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Coaching in the FGC

Posted by Tanner Hinders on

One of fighting games’ largest draws when compared to other esports is the singular nature of their competition. When two players face off, more often than not, the better player that day will emerge victoriously. However, that singular nature sometimes leads players to believe that the work leading up to a player’s success was also done alone. In fact, the opposite is true. While success in fighting games is heavily dependent on players’ effort, there are a variety of people behind the scenes from practice partners to locals and even coaches.

Coaching in the FGC has never truly found its footing, especially among top players. One of the most common examples of coaching is pro players offering coaching sessions through websites. This is a great opportunity for new players to learn from veterans and get insight into how professionals approach the game. While these experiences can be invaluable for players looking to improve, it can be difficult to make large strides in only one or two sessions.

Another common example is live coaching at tournaments. This style of coaching has been surrounded by controversy for years, as the community is often split on whether to allow it during events. While it is technically coaching, the advice more often comes from training partners and teammates, not an official coach. Even though this is usually the most visible role of coaching in the FGC, EQNX’s head analyst Trung "Trungy" Mai thinks that the true value of coaching comes before a tournament even begins.

Most people think that coaching is just about observing ongoing matches and providing solutions in real time. To me, however, working in sync through preparations, match analysis, and developing integrated game plans require lots of trust between the player and coach. The solid bond between the player and coach, built upon mutual trust, leads to a stronger emotional state for the player, resulting a better performance in tournaments. – Trungy

EQNX is one of few teams in the FGC with an official coach after signing Trungy in March of 2020. Trungy’s goal was to help EQNX’s North American Tekken players improve both technically and mentally in upcoming tournaments. While offline events were canceled soon after Trungy joined, he began working with Cuddle_Core and Joey Fury through online events, and their accomplishments over the last year alone can show the value Trungy has added to the team.

The helpfulness of coaching for my competitive career is something I can’t believe I didn’t recognize as a necessity sooner. I used to acknowledge coaches for fighting game players as a friend or someone you respect goes on stage and talks to you between games to help you analyze your opponent. TOs even asked if players would have a “coach” on stage during top [eights and top sixteens]. But they were never official professional coaches, just players that someone trusted usually. Still never thought of an FG “coach” in the official “sports” sense. Since having a professional coach was never mentioned in my casually competitive years, I never addressed it. In thinking about how I treat my career to how I did when it was just a hobby, having a coach should always be a requirement for pro players.

When EQNX brought on Trungy as our Tekken coach I didn’t know what to expect. I gladly took the help because during this time I wanted to grow even more. I wanted to train to prepare for tournaments online and offline. I wanted to be a stronger version of myself every time I turned on the game. The strengths and weaknesses I had from previous years, I wanted to fully tackle them. Especially since the pandemic has allowed me to work from home, that includes my training as well. More time to train, less time spent traveling back and forth. I’m allowed to prioritize training now! What better way to do that than through a mentor, a player who is technical, has the legacy skill, and still plays the game?

Trungy has helped me see perspectives on the game that I hadn’t seen before. He helps me to understand the best ways to approach playstyles [or] matchups for my characters. He has complete faith in my capabilities as a pro player, and confidence that I can best any opponent. He believes in me and having positive affirmations like that from someone I work closely with has made my approach to learning as a pro so healthy! – Cuddle_Core

XO Academy has also been a leader showing the value of coaching in the FGC. According to its Twitter account, XO Academy’s goal is to help women in the FGC take their game and name to the next level. By pairing promising talent with veteran coaches, XO Academy helps its members grow before sponsoring them at major tournaments. Multiple EQNX members have participated in XO Academy including Phantom Miria in Street Fighter V and Romanova in DragonBall FighterZ. Cuddle_Core has also worked with XO Academy as a Tekken 7 coach.

Even though coaching from a traditional sports sense is slowly gaining ground in the FGC, there are still a variety of challenges to overcome. Online training sessions can be difficult to navigate, and tournaments are in a constant state of dealing with players across the country. As Tekken’s roster size continues to expand, the amount of match up knowledge required also increases. Even though coaches can help prepare players for likely scenarios, fighting games tournaments offer a unique challenge when compared to almost all other competitions.

The major differences between esports and the traditional sports coach are largely in the format. Traditional sports either have leagues or match cards. Such system provides them with ample time to prepare for their opponents. Most of the events for esports are typically tournaments with a few exhibitions here and there. You not only have to train and hone your own skills but also need to be ready for multiple opponents and situations. - Trungy

With so many things to keep track of while playing fighting games, having an additional pair of eyes to look for habits and opportunities cannot be understated. From reviewing previous tournament matches to high-level practice sets, a coach can help identify parts of a player’s strategy they may not even consciously realize themselves. While VOD reviews and lab practice are important to any player’s growth, putting that practice into live play is vital to tournament success. According to Trungy, scheduled practice sessions against a training partner provide a great opportunity to work on matchups and scenarios in a controlled setting. Coaching can also help players prepare for new mechanics and characters quickly after their release.

When new mechanics or characters are added to the game, it can be overwhelming to try to learn everything at once. It is best to take a step back and deconstruct the new content, then try to find a comparison with older and familiar content so that you can have something relating to the new concept that you try to understand. As a coach and analyst, it is my responsibility to dig deeper into the new content for things that will give the players trouble and prepare them on how to deal with it. – Trungy

Coaching services can help players at any level improve their gameplay. Any additional perspective can help competitors of any game grow their knowledge and abilities. While a coach can provide a variety of benefits to players, including mechanics and technical knowledge, it’s important to not rely on only one additional source. Cuddle_Core says that adding therapy has also helped create a stronger mental state while competing in tournaments.

I am extremely proud of the fact that my mental fortitude has increased, the confidence in my reads has grown, and my stamina has expanded! The stamina increase has definitely been from all the running I do, and therapy as well. Therapy has played a massive role in what my mental state looks like as I compete in these high-pressure tournaments. Being a proud winner but a graceful loser are both important, and therapy has taught me that. It’s taught me that my worth does not dwindle because I didn’t do as good as I wanted.

Focusing on a craft requires patience and dedication, and that also means accepting that sometimes we don’t always meet our expectations. That simply means we have more to work on, that it’s a process. In going through all the training, it definitely makes the wins that much sweeter, and very well deserved. One of the most important take-aways I have from going through all the training is “be kind to yourself”.

It’s important that as much time as you spend training and working on your career, that you take time for yourself. You can only be the best version of you, if you have the energy to do so. And burnout is a very real thing, so yes, be kind to yourself. – Cuddle_Core

Even though players compete alone, it’s important to recognize how many training partners and unofficial coaches can help them grow. EQNX is proud to help blaze a path for coaching within the FGC as well as the growth of Cuddle_Core and Joey Fury with Trungy’s help so far.

I have been active as a Tekken 7 coach for about 3 years now. I am extremely passionate about Tekken and coaching gives me the opportunity to express this passion through an outlet other than competing. It is an incredible feeling to share my ideas with others and have them experience tangible progress in their gameplay. The skills needed to succeed in competitive Tekken can often be elusive. I am fortunate to be in a position where I have many years of experience that help me in explaining this learning process to others.

Lastly, the best engine for driving progress is new perspective. I am constantly being exposed to new ideas through my discussions with my students, my close friends, and my coaches. This is the reason why coaching is valuable to everyone and anyone. There is no one who cannot benefit from a broadening of perspective. - Joey Fury

Both Trungy and Joey Fury offer Tekken coaching services and private lessons, make sure to book a lesson if interested in learning from two veterans of TEKKEN and follow EQNX on Twitter for updates on the team and tournament performances.

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