Lately, I’ve been holding some serious one on one training sessions with some local aspiring players as my way of giving back to the community. The results have been, for the most part, solid with many players noticing great improvement. It has been interesting to observe newer players to get a better understanding of how they make decisions. For example, what’s the rational for a person to always roll onto the stage from the ledge or, perhaps, why a Captain Falcon player would attempt so many Raptor Boosts (Side+B’s). It may be simple to say to a player to simply stop spamming forward smashes with Marth or down smashes with Peach, but I don’t think it’s that easy for people to break a habit.

Why Playing a Small Group of Players Hurts

In my early days of playing Melee, over 90% of my time was spent playing with one of my good friends from high school. At a certain point, our neutral game revolved around recognizing specific and predictable patterns. It was no longer a matter of playing Sheik vs. Marth, but more so me vs. him. I knew when he would do a dash dance into a grab and he knew when to  preemptively charge a forward-smash, anticipating my roll. Subconsciously, I began to think that I should always do _____ in ____ situation since it would work every time against my friend. Likewise, my friend probably also picked up some specific habits that would only work on me.


I had to play a decent Marth in one of my first tournaments. With years of practice against Marth, I thought this would be a cake-walk. However, as we were playing, my attacks were missing. Not only were they missing, they were missing badly (Imagine Ben Wallace trying to shoot a free throw). I would preemptively spot-dodge, thinking that this Marth player had the same dash dance patterns as my high school friend, only to see him grab me anyway. I would also throw out random f-tilts and grabs in a certain manner that failed miserably.

Where the Feedback and Learning Went Wrong

By playing my friend, I had no reason not to change my habits. After all, my oddly timed grabbed would net me an opening every time. I was being rewarded for what seemed to be a good choice. Similarly, a CPU always seemed to run into my Forward Smash as Marth, so why should I stop? As a new player, as long as my technique is working, I would continue to utilize it.


Image: Tafo’s Marth in 2003

Where Confirmation Bias can hurt

In the realm of poker, poor fundamental plays can be rewarded in the short term. For example, a player can still win a pot despite going all-in with a worse hand in a terrible situation. Even if the player is an overall loser and you point out these habits, they may refuse to change, citing the instances in which their bad play worked.

Similarly, there was a smasher who loved to roll and spam down-smash as Luigi at a recent tournament that I went to. After 3-4 stocking him every game, I tried to point out that maybe he should try to use other attacks since he was becoming predictable. However, every “down-smash” he landed further engrained into his head that this is the optimal way to play Luigi. At the same time, who’s to blame him? This tactic has been working to help dominate his niche of friends for years.

Why Playing a Variety of Players Helps

By diversifying early, you have to opportunity to play, while not forming as many bad habits. Everyone plays different and you have to find solutions to how to deal with the way a person approaches, combos, defends, and edge guards. As a result, an attack that may work on one player may not work on another, changing our subconscious feedback loop to encourage learning and long-term growth.


Image 2: A crude feedback loop

MIOM | Tafokints