A Note on “Baseline”

Over the last year and a half I’ve found myself taken with the idea of “improving my baseline.” The goal would be to have a “baseline” strong enough to avoid ever being upset in bracket.

For the most part, I actually got really close to this goal – if you look at wins and losses relative to rank, I’m one of the most consistent players. Especially when I’m doing everything in my power to win (as opposed to 2018 where I’ve done a lot of experimentation with Marth and Fox dual-maining and mid-set switching). But I think I have been making my job harder than it has to be.

First the realization, then the steps that led me there.

Beyond a certain threshold of gameplay (e.g. having a sufficiently consistent punish game and sufficient knowledge of your mixups in all states of neutral), improving one’s “baseline” has more to do with quickly adapting to a variety of opponents than playing a matchup strictly “by-the-book.”

The latter is kind of the idea that I had. I would look for tools to master in certain matchups and get good at those, but would often find myself frustrated with the results. This goes back to a point I made in my last post about the difficulties with mimicking other players – it can’t really be done. Even if your Nairs look just like M2K’s, even if your wavedash jabs look like Chu’s, you won’t be playing in the same way.

What actually led me to this realization is netplay. Sometimes I will fight an opponent and be essentially playing on autopilot. I would do things that I know are typically good in a matchup – aerials in the right place, dashback grab, Dtilting, and so forth. But occasionally, I would lose. Why was this happening?

I notice a vast improvement in my gameplay when I stop paying so much attention to performing the correct actions as my own character, and focus more on my opponent’s play. The vast majority of players who take a set off me on netplay when I’m trying to win off “baseline” skill and autopilot get destroyed when I put any effort into tracking habits. In most cases, there aren’t nearly as many layers to their mixups in neutral as I expect, and the rest of the set is a wrap.

This all might sound obvious, but when you get really introspective about improvement it can be easy to lose your way. Anyone who has really put in the effort knows what I’m talking about. The important thing to do is constantly re-evaluate your efforts, assess your results, and provide yourself with unbiased criticism. It’s easier said than done, but like everything else in improvement, it is a skill you can learn.

The same discipline should apply to both your mental approach to fighting an opponent and to tools you use in-game. If you’ve stumbled upon a new tactic in-game, such as a different way to drift using certain aerials or a new setup to find a grab, you should not forget to fight your opponent. What I find helpful is to force yourself to use the new tools in what may feel like arbitrary situations, and over time you’ll develop and intuition for when to use those tools.

That’s where I’m at now. I’ve been restructuring a great deal of my Marth player over the last few months, and have to keep working on the balance between… well, the oldest pillars of melee: tech skill and mindgames.

Hope this is a helpful little write-up. Shorter than usual, but I wanted to put these thoughts down on paper while they’re fresh in my mind. Thanks for reading!


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