“I don’t have enough time to play fighting games competitively…”

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Hey Patrick,
So adults all have obligations as we all know. I love fighters and love them competitively but struggle fitting them in.
I’m trying to get into art school which means my art takes precedence. But I also don’t want to give up my hobbies.
So there’s work, there’s my art studies, there’s the gym and recreational softball league, my guitar playing, and then there’s fighting games. I don’t know how to add it all up dude.
Right now art is my priority so I work part time. I figured I could deconstruct this way:
Art — 3 hours minimum
Guitar — 1 hour minimum
Gym — 1 hour maximum
Fighting games — ????
I’m really struggling with this and don’t want to give up my fighters. Maybe I can fit it in certain days? Like one day I go to the gym and on days of rest I play fighters in that time? Drawing and guitar are non-negotiable, but say, my local meet up is on Thursday. I guess on that day I could limit drawing to one hour?
Thanks,
Za Warudo

— —

ZW,

As someone who is also juggling a job, gym time, fighting games, and learning (bass) guitar: I feel ya.

I can’t tell you how to schedule your day, but I can help you learn to feel better about it, which is, I think, the important part.

First off: You have your priorities in order. Fighting games are great and rewarding, but they’re not in your top three priorities. That’s fine! But we need to get you to stop wasting energy feeling bad that you’re not playing fighting games more often. I understand that the worry comes from a good place, but worrying like this is counterproductive; the easiest way to stay in fighting games is to make sure that the time you spend playing and thinking is largely positive.

Think about it this way: If you spend one hour a week playing fighting games and three hours a week feeling bad for not playing enough, then fighting games are giving you three hours of bad feeling and at most an hour of good feeling. That’s net-negative for your life and definitely not a great way to spend your spare time.

We have no Hyperbolic Time Chamber to solve this problem for us. We cannot make more time out of nowhere. I’m definitely not going to tell you to sleep less so you can practice more. So rather than try to find more time to play FGs, let’s see how we can get you to feel better about the time you do spend playing FGs. And for that, I highly recommend developing a routine. It’s that Grown Adult Tech.

Routines are good for reducing unproductive worrying

Potemkin’s getting those curls in mid-fight.

A routine is a set of actions you perform consistently in order to achieve a defined goal. Think about a weightlifter’s plan at the gym: The things they do or don’t do on any given day is ordered around one of their goals. If you lift weights because you “just want to look good” your routine will look different than if your goal is to squat twice your bodyweight.

In order to make a routine, you need to determine your time budget, set your priorities, and decide on goals based on those two factors. You’ve done most of this work so far, which helps! Here’s what we’ve got so far:

Let’s start by filling out some of the question marks. What are your goals for guitar? Are you using your guitar time wisely in pursuit of that goal? I’m assuming it’s high on your priority list for a reason, so I wouldn’t suggest taking time away from the guitar-playing, but if you don’t have a goal, I recommend defining one because that’ll help focus your practice.

Next up: Gym. Physical fitness is important, and an hour per day (or every other day) is pretty good, all things considered. But again, what are your goals? If you are simply trying to stay active, you can certainly optimize for time. (Try doing burpees for ten minutes a day if you don’t believe me.) Now your goal might just be “I want to stay active in a social, fun setting”, which is fine (burpees are not either of these things)! But it’s important to be specific and honest about what you want and why you want it while budgeting your time and setting your priorities.

Okay, now it’s time to fill in the gaps for fighting games. Based on your priorities, you’ve left fighting games to get whatever time is left after the other needs are satisfied; for the purposes of this essay, let’s assume that your time allocation is fixed and that you have, at most, three hours of fighting game time a week, and maybe time to attend a local if you’re willing to eat into your art time that day. So that’s our budget, and now we need to identify our goals.

Goals, priorities, and compromise

High priority.

Setting goals is an important part of being a fighting game player, especially if you want to stick around for a long time. But most players don’t come in with goals, or if they do, they aren’t particularly useful (think either “I want to win Evo” or “I want to not get double perfected at Evo”) goals. So they spend a lot of time playing a lot to get better at fighting games, but they have a hard time seeing themselves actually getting better, because:

  1. Competitive results are often highly unreliable
  2. Everyone around them is also getting better
  3. They remember the losses more than the wins

Goals are important because it is in seeing our work towards the goals that we can tell that we’re getting better. If you hit the goal, great! If you didn’t, you should still be able to see yourself getting closer and closer. So how do we set some productive goals? Let me walk you through some of my experience and see if this helps.

When I started getting back into competitive Guilty Gear a few years ago, my goal was to make it out of pools at a major tournament. It seemed reasonable, at the time; I often fell short around Losers Semifinals/Finals in pools, so I figured with a bit more work and matchup study I could pull it off.

Fun fact: I haven’t actually pulled this off yet! And despite that, I know I’m getting stronger as a player. The problem isn’t me, it’s the goal.

“I want to make it out of pools” doesn’t tell me how to spend my time, just that I should spend time, and if I’m not making it out of pools, I should be spending more time.

“I want to make it out of pools” doesn’t account for who’s in my pool, the character matchups, or even the relative size of the tournament.

“I want to make it out of pools” doesn’t account for the fact that people who are still competing in Guilty Gear tournaments between now and when I first set that as my goal are all generally badasses who have also been getting better as well.

Productive goals aren’t there to make me feel guilty about not practicing. Productive goals are there to make me feel good about practicing. “I want to make it out of pools” isn’t a productive goal, it’s a milestone that I’ll hit when I’ve gotten good enough.

So it sounds like what you need to do is figure out the goals that will help you feel good about your three hours a week.

Three hours and a local

Imagine if you could throw knives at someone for three hours straight and have them all hit at the same moment.

Three hours of play a week is not a lot of time. I get about three hours a day of netplay on stream days, and sometimes I feel like I’m just getting started after that three hours.

Here’s the thing, though: You mentioned that you like competing in these games, and you might be able to squeeze in time to make a local on occasion. So the goal here that I’m seeing is to get enough value out of those three hours that you feel like the time you spent going to a local is worth it. “I want to go to my local and enjoy myself” is the goal; if you don’t feel like you’re actively improving, then you probably won’t enjoy yourself.

So here’s what I’d recommend: Go to your local. When you lose, take notes on why you think you lost. Then with the three hours you have in the next week, make sure that you’re focused on why you lost. Watch your replays and identify things you could do better; watch other people play the matchup to see how it goes for them. If you dropped a combo, spend time in training mode practicing your combos. If you want to get in some netplay, set up some time in advance to play with someone who will help you practice the matchup you’re working on.

Then go to your next local (or maybe skip a week if you need to), and do it again. And again. And again. Like doing burpees, this is the kind of thing that will make your three hours feel long — at first. But over time, you’ll grow to think of your local as the prize for staying focused on your goals. You’ll lose, but when you lose, you should be able to feel satisfaction in the progress you’ve made since the last time. And those three hours of focused practice will start to feel short and light.

You won’t win Evo, and that’s okay.

We do not play fighting games because we will all eventually Evo. We play fighting games because they’re worth it even though we won’t win Evo. We are all each others’ friends and rivals, party members and DLC characters, minibosses and secret bosses. Most of us will never ‘beat the game’ and that’s okay. We may celebrate the achievements, but it is the practice that gets us there that brings us together. And three hours is plenty of time to join in that.

The warrior’s path is long and full of detours

I will look for any and every excuse to use this GIF.

Competitive fighting games have been a part of my life for about 19 years now. Sometimes they are the most important thing, other times they are not. In high school, they were my major source of friendship and feelings of achievement; in college, they were a thing that helped keep me grounded while living away from home; as a twentysomething, they were a craft that pushed me to grow; in my thirties, they’ve become a community and a family that I want to support.

Fighting games will mean something to you at different times in your life. If you love them, you should keep them in your life. And, just like anything else that sticks around in your life, your relationship to fighting games will change over time.

Right now, fighting games have become a very high priority for me, in part because the tournament season has started back up and in part because my time spent streaming and writing about fighting games has been so rewarding lately that it makes me want to spend more time playing them.

To support that time playing games, I spend less time in the gym than I’d prefer to; instead of going in 4–5 days/week, I’m going 2 days/week and doing short supplementary workouts at home to make up the difference. But because I’m only going two days, I’m making sure to go to two sessions that are the most valuable — the ones that focus on sparring, since that’s what I need to work on most. I’m not progressing as quickly as I would be on a more rigorous training schedule, but at this point in my life, my goal for my martial arts practice is to simply stay in shape and keep making small gains, so it still feels good.

I’ve also started recently trying to play the bass, but it’s a very casual hobby for me, so I’m happy spending ~30 minutes on it every other day or so. Progress could be faster, but I don’t need it to be.

In other times in my life, I’ve had different priorities and goals, and my time spend looked different. I used to work as a freelance writer and part-time assistant boxing coach, and BJJ was my top priority, so I trained for ~12 hours a week. I still played fighting games, but maybe only for an hour or two a week, hitting the lab for 15–20 minutes at a time before bed, and playing with friends once or twice a month at most. I was no less a “fighting game player” at this point in my life than I was when I first got started and would spend three hours walking to and from the arcade so I could spend the bus fare on tokens.

Spending lots of time playing fighting games is great when you have the time to do it, but you don’t have to dump time into it to get something out of it. In fact, I think most people who play fighting games are probably better off spending less time on it from a raw cost/benefit calculation; it’s not like playing 10 hours a week will make you twice as happy (or improve twice as fast) as if you play 5 hours a week.

What matters is that you can find a way to be happy with the time you spend on it, and that depends on your goals. If the thing that makes you keep playing fighting games is the feeling of improvement, then make sure you spend than time improving; if it’s beating others or styling on someone or just hanging out with the homies, then just do that. There is no minimum time limit required to qualify yourself as “someone who plays fighting games”; just do whatever you can as consistently as you can.

If you love fighting games, you’ll be around for a while. You will come and go, and you will always come back. Sometimes you’ll have all the time in the world to play, sometimes you make do with whatever you got. Don’t worry about it.

And there’s one more thing, ZW. I said earlier that we have no tech that will stop time or create new time; that’s true, but you can find ways to double up on it. The fighting game community is full of folks who are good at something besides playing fighting games. We have streamers, event organizers, writers, musicians, artists, engineers, commentators, popcorn makers, chefs, dancers, cosplayers, designers… we have everything.

All of us can do things besides playing fighting games, and many of us find ways to take the things we love and weave them together. This column is an intersection of my love of fighting games, writing, and Bruce Lee. Maybe you’re drawing fighting game characters or playing fighting game music; whatever it is, you might find that adding your passions together will help you feel like you’re suddenly able to spend all the time you want on everything you want to.

That’s what I’m shooting for, anyway, and these days I think I get there more often than not.

Thanks for reading!

💪😎👍❤

-patrick miller

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