What “beginner” means in Guilty Gear

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In 2019, the Play Guilty Gear crew started running the Caliburst Beginner Bracket, and now locals know it lovingly as our “Guilty Gear chuunin exam” after the legendary Naruto story arc. By now we’ve seen many people learn Guilty Gear, and in observing them we’ve come up with a basic framework for mid-level competence that might be useful to folks who are also mentoring new Guilty Gear players, or for newbies who are trying to guide their own development but don’t know what to focus on.

Irene graduated!!!

How we do Caliburst Guilty Gear

I wrote up the basic recipe for our Beginner Bracket (supportive community, free entry, pizza) last year, but it has grown up a bit since then.

These days, we run Beginners and Intermediates, plus other exhibitions (random select tournaments, regional 10v10s, and pre-arranged first-to-three exhibition sets, etc.). When people enter, we ask them to self-determine whether they belong in the Beginner or Intermediate levels, where Beginner is defined roughly as “anyone who is new to Guilty Gear or fighting games in general” and Intermediate is “anyone who hasn’t placed top 3 at a regular local or top 8 at a bigger event”. If a new Caliburst competitor isn’t sure where they fit, they can talk to me or Aaron “AALanline” Lan to see if we can help place them, and if it didn’t feel like a good fit we can switch them to the other division in the next one.

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When we started Beginner Bracket, we just graduated the top 3 (or more), which was useful for separating the folks who had existing FG experience from the folks who basically started with Guilty Gear. However, we eventually switched to selectively graduating players based on their results over time and our own evaluation of their skill sets. While graduating the top X is a clear and satisfying rule, we’d often see players drop out of Caliburst after graduating, likely because the perceived gap in difficulty between Beginner and Intermediate felt too large, and we wanted our new graduates to stick around and continue to power up. Also, after COVID-19 hit, we continued running our brackets but paused graduation for a couple months, and noticed that it was pretty common for a player to make it to top 3 (often very decisively) in one month and then go 1–2 or 2–2 in the next month, which got us thinking that we should try using our experience as players to handpick graduates instead of relying on the bracket format to tell us who is ready.

How to make it out of the Caliburst Beginner Bracket

Becoming an effective, resilient Guilty Gear competitor requires both a strong command of core gameplay (offense, neutral, defense) and strong command of your decision-making skills (stamina, adaptation, resource management), so our framework tries to take into account a holistic understanding of a player’s skill instead of focusing solely on competitive results. In other words, we’re not just looking at how many wins you stack up, we’re also looking at how you win (or don’t).

Note that this breakdown doesn’t cover how to acquire these skills, so if you want some tips on getting better at fighting games, check these essays out:

When it comes to core gameplay skills, this is what we’re looking for:

Offense

  • Can you apply constant pressure until the opponent demonstrates they’re capable of pushing back? (Are you getting in that ass?)
  • Do you have basic combos and mixups? Are you using throws and high/lows to open people up? Are you intentionally going for air throws? Do you use your meter to continue pressure, extend combos, and create unfair situations in neutral?

Defense

  • Are you able to recognize basic attack strings and block with reasonable success?
  • Are you willing to challenge pressure strings in response to an opponent getting greedy with turn-stealing?
  • Can you use your other defensive options effectively? How much do you use FD, IB, Blitz, burst, backdash, and your character-specific defensive options?

Neutral

  • Are you making movement decisions based on what you see your opponent doing? (“How do I look at the screen?”)
  • Are you comfortable with moving forward and backward in response to your opponent’s movement?
  • Do you feint movement to draw out a response from your opponent?

And when we’re evaluating a player’s decision-making and meta-game skills, this is what we’re looking for:

Stamina

  • Can you maintain effective physical and mental play for the entirety of a ~20-person double elimination tournament bracket?
  • If you make it to the best-of-five rounds (Winners/Losers/Grand Finals), can you sustain effective play in those longer sets?

Adaptation

  • How often do you get hit by the same things? How long does it take you to recognize a pattern in your opponent’s behavior and pull out an answer?
  • Do you take time in-between matches to collect yourself and process a plan?
  • Do your runbacks look different? How often do you lose to the same people?

Resource management

  • How often do you find yourself ending rounds (win or loss) with meter remaining?
  • Do you use meter to close out rounds? (Finish your plate!!!)
  • Do you burst at the end of a round you are likely to lose instead of saving it for the next one? (AKA the Caliburst)

Besides those specific questions, there is one Big Picture question that we ask ourselves when determining who to graduate: Is Beginner Bracket holding your growth back?

Most Beginner Bracket graduates do not get As on each of the above tests, but they’re good enough at the tests to overcome weaker beginners consistently. When a player is at this level, we think that they’ll need to be testing themselves against stronger players who will expose their weaknesses, and give them some more perspective on who they are as a player and how they can level up from here. But if you’re still making strong gains from participating in Beginner Bracket, your presence is likely also helping other beginners get better, and that’s valuable for everyone.

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.

💪😎👍❤

-patrick miller

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