Hit The Ground Running #7: Tournament Preparation

An article series by Jay "Viscant' Snyder.  

This is going to be a big week for the FGC.  Final Round 19 is this week and while it's going to be a massive tournament for Mortal Kombat, Marvel, Guilty Gear, KI, Smash and other games, it's also going to be the first North American event and first premier event in the Capcom Pro Tour for Street Fighter 5.  

The early word on Final Round is that they have more people signed up for Street Fighter 5 than they had unique entrants for all games combined last year.  That means at least 800 people, and with 64 pools, they're prepared for over 1000 entrants.  JUST for Street Fighter.  With these kinds of numbers we're bound to have some people who either haven't been entering tournaments regularly, haven't made the trip out to majors all that often or maybe have never entered a tournament before.  So this seems like the perfect time to talk about tournament preparation.  If you're one of these people or even if you're a regular tournament goer unsatisfied with your results at majors so far, maybe this can help you out.

There's a difference between preparing for majors and local smaller events.  Let's talk majors first.

Major Tournaments

Everyone has a different definition of a major and I'd rather not open THAT can of worms today if I don't have to, so for today we'll call a major an event with a large turnout and people from a variety of different regions in attendance.  Can we all agree on that?  OK cool.  In our community for majors ever since Evo 2002 we've used the pool system mostly for crowd control.  Instead of having EVERYONE entered in the tournament standing around for 12 hours, it's easier to have groups of 8, 16 or 32 people get all their early round matches taken care of in a 2 hour time period so everyone can get on with their day.

As a side effect though, it's made preparing for majors a lot easier.  Instead of worrying about an entire tournament field you can narrow your focus down to just the other people in your pool.  Even if you're going to the tournament thinking about placing well, the pool is the first thing you should focus on.  You know exactly who your first 3 or 4 matches are going to be.  Let's look at how to prepare for a pool.

I hoped to use my Final Round pool as an example but it's not out yet (hey, give them a break, they have 800 people entered) so we'll use a random pool instead.  Let's say the pools go up Thursday morning and while I'm waiting at the airport I see my pool with these names in it.

  • eg.PR Balrog
  • bye 1
  • Katniss ForeverQueen
  • Jason Kent
  • Goku420
  • XxXBrokenSephirothXxX
  • Brad Storm
  • BT Viscant
  • Quadruple H
  • Gunslinger Roland
  • Moonz
  • bye 2
  • Tris Later
  • Tobias 4.0
  • bye 3
  • GO1

My first thought.  This pool is ridiculous!  Can a guy get some top player privilege around here?  A float?  Anything???  And once that's out of my system, I have to begin to prepare to make it out of this pool.

The first step is to prepare for the biggest names in your pool.  So in this hypothetical pool the names I know are PR Balrog, Moonz and GO1.  Moonz is a Bison player who plays on LI Joe's stream and Next Level.  PR Balrog has a stream of his own.  I've seen him playing Laura and Necalli on stream and we've played a couple games online.  On a 2 minute google search I can't find any footage of GO1 playing this game.  I know he plays a lot of anime games (and is amazing at them) and I know he plays Chun-Li in this game.  So I'm going to make the educated judgment that he has strong execution with Chun-Li and is a very strong player already.  

What's my gameplan going to be should I run into any of these players?  PR Balrog would be the easiest to prepare for since I've played him online.  He's won both games we played, both pretty easy wins for him.  So I have to study those before the tournament and figure out what I did wrong and why the matches were easy for him.  He's a much better player than I am fundamentally so my goal going into our match would be to try and make the game less about fundamentals and more about SFV specific gameplay.  I don't want to play him with Vega, Bison or Karin.  Those characters are about footsies, he'll eat me alive in that game.  So I'd want to play him with Chun-Li and try to play as offense heavy and air lightning legs heavy as possible.  

I haven't played Moonz but I've watched him play a lot and know he's super solid with his Bison.  Generally my strategy against the character is to hang back outside of his poke range and force him to dash or jump in in order to create offense.  Moonz is a creative player though and my initial read just from watching his matches for pleasure is that he likes to use meter and RH scissors in order to get in.  He relies less on jumps and dashes than other Bisons; that's why he's doing so much winning. So my goal going in would be to study as many matches as I can find and most carefully watch how he gets offense started.  He's already made top 3 in a major and has numerous high placings at Next Level so he's obviously a great player but there's a lot of match footage to work with here.  If I can find some kind of a pattern, or figure out that he always does a certain approach pattern at a certain point in the match, that could give me something to supplement my game plan with.

GO1 is different because I've never played him and I can't find any videos of him playing.  I don't know his CFN, all I know is what people tell me, that he plays Chun-Li and that his execution is great from years of playing anime games and poverty games.  That's not a lot to go off of, but if I know his character selection that's a start.  Generally I don't like to play the Chun mirror since the other Chun will almost certainly have better execution than me and in this case it's basically guaranteed.  So since Vega can slow the match down vs Chun-Li and make it less about offense and more about slow and methodical footsies, this is the character I want to use vs. him.  Make this game as much about defense and frustration as possible.

Next you want to prepare as best you can for unknown players.  This is especially hard early in a game but that doesn't mean I shouldn't do my due diligence.  Google and youtube search every player's name plus common sense modifiers like (player name) SFV or (player name) Street Fighter.  It's possible you could find a match which would give you something to go off of.  Also it doesn't hurt to look up their names on the CFN.  A lot of people use the same online name everywhere.  You probably won't find much early on but why not look?  It only takes a second of your time, you might find something.

Beyond that for players you don't know, you'll have to do as much in person intel gathering as you can.  Another of the plus sides of pools is that you'll have a chance to watch everyone play.  I try to make a point of watching as many matches in the pool as I can, even if the person is on the other side of the bracket and we're unlikely to play.  You never know how a bracket is going to play out.

At this point since you can't really study the matches, it helps to pick out small things you can use instead of trying to make overarching pronouncements about someone's play style.  You're looking for small things like “I haven't seen this player tech a throw once” or “this player fell for the shimmy 3 straight times” or even “this player doesn't seem to anti air very much at all”.  It's useful to have something to think about but if you go in with a read like that, don't wed yourself to it.    Maybe they have trouble anti-airing in that one matchup you got to see but don't have a problem against your character.  Be willing to get away from reads and just play the match out normally if it turns out your initial reads were wrong.

So in this hypothetical pool, I don't feel super confident since I'm (at best) the fourth most skilled player.  But just from reading a list of names I know what characters I want to work on and a rough outline of a gameplan against a couple of the heavy hitters.  It doesn't mean I would win but having a plan is better than not having one.  

The last thing you want to think about is preparing yourself, especially for a tournament early on in the game.  You've probably heard the expression “tournament combos” before and this applies to both combos and techniques.  What are you not ready to do yet?  What do you not feel comfortable doing?  This is something you want to keep in mind, especially this early in a game.  For me personally going into Final Round, I still have trouble with Chun-Li's instant headstomp on wakeup.  I'm 50/50 at best with this and for a tournament that's not good enough.  Unless I make some kind of (unlikely) breakthrough on this technique in the next couple days and get my efficiency up to 90% or better, I just don't feel comfortable enough to risk my tournament life on it.  

The same goes for character picks.  The game is too new for me to have a huge roster of potential counterpicks ready.  It's better to stick to a small roster of characters that I know best rather than try some exotic spur of the moment counterpick.  Going into an event I have my roster planned out, in this case only Vega and Chun-Li.  My other characters just aren't ready yet.  Bottom line, if I'm going to lose I want to lose to someone else's great play.  I don't want to lose to myself.  

To be prepared for a major is to have a plan.  What characters am I going to use in each of my matches in pools?  What combos am I going to be using?  What's my strategy against each player that I have footage on?  If I have the answers to these questions then I'm fully prepared.  Again, doesn't mean I'm going to win but if I go in well prepared and I come up short, I can live with that.

Local Tournaments

The process of preparing for locals isn't that different from preparing for majors.  It's still a tournament and I'm going to take it seriously.  The main difference is that for most locals there is no pool system so you don't have a chance to prepare for a small group of people in advance.  But given that these are players you play against often you should have a larger built in experience bank from previous tournaments and casual play.

Against players like this you either have or will eventually have enough information on their player tendencies that you can make more advanced reads about their gameplay.  If your read on someone from just a couple games over their shoulder is something small like “this player doesn't anti air very well” then your read on a player you have months of history would be more like “this player's neutral game is lacking; they rely exclusively on one certain button at a certain range.  I don't have to look out for multiple buttons, just this one”.  Or even more in depth like “I play this guy's Laura every week.  He almost never does two command throws in a row.  If he gets me with one, no matter how much the next setup looks like a command throw, it's always a frame trap.  I'm not going to respect his frame traps until he finally grabs me twice in a row”.

Picking up on these tendencies is something you can do through careful observation of the tournament replays or even just watching matches after you're eliminated.  For more information on how to study replays and what types of things to look for, check last week's post for more details.  In short though, you're looking for repeated patterns.  Something you see just once isn't as big a help as something you see in multiple matches vs. multiple different players and characters.  Usually during pressure situations, people will revert to what they feel most comfortable with, so checking a player's decision making during the last 20 seconds of a close match is generally the most helpful of all.

Non-game play related advice

Probably the biggest personal breakthrough in tournaments I made over the past few years has nothing to do with actual gameplay but more to do with personal maintenance.  Sometimes major tournaments turn more into a test of endurance than of actual gameplay skill.  If you've watched a lot of major streams or attended a few you've probably seen what I'm talking about.  People passed out in the front row late on a Saturday, most of the crowd looking like zombies on Sunday morning, people looking half dead during top 8s on Sunday.

It may seem ridiculous that I'm writing down what's essentially “make sure you go to bed at a reasonable hour and remember to eat something” in a post about how to do better at tournaments but just doing that will probably help your tournament results more than anything else I can tell you.  People are essentially creatures of habit and routine and the tournament experience gets you off your routine.

Take eating for example.  It's really hard to eat normally at a tournament.  A lot of times people PLAN to eat but if you play multiple games sometimes one pool runs late and you miss your window, or you were waiting for a friend and they got sidetracked by something, or you were about to go eat but you saw a really hype match about to happen and you didn't want to miss that.  It happens, at least it's happened to me often enough that I noticed it was becoming a problem.  So I started carrying little snacks around in my stick bag.  Small stuff like nuts, slim jims, Gatorade energy chews, fruit.  Stuff that I can eat on the fly even if I get sidetracked by something.  

The same goes for sleeping habits.  Nobody keeps normal sleeping hours at a tournament.  8 am pools are always a crapshoot because of this with some people literally not even able to show up because they stayed out until 4 am drinking or playing casuals and money matches the night before.  If you have a setup in your room, it can be hard to throw people out or to enforce a lights out, but I'd much rather do that than lose to myself in pools because I was tired.  Again, it may sound like the most common of common sense things to say but my results improved dramatically just by taking better care of myself and showing up actually ready to play.

And finally this has nothing to do with performance issues but PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WEAR DEODORANT.  It's 2016 people, this shouldn't be as difficult a concept as it seems to be.  Your nose will thank you for it.  MY nose will thank you for it.  

That's all for this week.  Next week we're going to talk about some basic option selects and what the new March update is going to change.  See you then.

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  • Awesome article Jay! I’m so happy to talked about eating and getting enough rest before your pool because it definitely can make all the difference in the world.

    • Travis Scott (LeeVanDam)
  • Thanks for writing this it was a great read!

    • Caleb