The more you repeat a certain way of thinking, the more optimized your brain becomes for thinking in that way. For instance, if someone wants to juggle several objects at once, they will begin by juggling just two or three objects. As their brain becomes used to tracking the motion and timing of objects which they have thrown into the air, they can add more and more objects into their calculations. Tech chasing is very similar. Every time you try to tech-chase someone you have to calculate your possible punishes using a mental structure you’ve created. If you look at tech chasing from a wrong perspective structurally, not only does it make getting better at tech chasing harder, but as the pattern becomes ingrained you may even fail to realize what you are doing wrong.

Armada: The Hallmark of Consistency

When I played Armada for the first time, I was absolutely astounded by his reaction time, especially his tech chases. Peach is not a very fast character on the ground, but he manages to react successfully to tech options almost every time. My first reflex was to shrug it off as a natural talent. When I asked him about it, he replied that if you do something enough times, you will become faster and faster. I was confused at first and believed it was a flawed self-analysis, because many of us have been playing for years without anywhere near the same results.

The more I watched, however, the more a pattern emerged. In almost any situation, Armada’s exact reaction to a tech option could be consistently guessed before the tech even happened. Extreme consistency is his forte, so it makes sense that his tech chases would develop in this way. The more I thought about it and compared my own tech chasing to his, the more I realized that I had been thinking about tech chasing entirely wrong without even being aware of it.

Option-Based Learning

My natural tech-chasing style is to think about a single option in my head very hard. I’ll try to make a read based on stage positioning, percent, and what the opponent might be thinking. Then, I’ll spend the short time before he hits the ground figuring out the most brutal possible response to that singular situation. If that option happens, great! Huge payoff. However, when it doesn’t happen, I just tend to rely on my raw reactions. The huge payoffs are rewarding enough to make my brain continue thinking in this way, even though I fail on many tech-chases. When I’m playing my absolute best, my raw reactions are usually sharp enough to make up for this structural error, but this is not nearly consistent enough for competition at the highest level.

The correct mental structure for reactive tech chasing is to know exactly what you are going to do in every option before your opponent hits the ground. This is easier said than done, and when I first began to try it I felt very slow and incapable. I would barely be considering the second tech option by the time they hit the ground. I just wasn’t quick enough. As I experimented with this technique with non-fox characters, I noticed that the number of options that characters have to cover tech chases differs by a huge amount. Fox can do almost anything out of any tech option, giving him a huge number of possibilities that are difficult to sort through. Compare this with Peach. Peach’s dash attack is really the only thing that can cover a tech away. Because Peach exclusively reacts to tech away with dash attack, the connection becomes stronger and stronger in a Peach player’s brain. Over time, they are able to essentially make this response a reflex, because they only have a single option for it.

When under high pressure in a tournament, I often default to a very consistent tech-chasing style that I’ve used for a long time, which is up-smashing in any tech-chase situation. With my new understanding, I see that this is really a simplified calculation of my options in order to avoid being overwhelmed in the search for perfect responses. I believe this reduction of calculation time is paramount to strengthening reactive connections. Another notable user of this reactive technique is

Leffen, who often often dash dance grabs no matter which tech option is chosen.

I believe this is the foundation of real reactive tech chasing, and that everyone should begin by thinking of options in this simplified way. As the compression of calculation time becomes more pronounced and you become faster and faster at repeating your single option, you may realize that there is enough time to squeeze in another calculation. For example, you could dash dance grab on both tech in and away, and then up- tilt for both no tech and tech in place. Through repetition, you can create a solid base of reactions to build off of. This structural foundation will give you consistency in your tech-chasing without sacrificing freedom of expression or room for growth as you improve your punishes. Once you’re very consistent in punishing tech options, the effectiveness of the punishes can slowly be refined based on stage positioning, percent, and match-up.