5 Surprising Lessons From Entering the Top 1% in the World For a Video Game
I recently discovered that I just hit the top 1% in the world for online ranking scores for the Nintendo fighting game, Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.
I started playing the game when I was about 10, but this is the best I’ve ever been. That’s almost 20 years of playing.
I’m not a professional-level player — not even close. Those men and women play a single game for more hours a week than most people spend at a full-time job. And that’s the first lesson I learned:
1. Honestly, You Probably Don’t Want To Spend Your Life Playing Video Games
Making a living off a video game is hard. Very hard.
The annual Evolution Championship Series (EVO) is considered by many to be the premiere tournament for fighting games. It’s the biggest international tournament, and offers the most prize money.
Last year, the jackpot for winning the Super Smash Bros. title was $13,580 dollars.
Nothing to scoff at, sure. But keep in mind, the winner only gets 60% of the pot — the other 40% is divided up for the top 8 competitors. So that’s about $8,000. Once you deduct taxes, you might be looking at a little more than half.
$5,000 for winning the #1 tournament in the world.
One of my favorite pro players is Eric “ESAM” Lew. Lew has been participating in competitive Super Smash Bros. tournaments for over 10 years.
He’s never won a major title.
Every week for the past several years, he puts out videos of him practicing online, showcasing his skills, and playing matches. He probably makes a good amount of money from sponsors and streaming.
But for every pro player live-streaming their work, there’s probably 1,000+ amateur players live-streaming to no audience. You don’t make money unless you’re in the top 1% — maybe even top 0.5%.
And even when you win…it’s not much.
The lesson here is simple:
You probably don’t want to spend your life playing video games.
2. You Don’t Get In the Top 1% of Anything Without First Failing a Ton
In the past 20 years, I’ve played thousands of matches, both online and in-person. I’ve attended tournaments, both online and in-person.
I have lost so many times.
One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned from all my years of playing Super Smash Bros. is simple:
You don’t get into the top 1% of anything without first failing a ton.
A lot of people want the prize, without the work. They want the book deal, the million-dollar business, and the 6-pack abs, but they don’t want to put in the work.
In the words of world-champion heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier:
“Champions aren’t made in the ring, they are merely recognized there.”
To become an elite-level performer, you need to lose. A lot. When champions finally win and become the best in the world, it looks nice on TV. But what you don’t see is the thousands of hours of exhausting, often lonely practice. You don’t see all the losses.
But losses aren’t bad — in fact, they help a lot. Once you get over the sting and humiliation and frustration of losing, you learn a lot — what you did wrong, what they did right, how to be just a little better next time.
So don’t be afraid of losing. Once you realize that losing is part of the process, you free yourself from avoiding the “embarrassment.” There’s no need to be embarrassed. It’s just how it works.
Lose a lot, learn a lot.
“If someone is better than you at something, it’s likely they’ve failed at it more times than you have.” -Seth Godin, #1 NYT best-selling author
3. When People Are Mean To You, The Best Response Is to Pray For Them
It sounds silly, I know.
But this is one of the best lessons I’ve ever learned. It’s kept me patient, focused, and frankly, sane.
In Super Smash Bros., when you lose, your opponent can taunt you in the game, and even leave mean messages after a match.
In the past, I’d get so angry, I’d want to punch a wall. “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies,” the old saying goes. I would let other people get under my skin. Not only would I lose more (because I lost focus), but I’d just feel awful. All that tension, stress, adrenaline, anger, and resentment would put me in a terrible place, both mentally and physically.
But in the past 6 months or so, I’ve stopped getting mad altogether. (I mean, for the most part). And when someone is a jerk to me online, or rubs it in my face when I lose, I just pray for them.
And I feel great.
It’s a simple prayer, something I learned in therapy — I just pray that the other person would have a great day, that they’d be blessed, and be a blessing to others.
Because when you pray for other people, it makes it so much harder to resent them, and so much easier to let thing go.
This applies to every other situation, by the way. When you pray for the jerks in your life, you feel better. You’ll feel less resentful. You’ll feel more focused. You won’t give them space in your head.
When people are mean to you, the best response is to pray for them.
4. There Is No Competition
In his book Relentless, Tim Grover (Michael Jordan’s personal trainer) described the mindset he told Michael Jordan he needed to become a champion:
“I don’t compete with anyone. Everyone competes with me.”
Grover told Jordan than when you focus on the competition, you give them power. You waste your focus on them — what they’re doing, how to keep up, how to counter their moves.
One of the most disheartening things to do on the road to mastery is look at how much better others seem to be doing. No matter how fast you’re going or how far you’ve gone, there’s always someone who looks like they’re doing better than you.
For most people, this comparison is enough to break their spirit. The antidote: stay in your lane. Focus on your progress, and ignore the competition.
One of my favorite quotes is by author Ryan Holiday. He once wrote:
“Ignore what other people are doing. Ignore what’s going on around you. There is no competition. There is no objective benchmark to hit. There is simply the best you can do — that’s all that matters.”
For me, I found the most success when I focused entirely on me, my practice, and my work ethic. I stopped worrying about what others were doing, or how much better they seemed to be doing.
There is no competition. Focus on what you can control — you and getting better.
5. It’s Not “How Long” It Takes, It’s “How Many Times” You Practiced.
I’ve been playing the Super Smash Bros. video game for almost 20 years, across several generations of the game. I practice quite a bit.
But truly elite players have practiced more in the past 6 months than I probably have in the past 6 years.
I really like this quote from James Clear’s book Atomic Habits:
“There is nothing magical about time passing in regard to habit formation. It doesn’t matter if it’s been twenty-one days or three hundred days. What matters is the rate at which you perform the behavior. You could so something twice in thirty days, or two hundred times. It’s the frequency that makes the difference.”
I’ve learned that when you want to reach a high-level in anything, you can choose how fast you achieve mastery, because achieving mastery isn’t dependent on time, it’s dependent on frequency.
You can practice something a few times a week, or several times a day. It’s not about “how long” it takes, it’s about how many times you can put in the work.
Thanks for reading. Let me know if you want to play a match!
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