How to Learn the Neutral Game

I have recently realized that people are not proficient at using their brain while playing. Things that seem obvious or self evident to some are not intuitive to others. Thus, I’m writing a short article about how to think about Melee. As the title suggests, this is mainly regarding neutral game, but also has relevance with ledge guards and punishes in general.

If you talk to people about Melee and what the most important parts of the required skillset are, you’ll here vastly different opinions. Some of the best players are unable to articulate even basic things about how they play and why they do what they do. But if you don’t feel like you are playing with an intuitive understanding of what’s going on, you are going to need to exercise your critical thinking skills.

I believe the most important skill to be a high level Melee player is understanding situations. Second to that, and first in the minds of many players, is movement. People know to grind movement, but without any knowledge of how to apply your movement, you probably won’t be able to get ranked in any remotely competitive region. Dr. PP once pointed out that many players are really good at looking cool between stocks but have no idea how to apply it in their play. Don’t let this be you.

Lord is the player I’m going to talk about here, though I may analyze other Falcon players in future articles. The guy has great tech skill, but it’s nothing crazy and he doesn’t do much next level stuff in terms of movement. In reality, he probably moves less than any other top Falcon ever has. The only thing that he really has over other Falcons is choosing the right choices in microsituations (which goes hand in hand with his excellent use of crouch cancel). The guy is sometimes able to win sets against top players just by reaching deep into his bag of gimmicks and repeatedly tricking them in a few situations he has a better understanding of. He spams all kinds of unsafe things that can be countered, but he is good at reading you and knows janky options that beat all the conventional ones.

The point of this is that you should be continually thinking about what your opponent is doing and how to counter it. If you aren’t picking options that specifically counter things that you think your opponent is going to do, you are either being wishful that your opponent is bad or you are hax$. When you get hit, ask yourself why. Try to come up with answers for the situation in which you got hit, or try to figure out how to avoid the situation altogether. Don’t be afraid to solicit advice from better players. Melee nerds love talking about Melee.

Ultimately, fighting games are all games of weighted rock paper scissors. Certain options beat certain options but the risk/reward is skewed. Don’t be afraid to throw something out that’s high risk if you have a strong reason to believe it’s going to beat what they are going to do. It’s very rare to find someone whose actions are totally unpredictable. Look for situations where you can take advantage of the habits of the opponent, and look to avoid doing any defensive things because of autopilot. If I ask you “what does that option beat?” you should have an answer related to what you have been seeing your opponent doing. It should be obvious how this relates to ledgeguarding, which is frequently one of the areas that could use the most improvement in the skillsets of Melee players.

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