Ladder anxiety is something a lot of new players struggle with and is something that can really kill your motivation to play. After taking quite a long break from the game, I even experienced some myself when coming back. This helped me realise that the way to beat ladder anxiety is sometimes more than just knowing the theory of a solid competitive mindset.
The fundamental way to overcome ladder anxiety is to stop caring about whether you win or lose and focus more on how you play. Despite being well aware of that, you may find that you still care about winning or losing (as I often do), there are a few tricks and drills at the bottom of the page that could help you enjoy yourself while playing online.
Building a solid competitive mindset
Before I go into the strategies I sometimes use to trick myself into calming down, I wanted to share what I believe is required for a solid competitive mindset. Hopefully this will help new players who get frustrated/disheartened playing online.
Be prepared to lose - the cornerstone of learning to play a fighting game is to be prepared to lose, especially when starting out. No matter how good you get, you’re never going to stop losing so don’t head online expecting to get a perfect win streak.
It’s all practice - Even if you’re playing a tournament, every match you play will help you become a better player. If you get absolutely steamrolled by a more experienced player, it was rough but it gave you a glimpse of what high level play feels like and is the best way to lose bad habits.
Always take the rematch - Whether you take a rematch or not is ultimately up to you but I would always recommend taking as many rematches as your opponent allows (unless it’s due to connection issues). Change up your gameplan between rounds and see whether you can find an approach that works better. If you only rematch players you know you can beat, you’ll levell up a lot slower.
Focus on them mid-match, focus on you post-match - You want to pay as much attention to your opponent as you can during the match but after the match is over, all that’s left is to look back on your performance and see what you can improve. It’s not “I lost because he kept super dashing in weird places and I kept missing my 2H”, it’s “I lost because he was very keen to super dash and instead of slowing down and watching carefully, I lost my cool.”
Winning is much less important than learning - Achieving anything that leads to long term improvement is much more important than winning or losing. Whether that’s landing a combo/setup you’ve been practicing or even just identifying a weakness you have that you weren’t aware of. I would rather lose a hundred games in a row and learn something each time than go on a crazy win streak.
Look after yourself - This is a tricky one to teach because I’m not your Mum but if you’re tired/dehydrated/distracted, you’re never going to be able to play to your best. Take care of yourself, drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep and take a walk when you feel frustrated.
Matchmaking vs. Lobbies
The biggest cause of frustration that I found when grinding out games online was dealing with the influx of players with wildly different playstyles that you sometimes only get one game to adapt to. By finding players in lobbies or via online communities, you can find like minded players of similar skill levels that you can grind as many games as you both choose to. This also leads into my personal favourite part of fighting games, discussing them with other players and learning new things.
If you find yourself get more frustrated by ‘random’ playstyles, you may want to look into how you find games online. Here’s a rough breakdown of the characteristics of both methods, you can choose for yourself which one you prefer.
Can be slow to set up
Group lobbies let you spectate/swap round
Players more likely to rematch
When using a discord/community, you can specify skill level and region
More likely to play ‘traditionally’
Skill gap can vary wildly in public lobbies
Players less likely to rematch
Skill gap can vary wildly
Large number of unorthodox styles
Very limited communication with other players
Trick yourself into having fun
As I mentioned at the start, there can be a big difference between understanding the theory of why wins don’t matter and actually changing your mindset to where you don’t care anymore.
Here are some of the weird things that I recommend trying out if you find yourself taking the game too seriously.
Play a new team - When taking the game too seriously, I’ve found that playing a team that you are unfamiliar with or you know is just for fun can be just what you need to reset. The match is almost certainly going to be a loss but it’s easy not to care, just have some fun with it.
Impose a restriction on yourself - Taking an option away from yourself or imposing a strange rule on yourself also makes wins so unlikely that you don’t expect to get them. It’s also one of the best ways to train out bad habits you are struggling with. Ban yourself from an option you know you abuse and learn to do without it (looking at you super dash).
Practice mode and chill - This one is definitely the most widely used, it doesn’t really belong on this list but it’s too important to leave out. Practicing your movement or drilling some offensive pressure can be very relaxing, when grinding online gets to be too much, taking some time out and grinding in training mode is a win-win.
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