(0:38-0:51) Today’s highlights for discussion are drawn from Super Smash Bros. Melee player Armada’s recent video addressing common misconceptions about tech-chasing vs. reads. His points lead us to the cross-game idea of sharp versus practical play:
We’ll need some some basic background and definitions for non-Smashers. In SSBM, a struck character can fall to the stage. To avoid being knocked prone, a falling player can attempt a tech by tapping the shield button just before/as their character contacts the ground. If successfully timed, the teching character will quickly bounce back to a standing position (a “tech-in-place”). If combined with a left or right directional input, the tech will include a roll to the chosen side (a “techroll”). A tech has a small window of vulnerability at its completion during which the character cannot act but can be hit. Tech-chasing and reading share the goal of punishing the opponent during this critical moment. Tech-chasing is waiting a beat to see which tech an opponent will go for and then quickly re-positioning to strike at end of their animation. A read is an attempt to guess in advance which tech an opponent will attempt and moving immediately to cover it.
(0:51-1:10) It’s true that a reaction tech-chase performed perfectly is more optimal than a read. However, even a tiny mistake opens oneself up to a disproportionately large punish. In chess commentary, this is what is called “sharp” play. There is very little time for a player to recognize the tech animation and move with the opponent quickly enough. Being just a tiny bit slow to chase leaves one closing the distance for the opponent at a moment where they are free to act, handing them a potentially-deadly initiative.
(1:47-2:03) On the other hand, missing a read inherently involves creating distance by moving to a place other than the destination of the opponent’s tech. Going for a safe read is a “practical” line that gives up some value but avoids wagering too much on perfect execution. The distance created with a missed read protects one from a punish:
Players in Smash and other games are often faced with decisions analogous to the chase vs. read in SSBM. Sharp play seeks to hold on to the most edge but demands great execution to avoid spewing away one’s advantage. Practical play seeks to avoid opening oneself up to a big punish for a small mistake, but gives up some edge in exchange. In a perfect world, sharp play may be better, but in actual games between human players the trade-off is much murkier.