joy in helping others find theirs.

Or, as I put it in the other essay: If you’re not here for the people, then you’re missing out.

Rare footage of Chipp players interacting with each other. (Novak, imnotasandwich, Cliff the Kid, and myself.)

This is the third time you’ve written into my humble advice column, and each time you’ve asked questions that are primarily focused on the practice of the game itself with very little about the people you’re playing with. I think you’re missing the forest for the trees on this a bit; these games are a vehicle for us to develop profound connections with ourselves and each other, and those feelings are a part of those connections because they’re shared by everyone else who has ever touched a fighting game. You don’t need to be afraid of them, and if you stick around long enough, you should eventually come to realize pressing buttons better is really just the smallest part of what we do here. As the Zen saying goes: Do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.

Bruce Lee’s version is great, but I prefer the brevity of the Zen phrasing.

It’s great that you have a game that you love and want to devote yourself to, but love alone will not let you escape the law of diminishing returns. Trust that if you continue to play GBVSR, you will indeed get better, and part of that improvement will be in developing a finer understanding of how you can spend your time to improve in different ways (and, if you lost to the Lowain super for three rounds, you likely have much room to grow in). But consider spending your time on other parts of the fighting game community experience, and you’ll find that Combo Breaker will be an opportunity to celebrate so much more than just your individual play. Go play Tekken with your friend just to catch up and chill. Play Asuka Burning Fest 120% Limit Over so you can enter next year and the scene can be excited to welcome another new player. Learn to make some bomb ass cookies and bring them to your next local. And if you don’t have a local to bring those cookies to, well, maybe that’s your next project.

For me, competition is a valuable tool to guide and grow my practice, but I get more out of seeing my practice itself grow (hitting new combos, mastering new parts of a matchup, finding new depth in tools I had overlooked) than I do out of seeing the results improve, and the payoff of that practice isn’t as much about seeing the results get better so much as it is seeing my friends groan once they realize they have to deal with yet another set of new invisible ninja bullshit. You are not here yet; your journey thus far is measured in years and not decades. But perhaps you can use this as a glimpse of what your possible future in fighting games could look like, and maybe reflect a bit on how you spend your time in fighting games and place your bets accordingly. Combo Breaker was barely two weeks ago and most people who went probably already forgot who won in any given game, but I can tell you that Asuka 120% was hype, the Xrd lobby vibes were impeccable, and Noah made a real good cookie.

Hope this helps!

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-patrick miller

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Patrick Miller

a little bit miyamoto musashi, a little bit yoga with adriene.