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Hey Pat, remember me? I asked you back in August of last year about how to manage salt. I have gotten a bit better about that, but I still have some roadblocks to overcome before I can shake the salt properly. And I think my biggest roadblock to not letting salt and frustration get to me right now is the topic of this question.

How do I overcome my ego and acknowledge that the other player is simply better than me?

In the time since my last email to you, I got closer to precisely identifying why I get so salty, and most of that doesn’t have to do with the game. I get so mad because I feel like my opponent is mocking me, and I’ll explain why that is. While my ego is not big enough that I go around thinking that I’m the best Guilty Gear player in the world, I find myself thinking that there’s no way in hell that I should get bodied. At all.

Naturally, when this does happen to me, I feel personally insulted. When I receive a devastating loss, especially over and over in a set, I feel like my opponent is sitting there on the other side of the screen miles away, and making fun of me for how bad I am. Whether it’s a Faust player dominating neutral “without trying”, in my words, as usual in a Ky/Faust matchup or a Johnny player hitting me with an instant overhead tiger knee special move I had no idea was possible beforehand, I feel disrespected and insulted when I really shouldn’t be. Now, I know that this is ridiculous, and that they’re not really doing that, but I just can’t help but feel that way. I suppose this is because I used to get bullied a lot growing up, and I think that everyone must be mocking me in their heads.

What’s your opinion on this? What tips can you give to help me out here?

Gratefully,

Salt-Bodied Scrub

Welcome back, SBS. I could talk about frustration and ego all day, but I think there’s a little bit more going on here. Are you netplaying? Have you ever played fighting games in person?

This is all netplay experience. By the time I was able to find locals I could play at, the pandemic hit soon after. I have little in-person fighting game experience.

How about voice chat? Do you talk to the other person you’re playing with?

Never. Only once or twice in my whole life.

Yeah, this checks out. There are a couple things going on here, so let’s dive in and untangle ‘em!

Fighting games are annoying af

First off: Fighting games are basically PvP irritation contests. Real-time action games are generally about getting into a pleasant flow state where the buttons you press lead to good outcomes, which let you press more buttons, which lead to even better outcomes. In a fighting game, two players are basically competing over the ability to access this state — you get the hit in neutral, which gets you the combo into the knockdown, which gets you the setup, which gets you the next combo. But if you go for the hit in neutral and get stuffed, your brain has to adjust to the rude realization that you don’t get to press all those other fun buttons because your opponent interrupted you.

Getting interrupted is irritating, and every time something happens that wasn’t what you expect — like catching a big Faust button trying to run in, or getting caught by TK Ensenga when you expected a low — your brain will build up irritation as it gets jolted out of its comfortable prediction and has to reorient to the new situation. In other words, getting irritated or ‘tilting’ isn’t some horrible character flaw, it’s an aspect of the emotional gameplay in fighting games that players must learn to manage. If you’ve ever stubbornly insisted on jumping in on someone who anti-airs you every single time, or botched a wakeup super attempt once and then immediately go for it again and again until it works, you’re succumbing to this kind of irritation. You get better at managing this tilt by learning to recognize it while it’s happening, and resisting the urge to do the stupid thing.

So: Getting annoyed during a fighting game is normal, and part of the game. Plenty of fighting game players excel at doing things to irritate their opponents, because irritated opponents are predictable. This doesn’t explain all of your experience, SBS, but it’s the starting point. Let’s move on to the next part.

Fighting games are communicative af

Next, let’s look at some of your more revealing word choices:

I feel like my opponent is sitting there on the other side of the screen miles away, and making fun of me for how bad I am. Whether it’s a Faust player dominating neutral “without trying”, in my words, as usual in a Ky/Faust matchup or a Johnny player hitting me with an instant overhead tiger knee special move I had no idea was possible beforehand, I feel disrespected and insulted when I really shouldn’t be…I think that everyone must be mocking me in their heads.

It does sound like the people you’re playing against are just playing the game — Faust ‘dominates neutral without trying’ because that’s how the character is built — but I do want to point out that fighting is itself a communicative act.

Things like suboptimal play, character switches, hard callouts, etc. can be used to communicate ‘disrespect’ to your opponent, whether it’s “I don’t need to play to my limit to beat you” or “I’m going to do this incredibly risky thing that will beat the thing I know you’re going to do”. It is very easy to make someone feel bad while playing a fighting game, especially if there’s a significant skill gap. (Also see: Why do people taunt?)

The thing is that suboptimal play, character switches, and hard callouts could all have other reasons behind them that have nothing to do with tilting the other player. I frequently play suboptimally and practice off picks against weaker players because it’s how I make the session valuable for both of us. There are people out there who insist that they just want to be smashed at 100% all the time, but doing that is boring for me and not really that productive for them either. So maybe they’re sandbagging because they’re working on their own thing, or maybe they just like to play differently because their game isn’t that developed. They’re probably not taunting you. (Also see: on being a good sparring partner and the value of playing weaker players.)

Fighting is implicitly communicative, and the meaning of your opponent’s actions depends on the context. When we play in person, we can use body language and explicit communication to build additional context that establishes the mood of the session. If someone is visibly showing excessive frustration during an in-person set, for example, I might switch characters or give them a break to desalinate.

Most people (not all, but most) are not flagrantly disrespectful to people they don’t know when playing fighting games in person, and most people tend to carry that general attitude into netplay matches, especially in smaller groups like GG lobbies. But without observable body language or explicit verbal communication, it becomes very easy to assume that every mistake you make, every blowout round or dropped combo, earns nothing but absolute contempt from your silent opponent. In general, we do not assume charity from strangers on the internet, because we mostly remember the times when strangers on the internet are jerks (even if most strangers on the internet aren’t).

I actually deal with this kind of thing too. I netplay +R and Xrd pretty frequently, and my name is fairly recognizable among GG players or longtime FGC heads. Every time I lose a game to someone with significantly fewer games played, I think, “Well, I just might have made that person’s day” because I know how satisfying it is to take games off known players. I often feel like I have to win a lot online in order to protect my reputation because if word gets out that I’m free to randos online then no one will read my stuff. Of course, this is total bullshit, but fighting games are very good at revealing our deepest insecurities and rubbing them in our faces. It’s one of the things I love most about them. (And hey, if giving someone else a W makes them have a good day, then that’s worth it IMO.)

Funnily enough, this kind of netplay salt even comes up among friends. I remember seeing one of my nicest friends get overloaded with salt after getting bopped in a netplay session with another mutual friend. This doesn’t really happen in person, so I suggested playing on voice chat next time, and he was surprised at how different it was. Playing on voice chat lets you do things like yell “WHERE’S MY SUPER” and have the other player acknowledge it with a “yeah, that sucks” — all these little exchanges that help keep the vibes friendly.

To sum up where we’re at so far: The games are designed to be irritating, and netplaying in a vacuum makes it easy for every bad feeling to amplify your existing insecurities. So how do we deal with this?

Taking steps to curb your ego

Let’s take another look at your words, both from this email and the last one:

While my ego is not big enough that I go around thinking that I’m the best Guilty Gear player in the world, I find myself thinking that there’s no way in hell that I should get bodied. At all.

I’ve written plenty on salt management (here, here, and here) so you or anyone else reading this has the tech on deck. I highly recommend shifting your mindset to complimenting your opponent when you get hit by something instead of dismissing them. You know you’re relatively new to fighting games, you know you’re playing a game that has been around for a while (longer than you’ve been alive, actually), so assume that everyone else knows more and is better than you, and when you get hit by something, treat it as a commendable play instead of some scrubby shit. That way, when you lose, you’re losing to someone you acknowledge as a better player, not someone you think is worse. If you want to curb your ego, you’re going to have to start by accepting that the player who is beating you is better than you, and giving them the respect that merits.

But that’s not all. In the last email, you said:

This really frustrates me, and since I usually play in an environment where I’m all alone, there’s nobody there to see me make an ass out of myself and think twice about it, so there’s no incentive for me not to get salty besides self-control.

If you want to curb your ego, you’re going to have to make active steps to diminish it. Throwing tantrums on your own may feel like the right thing to do in the moment, but it doesn’t do anything to check your ego — in fact, it does the opposite. So you’re going to have to change up your play environment to get yourself to act right.

When you’re playing in your own self-contained environment, especially if no one is around you, you can easily let yourself be as petty and egotistic as you feel, which can make it very easy to spiral into endless circles of salt. If you try streaming, or even just recording your sessions, you will likely feel a bit more embarrassed about being quite so selfish. Think about all the sportsmanship lessons that athletes learn. Being able to manage your emotions is a critical part of being able to handle in-person competition without taking things personally.

The biggest change you can make, though, is to interact with the people you play with. I highly recommend joining (or starting) a Discord and arranging play sessions with people who are down to get on voice chat and shoot the shit. It may feel awkward at first, but being able to audibly feel another person’s presence — even if it’s just so you can make sure they knew that you didn’t mean to do that wakeup DP or drop that combo — does a lot to diminish the ego and salt that comes with losing to anonymous randos. In all likelihood, you’ll find that most of the ‘disrespectful’ gameplay moments aren’t intended to be so — and if they are, hopefully it’s fun disrespect shared between two people who have built up the trust to be friends, rather than rude disrespect of a stranger.

Like I said before, fighting games were made to be played in person. I find that when you can see the person you’re playing with, it is much easier to come to terms with the fact that they are better than you, because you can see yourself losing to a whole-ass human being who has probably put in a bunch of work to be better than you instead of a name and an avatar on a screen somewhere.

If you’re going to keep netplaying, rather than indulge in ‘making an ass of yourself’, do the work to behave better. If you act like an egotistical salty scrub, then that’s what you are, even if no one is around to see it. There is no magic sentence I can write to fix this forever; you have the matchup notes, and it’s on you to work them into your game. You’re self-aware enough to see the problem and know the answer, but as with anything else in fighting games, the hard part isn’t knowing what to do, it’s actually doing it. Good luck!

Thanks for reading! If you found this essay valuable and want to support my work, please do not hesitate to share it around on your social channels, follow me on Twitter, check out my Twitch stream (Mon-Thurs 830PM-1030PM PST), or join my Patreon.

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-patrick miller

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