Overcoming the Learning Curve

Welcome back to the second part of my ongoing series on how to cultivate, maintain, and improve local smash communities! If you haven’t read my first article, check it out! Today, I’ll be focusing on how to help ease newcomers into understanding and enjoying the deeper parts of smash (or any complex game).

One thing I hear a ton about when trying to get people into Project M, or even just competitive Smash as a whole, is that it’s incredibly daunting to have to climb such a steep curve to be even remotely competitive. There are dozens of match ups, a boatload of advanced tech that casual players aren’t really exposed to, a ton of muscle memory that needs to be developed. the list is lengthy on what you need to be a strong competitor in Smash. Like anything with depth and a lot of information, it’s important to expose people to bits and pieces at a digestible pace, or else you risk information overload, which can instantly turn people off from whatever it is you’re trying to show them.

Start with the basic building blocks and work your way up. Remember to always be patient when teaching someone, too! In order to make the game approachable, you have to be approachable, too! Be friendly and positive! Encourage them to ask questions often, ask them questions in return. Figure out ways to relate ideas to real world concepts that they might be familiar with. Explore mechanics with different characters so they can see the merit of each character and figure out what traits they like to work with most. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about the game from exploring different perspectives and figuring out how to best help somebody else understand and apply concepts. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something, it’s a lot better to be honest and talk about how something could work and asking questions, as opposed to stating something as fact when it might not be.

Let’s start really simple. Every game has universal truths. In Smash, there are universal mechanics. I’ll use Melee for my example, as the universal mechanics in each game are a bit different. In this case, universal applies to all characters being able to do the same thing in a given game, not across games in the series. Before you even get into wavedashing, ledge dashes, wavelands, or shield drops, let’s look at the really basic forms of how to move in Melee.

Every single character can walk, dash, run, jump, and drop through platforms. These are the main things that move our characters from left to right or up and down the screen. With these basic mechanics, we can begin to teach the simplest forms of spacing. Things like dash dancing, overshooting aerials, using platforms to help get down or to stay away from an opponent; these are really simple things that anybody can be shown how to do without needing any form of difficult inputs or advanced tech. Taking center stage and pushing people into corners can be done with these simple mechanics.

Next, let’s look at simple defensive options that are available to everyone. Shield, roll, spot dodge, and crouch. Easy inputs that are known and used even casually. You can start to piece things together with a newcomer as they explore each piece of simple gameplay and start to get a better understanding of how they work. Shielding an attack and want to get away? Roll away from your opponent and try to get your footing back. It makes total sense. Want to get back to the center of the stage? You can dash in after you roll away! Or you can even try to roll past your opponent to try and reverse control! Maybe the opponent attacked really close to you and you can grab them out of shield, for a total reversal!

Every character has to deal with these core functions of the game. Each one has strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited. Break the game down as simply as possible. Sheik has strong defense and a great punish game off of grabs, but struggles against crouching opponents due to crouch cancel. She also has a high short hop, so she’s in the air for longer, which is seen to be disadvantageous in most traditional situations of smash. Her tools aren’t the best for approaching the opponent. She wants to tailor her play generally around making the opponent come to her and attack her strong defense, so she can get a good counter in and exploit her strengths and diminish her weaknesses to the best of her abilities. Every character can be explored in a means similar to this. Deconstruct them to their basic core strengths and weaknesses, and figure out ways to exploit them to your benefit.

Now that we’ve let our new player start to understand a few of the core ideas and values of the game, and how to move and defend on a simple level, we can start to introduce more complex techniques. Rolling takes a while to do, right? It’d be nice to be able to counter attack sooner after dealing with defense, to try and catch your opponent off guard. Well, every character can jump out of shield! Explore jumping out and doing a quick aerial to counter attack, which can often times reach farther than your shield grab would. The gears are turning, now, and it’s time to offer a bit of advanced tech to try out. Since you can jump out of shield, this gives you access to something called a “wavedash”. In this application situation, we can look at it as a faster roll, with adjustable distance on it! What a great tool to have access to, right?

This article could go on for pages and pages, but the examples should be enough to get the point across. One last thing I’ll offer as a great piece to get people hooked: provide them with resources to keep learning on their own. Show them SmashBoards threads, SSBM Tutorials, sets of high level play with characters they’re interested in. Get them interested, and then help them become self-sufficient. Once you get someone excited to learn, they’ll start exploring at a pace they’re comfortable with and growing in no time!

I play smash and advocate for mental health