Well, he beat everyone in front of him -- too obvious. But what did he do that the rest of those gathered did not? To what do the champions pay attention that others miss? And, more generally speaking, what separates the ranbat point haves from the have-nots? I became curious and sent private messages to many of the top UTSF ranbat point earners from seasons one and two to see if I could gain any insight and share the wealth with the rest of the class. Gustavo, Thanh, Renzo, Andy, Phil, Eddie, and Andrew responded, so here's the sum total of their collective SF4 wisdom.
Everyone shared something different about what makes them successful. For Andy, "I don't xbox live at all, or participate in casuals a bunch...If I really need to get in the mood to play, then I'll play Phil, Gustavo, or Thanh for an hour and practice my Chun setups every few weeks." Renzo added that, "...reflexes are huge[...]if u have slow reflexes then people will just jump in on u all day" while Eddie says to "...always look for the easiest and most damaging punish...." Andrew opined that "My experience from growing up in So Cal and being in and around the scene before moving to Utah is my biggest help....also picking Sagat, the God-tier doesn't hurt." And that for Andrew, like Eddie, "The ability to predict correctly and punish effectively and consistently is key." Phil wrote that "top tier or low tier... rankings dont matter...."
So if we were to follow those ideas without equivocation, no one should play SF4 on LIVE or play local comp often, they should have great reflexes, grow up in SoCal, punish effectively with God-tier Sagat but to not worry too much about tiers.
Please pass the Tylenol so that I can head off the headache. It's too much.
Except that it isn't. These players know something about their game and themselves that gives them an edge. They know what helps them win, and the path to winning starts in as many ways as can be imagined. And that's as it should be; it personalizes the game, internalizes it. Phil won't win like Andy, and Gustavo won't get first like Thanh; SF4 would become stale and boring otherwise. Follow Plato and "Know thyself." Always good advice, but only one of many jewels in the crown. And it isn't even the brightest one.
In every response, each player responded that knowing your character is most important, and not just "OMG DDFFpuNCh=haXXxorz fiRE" type knowledge. Really understanding your character, their limits, capabilites, and especially matchups against other characters further pushes them to greatness.
In talking about character knowledge, Gustavo wrote that his success comes because, "...I just have a very deep understanding of the game and my character. Thats basically it... no secret behind it, just knowledge." Compare what Phil said here with what I quoted above: "top tier or low tier... if you know your character, rankings dont matter. Chun, Elf, Abel, all middle tier.. all top 3 at last ranbat. Execution, matchup knowledge, and keeping a cool head make for great tournament play." Renzo added that "...knowing your character and all his/her matchups is the single most important thing to winning." From the resident doctor, Andy wrote that "I know my character fairly well...been using her since March; what she can and can't do are pretty obvious to me. Matchups I think I know pretty decently...." Andrew informed me that "knowing matchups helps. Jwong recently said SFIV is like rock/paper/scissors, it's about countering often, knowing what can beat your opponent."
One last jewel and the victor's crown is complete: practice. Sure, you read about Ryu online, you want to use him, but how do you know you can get the srk fadc into ultra if you don't turn on the system and lay fingers and hand to buttons and joystick! You have to put in the time, there's no substitute for it.
Eddie shared that "I been building all my experience from playing at Andys, ranbats and practicing with Gustavo alot." Thanh practices, and so does Andy...on occasion. Gustavo didn't practice before this last ranbat (so he wrote) but I'd bet good money that, like Andy, he practiced and worked his chosen character to competitive form long before the ranbat. Oh, yeah, Renzo practices, too; the RSF doesn't happen all by itself. And does anyone want to guess how much time Phil and Andrew have spent practicing? Anyone? Neither do I.
Simple as that: Know your character, yourself, the matchups, and practice. And do it all before Ranbat 2.4 on Nov.7.
Do it and win.