Fighting Game Pedagogy – How to Be a Better Teacher
By Tristan MacDonald • February 17, 2021
With so much focus in fighting games resting on your understanding of your opponent and making predictions based on their tendencies, it’s not unusual for players to focus on playing repeated matches against one or two people when they begin the process of learning something. After all, if you’re just learning how to anti-air and you have to react to three different characters’ types of air mobility, it can feel like you don’t know what to actually look for. This happens all the time with beginners, but in any case, it’s not always best to put on your professor costume and recite to them exactly how they should come to the same conclusions you made about a game. If it’s not best to teach everything though, what should you do? Well, let’s look at what players really need out of a training partner and how you can make the process better, both for yourself and the person learning.
Be There for Someone
The first quality any student is going to be looking for is whether their teaching partner is going to be there for them. We’ve all taught someone how to play fighting games, at least to some extent, and it’s a universal experience; when someone is just starting out, they’re going to need a partner who can play them a lot, and at times when it’s not totally convenient, so just play them! Obviously, this entire method of teaching isn’t about teaching multiple people sporadically, or how you should play your friends, but if someone is working on learning a fighting game and isn’t proficient in whatever skill they need to learn yet, they’re going to want to play someone who they know they can learn from, possibly for long amounts of time. In this circumstance, it’s important to make yourself available to teach someone (IF that’s something you’ve established). Although the goal is for players to be comfortable enough with their skills that who they’re playing against isn’t much of a concern, sometimes you need the consistency of a single matchup just to build habit and confidence in a skill while you’re learning, which brings us to the next point.
Similar to being around to facilitate learning with whoever you’re trying to teach, there’s value in remaining consistent with a student while they’re still in the formative stages of learning a tactic. If you’re trying to teach someone a game, all picking random select will do is waste both of your time. A learning player probably isn’t going to be able to recognize situations they need to learn at the same rate when they’re reacting to five different characters’ moves, and if you’re switching between characters every game, you’re probably not thinking about what situations you’re putting your opponent in to win. There are tons of quick ways to introduce a consistent point in your gameplay that a student can learn from; for example, consistently throwing a fireball at a range where a student’s character can punish it points out how they should apply their tools in neutral. Points of consistency give students immediate examples of what they should be improving and compartmentalizes the learning process by showing examples of generalized concepts.
The value in consistency isn’t just present for the learning player, making conscious decisions on what situations to put your opponent into is an important habit that is always useful to reinforce. While you may not be playing a student like you would be in a tournament, if you’re not paying attention to how you’re playing most of the time, your skills will only deteriorate. By looking for what a student needs to learn, and consciously putting them in a learnable situation mid-match, you’ll be improving your mid-match adaptation while the student is learning. If you continue to jump at your opponent after they’ve learned how to anti-air you, you’re no longer teaching them and instead, you’re stagnating the learning process. Mid-match adaptation is obviously an invaluable skill, so while it can sometimes seem nebulous to learn, teaching is a direct application of it, so use your opportunities to reinforce good habits for the both of you.
Beyond consistency, giving your learning partner the opportunities they need to learn and making conscious decisions to put them in certain situations will help you avoid autopiloting. We’ve all heard someone make the excuse “I really feel like I adjust to the level of my opponent” when they lose a match, and while there’s a real truth that when you’re playing someone better than you, you’re probably going to force yourself to make smarter decisions, that match someone lost to a “worse player” was probably because they were autopiloting. Autopiloting is dangerous, and it can easily sneak up on you when you’re playing someone who you think you can consistently beat, but making a concerted effort to play according to actions taken mid-match is the only way to stop it.
Play to Teach, Not to Win
Highlighting or giving your partner an example of an opportunity they could learn from is the meat of what learning is all about. Thinking practically, we very seldom see plus frames by inspection, and we don’t always know how many options an opponent has in a mixup from seeing the one move we got hit by, so why should you expect who you’re teaching to know even more? Highlighting the source of your advantage, or what options you or your opponent has in a given situation can be incredibly helpful when someone is trying to learn to respond to a setup, so keep doing it and see if they can learn from it. If your learning partner still isn’t getting it, tell them! Perhaps they didn’t understand that they could pushblock and super jump out of the corner to escape pressure; sometimes, solutions aren’t always obvious to students. The objective is once again to teach, not to win, so you don’t stand to lose anything by repeating a sequence other opponents might respond correctly to; if your opponent fails to deal with it properly, it’s something they need to learn, and if they are correctly responding, then they’re learning, it’s a win-win situation. Once again, this is meant to be a methodology for teaching someone who you’re focused on working with, don’t play softball at locals trying to preach to everyone you play, but it’s probably more valuable to give your partner opportunities to strike than overwhelm them like you would in a bracket.
I might’ve just spent some time explaining how you can improve the experience of teaching a learning player, but at the end of the day, it’s possible none of that mattered to you. Everyone enjoys and learns differently, people teach differently, and everyone’s local scene has different makeups of people and attitudes, so in the end, do what feels natural to teach. Everyone is still learning a video game after all, so someone that wants to learn might not want a textbook and a half thrown at them, while others might, so adjust and don’t get too caught up in the rigidity of how you should teach. You’re probably going to have to spend a decent amount of time teaching someone, and they’re likely someone you already know anyway, so keep it casual and don’t start thinking you need to place yourself higher than someone just to set an example for them. Few other gaming communities thrive on having players join because they like a game and stay to learn how to play it from scratch, so remember that while the FGC is fueled by competition, we’ll all need to learn at some point to climb even higher.
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