Character specific info, match-up knowledge, dexterity required to pull off specials and combos--that’s a lot to digest and is certainly overwhelming, especially to newcomers. Competitive games, especially Street Fighter, require an inordinate amount of time to become even halfway decent.
But you can quickly improve if you start by learning the fundamentals. Work on your ground game. Understand the psychology of your opponent’s behavior. We’ve gathered nine tips meant for those who feel inundated, lost in a sea of options, and unsure on where to start. This isn’t an in-depth guide, but advice nudging you in the right direction. It's information we wished we had when diving head-first into fighting games, information seldom taught in tutorials or guides.
Note: The concepts described in this articles assumes the reader has a basic knowledge of fighting game terminology, such as spacing and common names for specials and general terminology. For a detailed explanation of the basics, refer to Patrick Miller’s excellent beginner’s book.
1. Find Your Go-To Moves
The gist: find your pokes and anti-air. Worry about combos later.
Congratulations, you’ve picked your character! But before diving into your first online match, hit up training mode, so you can study your character’s movesets. The purpose of training mode is simple: to find your go-to moves that control vertical and horizontal space.
Controlling space with your attacks is an important yet abstract concept. Some normals/special attacks extend your character’s reach across the screen (e.g., fireballs extending your horizontal range). Others provide a safe way to hit your opponent out of the air (e.g., uppercuts extending your vertical range). Take the time to study each of your character’s moves, understanding their properties, range, and how to apply them to specific situations.
Go through each of your character’s normals and specials, and see how they interact with your surrounding space. Ask yourself the following questions:
Normals with long range and have quick recovery are great as poking tools. (Normals are any attacks executed with a press of a button.) Use these pokes to threaten your opponent, harass them if they get too close, and--when you're panicking--push them out of your immediate space. They can even be used to stop an opponent's attack before it can be fully unleashed.
Will this move hit them out of the air (anti-air)?
Look at the attack and how it covers the space in front of you. Does the attack cover a lot of space above you? Does it come out fast enough so you can react to a jump in easily? If yes, you have an answer to people jumping in on you.
Let’s use Ryu as an example. He has several tools to punish jump-ins while standing on the ground, including his classic shoryuken and his crouching Hard Punch. His uppercut special extends his vertical reach above his head. And his crouching Hard Punch lowers his profile and sends his fist straight above.
Fang’s anti-airs are deceptive. They don’t appear to cover a lot of space above him, but they’re fantastic tools to stop jump-ins. When Fang performs his crouching MK, his foot goes right above his head. And his crouching HP covers the top and back area of his head, effectively stopping cross-up attempts.
Does it have quick or slow recovery?
Normals with slow recovery leave you vulnerable to counterattacks. Sweeps (c.RH), for instance, should be used judiciously; they are slow to recover, but offer great reward (positioning and damage).
2. Combos (Bread-n-Butter)
The gist: learn your bread-n-butter combo first before moving onto harder ones.
A crucial part of any fighting game is maximizing damage off an opportunity. But if you don't have the experience, dexterity, or muscle memory to execute the harder combos, stick with the basics: the bread-n-butter combos.
This is your staple combo, something you can perform consistently and does decent damage. Every character has one.
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3. Max or Consistent Damage
The gist: Don’t always go for a max damage combo. Spacing and potential opportunities for damage after the combo may be more advantageous.
Advanced players don’t always go for the combo that punishes the hardest, though. Their reason? Off a combo opportunity, they may want to achieve a more advantageous position for the next situation rather than max damage.
For example, instead of going for max damage off a single opportunity, you choose to execute a combo that pushes the opponent to the corner. In the corner, the potential for consistent damage (from cross-ups and wake-up games and resets) is greater than the single max damage opportunity.
4. Hitting 101
The gist: Don’t always attack up close. Use short and long-range attack strategies.
Don’t feel compelled that your attacks should always make contact with the opponent. Beginners make the mistake of taking the fight directly in front of their opponent, literally touching them as they try to take their health away.
Whiffing or missing a fast attack at different ranges has its advantages! First, the space controlled by the whiffed move may stuff your opponent’s attacks. Second, it may prevent the opponent from advancing into your space. A word of warning: whiffing long but slow-recovering moves is dangerous but may have great reward. The long reach allows you to control a sizable amount of space but leaves you exposed for a long duration.
The gist: a round is a series of moment-to-moment situations and each situation presents a problem and a solution.
A typical game of Street Fighter can be summed up as a series of situations based on call and response. Most situations have an answer, but knowing and responding to them properly takes time and experience. In other words, it’s about situational strategy and crisis management.
Example: What to do against a jump-in attack
You don’t always have to rely on special move as anti-airs. Use whatever that consistently works, including your normals!
Example: What to do against grapplers
A common situation is getting thrown by command grabs, like Birdie’s special move Killing Head. You have a couple of escape options. One strategy is to keep your distance. Stay out of reach of your opponent’s grab and play a defensive zoning game, rarely engaging the opponent at close combat. Another answer is to preemptively jump away whenever Birdie enters your space to avoid the throw.
Example: What to do in the corner
Another situation is when you’re in the corner being bombarded by fireballs in a zoning trap. In the corner, your options are limited. You can’t retreat by walking or jumping back. And the opponent has the advantage since they control most of your options and space in front of you.
It’s all part of the plan to get free damage off your jump. The opponent wants to manipulate your behavior. By throwing fireballs at just outside your jump arc, the opponent wants you to panic and jump towards.
So what’s your gameplan? You look for patterns in the fireball trap and patiently try to push your way forward slowly.
6. Use Everything (Mostly)
The gist: your moves are an extension of yourself. Use them not just for damage but for answers to specific situations.
I’d made the mistake of relying on strong attacks (hard punch and hard kick) over weaker ones (light punch and light kick). I wanted to hurt the opponent by capitalizing on every opportunity with the most damage. But this mentality restricts your game!
Your normals and special moves are more than just tools for damage. They can be applied to a number of situations--restricting your opponent’s options, harassing them by constantly sticking something out in their immediate space, occasionally stuffing your opponent’s attack, confirming a combo off a light attack.
The gist: avoid falling into a predictable rhythm by using a set pattern. Do something unexpected--even crazy--to throw off your opponent’s mindset.
Many veterans will harp that success in Street Fighter comes from the feel of the match. Sounds opaque, right? Let’s explore what this means and how you can incorporate “the feel” into your game.
Think of “the feeling” as the rhythm of the match. A pattern has a predictable rhythm. For example, mindlessly chucking fireballs without changing your timing or positioning is a pattern easily exploitable by your opponent. In this case, stepping a few paces back before throwing a fireball or pausing for a brief second is enough to change the rhythm.
A block string is another example (a series of attacks blocked by the opponent). Don’t always use the same attacks! By performing the same pattern, you’re conditioning your opponent on your habits. So change the the sequence to keep the opponent guessing, even if the pattern is as simple as a blocked string of light attacks.
For instance, LP, LP, LP block string.
- LP, LK, pause.
- LP, pause, Lp
- LK, LP
- LP, Throw
8. Pattern Recognition
The gist: Recognizing patterns strengthens your ability to adapt, to anticipate, and to have a quick answer for a disadvantaged situation.
Rhythm is an important role in pattern recognition, a required skill for any competitive game. By recognizing patterns, you can come up with an answer to the obstacle and stay one step ahead of your opponent.
Example: attacking right after blocking
You’re defending an attack. As soon as the block animation ends, you counterattack. A good opponent will notice this pattern, and take advantage of your commitment by baiting your attack. They’ll wait and block your counterattack and punish you accordingly.
Example: getting thrown from throw set-ups
The common answer is to tech the throws. But that may be risky if you’re mindlessly trying to tech throws at all times (the opponent can counter by delaying an attack for a counter hit).
Recognizing your opponent’s set-up will give you more info on when to tech and help minimize the inherent risk. For instance, most throw set-ups can be summed up by the following patterns:
- LP, LP, throw.
- LP, throw.
- LP, LP, pause, throw.
- LP, LP, LP, walk. throw
Example: constantly poking with your go-to move
Take, for consideration, this poking example. You think your long poke is great. So you use it a lot. Poke, poke, poke. The consequence? You’re telegraphing your next move. You’ve created a rhythmic pattern recognizable by your opponent. Seeing the pattern, your opponent can easily come up with a solution to counter your move—attempt to stay outside your poke range, jump over your poke, counter with an immediate attack like a shoryuken.
- Outside your opponent’s range? Harass with your best poke in hopes of stuffing out their attacks.
- Getting clobbered by Laura’s rushdown game? Recognize the pattern/holes and poke out of the rushdown.
- Ryu parrying most of your moves up close? Counter the parry by throwing him.
- The opponent landing a lot of counterhits on you? Solution: stop trying to attack after you block. Conserve your movement.
The gist: just being in someone’s immediate space is enough to manipulate their behavior.
When people are scared, they’ll either fight or flee. In fighting games, this means you’ll probably jump back and/or walk away from your opponent, or hit a bunch of buttons to get the opponent out of your surrounding space. Fear can be as simple as standing just outside of your opponent’s range. Encroaching into their space may make them panic, and in turn, they’ll react with a move to push you out of their space. Use this to influence your opponent's decision-making process--they may panic and change their strategy, commit dumb errors exposing their defense, or crumble under pressure.
The fundamentals takes time
Whew, that’s a lot of info to digest. And out there on community sites like Shoryuken is even more info! Study your matches, study notable players on YouTube and Twitch (Xian and Infiltration, to name a few), and study the mechanics of the game. Practice against players who are equally as skilled as you, because being molly-whopped by someone way better than you is no fun--and you probably won’t learn much from the experience. Learning the fundamentals takes time, and executing them without hesitation is an exercise in patience. But the payoff will be well worth it.