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You Talking ‘Bout Practice?

Getting better at games is hard.

You need to be dedicated, patient, and take criticism well. Win humbly and lose gracefully, and never, ever be satisfied. The most important thing is, you have to never be good enough in your own eyes. When nothing short of perfection will do, then you can start to truly improve.

My next few articles are going to talk about improving your play in any sort of game. I will use the StarCraft games as my primary example but will mix in other games for perspective. Today, we are going to start with the simplest things to improve.

The starting place for improving yourself at any game should be mechanics. It doesn’t matter how well you understand a game if you can’t make your fingers do what you want them to. This can sometimes be the most boring part of practice. It can be very repetitive and slow.

In StarCraft, this would include things like basic macro or specific micro tricks. Make sure your barracks and factories are always producing and are not queued, and make sure that you aren’t pooling minerals or gas and don’t miss supply depots. These are parts of the game that are not exciting in the least, but they are the backbone of your ability to win. It doesn’t matter how good you are — if your opponent is producing twice as much as you, you probably cannot win, no matter what.

In a game like Street Fighter, this means not dropping any of your combos, and unfortunately sitting in practice mode for hours until you can do a huge string flawlessly every time isn’t appealing to most people. Discipline.

Theory and practice words written on the chalkboard

Once your mechanics are getting pretty solid you can work on things that will be specific to each time you play.

In StarCraft this is build orders for each match-up and basic openings. If you’re Terran, it will be when can you put pressure on the Zerg and what is going to be your most common avenue to victory. In fighting games, it would be things like understanding your match-ups with each other character, knowing their movesets as well as yours, when you can be aggressive vs. when you have to be defensive and patient, and so on.

In order to truly be good at this, you need to not only understand what you’re capable of, but be equally be aware of what your opponent can do. The easiest way to practice this is simply to play the game many times against people better than you. Playing against people worse than you will not help you understand the game, because they won’t punish your mistakes, but if you’re playing against your friend who kills you six times in a row with a proxy stargate, you better believe that by the tenth time you will know how to defend that.

Forums and friends are a great resource for things like this. Joining discussions is a great way to gain a new perspective. Maybe someone knows a cool little trick you don’t or a new opening that is good in a particular match up or on a certain map. At the end of the day you have to accept that there are many many people better than you at a game and there is no shame is using their knowledge for your own advantage.

That’s phase one of getting better and the much easier to understand part. Next week, we talk about some more abstract concepts.

Tyler Morse is a Contributing Editor to AYBOnline.com.

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