Competitive gaming is an interestingly cruel and ironic activity. Think about it, in almost everything you do in life, the better you get the easier the task becomes. However to improve your skill level in gaming you have to be exposed to increasingly difficult obstacles.
For example, you have been going 2-2 at every tournament and falling just short of making it out of pools. You grind and grind until one day you finally make it out of pools. Your reward? A harder opponent in the next round! But that is where the beauty of competition comes in. That harder opponent is actually the best reward you can ever win.
“If you have a chance at winning it will be through fundamentals and the experience will force you to take your core ability as far as it can go. Removing any reliance on chance or gimmicks to secure a win and exposing you to your own skill gaps and those reliance’s.”
Outside of winning, the true benefit of going deeper into tournaments or improving your rank isn’t having a lower number next to your name. It’s gaining the experience against opponents that create a challenge for you to overcome. That is the key to accelerating improvement in skill level. Consistent challenges that are within reach but difficult enough to invoke emotion and critical thinking. When those moments arise it’s crucial that you allow your brain to fully absorb the experience. You have to put up a fight and even give yourself a chance to win. Otherwise the experience is over in a flash and any improvement can be lost. The only way to do that is to play above your skill level. Let’s look at how to play above your skill level regardless of your circumstances.
Understanding Skill Level
Before we go over the ways to play above your skill level, I think it’s important that we examine and understand skill level. We commonly associate skill level with the way a player performs. Typically grading it as good or bad. However skill level is simply a determination of where a person ranks among other players. Meaning a bronze player isn’t necessarily bad seeing as their is a chance they may not always be bronze. There are more variables that come into play. Time spent, game knowledge, skill and skill potential become a factor. It may not be that a gold player is better it may be that they know more or have more experience.
When you can zoom out and see it from this perspective, you understand why competing at skill levels that sit above yours can provide massive benefits and accelerate your improvement. They may have more knowledge than you, put you into situations you’ve never seen before or they may even just push you to dig deep and do things you’ve never done before. As stated above, to absorb as much experience as you can, you have to give yourself a fighting chance. With this out of the way, let’s look at how we can do that.
Focus on Fundamentals
The process of improvement is typically done through trial and correction. That often requires small amounts of experimentation. As you improve you will often be attempting to find a unique brand of play that best fits you and also works. Usually a combination of the fundamentals and some personal flair.
However when faced with an opponent that sits in a higher level than yours, it’s important to focus purely on the fundamentals. Focusing on safe but effective options that have the highest rate of success will keep you in the fight. This doesn’t mean you are rolling over or laying up. It just means that you are forgoing the experimentation and replacing it with consistency.
There are a few reasons this works as effectively as it does. First, your opponent is also in the process of improvement and will often look at an opponent who sits at a lower rank as an opportunity to experiment more. Allowing them to take more risks and make plays that may be suboptimal. This isn’t always the case but it is very common. Second, by removing experimentation you are capable of focusing on trial and correction as it pertains to current match. You are able to truly assess what is working and what isn’t and why, without all of the extra thought process.
Finally it allows you to assess your core ability against an opponent that may have more knowledge or execution around the fundamentals of the game. That very process allows a connection to be made in your brain between where you are and where you can be. Allowing it to be explored the next time you face an opponent that is on or below your skill level.
If you have a chance at winning it will be through fundamentals and the experience will force you to take your core ability as far as it can go. Removing any reliance on chance or gimmicks to secure a win and exposing you to your own skill gaps and those reliance’s.
Research and Observe
To play above your skill level you have to know what it looks like and what it’s requirements are. That means universally used strategies and tactics. By understanding the expectations of being at the high skill levels you can properly set a path to them. Of course it isn’t as simple as just knowing them. It’s about understanding how they fit into the context of the game and of winning. Let’s use Dota 2 as a quick example. You can understand the necessity of warding for vision and that every top player does it. But that doesn’t mean you know where, how, or why.
The best way to truly understand this information is to observe. Watch less as a fan and more as an active participant. Analyzing and questioning the decisions being made and trying to visualize how it would impact your game. Not just replicating it because a top player is doing it. This will help project you into a higher skill level by preparing yourself for when that information becomes necessary. Effectively setting yourself up for your next set of trial and correction.
The most difficult part of this comes when you are attempting to translate the information that you are observing into your sessions. Remember that the environment that these players operate in can be different than yours. For example, have you ever played a game with someone that has never played it before? They are just hitting buttons and doing all sorts of random stuff, but it’s working on you every once in a while. That’s because you’re looking out for things that your opponent knows nothing about, leaving you open to things you aren’t ready for. Try not to discount what you observe from the higher skill level if it isn’t making an immediate impact on your games. Remember that it works and it’s possible that you either don’t truly know why, or it’s not the information you need to advance your skill level.
Believe in your own ability and the time you put in. Believe in yourself to manage both the game and the outcome. Remember that every opponent is just one more step in your journey and that ultimately you will come out on top.
Never fear or worry about who your opponent is. If you’re trying to improve, win the tournament or be the best in the world, you’re going to have to beat them eventually. Putting your opponent on a pedestal is distracting and doesn’t help you win the match. It only helps you justify it after the fact.
Hopefully this information helps you understand the importance of playing above your skill level. How it can accelerate your improvement and expose you to the experiences you need. Most importantly always remember, the longer you stay in the fight the more achievable it becomes. Invoking emotions and motivations that you may not have tapped into yet. Don’t shy away from your potential and play above your skill level.