FFTCG Qualifying Mindset – How I can qualify for Nationals or How I can stop beating myself up?

Howdy everyone, Greg Cole & Matt Okimoto here with a dual part article!

With the National Qualification Season coming to an end soon, the last chance to qualify for Nationals on September 29th/30th will be the Last Chance Qualifier on September 28th.  With this in mind, we wanted to spark a discussion that may hopefully open everyone's eyes and hearts in reflecting about each person’s reasons for playing Final Fantasy TCG.

First off, we want to talk about how playing in a competitive setting compares to a casual one.  For many people, you may not experience nerves and anxiety while playing at a casual local event since you may not normally put pressure on yourself to win.  That may be because you are there to just play and have fun. However, when you attend a more competitive event (which some of you may have experienced with the past Crystal Cups and Local Qualifiers), there will generally be more players as well as more significant prizes on the line.  In some cases, people outside of your community may be observing your every move and critique your choices and lines of play (in situations where games are streamed). All these may make you start feeling a bit nervous – having to play the “good players” in the room, of making a mistake that others will catch and critique you on, and hoping not to mess up and lose.  Of course everyone is different with what they are worried about, but generally you don’t realize how many of these things could negatively affect your mentality and you let it continue to build and collect as you attend more of these competitive events events, the competitive aspect may overshadow why many people chose to pick up the game in the first place. We are here to provide you some of our own personal advice and opinions (as two individuals who have experienced the competitive aspect of TCGs (Final Fantasy and others) or have friends who they’ve seen go through competitive tournaments.

Preparation:

Let’s start from the beginning; you first need to prepare for a tournament!  While preparing for a tournament many people will start asking themselves the following questions:

  • What types of decks will be there?
  • Who will be there?
  • How many people will be there?
  • What do you play?
  • What has been doing well in other areas?

However, you know what’s missing from the above set of questions?  In our opinion, the most important aspect everyone should be also asking themselves before going to a tournament is also "What can I do to have fun and have others around me enjoy their time?"  The definition of 'fun' can differ from person to person but I think we can all agree that if you focus on having fun and encouraging others to have a good time as well, you will tend to approach the tournament experience with much better mindset.  This mindset may include acknowledging that despite your performance, there will be fun to be had after the event with friends and other members of the community (e.g. KBBQ).  This will lead to less pressure (as the focus of ‘fun’ wouldn’t solely be on winning) which may help you play better and actually find enjoyment out of an event even if you end up doing poorly or at least not as well as you have expected.

One way Greg likes to prepare for tournaments is by attending every local event possible to help himself prepare.  By getting in multiple games, Greg is able to tune his deck and learn how his deck interacts with various other decks.  This has the added benefit of being able to meet others in the community and creating great memories as well. Matt, on the other hand, likes to prepare for tournaments by talking to other players and bouncing ideas off each other.  For him, it’s less about playing games but rather theorycrafting what decks he plans on seeing and what decks strategies may be good based on the expected field. One thing to notice is that we both like to initiate our tournament preparation with our definitions of 'fun'. For Greg it is fun to connect and interact with the community on a personal level through playing games; for Matt he enjoys talking with players and bouncing ideas off each other to hopefully create something that is not Ice/Earth!  However this may be a challenge for Matt since he needs to prove to Kyle McGinty & Alex Hancox that Ice/Earth is not the only deck he can win with! (This is mostly a joke but semi serious, haha).

The Tournament:

Now that we have the preparation out of the way let's dive into the actual tournament itself. One thing these National Qualifiers have done to some of us has caused us to lose sight of the enjoyment we get from FFTCG and the community because we are too focused on…

  • Will I qualify this event?
  • Will I make Top 16 and lose again?
  • Will I block with Viking?
  • Can I finally prove myself to the community that I am a good player
  • I am 0-10 on qualifying for Nats, will I get it this time?
  • All my teammates are qualified but me, I need to qualify so I don't let them or myself down
  • I am sick of bubbling, I better not bubble this event
  • I did well last event, I can't mess up this event or people will disregard my success.

As soon as you sign up all of this baggage just flows through your brain. Once again what is missing from this equation? "What can I do to have fun and have others around me enjoy their time?" As the tournament progresses these thoughts could get progressively worse.  For example, if you enter the tournament with one or more of the above thoughts and lose the first round, you may immediately think, "Oh no, I can't lose one more” or “I might not make it, not again!".  The loss could negatively affect your mental game and you may put yourself on tilt. Although games of FFTCG are played independently from round to round, your mentality leaving a round and entering the next gets carried on.  This is a positive if you are on a win streak and are full of confidence. However, if you are down on yourself/on tilt, this can negatively affect not only the next round but the rest of your tournament experience as well. You may start to perform worse, play differently, and add more stress to yourself trying to prevent the next loss instead of thinking properly to place yourself in a position to win.

Greg Cole has experienced this many times and compares it to "putting yourself through hell for being too hard on himself". One thing that has helped Greg was a quote from his teammate Nathan Perez (a 2017 Worlds player representing the U.S).  He stated "Stop trying to force your national qualifier by keeping this obsession that you NEED to qualify, don't make it your reason you are at any event. You need to focus on having fun again, and stay focused on every individual game."

Matt recommends that every competitive player read this article from an Magic the Gathering player named Brian Braun-Duin (BDD).  BDD’s article can be found here:

http://magic.tcgplayer.com/db/article.asp?ID=14819&writer=Brian%20Braun-Duin&articledate=8-23-2018.  

In Matt’s opinion, this article will open the eyes of many players and hopefully help some get through competitive tournaments and is applicable to other TCGs outside of Final Fantasy.  Matt is also not a stranger to the competitive tournament baggage explained above. Underneath his bubbly personality, Matt also goes through the same anxiety and anxiousness, that feeling of hoping to not lose or he might not make the Top Cut.  Matt battles this by focusing on what’s important to him: spending time with his wife if she is at the tournament with him, spending time with the community in between rounds and talking about life or their matches, planning fun outings or community dinners for after the tournament, and during the match trying to make sure both him and his opponent have as much fun as possible.

Top Cut:

After battling through the psychological and emotional rollercoaster called "Swiss rounds" you then start entering the chambers of the 'Raid Boss' also known as the "Top Cut".  If you thought going through a competitive Swiss tournament was hard, Top Cut is whole different beast to deal with. During this encounter you will have even more baggage flow through your head like:

  • I made Top 16 again, will I keep up the streak of losing first round of Top 16
  • Ugh, I am playing this known player I don't think I can win
  • I come to play this game to relieve stress and all I can do is stress about my Top 16 match right now!
  • This match up is so bad I have no idea what to do
  • I am on stream, everyone can watch all my plays, I hope I don't mess up

All of the thoughts above really don't matter -- well maybe except telling yourself that "I have no idea what to do in this matchup" -- but then again you can solve this question by asking friends and teammates for advice!  Again, we need to stress that you maintain the same question also in your mind: "What can I do to have fun and have others around me enjoy their time?" Remember that making Top Cut is already an achievement in itself regardless of what happens in the subsequent rounds.  

Some skills that Greg has taught others and that he tries to employ himself is to remain positive! Always look forward and keep the positive vibes flowing! While this is not always easy to do, it is something that requires a simple change in your psychological  look at the situation your in. So in the end it’s something you can practice and cost you nothing!

Matt's advice is to tackle each matchup one at a time. Let’s say you make the Top 16 of a Crystal Cup and you receive the deck lists that night. It is totally fine to test against your Top 16 match and try to focus on the correct lines up play, but don't spend all night doing it, get some good rest. Don't go and theorize what your Top 8, Top 4, and finals matches will be. Matt firmly believes if you aren't ready by then, a few extra hours wouldn’t change much.  Just being able to look at the decklist and analyze their game plan and adjust your lines to tackle theirs should be enough. You don't need to stress over jamming 4-6 hours of games the night before for every single possible match you can have in the Top Cut. Relax your mind, play some Chocobo Crystal Hunt, spend time with the community (and loved ones) and remember the reason you are at that event (hint -- it’s related to having fun).

After the Tournament:

Now that you have battled through your competitive tournament it's time to think on a few questions you should ask yourself;

  • What could I have done better to win the matches I lost?
  • What can I do to improve my gameplay and mindset?
  • What did other players do well that I should note or try myself?
  • Did I have fun and did others around me have fun?
  • How can I help other players learn from my mistakes or my success?
  • When is the next event, because I need to book my ticket!
  • How can I better prepare for the next tournament?

While this is a TCG and variance is a thing, you should always focus on what you could have done better on each loss. In fact, if you are losing you should take advantage of that loss and figure out what you could have done better before chalking it up as "luck" or "bad matchup". You can always learn from your games regardless of whether you win or lose. However how you handle your losses will greatly affect your overall improvement as a player and mental health toward the game and community. If you saw some cool stuff other players did, hit them up! Don't be shy -- expand your knowledge and experience with others. Regardless of whether you did well and won the tournament or bubbled out of the Top Cut, you can always learn something and hopefully give that advice to other players to help them if they are going through similar situations as you.

Greg wants you all to know that whether or not a person qualifies for Nationals does not change what he thinks of you as a person and fellow player of FFTCG.  We are all equal and having fun with this great card game. Furthermore, Greg wants to keep making new friends, relieve the stress of everyday life through playing FFTCG, and on top of all else, have fun. He will see everyone in California at LCQ/Nationals, the newly announced Meta Potion Season 3 Circuit, and hopefully internationally!

Matt hopes that this article initiates some self reflection regarding why each person chooses to play FFTCG.  Regardless of whether a player qualifies for Nationals, this does not influence that player’s impact or influence in the community.  In his experience, this year’s qualifying season was brutal for California -- it was not easy with so many players gunning for the few spots.  However, Matt hopes that others can learn from the article and acquire some advice on how to tackle some tournament anxiety or stress. Just remember that the stress and anxiety is not just you -- reach out to the community!  We all have to deal with it just like you. Finally, Matt hopes to see many people in Seattle for their Crystal Cup, the upcoming Nationals, and all future FFTCG events he can attend!

Meta Potion would love to hear from all of you, comment on our Facebook page or if you want to write an article about your experiences and ideas, please let us know! How do you deal with your anxiety, nerves, etc? Maybe something you do can help other players, leave it in the comment section on Facebook!

Thank you for taking the time to read this article and we hope it helps everyone.

- Gregory Cole & Matt Okimoto


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