(I’m writing a series of journal entries to track my progress prepping for Evo this year. Check out the previous entry here.)
I’m back from Combo Breaker! It was an amazing tournament, and I learned a lot. I didn’t make it out of pools in any of the games I entered (CvS2, Guilty Gear, and SFV), but I managed to take out a few folks in each game, so it’s not the worst.
Fact is, pretty much every time I enter a tournament, I’m disappointed with my performance. The wins I take never feel that good, and the losses I take remind me that I’m not nearly as good as I want to be.
A friend who got into Street Fighter V as his first competitive fighting game told me that he sometimes felt disappointed in himself for not being better at the game despite all the time he’s put into it, and asked me if I had ever felt like that.
I told him I had been playing fighting games for half my life and I still find myself losing to people who have been playing for a year or so. Playing fighting games, going to tournaments, it’s all consistent exposure to disappointment. I think I handle my salt pretty well, but it’s there, and it’ll never go away. I temper it by getting better at looking for points of improvement in losses to help redirect the frustration into motivation; by telling myself I’m getting older and I never was going to be that good, anyway; by spending most of my practice time on a game I don’t really like so when I lose I can tell myself that I don’t really care about it, and entering tournaments for the games I do like but not practicing them so when I lose I can tell myself it was because I wasn’t practicing.
The salt doesn’t go away. Winning a local just means you need to focus on the next major. Winning a major means you need to work on winning Evo. And whoever wins Evo will look around at the crowd knowing that someday, someone out there is going to beat them — they just don’t know who it is yet. And once you lose, that salt comes back, reminding you that you’re not as good as you want to be. You were tested, and you fell short.
Sounds miserable, doesn’t it? Why would anyone in their right mind spend their time and money on a hobby that makes them frustrated? Certainly, there are other reasons to do it. Some of us stop competing and stick around because the community is amazing. Maybe we redirect our efforts away from competition and into building or teaching or study.
But the reality is that I compete because I want the salt. I want to be reminded how much I give a shit about being good at a silly little video game. I want those feelings to drive me to practice harder and learn more. And when I play games that don’t make me feel frustrated with my performance, the victories just feel hollow and unearned.
And the reason the community is great is because every single person that walked through those doors to Combo Breaker knows what it feels like to care that much about a video game. You know that you’re all going to have fun and see your friends, but you also know that all of you are going home thinking about how you would have been happy if you just did a little bit better. We all sign up for a weekend of feeling just a little bit bad about ourselves because that’s the feeling that pushes us to grow. If you go a little time without that you-ain’t-shit feeling lurking beneath your skin, you get soft. You don’t practice as hard, you don’t play as hungrily.
So welcome the salt. Open your heart to it. Let it flow through you. Without salt, everything just tastes bland.