This is my guide on how to improve in FA. Most of its points are also applicable to other games. Some notes about this:
- There surely are other ways to improve as well. This is just a collection of things that have worked for me in a number of games and did so as well for plenty of other people.
- If your goal is to just reach a medium level (1500ish, top 5% equivalent or similar), you might find quicker ways there than following this guideline. I am trying to set you up to improve to the highest level, and this requires different methods, and I would also assume that not everyone brings the necessary motivation, time and discipline to the table.
- It is generally not possible to follow every single point listed here all the time (human nature), but you should try to do so as much as you can.
- If you are searching for tricks or shortcuts or very specific game advice, this is not the guide for you. I am not aiming to explain specific gameplay scenarios here, I am trying to supply you a method for improvement. There are a lot of guides to help you with specific gameplay advice (you find them in the FAF discord)
With that out of the way, let's begin!
Step 1. Setup.
The beginning of every improvement journey is to set up your game and environment in a way that supports long term growth. This includes multiple things:
Install useful UI mods. See my other guide for this (https://forum.faforever.com/topic/1186/ui-mod-guide-for-the-improving-player?_=1613225992111).
Set up your hotkeys in an efficient way. This is especially important because you will memorize a hotkey layout quite quickly and burn it into your brain. If you learn an inefficient setup, it will be hard to break bad habits that were instilled over hundreds of games (I suffer from this problem, and you should not repeat my mistake). Now you might ask, what is an efficient hotkey setup? Well, the default hotbuild setup isn't too bad - an important adjustment i would make to it nowadays is changing the massfab hotkey away from the premium key it occupies, and put something more useful on it. Apart from that setup, there are a few extra keys I would suggest you to bind to some relatively easy to access position:
- Select idle engines on screen
- Upgrade (default M in hotbuild)
- Select nearest idle mass extractor
- Transport (drop)
- Overcharge (default O)
- Selection hotkeys for air, air fighters, land, navy, ACU
- Move command
- Target priority for Units/Mex/Power/ASF
It is normal that you will change your hotkey setup over time, but it's useful to start out with a decent layout.
- Join relevant servers (e.g. FAF discord) to get information about the game. You will find links to resources there (Wiki/Unit database/Videos/etc)
Step 2. Decisions.
I would suggest deciding on a few things to streamline your improvement process as a new/weak player (<1300 rating):
Decide on the game mode. Do you want to become good at teamgames or 1v1? Make up your mind and play accordingly (e.g. using teamgames only as a tool to test out uncommon units, if your goal is 1v1 improvement, playing the game mode the most that you are interested in improving at, etc.)
Pick out a specific rating goal, that is not massively far away, but will take some time to reach. Be happy once you reach it. Repeat this process for motivation.
Pick a faction, and stick to it. Supcom gameplay is extremely similar throughout the factions, so you cut down on confusion by learning a single faction first.
Decide on a certain strategy and the corresponding build order before every game, and try to get a feel on how it works. Change it up only after you think you can execute it reasonably well or if it doesn't work at all on a map (Example: T1 spam on literally every map, T2 air gunship snipe on every map, etc. Of course you will adapt during the game, but the general game plan should be fixed).
Find a good player and stream to follow and copy what they do. You will not know the correct decisions in game situations at this stage in your improvement career, and any player above 2000 will do for this (Jagged, Tagada, Farms, as examples of currently active streamers). Use this to find answers to common questions like “When to upgrade a mex”, “How many factories on x map”, etc.
Step 3. Mindset.
There are certain patterns of thought that will help you keep an improving mindset. Those can sound a bit uncomfortable and harsh, but this is in your best interest! I will humbly call them Blackhearts Laws.
1) It is your fault. Remember that scene from Good Will Hunting, where Will is told that he is not at fault for his childhood (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQht2yOX9Js)? Well, I am telling you the opposite. It is your fault. You are responsible if you lose the game. You played bad, and you have to change that. Even if it is a teamgame, there is something you could have done better to get a mildly better winning chance, regardless if every team member failed. Do not spend time making up excuses why you lost (cheese that I didn't scout, bad concentration because of bad sleep, etc) but make sure to find causes and try to remove them.
2) Never compromise long term gains for short term improvement. If you want to improve further and further, there is no excuse for taking shortcuts in your gameplay. Shying away from the correct play, even if it's something that will lose you points until you learn how to do it, will slow you down long term. Examples of this include:
- Using UI mods like Ecomanager to patch up bad eco management
- Sticking to certain maps that you know how to play to avoid having to develop BO-independant strategies
- Avoiding ACU fights for reclaim, to not have to micro so much
- Avoiding big unit/ASF fights, because you think there is too much risk to lose them even if you think you have better numbers
- Using cheese strategies predominantly and resorting to all-in strategies vs stronger players
3) Fix your time usage. Your time playing should not make up the big majority of your time spent on FA. Spamming 10 ladder games in a row is massively less useful than playing 5 and then critically analyzing those 5 to find your mistakes and trying to think of ways to not make them again. Playing 5 games and analyzing them is again less useful than doing that but also watching high lvl gameplay/learning data about the game. View playing games as a mere tool to supply data to do the actual improvement work on. Watching high level gameplay will also give you more data to memorize - try to analyze the way a good player treats a certain matchup, a certain map, etc and implement it actively the next time you encounter a comparable situation in your own games.
4) Accept plateaus and frustration. It is completely normal to not improve your rating for a month or so, and it is also normal to get tilted once in a while when on a losing streak. Do not let that discourage you: Rating is not a direct equivalent of your skill, but merely an approximative tool that will over time follow your skill. It is completely normal and common to not improve your rating for 1-2-3 months and then suddenly jump 100-200 points. When down in spirit, think of law 2 and remember that you are in for the long term improvement and not the short term rating gain. You want to play better, not have more rating. As long as you feel that your gameplay is improving, all is probably fine. Learning this game takes time.
5) Realize that FA is a continuous game. One of the best aspects about this game is that small mistakes result in small punishment, and large mistakes result in large punishment. A rough ordering of magnitudes of mistakes would be (starting from the most severe mistake):
- Using your ACU in a way that gets it killed quickly (walking into a bunch of units, dropping it at a very unsafe location)
- Extreme micro fails (losing 200 ASF vs 50 ASF)
- Failing your eco management in any of the usual aspects (stalling power, stalling mass, not spending resources, not reclaiming, etc)
- Playing an inappropriate strategy or inappropriate unit composition for the map (e.g. T3 air rush on winter duel, submarines only, etc)
- Average micro fails (losing a big tank battle in a badly accessible location)
- Having a subpar build order for the map
- Not manually reclaiming
- Minor micro fails (losing 2 tank vs 2 tank at min 3, a bomber killing a few engineers too many, etc)
If you watch a replay, or play the game, you should always keep this in mind. If your acu is in a horrible position, your attention should be spent removing it from that horrible position instead of fixing your eco. If your eco is in shambles, you should fix your eco instead of winning a tank battle somewhere on the map.
6) Use others for advice, rely and trust on yourself to improve. Improving to a good level takes a good amount of time. The reality of the situation is that there won't be someone to guide you all the time, you have to learn to improve on your own. That is why trainers are not a magical aid that will make you jump hundreds of points, but rather an advice dispenser. Use streams to ask the streamer why he is doing something he is doing, ask a trainer to help you find mistakes, but always try to do it on your own as well. Similarly, in teamgames, do what you think is the best move instead of asking others on your team for advice during the game (for analysis, do it!). If it doesn't work, you learned something, if it does work, you didn't need the advice in the first place. Again, this is about learning and long term improvement, not short term more game wins.
Step 4. Start doing it and keep doing it!
This gets its own step, because even if you follow every single thing in this guide, it will be useless if you don't actually start spending time and implementing all of those funny pieces of advice. Good players are good because they did that, they spent hundreds of hours eliminating mistakes, reading guides, watching streams. If you don't consistently spend something around 5-10 productive hours per week, don't expect to become a very good player (2000+ ladder). Those hours are preferably spread out, so the time spent is quality time with good concentration.