The reason that people begin to play fighting games on a competitive level is the same reason why anyone decides to compete in any activity. At the very core of the activity, for whatever reason, the person involved genuinely enjoys the activity, as well as the competition surrounding it. While there may be other personal motives involved, such as trying to win money by beating out other competitors, the fact that the activity is enjoyable is the reason why they start the long road to improvement in the first place. But along the way, it’s very common to hear about players getting burnt out. Many, myself included, have gone through a phase where the game was no longer fun, and playing it was literally the last thing we wanted to do.
Why is this? What causes us to begin to hate the very thing that we loved and dedicated so much time to? If having fun was the reason that you became interested in playing on a competitive level, where did the fun go? While getting tired or frustrated with playing a specific game or genre is often attributed to outgrowing it or just having a change of interests at one point, I believe the answer to be oversaturation as opposed to just waking up one day and feeling entirely different about something.
By this, I mean that since fighting games often become the most played genre if you’re trying to compete in them, you’re bound to get a little tired of them. This is only magnified to an even greater degree if you’re playing on a competitive level, which means that you’re trying to be very analytical of a large amount of data. Trying to understand matchups, memorize frame data, commit new combos to muscle memory, as well as learning the basics of the game’s system is almost on par with studying for a final exam! Putting yourself through that for weeks on end is going to make anyone want to stop playing.
So, what should you do when you don’t want to play anymore? It’s simple: you listen to yourself and stop playing for a bit. Like I said earlier, the reason you got into fighting games on a competitive level is because at some point, you genuinely loved it. You loved the feeling of training and improving yourself. You felt the adrenaline pumping through your veins when you were in a tough match and managed to pull off a win. You experienced a crushing defeat that you know you could’ve avoided, and spent a long time dwelling on that loss. When you stop feeling these things in fighting games (or in any game or activity), take a break! The game certainly isn’t going anywhere, and it’s not like you can never come back to it.
This has actually happened to me in a major way twice since I started going to tournaments. I don’t mean that I just didn’t feel like playing fighting games, but I was at the point where I just wanted to sell off my fighting games and stop altogether. The first time happened in 2009 or so with Street Fighter IV. I had gone to a few tournaments and couldn’t figure out why I was losing and what I was doing wrong. I hit a plateau in my training where I wasn’t getting any better, and it was incredibly discouraging. I felt that all my practice and training had culminated to nothing, and I stopped playing. I actually sold my copy of the game, and ended up rebuying it about three months down the road, only to fall in love with it all over again. I started over from scratch and tried out different characters and strategies. I ended up becoming a better player as a result, and I saw the game in a different light. I had realized what I was doing wrong, and grew out of my own ignorance.
The second time I fell into a slump with fighting games happened in late 2010. I had become the best out of the circle of people that I had played with, and I had a reputation within that circle for being the best. In truth, I wasn’t very good at all, but I thought I was. So when someone else came along and beat me quite soundly and then proceeded to call me out on how awful I was at the game, I was crushed. I didn’t want revenge or to beat him again. I realized he was right. I was awful, and the fact that I thought I was good only proved how little I knew about the game. Eventually, I took what he said as a lesson. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t good at the game and barely knew anything about it. I made it my goal to learn as much as possible, and took my training in a different direction. After a few weeks off, I came back and dedicated myself to learning more combos, understanding frame data better and trying to get myself to think more during my matches as opposed to just doing the same things over and over.
The main point of these stories is that the time away from the game allowed me to focus on why I was playing in the first place and gave me time to focus on my habits. By taking time off, I came back to the game with a fresh perspective, and tried things that I probably wouldn’t have done if I was stuck in my old habits. The break gave me the drive to play again and immediately start improving.
At PAX Prime 2011, I got a chance to talk with Mike Ross, one of my favorite players in the fighting game community. After having what can only be a fanboy moment (I asked him to sign my custom arcade stick art that I brought with me from the opposite side of the country), I inquired if he ever gets burnt out on Street Fighter. He told me that everyone gets burnt out of playing the game they love sometimes, including him and some other top players, and that it’s natural to feel that way. He told me that if I ever feel like I need to take a break to just do it. In fact, he told me that one very top player actually took off from playing for months on end until only one month before that year’s EVO tournament, where he placed within the Top 8. By giving himself an extended amount of time away from the game to clear his head, he was able to approach it with more enthusiasm than before, which clearly paid off.
So, dear reader, if you’re feeling tired or frustrated at your progress in fighting game improvement, give yourself some time away from it. Realize that taking time off from the game isn’t you giving up on it, but it’s giving yourself the time to come back to it with the tenacity that you might be currently lacking. It’s a time for you to reflect on why you’re playing it in the first place, and finding that spark again that made you love it.