Recently i got a chance to play Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition and (randomly) Street Fighter Alpha 3 with Ed Ma. This dude got 3rd place in SF4 at Evo2k9, so it’s no surprise that he beat me up pretty bad. I think he won something like 80% of our matches.
It seemed like all of our matches were close though. I didn’t feel like i was getting nervous toward the end either. I wasn’t dropping any more combos near the end of rounds than i was at the beginning, which made the outcome even more confusing.
That got me thinking about what he has that i don’t – and i believe it’s an “endgame.”
Lately people have been talking a lot about how LeBron James is lacking Kobe Bryant’s killer instinct. What does that really mean? Does LeBron enjoy losing more than Kobe does? I don’t think that’s the case at all. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that “killer instinct” in competitive games is an attitude. Unless we’re talking about breaking the rules, i don’t see how that can translate into success when you’re comparing two world-class athletes. Nobody gets that good without motivation, dedication, and a desire to win.
So then, how is Kobe able to step up at the end of the game whereas LeBron seems to shrink down? My answer is that “killer instinct” is a mindset and a skill, not an attitude.
I think Ed Ma tries to win every mini-battle throughout the round, but he saves a little something extra for the end. If he notices a set of predictable behaviors in his opponent, he punishes enough of them to maintain the lead, but he saves one for the finish line.
Now this is a little more tricky than it sounds, mainly because everyone’s behavior changes significantly when they’re close to losing a round. Not only do you have to save a trump card for the end, but you have to choose the one most likely to translate into crunch time.
Lots of Ryu players throw out random Hurricane Kicks when anticipating a fireball early in the round, but how many continue taking that risk when the match is on the line? That’s an example of something you have to punish early, because there’s no use saving it for the end.
The funny thing is, top players themselves tend to underestimate how rare this skill truly is. They’ll criticize people for not having a clear strategy in mind, while overlooking the huge paradigm shift between standard regulation play and the intensity of the fourth quarter.
The reason Kobe always gets a quality shot (by his standards) is that he always saves one trick up his sleeve. And sometimes that trick is to reuse a setup that he’s shown before, on the basis that the opponent won’t be expecting it again – but the point is, it involves a conscious decision backed up by willful behavior analysis.
In Street Fighter, endgame strategy comes into play whenever one side gets within one practical combo of winning a round. It’s self-evident if you think about it; there’s no escaping it. The hard part is incorporating this thought process into your everyday gameplan.