How To Get Better At Fighting Games

How To Get Better At Fighting Games

So you like fighting games. They’re great to muck around with amongst friends and can provide many hours of excitement and smack talk. But when you watch the Daigo’s and Momochi’s of the world, you might wonder just how the heck does one get that good?

It’s a question I see quite often get thrown around by new comers to my local fighting game club (FGC). And with so many buzzwords thrown around, it can often feel overwhelming and off-putting and many usually give up before they can even get started.

But don’t give up — if you have a love for a specific fighter, that’s all you really need to get started. The following are some general tips to sharpen those skills and get you cranking out some solid wins before you know it!

Pad or Stick

There are arguments for and against either choice here, but the cold hard fact is that some of the very best players in the world use a mixture of both. Generally speaking, you’ll find that Fight Sticks are most commonly used at the highest levels and all the way down to your local amateurs. There are many reasons for this, but the most major one is that all the buttons are very accessible and the stick allows for higher dexterity executions.

This all sounds great until you consider that someone like SnakeEyes strictly uses a controller pad with his Zangief and Evil Ryu to great effect. The proof is in the pudding here, so one isn’t really at a greater disadvantage for choosing one over the other.

Quite possibly the only thing worth taking into consideration is that you’ll find most people you come up against and play with will use a fight stick. This means that a lot of help and advice for shortcuts and executions will come from this point of view and can often make huge improvements to your overall adaption to the game itself.

Good Fundamentals

So you may have noticed a lot of lingo getting thrown around during eSports matches or local tournaments. Some are fairly obvious, but others can be quite ambiguous. Fundamentals fall into this category and it’s quite possibly one of the most important things to work on, but up until now all you’ve probably heard is some random saying “oh yeah, that guy has good fundamentals”, so let me elaborate a bit further by going over some of the major ones:

Fundamentals are like the basic building blocks that encompass the vast majority of fighters out there. Good fundamentals will transfer between these games and it’s often why someone who is significantly good at Street Fighter IV can pick up a game like Killer Instinct and immediately give people a hard time, but let’s break this down a bit further:

Spacing – Knowing the space between you and your opponent and what can be done at that range is a significant advantage in any fighter. It’s the difference between throwing a projectile safely for some added pressure, or having your opponent jump over it and delivery a devastating combination of attacks.

Footsies – Footsies is the term given to the range in which you can apply pressure and control spacing with normal attacks. A very common example of this (and hence the name) is crouching medium kick, as it hits low and can be cancelled into easy follow-up hits. It goes well beyond that, but having good footsies is extremely important and lets you dictate a where the battles take place and on your own terms. It requires no special meters and is generally safer than simply jumping in.

Mix ups – So you just scored a knockdown on your opponent, GREAT! But what now? It’s important to keep that momentum going and you can do this with mix ups. In a game of Ultra SFIV this might be as simple as sneaking another throw or even threating an attack then blocking so you can punish a whiffed special. All characters will have a variety of choices and it’s always important to have as many options as possible to keep your opponent flustered and guessing themselves.

Anti-air – This one is fairly straightforward. Knowing how to anti-air sounds simple enough, until you start playing and never manage to find the timing to do it. As simple as it sounds, the timing can mess up even the most veteran of players and every single one of them will highlight the importance of consistency in this area. Players of every level will test your anti-air at some point and stopping that dead in their tracks removes this pressure.

This isn’t where it ends of course, but every single pro player on the eSports scene has great fundamentals, a person with great fundamentals will consistently get the most wins over someone who doesn’t.

Local Meets and your own FGC Scene

Unless you’re playing a game that’s 20 years old or one that hasn’t even been released yet. Chances are there’s a local scene that’s not too far from you. Local meets are good for a variety of reasons, generally speaking it’s a group of gamers that have come together for the love of a game. Some will naturally be better than others, but I’ve often found most to be a very accepting and friendly bunch of people.

Finding and joining these groups allows you to consistently test your skills against players who are generally better at your chosen game than you are. Online games should definitely be taken into consideration as well, but that’s a completely different kettle of fish and has its own cons due to latency and simply having someone near you to help you get better … speaking of which …

Ask for feedback and LISTEN to it!

The worst thing you could ever do, is ask for advice from someone who is beating you and then immediately make excuses for every bit of advice given. Not everyone is great at giving advice and their amazing skills could simply be a result of many more hours of repetition.

Generally speaking, it’s quite common to find someone who can start telling you why certain things work and why some don’t. They’ll highlight your mistakes and flaws and tell you if you’re being too predictable. It’s at this point it’s wise to swallow the ego and get as many tips and tricks as you can.

All you really need to do is ask questions about how you can improve, even if you think it’s stupid and obvious. From here it’s a simple matter of taking all advice on-board and improving your overall skills and knowledge.

Max Punish

No doubt you’ve heard of the term max punish, and as the name implies it’s often given to a combo that delivers the maximum amount of damage without the need of special additions (i.e. EX Meter in SFIV). Everyone will make mistakes against you, even when the skill gap is quite large, but if those mistakes aren’t punished accordingly then they’re getting away with murder. A good punish makes your opponents more conservative and drastically evens the odds in any battle. Every character has their own bag of tricks but communities are strong online and this information is always readily available, so get Googling!

Muscle memory and upkeep

Yes people react and think during a match, but when we’re talking about moves and timing where you have 1 / 60th of a second to react, you suddenly realise that thinking and reacting gets thrown out the window. When someone scores that amazing 14 hit combo from your whiffed dragon punch, they aren’t thinking before each move, it’s all muscle memory.

Muscle memory is executing the timing needed for something without thinking. This is acquired from numerous hours of repetitions in training mode and consistently making it work. Once you start nailing it over and over again, it’s important to keep that up. It really doesn’t take much practice to keep on top either. Just 10-15 minutes every couple of days and that’s all you need to keep your brain wired!

Play as a character you like

This is a quick one. Ignore the Tier lists and play the character that resonates with you. Quite simply, you’re playing the game because you enjoy it. To get better you need to put in the hours, and you’re more likely to put in those hours if it’s with a character you enjoy playing with as opposed to one you find boring or dull.

Have fun

Remember why you started down this path: To have fun. Not everyone finds reading and memorising frame data fun, but some love learning everything there is to know about a game. Some of the best players I’ve come up against have never read one page of frame data, while others could tell you any move off the top of their heads. For each of those examples, those players enjoy their time spent.

Getting better at a game doesn’t mean winning all the time — it’s seeing progress and improving your own skill that is the most rewarding thing you can ever take away from going down this route. Not everyone is going to be the next Infiltration or Justin Wong. Those players have spent a lifetime learning and practicing and continue to put in the hours because it’s also their full time job. Who knows though, maybe you’ll wake up one day and realise that’s exactly where you want to be. Whatever makes you happy!

Play nice, have some GG’s, and hit me up on Twitter for a game of Street Fighter V when it’s out!


  • No idea about any of this. All I know is that to get good, all I did was save my lunch money and head to the arcade at Carindale after school in the 1990s. There, I’d line up and play against the asian kids who would freakin’ dominate the Champion Edition SF2 game. Eventually, after many hundreds of dollars had been put through the machine, I became pretty kickass…

    Except, they too, became even better lol.

    • Ha ha sounds similar to me.

      My mates parents owned a pub and just up the road was the local chicken shop, the guy who owned it has street fighter 2 arcade cabinet (also bubble bobble and a few others). He was a pretty mean chap and was known to spend all day on the street fighter 2 cabinet and would abuse the shit out of anyone who was dumb enough to challenge him, he was a bit of a local celebrity lol. We used to get as much money as we could (mostly from the pub drunks) and then go to the arcade and spend hours there, I hate to think how much money we spent. After what seems like spending forever getting our ass kicked we finally started to get to the point where we could challenge him (and occasionally win) at this time he let us in on the secret of how we could play for free. I think it was his way of acknowledging we were alright !!

      • Yep. I loved it though, because when we travelled anywhere else, Goldcoast, Sydney or Melbourne for instance, to see family, I would head to fish and chip shops or wherever, and if there was a crowd (there was ALWAYS a crowd around SF2), I actually stood a chance at that point. I remember my longest winning streak was against around a half dozen people in a row, then, legit, some girl came up and kicked my ass repeatedly with Chun Li (hey, loser always had first dibs on a rematch!). That was 1993 I think, and my first real eye opener to the fact that girls played games.

        • Yeah I loved the feeling of the old arcade dives. I got pretty good too but as they say, there is always someone better.

          I got beaten by a mate who had only ever played a few times but learnt M Bison special and would just spam that. He is still known as M Cryson (mostly just Cryson) as once I figured out how to counter the move he spat the dummy and left the chicken shop in a ball of tears (he’s one of my best mates by the way).

          • Oh man there was some dude at Carindale who used M Bison like no other. Noone was able to beat him. I had the ultimate respect for this other dude who could use Balrog AMAZINGLY. I couldn’t use him to save myself, but when you see a pro player bust out pro-level moves with Balrog, Zangief or E Honda and smash the crap out of the Ryu, Kens and Guiles (especially when they got a ‘perfect’ round), there was a quite level of respect everyone had.

          • Kinda reminds me of my brother with Mortal Kombat II.

            We played that game a craptonne, and he’d always choose Liu Kang and pretty much just spam his fireballs and flying kick because they were all forward, forward, button. For the longest time, I or my other brother never found a way around it. He’d rack up 50-win streaks on us and let us know in no uncertain terms how much fun he was having.

            Eventually though, I got good enough and my reactions and reads got good enough that I took a game off him. And then another. And then another. I tried my luck with a different character. Beat him again. It was weird, but it just seemed like a switch flicked in my head and all of a sudden, I could beat him, and not just a one-off game, but consistently. And because I had so much better fundamentals due to how I was playing (ie, not just spamming forward, forward moves all day), I had him completely figured out.

            Unfortunately, at that point, it didn’t take him very long at all (the 2nd day of me being able to reliably beat him) to realise that he wasn’t going to win anymore with his strategy, and instead of working on his game like I had done, he rage quit entirely and refused to play the game again.

          • Ha Ha the ol’ rage quit.

            Its even better when the person you beat (who has been spamming) then turns around and calls you a cheat for beating them!!!!!

  • On the topic of fight sticks, if you decide that you want to use one, the next decision you have to make is what kind of guard you want. Most of the arcade sticks you’ll get will have a square guard which many people find helps lock in your guard crouches (SFIV sometimes gets called “Down Back Fighter”) while others prefer a circle (The X-Arcade Tank Sticks have this) guard or a diamond guard. Good (ie. Expensive) arcade sticks will allow you to change the guard while others will have a fixed shape. You also don’t want to go too cheap because the sticks and buttons tend to be less responsive and can require more force to get them to respond.

    For those that prefer a controller but like arcade stick buttons, I’ve had a few people recommend the HitBox.

  • More used to fighting stick than anything, also because of spending a lot of time in arcades in the 90s . Any 2D fighter of the era will do but then for some reason I prefer having a controller when it comes to things like Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter, which both were available in the Arcades. At one point I got quite good using Sub Zero in MK3 Ultimate, and Glacius in Killer Instinct. Come to think of it I always chose those ‘icey bastards’ over the other characters. My 3D fighter selection always takes me to the weird and wonderful. Voldo, Nightmare, King, Lei Fei. Unfortunately I never got much into Tekken. It’s the only fighter next to Virtua Fighter which I never loved much because the controls just feel too jagged and forced. Like for me to break out a good move or combo in Tekken I really have to force myself it’s like I am breaking the stupid arcade stick or my fingers on the ps3 controller. Does that make sense?

  • Adam, are you using Jeremy’s face as your profile picture? Or are you and him twins or something…

  • I can always say a lot about fighting games, so here’s a few things:

    FGC is “Fighting Game Community”. Club vs Community is a small thing, but the nomenclature has been around for decades now so it sounds weird otherwise. It also shouldn’t be foreboding or anything… you don’t need membership, it’s just a name to describe the bulk of the people who like/play fighting games. The best players tend to go to, but there are also websites like Eventhubs, and Australian ones like Ozhadou and Shadowloo.

    Fighting games are frequently imbalanced! Just like Paper/Rock/Scissors, some things clearly counter other things. Becoming a good player is about understanding these matchups and balance. An easy example is classic Dhalsim vs Blanka in Streetfighter. If Blanka does his charged flying ball roll at Dhalsim, and Dhalsim blocks… when Blanka bounces off, he is extremely vulnerable, and Dhalsim can press his Heavy Punch or Kick to cleanly counter him. Sometimes it’s clear what to do, and sometimes it isn’t. You often have to anticipate or make an educated guess about what the opponent is going to do. Similarly, the more predictable you are, probably the worse you will do.

    Have fun and pick the right game and right people to play with. Like playing tennis with a professional player, you will get stomped 100% of the time due to the skill difference and it won’t be fun, but they might be able to train you better than someone on your level. I have a passing interest in Streetfighter, games like King of Fighters, Tekken, Soul Calibur don’t do it for me. Same for Mortal Kombat, Injustice, Killer Instinct. But Marvel? Marvel vs Capcom 2 and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 are two of my favourite games. There’s instantly a lot of popular and recognizable characters like the Avengers, Spider-Man, X-Men, Deadpool, Megaman, Resident Evil, etc. Unfortunately Disney pulled all other Marvel games from the online stores so you need to get a physical copy to play it. And MvC2 you’d need a Dreamcast.

    I do recommend arcade sticks to play, but they’re a bit hard to get in Australia. For example the Viper(?) in JB Hifi or EB or w/e is like $400. No. I personally recommend a Mad Catz, or maybe a Hori or something… but I’m guessing it would be $150 online or something. While you can be successful with a pad, there are certain things which are generally easier to do with a stick imo. It’s not hard to try out other peoples’ arcade sticks to figure out what you like.

    I also recommend watching good players fight. A huge thing in fighting games is execution… doing the moves that you want to do. But watching someone else play helps to understand what needs to actually be done. Commentators also help guide you through the match.

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!