Knowledge of which opponents you’re likely to face at a tournament can be a powerful advantage. You’re able to study matchups, streamline your practice, and come up with a gameplan. Despite these boons, advanced knowledge can also be a detriment. Studying your opponent can lead to incorrect assumptions. For instance, Qerb told me that at Full Bloom 5, he sat down to play Rik, and he had prepared for the Fox matchup. Rik selected Falco, which put Qerb into a panicked mental state. Qerb’s preparation resulted in this moment of shock, and he regretted preparing at all. He said had he not prepared, he would have been spared this moment of shock. Recently, I had my best placing at a regional, Bridgetown Blitz, coming in at 2nd. My preparation was more helpful than detrimental but only marginally.
Looking at the bracket, I was seeded to play Aura, a formidable Peach player whom I recently lost to. After fighting Aura, I was seeded to play Captain Faceroll, and the odds of him getting upset seemed exceptionally low. Were I to beat both of these players, I would play the winner of Bladewise and Fatgoku in WF. Aura is good, but I was confident I would win if I played well since I beat him in the past, played him that week at a local, and felt that the day on which I lost was my worst play of the year. Nonetheless, it would be brazen not to prepare for the Peach matchup. This is a matchup where I feel I have many ideas yet to be implemented. Furthermore, many techniques that are important in this matchup are not transferable to other matchups, so they may be glossed over in my normal practice routine, as I tend to beat Peach already. I spent hours in the lab making sure I did not lose to Peach. Ultimately, I did not lose to Peach. I actually didn’t even play a Peach.
On tournament day, Aura lost to Vinodh, a Puff that beat me in our last two sets, but that I had beaten in encounters before that. Vinodh is among the most irritating opponents possible, as he is a Puff who is not averse to planking. I knew that Vinodh had a chance of beating Aura but I decided not to prepare for this contingency since Aura had a strong record against Vinodh. Hence, I was not prepared to play Vinodh, both in terms of mentality and in terms of actual practice. Luckily, Falcon vs Puff is not a matchup that requires much labbing, just good fundamentals, so I managed to win. Against Faceroll, my Sheik practice helped a bit, but not very much. I practiced mostly on Fountain of Dreams and Yoshi’s but I told him he could always pick Battlefield, and he proceeded to pick it every time. More than half my practice was techniques that are only applicable on stages we didn’t play. Finally, I ended up playing Fatgoku in WF and GF. I got bodied. I’m not dismayed by this because I made a conscious choice just to hope Bladewise would win. I did not feel it was possible for me to lab out three matchups in a way that would allow me to beat three different players of this caliber. I am not confident in my ability to beat Fatgoku in general, so even with hindsight, I think I prepared as best as possible and placed as well as feasible at this event.
In preparing for Bridgetown, I did not watch any VODs. Even if I had been able to watch VODs of me vs. Faceroll from Genesis, I would not have. Studying your opponent’s habits from VODs can give inaccurate expectations for their playstyle or habits, priming your reactions incorrectly. It’s naive to assume that playstyles and flowcharts are static. People are constantly adjusting and improving. Even more importantly, mental states and moods are not static, which can influence inputs as much as volition. In the StarCraft community, it’s often noted how some players excel in leagues where they can prepare for an opponent days ahead but struggle when they have to run through a bracket in consecutive matches. Here’s some lessons regarding preparation that I’ve learned from RTS games:
Study strategic, overarching things about opponents more than situational details.
Your reputation can influence the other player’s gameplan and preparation. Playing contrary to your own reputation can lead to a decisive advantage out the gate and can also be used as a conditioning tool.
Knowing what options you are going to use yields an adaptation advantage. If you know X beats Y and opponent favors Y, you can also anticipate that he will use Z that beats X. Prepare an answer for Z.
When game day comes, don’t be stubborn. Things you’ve prepared may not ultimately be applicable or relevant. You may have miscalculated. You may not be able to implement something smoothly under tournament conditions. Be ready to amend your plans.
Be mindful of the economy of time (how to spend your preparation time and how your opponent may have spent theirs):
Every matchup has defining interactions, interactions where if you fail to execute, you actually cannot play the matchup. In StarCraft, you have to be able to micro mutas in ZvT. In Melee, you have to be able to waveshine upsmash as Fox vs. Peach. As Falcon, you have to be able to uthrow → uair Sheik. Make sure these things are foremost in your practice routine. These are things you want to be able to do even when you’re playing your D game or choking. It’s outright irresponsible to neglect practicing these things considering how important they are and how much you get out of just a few minutes of practice.
Being proactive can negate the other player’s practice by dictating the terms of engagement and forcing situations they didn’t prepare for.
Coming up with a gameplan that runs contrary to the assumptions of the other player can negate their preparation. This could mean playing a secondary, playing on unexpected stages, or even having a fundamentally different gameplan for the matchup, e.g. camping platforms instead of playing a ground game.
Sometimes in StarCraft, they play BO1. It’s possible to prepare a gimmick to steal a game. Similarly in Melee, making sure you’re on point with a couple gimmicks or baits to steal ~2 stocks in a set can win you the set. Try to practice things that will actually lead to decisive swings, such as an on shield bait into a kill setup.
*Having access to 20XX (both 4.07 and 3.02) as well as Uncle Punch can help you cram more practice into the same time interval.
Speed of adaptation is one of the most important and underappreciated skills of top players. How quickly one adapts is strongly correlated to overall strength as a player. If you prepare well, you should not only be strong out the gate but also quick to adjust. Many situations in fighting games ultimately come down to rock paper scissors. Coming into a match with full understanding of these situations is a powerful advantage. Remember that being too ahead of the meta in these situations is a disadvantage since you want to be one level of yomi ahead, not two (for instance, if spotdodge > grab, knee > spotdodge, ftilt > knee, going for ftilt loses to grab, so it’s possible to read too many levels deep). However, reading their adaptation on their first attempt to counter your initial tactic can be mentally devastating.
The most appealing thing about Melee is its incredible skill cap and the infinitude of options/techniques. It’s easy to get lost in the lab, distracted by something amusing or flashy. Moving around a stage and letting your mind wander can inspire ideas that would make for an incredible tech skill video. There’s countless things to practice but limited time. Don’t get distracted by outlandish theorycraft and prospective ideas if you have an imminent goal! Study a matchup and write a list of things to practice. Allocate time intervals for each technique. Effective match preparation is a prime way to elevate your results quickly, improve your matchup spread, and become a better player overall.