I’ll be the first to say I’m not particularly good in the grand scheme of the FGC. I’m beyond flailing but get caught up in the all too common “I would like to play the game now” to my detriment. I have a particularly difficult time IADing or Air Dashing in general. For that and many other reasons (command grabs feel nice to land), I made the decision in ACPR and eventually Rev2 to play Potemkin. I can tick throw off of jump in and can 6K HFB; nothing too noteworthy.
My sparring partner plays multiple characters and beats me pretty handily in most long sets. The long streaks of losses seldom get to me; while I do win a few, I wouldn’t expect any other outcome given his experience, and I have a genuine respect for his ability to express his expertise when beating my ass. He’s never on autopilot. He’s got the Pot-specific combos. The point is that I never really let losing really get to me because it’s a fighting game; two men enter, one man (typically the better one) leaves. No hard feelings.
I was hosting a netplay lobby the other day and was playing against a Chipp player. Not super familiar with the matchup and the guy is obviously pretty good so it’s an easy 0–2. Guy backs out and goes to character select. Comes back as Potemkin. They’re clearly better than me and as the set progresses it’s clear that it’s no longer “haha isn’t this mirror dumb?” it’s instead “Not only am I better than you at Pot, I know all the ways you’re using Pot wrong”. The set ends 2–20. They back out into the lobby and I still remain cordial, offering a “gg” + “your pot is really good”.
That’s when they hit me with “I used to be foolish enough to play pot. but no longer.” and then left. I closed the lobby shortly after.
That set and the (albeit small) interaction that occurred hit me in a way that no other one had. There’s multiple layers as to why this put me in a funk that all sort of interconnect so I’ll try to be concise:
The fundamental meaning of the results of a mirror match: Not only is the better player going to win, they’re probably going to do so by playing to the character’s strengths on their end, and being mindful of the character’s shortcomings and using them against your opponent. And if the losing player picks up on these two points. It can be more demoralizing than a typical loss because it more obviously exposes the shortcomings of the weaker player.
The guy could have probably beat me just as handily playing Chipp but they, probably aware of the previous point, made the decision to play the mirror specifically to prove a point. Which in a vacuum I would have assumed it was just to exhibit mastery. But then…
The resigned admission that they no longer find joy in playing Pot casts a whole shadow over the whole experience. They were pretty much better than me in every way possible and ultimately made the decision to give up the character. And as someone who had assuredly not experienced all the things they did, It for a moment put my progress and outlook into question.
It’s a lot to take in so I’ll try to compress it into questions beyond some general word of support and advice.
How do you feel about the mirror match along with what I’ve said about it?
I haven’t put too much time into Potcho in the grand scheme of things but I feel like doing so gives weight to the words of a total stranger. What are your thoughts on the character switch?
Keep on Rockin,
There is a lot going on in here! I think it’s definitely worth talking through stuff like mirror matches and character choices, but before I do, I’m going to use your letter as an excuse to rant about netplay for a second.
Fighting games are a very cool and rich medium of communication. There are things about people you can only learn by playing fighting games with them, and that’s dope as hell. However, unless you’re on voice chat, most of your fighting game-based communication with your opponents is going to be strictly limited to what’s in-game. If you were playing strangers in person, you’d at least be able to get some idea of their body language to cue you in on their mood and intention, but in random netplay matches you probably aren’t getting that much at all to go off of.
The end result is that it’s incredibly easy for two players to have vastly different emotional experiences; the winning player is just having a good time hitting some buttons, and the losing player might be spiraling deeper and deeper into the dumps, interpreting every single exchange as uncharitably as they possibly can — stuff like thinking “They must think I’m such a scrub” every time you drop a combo or something (readers, if you see this and recognize yourself here, you are legally obligated to share this article on your preferred social media service). The smallest perceived slight is enough to send the session into Bad Vibes, perhaps with a post-session salty tweet to cap it off, all because we couldn’t stop ourselves from Making Up A Guy.
Personally, I try to play most of my games in-person or with friends/friends-of-friends in smaller Discords because it’s much easier to stop Making Up Guys out of netplay randos if I know the netplay rando in question. Netplaying absolute strangers with zero social contact is the equivalent of arguing with yourself in the shower; it’s stressful even though it’s literally all in your head. The Pot mirror is fun, and the dude probably picked Pot because he wanted an excuse to dust off his old Pot and play the mirror, but instead of having fun getting washed by a more experienced player, you spiraled so hard you wrote a novel in my email inbox. You can’t let yourself get worked up about it. It’s just not good for you.
Now with that out of the way, let’s get to the questions you were asking about mirror matches and character choices.
For starters: I adore mirror matches. I think they’re a great way to learn the ins and outs of your character, and get some perspective on what it feels like to play against your own stuff. I have learned so much from playing Chipp mirrors because they help me understand how each of his tools are scary, which I cannot get only from playing as him. I often like to say that the mirror match is your karma; it can only shows you the way others see you, and if you don’t like it, then you’re due for some reflection.
I think the idea that mirror matches are demoralizing because they so clearly reveal the shortcomings of the weaker player is the first thing to focus on here: In fighting games, revealing your shortcomings is a blessing. It is a GIFT. As a fighting game player, we spend most of our time trying desperately to identify our shortcomings so we can address them. If someone plays the mirror with you and shows you all the things you could be doing better to play that character, it’s like you just received a one on one practice session with a better version of you from the future, and you should analyze that session to break down and practice all the things you can do better. The longer you play these games, the harder it will be to find things to get better at, and the less clear your path to mastery will be. To have someone just pull up on you and show you all the things you could be doing better, specifically from the perspective of someone who played the same character as you, is actually one of the luckiest things you can find in the mean streets of Player Match.
There is a generation of NorCal Xrd players who remember when they were new enough at Xrd that I would usually opt to play their own character against them instead of running Chipp, not because I wanted to demoralize them, but because I wanted to show them how their character is played. Newer fighting game players usually have a skewed idea of how to play their characters because they’re still learning the basics, and giving them a clear demonstration of how they’re played in the hands of a competent player can help better understand the kind of situations they want to create, imitate the basic known goods, and then build their own stuff from there. (Trying to figure out everything for yourself is great for sandbox-y games, but for skill-based activities it’s not a great way to make progress and often ends up leading new players to churn quickly.)
So, you played against some Potemkin and caught feelings. You could have taken notes, but instead you were demoralized because it “exposed your weaknesses”. I suspect you already knew about many of your weaknesses, because you opened your letter stating that you play Potemkin because you have trouble performing the IAD input. IAD is a pretty basic input for Guilty Gear, and it’s pretty low on Xrd’s difficulty curve, so I have to assume that you didn’t really put in much time in the lab before deciding you just “wanted to play the game now.”
It sounds to me like you play just enough Guilty Gear to feel like you should be okay at the game, but not enough Guilty Gear to actually devote your time to intentionally practicing how to get better at the game. You like the game, and you like playing it with your friends, but you want your time with this video game to be uncomplicated entertainment, and stuff like “practicing execution” or “thinking about how to get better” is anything but.
This is a very common way to practice fighting games — perhaps the most common! And, unsurprisingly, it’s why many people bounce off the genre despite really wanting to like it. They think fighting games are cool and they want to have their own fighting game adventure, but they will not do anything other than play in the way that gives them the shortest path to satisfaction. These are the players who will go out of their way to remind you that they’re just here to have fun, but they’ll usually have less fun the longer they play the game because they’ll hit heavy skill plateaus and won’t enjoy the constant small-scale drip of progress that others get from taking more deliberate approaches to the grind.
You picked your main character because you didn’t want to learn how to do an IAD or a couple combos. You wanted a character who can get the occasional dub off of pure RPS, but you know that your Pot is wack, and that wackness was acknowledged somewhat by a fellow Pot player who decided they were not about the life of a honest struggling grappler in a Guilty Gear game.
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you didn’t know this, but: Potemkin is one of Xrd’s most technically challenging characters.
Yes, a day one Potemkin can scrub out some wins here and there, but relying heavily on Potemkin Buster RPS alone is a losing strategy because out of all of the RPS-heavy characters in Xrd, Potemkin has the hardest time getting into range where he can force the situation compared to, say, Sol. Also, Potemkin is more reliant on effective Instant Blocking to turn around defensive situations than any other character, and getting good at that requires an immense amount of character-specific defense practice to understand where the opportunities are in any given string. So, learning Xrd Potemkin means that at some point you’re either going to learn how to do a bunch of stuff that other characters do so you can practice against it, or accept that you’re not going to progress any further.
Switching characters will not get you out of the grind, but it may help you find a grind you like enough to actually do. The question you need to ask yourself is whether you’re up for it or not. I’m not going to tell you that you’re playing the game wrong, per se, but it’s a bad fit for Xrd, which has a lot of things to get good at and a lot of tools for getting good at those things.
A long time ago, I wrote an essay called “TL;DR: Play Guilty Gear”, which ended up sending my life in the direction you see now. The TL;DR of that essay is basically that I was tired of playing fighting games that reduced themselves to weighted RPS super early in the learning curve, like Street Fighter V, because RPS is not why I got into fighting games. RPS has always been a part of fighting games, but many of the fighting games of the last 10 years or so have put RPS as their central focus because “guessing right” is a good way to make people feel like they’re engaging in the true virtual fisticuffs of fighting games. When I tell people to Play Guilty Gear, I’m telling them to play a game that rewards them for the time they spend playing, because in my experience most things worth doing in life get richer and more meaningful the more you practice them.
The reason that fighting game developers had to build their games around “guessing right” is because the previous generations of fighting games had been built around expanding systems that gave players ever-higher potential for technical mastery. The generation of fighting games in the late ’90s and early 2000s — Capcom vs. SNK 2, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, SF3: Third Strike, Guilty Gear XX, Super Smash Bros. Melee, KOF 2002, etc. — were all games that had been built for people who had been playing fighting games for ten years and weren’t going to be impressed by just another shoto. A significant amount of the learning curve for these games is often defined by whether you put in the work to do the hard things better than your opponent can. “Making better decisions” didn’t mean “just take the throw”, it meant “suck it up and practice your combos/roll cancels/waveshines/kara palms/whatever”.
I wrote that essay because I came up on those games that demanded technical excellence, and when newer games de-emphasized that aspect, I lost interest in playing them. I was relieved to find a new-ish game that still wanted its players to push themselves to higher and higher technical excellence. I don’t play these games because I like playing a fancy rock-paper-scissors, I play them because I like learning how to do cool shit, and I like being rewarded for practicing that cool shit by using it to beat people who do not do the cool shit as well as I do. And when I lose to someone who clearly is better than I am at doing the cool shit, I think, “Yeah, you earned that. I gotta do the cool shit even better next time.” Conversely, when I do play an RPS-heavy game, I don’t admire my opponent for being better at guessing than I am, I mostly just hate myself for playing a game that is heavily based on guessing, because I don’t feel like winning or losing in these games is as rewarding.
To be clear, this is a statement of personal preference. I am not saying that winning in games that more heavily reward RPS doesn’t require skill, it’s just that it’s not the primary skill I care about cultivating, so I prefer games that don’t emphasize it so heavily, and give me plenty of other things to work on instead. I’m not here because I’m a gambler, I’m here for the wax-on, wax-off shit.
Based on what the mirror is showing you, my understanding is that you have accepted a set of fundamental limitations about yourself (can’t IAD, not good at delaying gratification, poor discipline, that kind of thing) live within that limitation. This kind of thing often comes up in 2010s-era self-help/life coaching as the “fixed mindset/growth mindset” binary; it roughly describes whether you think of your personal abilities as static or changeable, and how you navigate challenges in your life based on that attitude.
I couldn’t tell you why you are how you are, or whether those limitations are changeable or not, but I can tell you that fighting games reward the people who practice more than most other game genres. At their core, these games are about learning how to do cool stuff better than the opponent. Guilty Gear XX and Guilty Gear Xrd are arguably within the top 10% of fighting games that reward the grind; that’s why I love them, and that tends to be the defining factor of most of the fighting games I love.
I think you could choose to keep playing Potemkin with your current mindset, and you might continue to have an OK time playing with your friends. There’s certainly nothing wrong with only playing a fighting game to have fun playing with your friends! But the way you’re playing Xrd sounds like it’s barely scratching the surface of the game, and playing Xrd without putting in the effort to really understand why it’s a beautiful game is like buying a Lambo and only keeping it in first gear to go pick up groceries down the block.
The reason that people recommend picking fighting game characters you think are cool, especially in harder games like XX and Xrd, is because your characters should inspire you to learn how to do the stuff you can’t do yet. If you try to play fighting games by identifying your limitations and playing within them, you’re depriving yourself a core part of the joy of playing fighting games, which is learning how to do cool new shit that you weren’t able to do before. If you don’t get over your “I would like to play the game now”, you’re going to be missing out on a lot of the cool shit that makes this particular game cool and special, and it would doubly suck to miss out on learning how to do that cool shit with a good friend.
Look in the mirror once again and ask yourself: If you met yourself from ten years in the future and they were cooler than you ever possibly thought you could become, which Xrd character would future-you play?
Maybe it’s Chipp! It’s probably Chipp. He’s really cool, and he has a lot of hard stuff to learn.
Maybe it’s Potemkin, in which case, keep playing Potemkin! But know that good Potemkin players are some of the coolest players in Xrd because they play the character that requires a lot of work, not the path of least resistance.
Maybe it’s someone you can’t even think of right now, because you haven’t played them at all yet, so go do that instead of mashing on more netplay.
Whichever character you decide on, sit down with them, learn their moves, do their trials, watch some videos, and when you find a thing you cannot do, write it down. Practice that thing in training mode every time you sit down to play a fighting game until you can kinda do it, then add another thing to practice. Keep on doing this until you run out of things (you will never run out of things). Keep on doing this until you beat your friend. Then beat him again and again and again until he has to stop what he’s working on because he needs to figure out what to do to beat you. Keep on doing this until you beat me. Keep doing this until you beat FAB in the Pot mirror. And then keep doing it.
Or, in other words,
TL;DR: Play Guilty Gear.
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