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.
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.
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.
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!