The concept of improvement is ambiguous, mystical and most often theoretical. What we write about here on this website can definitely fall into those categories. There is no true secret sauce or best answer for improvement, and player progression. It’s a combination of hard work, motivation, goals, guidance, and then the rest of the mystical mumbo.
It’s been a little while since my last written post. Not for lack of ideas or insight, but because I’ve been working in the field and coaching two players in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. If you remember my last coaching session, then you would know this isn’t my first time. However, this coaching experience has been different and I think sharing it with you can offer a different perspective on how coaches help players overcome common obstacles.
Eager to begin coaching again, I created a Fiverr account a little over 2 months ago and created a gig for coaching Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Though I would love to coach other titles, this is what I have been focused on, and I didn’t want to sell anybody short. I chose Fiverr for a few reasons.
One, I have tried free coaching in the past and it rarely works out. Without “skin in the game” it can be harder to get the commitment from the player your coaching, and I didn’t feel like chasing my student.
Two, I wanted to reach a different audience outside of the Facebook Groups that I am a part of currently.
Lastly, I wanted to explore the concept of coaching as a freelance service in eSports. Something that typically is associated with premium membership sites, shady pricing, and coaching that doesn’t meet expectations. One day I’d like to see this sub-section of eSports flourish on websites like Fiverr, but first it has to be done, and done properly.
I researched the other sellers on the site, and sought out to do it differently. Mainly in the way I set my gig pricing and time. I won’t go too into detail here, as you can check out the link to my Fiverr. But my gig is broken up into a 1 day training, 2 week training, and 1 Month training. Lowest price to highest. I never want to end a coaching session without the player feeling and seeing that they have improved. It can be very difficult to accomplish a winning record in even 2 weeks time, let alone overnight.
My Two Students
Unlike my last coaching post, I’m not going to go into our conversations or the pre-work that I did with them. Most of those methods have stayed the same. Goal setting, skill assessment, etc. Instead I’d like to focus on the obstacles that we’ve faced and the method(s) taken to overcome them.
Both of these players have very different backgrounds. One with very little Smash experience from Nintendo 64, and the other with only a month of experience in Ultimate. Both would like to become tournament ready. One player works nights, and the other works days. We typically get 2-3 hour sessions in daily. I usually coach one in the morning, and the other in….well the other morning, around midnight. It’s important to note that neither of these players have a ton of time to practice, so the methods I’ve used have been tailored for that. Luckily, both have a good handle on how to move the characters and play. I didn’t have to start at the beginning and explain what every button did….thankfully.
Our Biggest Obstacle
As mentioned above, these players don’t have a lot of time to practice. More often than not, they only play against me. With our skill gap, this can leave them feeling as though they aren’t making any progress. I don’t believe in playing worse and simulating an environment unbeknownst to the student. To me, that is not effective, and only serves to mislead the player. Not only will the sequences not show up in real time, but it adds a flimsy confidence that can quickly be crushed in a real scenario. So any performance associated with that confidence is tied to their emotions, and that’s a recipe for inconsistency.
I also don’t believe in serving my own ego by asserting dominance or reminding my student’s of my coach status. So finding a middle ground has probably been our biggest obstacle.
To solve this, we set a goal each practice to accomplish an aspect of the game. Whether that’s ledge trapping, shielding, punishing. Or even things more basic than that. Such as hitting a number of back airs or properly recovering. This allows us to measure the improvement not based on stocks and kills, but based on their mastery over fundamentals that are necessary to winning. I’d like to tell you that they focus only on those aspects, and don’t care about the way the games go, but that wouldn’t be true. It’s very natural for players to want to win(which is a good thing), and base their perceptions of their performance on how they are stacking up.
To combat this, I regularly refocus them on the goals we set each session. In particular, I lead with positive affirmations every time they do something that aligns with their goal. This helps give them a sense of winning, even if it doesn’t look that way. Naturally as they get better at the various aspects, they also improve and are able to take stocks from me and get closer to winning. That has to be my favorite part.
Smaller Obstacles and Solutions
Finding a character and sticking to it
This can be a particular hard thing to do for a player with limited experience. With so many characters, how do you choose one? If you really only face your coach how can you know your making progress or feel good with a character?
My approach to this is to ask them about previous games they’ve played and what kind of play style attracts them. Not an exact science, but most players have an idea, otherwise they wouldn’t be playing. The other approach I take is to be incredibly patient with their decision, even if they choose to swap several times. It’s important to me to allow the player to express themselves in full. They are far more receptive when they are having a good time, and when it feels right to them. I whole heartily understand that. As a Dee Jay player from Ultra Street Fighter 4, it was all about the way he felt, regardless of his viability.
I focus on educating them about the character in question. Focusing on viability, learning curve and over all style. I encourage a few matches with the character to see how it feels, and then we go from there.
Watching highlight videos and glorified tutorial videos
These days it’s incredibly easy to get swept up in hype compilations and overly theoretical tutorial videos. Both rank very high on the YouTube algorithm and are usually shoved in your face. This may not seem to be much of an issue, however players can easily have their expectations skewed. With the highlight videos making every character look viable, and every situation look so easy for the players, it can undermine the context of each situation. Who the player is facing, all the nuances, etc. Everybody wants to do the hype and cool stuff, and can forget what is required to get there, and these videos contribute to that. Very normal, and recurrent.
As for the tutorial videos, they can have the affect of over selling certain moves and situations. I’m not saying that the tutorials aren’t accurate, but certain declarations can lead a player to miss the context of a move and spend a lot of time not gaining the same results as were promised in the video itself.
To overcome this I acknowledge what the player is referencing openly. We celebrate it, after all they are awesome and hype moments. But I always make sure we look at them critically, and I go as far as to break down the character to get to the truth. Being dismissive takes the fun out of the game and the experience. This is why I try to take an open stance when these things come up.
Breaking Habits and Teaching Adaptation
This can be incredibly difficult for anyone. Even seasoned players. Working through it with new players can be even harder, especially ones who have “nothing to lose”, as they haven’t started competing yet.
It can be enticing to just simply point it out, over and over and over again. Punish the mistakes as much as you can. However that doesn’t mean they will fully see it or understand it. You can also tell them about the dangers of the habits and show them how it can cost them, but that too doesn’t always do the trick. The game is moving at a mile a minute for most players, and often they don’t even realize they are doing the same thing over.
I incorporate those methods at times. They can absolutely have impact, and every player is different. My preferred method however, is to go farther than just telling them to remove something from their game, and show them what to replace it with. Encouraging them every time they don’t act out the same habit. That method of positive reinforcement helps immensely in helping them understand why their method isn’t optimal, and how to take on a more rewarding method.
Teaching the game fully and the rest of the obstacles
Time, lag, and schedules make up the rest of the obstacles outside of just learning and teaching the game. I have a simple philosophy for this though. Don’t take shortcuts, be excited to coach, and remember that learning isn’t only accomplished by playing.
Even if we only get to play 2 hours a day, in a 30 day period. I still make sure that some of those days are dedicated to video review of our replays. A key component to learning is watching yourself play, and it is a great way to show them the opportunities they have while being zoomed out.
I make sure to send them videos that demonstrate concepts that I speak about, with detailed time stamps to moments with the most impact. Most importantly, I ask a lot of questions about their mindset. What they want to work on most, and where they feel they are struggling. It’s important to enable a learning responsibility from the players, and get them involved in their development.
As I approach the end of our 30 days with both players, I truly believe we have accomplished a lot. The progress they have made is enormous. They have settled on their main characters, have taken wins off of other people (though in small doses) and are learning adaptation every day. I don’t know if they will end up purchasing another month from me. If they do, I’ll be exploring more ways to get them in front of other players, as I feel that to be the next step in their development.
Some days I couldn’t tell if they were making progress or not, but I’m glad to say that they always showed me the very next session.
Coaching isn’t always easy, and the results aren’t guaranteed, and that’s the best part.
If you’re interested in hiring me as a coach you can reach me on my Fiverr or on twitter @CzechFreeA
If you’re coaching someone, and would like to compare notes, I’d love to help. Stay tuned for more content!