The "dead zone" in the life cycle of skill

I was typing out this lengthy article on the life cycle of skill, but there is really only one point that I mainly wanted to touch on (even though this will come out lengthy anyway). Have you noticed the “dead zone” that you seem to encounter, at which point you get beat by pros and random scrubs alike? You overcome this hurdle eventually, at which you no longer lose to players who are genuinely less skilled than you, but I believe a large chuck of players get stuck in this dead zone if they are of a certain mentality.

TL;DR will now folow.

Yes, I believe a certain mentality gets stuck here while others tend not to. Unfortunately, the mentality that gets you stuck here is a very natural one to have, and often hard to see from the inside. It’s actually the mentality of over-ambition. This mentality is not necessarily a *bad *one to have, it’s just a path towards mastery that tend to go right smack through the dead zone that I am talking about, while other mentalities tend to slide around it to some degree.

So how could being over-ambitious get you stuck in the dead zone? I noticed that, at many points in my time with various competitive games, there is always this period in which I abandon simple tactics because I am aiming for a certain level of performance. I say “level of performance” and not “level of skill” because skill is not based on impressive performance alone, it’s only one aspect of it. The other aspect is mastery of the basics, but an over-ambitions attitude can cause you to forget that and focus on the flash.

When you enter the dead zone you are getting obliterated by true pros who’ve mastered both the basics and the technicalities. You are also frustratingly getting beaten by players seemingly less skilled than you, but who are better exploiting the basics while you aren’t. It’s the dead zone because it can be very hard to humble yourself at this point and stop doing what is more effective on paper in favor for what truly is more effective in practice. If you realize this quickly you can slide right out of the dead zone faster than someone who circumvents it altogether, but you can also be stuck there for far longer if you are stubborn (often the case).

What prompted me to think about this was actually an online MVC3 match I had, where the player proceeded to obliterate me on many different levels, yet continued to stick around for about 12 matches instead of bowing out early when he saw that I couldn’t really beat him. I thought at first I was getting beaten because I simply wasn’t executing under the pressure of a better player. However, I soon realized that it wasn’t that I wasn’t executing, it was that I couldn’t execute, because he basically had an answer for everything I was trying to do. After a while I started to calm down and just do basic things to try and figure him out, and I found that the matches lasted a lot longer (even though it was clear I wouldn’t win at my current skill). It caused me to realized I didn’t have a good grasp on the basics yet and I wouldn’t be beating someone like him even if I could touch-kill with everyone of my characters. I actually played two people that day that were way better but stuck around anyway, and I thanked them for that.

It made me see the dead zone and go back to the lab with a clear goal. I also look at other games I am clearly past that point in, and I remember the time I struggled in those games as well. Yes, even if you’ve been through this in other games, you can still get stuck there in others without realizing it for a while.

So has anyone else experienced this dead zone? Feel free to post your thoughts.

The dead zone just sounds like you have an ego that you have to let go of. If you’re losing to everyone then are you really in the middle?

It’s not that you lose to everyone, just that you lose to a wider range of skills around yours at some point. You can do a lot to shrink down that low end without really expanding the higher end at times.

And yes, it certainly can have a lot to do with ego, but it can also have nothing to do with ego, since even if you realize you suck, you still might not realize just why. You can have no ego and still not be analytical enough, or insightful enough, to know what to fix.

Dead zone seems to be a reoccurring experience for me. Thanks for sharing yours with us, it allow me think differently on a few experiences on my end that were conflicting at first.