The writers of Proverbs said: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” These days, 2700 years later, most of us don’t have firsthand experience with metalworking. As such, the Biblical analogy may be lost on us. Fortunately for those of us in the Fighting Game Community, a more modern source contains much the same lesson. In the anime Demon Slayer, a girl is turned into a demon. Yet instead of shunning her or seeking to harm her, her brother becomes her partner. By working together, the two of them become stronger as individuals and accomplish things that neither could alone.
For those of us in the FGC, the lesson is clear. Many of us are taught to fear our demons – that is, to fear the people or characters who continually defeat us in competition. Instead, we should think of them as family. Fighting game players who do this will find that healthy rivalries help them to grow faster and enjoy the FGC more.
The idea of seeking out a competitive partner may seem strange. After all, people traditionally develop their fighting game skills in solo modes: arcade mode, story mode, training mode, and so on. By and large, we also compete as individuals. Nevertheless, there are serious benefits to forming a healthy rivalry.
First and foremost, rivals provide a source of sustained and intense motivation. Many of us are accustomed to setting static goals, such as reaching a certain rank in online play or achieving a specific tournament result. Those are good goals to have, but, by their nature, they only provide a finite amount of motivation. For example, once you make master rank, you won’t be driven to make master rank anymore. You can find a new static goal to replace the one you’ve just achieved, but it’s helpful to have a source of motivation that’s dynamic and permanent. Rivalries provide that type of inspiration and drive.
What’s more, rivalries provide personalized, and reliable practice. With a good rival, you won’t have to worry about lag, trolls, or people who go one-and-done. Healthy rivalries are too honorable for such shenanigans. For that same reason, the seriousness and persistence of a good rival will allow you to dive more deeply into your character and even your own playstyle. And, last but certainly not least, a rival will also be a consistent source of positivity and encouragement in those inevitable moments of frustration.
Of course, solo training is still vital. Rivalries can’t replace lab work, execution drills, and so on, but they offer rewards that you won’t find elsewhere, so they’re very much worth pursuing.
There’s more to a good rivalry than just two people who happen to play each other a lot. At a fundamental level, a rivalry is a relationship. Just like any other relationship, a rivalry can be healthy or unhealthy. Here are some signs of a healthy rivalry:
- Both players respect and want the best for each other
- Both are committed to growth and improvement
- Both celebrate the other’s progress, even when it comes at their own expense
- There is open, honest, respectful communication based on trust (notwithstanding any secret tech that one may be keeping in their back pocket)
- There is mutual accountability (for training regimens, tournament attendance, reminding one another of goals, etc.)
- Each is willing to be a training partner for the other (e.g. if you know your rival is weak at anti-airs, you’ll be willing to jump in more than you normally would so that your rival can practice)
- Both players are of approximately equal skill
In short, a healthy rivalry works the same way that any other healthy friendship does. It’s based on trust, commitment, and lots of hard work, both inside the game and out of it. In contrast, unhealthy rivalries are based in toxic emotions like jealousy, spite, and selfishness. Unhealthy rivalries look like this:
- One/both lack respect for the other’s gameplay or personality
- One/both are more obsessed with beating the other than they are with improving overall (e.g. “I don’t care if I go 0-2 forever as long as it’s not X who’s beating me”)
- One/both are just messing around (this is okay as the basis for a friendship, but it will frustrate both players if they expect it to be a serious rivalry)
- One/both communicate disrespectfully (friendly trash talk is one thing, but advice and observations have to come from a desire to help)
- One/both are unwilling to help the other practice specific scenarios
- One player is far and away stronger than another (this is not a rivalry – at best, it’s a coaching relationship)
It’s also important to realize that most rivalries happen organically and spontaneously. There’s no surefire way to form a rivalry, just as there’s no surefire way to guarantee that another person will be your friend or your significant other. If you think that you know of a good candidate for a rivalry, the best course of action is to nurture that relationship in the same way you would any other friendship. In a respectful and honest way, tell that person that you enjoy your matches with them. Offer to run some long sets or discuss the matchup. Ask if they’ll help you lab out certain scenarios or setups. If they decline, that’s okay – but if they’re receptive, show your appreciation by listening to their perspective and helping them with their own requests (within reason). Pretty soon, you’ll find that you’re becoming a stronger, more confident player.
Two Heads are Better than One
It’s always worth remembering the C in the FGC. We’re many things – competitors, fans, creators, and more – but first and foremost we’re a community. Even if you’re by yourself when you step up to play a match, you’re never alone. Indeed, both the Bible and the world of anime agree: a rivalry is one of the absolute best ways to strengthen your ties to the community while also improving your game.
Eli Horowitz (@BODIEDnovel) wants to start a dating app for FGC rivals. Until then, he’ll be working on his next novel. His first, Bodied, is set in the FGC.