Do you ever wonder why people who are good at games always end up better at games than you, even if you have a head start? It's one thing to play a new fighting game with fighting game players, but it seems like even if you play other games they seem to get better faster. What gives?
Gene and I are playing through Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 3 Full Burst so that we can stream multiplayer with all the characters at some point. The game is more like a Dynasty Warriors game than a fighting game, though it has lock-on, 1v1 matches, and many fighting game-like mechanics. I've actually finished the game (though I haven't done all the optional post-game stuff) and I think Gene is pretty close to the end. I've watched him play though, and I've already noticed that there's a pretty sizable skill difference between me and him.
He was about halfway through the game when I noticed he needed to block more. I mean a lot more. He was near the end of the game and he had no idea which characters that he'd already used were good or why. He seemed like every FG scrub; he got excited over characters with cool aesthetics and didn't grasp why certain abilities worked the way they did. I never saw him use roman cancelling (CDCing or whatever).
It's also worth noting that I self-banned myself from playing in practice mode. If anything, I died a lot less and got a lot more S ranks so I have almost certainly played fewer actual matches in the game (I tend to leave games running so my hours played is longer). Why?
I've already written here about practice. So the same stuff applies there. But this is more about the actual practice method.
First, you need to develop the mechanical skill to be able to do whatever the thing is that you want to do. Sometimes it's like last-hitting where you can pretty much always get better at it. It might be another skill where the mechanics are very easy (such as learning to throw in SF4). Either way, you need the correct amount of mechanical practice to improve your skills up to where they are respectable. You want to do this in as controlled a manner as possible. If your skill is a reflexive skill it helps to have a practice partner. You can trade off with your practice partner so that you both develop the skill. An example like that is dodging skillshots while laning or baiting bursts/combo breakers.
The next thing that really helps is playing against opposition worse than you. A lot of people think that playing against better players is good for skill development, but for the most part it's not. To develop a trick, you want to play against competition you aren't going to be taxed trying to win. If you can "win automatically" without really flexing your skills, you can use the saved mental energy to practice a new skill. In a lot of situations you can just play against bot/AI players. For instance, learning the recoil pattern of an AK-47 in CSGO is not something you need humans for. Learning to land a combo in a fighting game is also something you can practice with bots.
Sometimes your opponents need to be of a certain caliber. Baiting bursts or hitting people's reversals with your own invincible move is something you need people who have some level of ability. In general, punishing people's reactions requires players to have those reactions in the first place. These players are still far beneath the level of an expert, though.
You might be wondering what is the value in playing against good competition then? The answer is that good players are inventive and come up with new tricks on their own or steal them from other, better players. Weaker players won't do that for you, and even if you come up with your own tricks, you might not be prepared for new tricks. There's still value in playing strong players (other than in tournaments or competition), because they will teach you new things that you can go and learn. Weaker players won't do that.
Still, it can be hard if the weaker players level up along with you. I think that most pro gamers don't understand the importance of "underclassmen," other than people who might someday be great. However, they're really the most important practice partners because they help you level up.
For online games, this is a really good reason to make a smurf account.