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Starting the Journey: Getting Good at Fighting Games

From Button Masher to GDLK

Gab Lazaro

Fighting games are an intimidating genre to get into. There’s a different kind of difficulty that comes when learning how to play them. What other game genre can you say that a new player’s immediate instinct upon picking it up would be to mash buttons with reckless abandon? Now that Tekken 7 has been released and REV Major coming up, I think that this may be a good opportunity to share a couple of tips that may be useful to people who are too scared to get into the genre.

Just a quick background, like many people right now, I’m trying to get into Tekken 7. This is my first serious attempt to actually try getting into the franchise. I do play other fighting games religiously, most notably Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 and Street Fighter V. I am not a pro or top player by any means, but having been with the community for a little less than 6 years I understand what it takes to actually get good at a fighting game. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Don’t Forget Movement

Movement is actually one of the most overlooked things by new players when trying to get into the genre. Knowing how your character moves, their quirks and nuances, is crucial. A combo or set up, no matter how impressive, is useless if you can’t get your character to the proper position to attack or defend.

In Tekken for example, it becomes all the more vital because of unique mechanics present in the game’s overall system, which allow for things like “Wave Dashing” and “Korean Backdashing”. Add the existence of sidestepping due to being 3d, the presence of walls and stage breaks, and you find that there’s much more to be learned in this game when it comes to just movement and positioning.

In 2D games such as Street Fighter 5 and King of Fighters, certain characters have moves such as command dashes and dive kicks that disrupt the pacing of a match. Faster games like the Marvel Versus Capcom Series and Guilty Gear have air dashes and flight commands on certain characters. All these were designed to add more mobility options for players to master, thereby adding depth to movement. Getting the hang of how characters move is the first step of understanding what’s actually happening in the game.

Learn how to use training mode

Contrary to popular belief, there’s more to training mode than just hitting a dummy over and over again. Fighting games nowadays offer a lot of options when it comes to their game’s training mode. You can set CPU actions, record certain scenarios and even simulate network lag if you’re a fervent online warrior. Learning how to utilize all the tools available in training mode could make training sessions less tedious and more effective.

For example, in Tekken, it’s important to learn which of your characters attack strings are true combos. To explain in the simplest of terms, a true combo is a string that can’t be blocked in the middle of a sequence. Once the first hit connects, the rest of the attacks are guaranteed to hit.

Here’s a quick tip you can use in training mode to check what true combos your character has at his or her disposal:

  1. While in training mode, press Start.

  2. Go into the Action settings tab.

  3. Go into CPU Opponent Action 2 and set it to “Guard All”

With the settings I’ve laid out above, when you hit the training dummy with a string, it will now block if it isn’t a true combo. This at least gives you a basic understanding of what moves are useful and which ones to avoid using often.


Left: Without CPU Opponent Action 2 "Guard All". Right: With CPU Opponent Action 2 "Guard All".

For the example, I went ahead and used Jin’s 10 hit combo. They may look impressive for new players, but these strings for the most part have gaps in between button presses. These gaps allow your opponent to block mid string or worse, punish you for big damage. This is why you rarely see them used in professional play, since most pros know how to counter them.



Avoid Practicing on CPU Opponents

Beating a fighting game’s arcade mode on the highest difficulty might seem to be quite the feat for casual players. However, for those who are actively trying to get good at beating other people this might do more harm than good.

A CPU opponent no matter the difficulty is still just a program at the end of the day. They are assigned to follow what’s coded into them without deviating. When you play against an AI with the sole objective of beating it, then you’re confining your play style to the AI’s own behavior. Eventually with enough times playing a CPU opponent, you memorize their habits and learn to play against them without much trouble.

This is very different from playing actual people. Unlike an AI, human opponents aren’t bound by a set of rules. Some people tend to play much more aggressively, opting for high risk, high reward tactics. Others play completely safe without taking risks, aiming to annoy and bait the opponent into making a mistake. Then there are those who switch between the two depending on the situation. If you’ve exclusively played an AI for the longest time then suddenly face an actual human player, you might be taken aback when the opponent does something completely different from what you are used to.

If practice partners are not immediately available or your online connection isn’t stable, then the next best thing would be to watch tournament or match videos. Live streamed tournaments on Twitch and VoDs on Youtube are a great resource for learning how to play.

Dedicated Guilty Gear fans have created, a database, for match videos of top players.

Don’t Focus on Winning

When starting out, you have to acknowledge that you suck and you’ll probably end up losing – a lot. This is unavoidable. Admittedly there will be times that you’ll end up frustrated after long losing streaks. When I first tried playing Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 against other people back in 2011, I ended up going on a 26 game losing streak. Just last year before my trip to Las Vegas for Evolution, I had a good friend who’s a local top player over at my house to play some games before my flight. I ended up losing 71 games straight.

Once you do accept that you’ll lose it becomes easier to actually work toward getting better. Abandoning your ego and sucking up your pride allows you to look at your play more objectively. It becomes easier to shift focus from beating someone to fixing your own weaknesses. Winning matters less and self-improvement takes center stage. Eventually, you’ll get the wins you’ve fought so hard for without even realizing it while becoming a better player in the process.

Record your matches

Be it on a capture card or asking a friend to take a cellphone video of you playing someone else, find a way to record your matches. Watching how well or badly you did will help you to take note of what you’re doing right and what you need to work on. Watching yourself get comboed and perfected may not be the easiest thing to do, but it’s necessary in order to improve.

Join Casual Sessions and Events

In a world where most competitive games thrive on active online communities to stay afloat, fighting games remain as one of the only genres where to get good it’s highly recommended that you go out and meet other players for offline sessions. This means going out of your comfort zone and introducing yourself to complete strangers. Fortunately here in the Philippines, the local fighting game community is more than accommodating for newer players. Most understand the difficulties that come with trying to get into the genre and will try their best to help people who genuinely want to get better. Just do a quick Facebook search and you’ll see that there are a bunch of local community pages for different games. Get in touch with people near your area, set a day where you could meet each other and just play.

REV Major is coming in a little less than two weeks. Apart from the international superstars like JDCR and Saint coming, the event is intended to highlight what the local fighting game scene can do. If you’re genuinely interested and want to get into the genre and the community, then this will be the best opportunity you’ll get in a while.

The Journey

Like I said at the start of this piece, it’s not an easy feat to get good at fighting games. It will definitely take a good amount of dedication and determination to get to a competent level. Unlike other popular esports genres like MOBAs or FPS’s, no one is there to help you when the game starts. There’s nothing that happens by chance for the most part. You’re in control. Everything is up to you. When you lose, it’s your fault and no one else’s. The fact that you have to face yourself and see how bad you do in order to improve is what I believe makes fighting games so intimidating to get into.

When the moment finally comes and you actually win, a different satisfaction is felt. It was thanks to your hard work and perseverance that you beat that guy you couldn’t even touch before. Your win is your own, and it’s something you can take pride in.

I hope that the few pieces of advice I gave will be able to help you as you start your own fighting game journey. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in casuals.