Domination 101: On Cheapness

By on July 21, 2003 at 9:32 pm

Domination 101 is a series of articles written by Seth Killian before SRK’s forum crash in 2003.

Domination by Seth Killian

Q: “Why is it that you shoryuken foolz seem to think that playing cheap is cool? You should be a man and take a stand against lamerz for honorable play.”

(name withheld out of mercy)

Ah, the call of the scrub. They bleat out something like this to attract others of their sad species (known in layman’s terms as “losers”), who will feel sorry for them, and commiserate about the unfair tactics of their shamefully dishonorable tormentors (more commonly known as “winners”). They play the game in a little world of make-believe where they all aspire to earn the respect of their fellow losers, and to play with “honor” (even though no one’s quite sure what that means).

We get a lot of stuff like this. I have to wonder- where are all these scrubs coming from? Portland aside, it’s hard to be sure. I mostly just think of them as the Streetfighter equivalent of the Amish, but sometimes I wonder anyway- how did they get so confused? Why do they hold on to such silly ideas?

The precise contours of “cheap” are pretty mysterious. Far be it from me to actually be able to penetrate fully the dark workings of the mind of a scrub, but in an attempt to get a better feel for what they’re talking about here (if anything), I’ll try and analyze some apparent commonalities between the wide variety of things called “cheap”. Something that is cheap:

1) Wins. Ever notice that no one who just loses all the time ever gets their style called “cheap” (or “dishonorable”) no matter what they’re doing? I start with this because it helps to underscore the generally whiny, name-calling nature of the complaint. No matter how you play, no one seems to care much… unless you’re winning. If you’re not threatening their (sorry) dominance at the machine, the scrub doesn’t care what the hell you’re doing. It’s only when you’re doing something they can’t beat that he bothers to drop phrases like “cheap”. How can an innocent scrub tell when he’s been scandalized by the dreaded “cheap” play? The easiest way to recognize cheapness is not by looking for certain characteristics to the style of play (that can be confusing, and seems downright impossible since what’s “cheap” seems to change all the time!). No- just wait until you’re losing a lot. Then, rather than experience the fear that you might have to figure something difficult out, you can rest assured that the reason you were losing was because you were the victim of “cheap” tactics! The advice to aspiring scrubs here should be clear: If you want to ensure that you never accidentally play “cheap” (the precise definition is danged tricky!), just don’t win too much. Everyone knows that not winning too much is a proud tradition among all “honorable” players.

2) “Cheap” tactics violate the sanctity of “blocking”. All scrubs seem to feel that blocking should be some sort of unimpeachable stronghold- a scrub “fortress of solitude”. Apparently the thinking is “When I’m blocking, no one should be able to hurt me, no matter what!”. Where this idea came from is anyone’s guess. Ever hear of blocking in Space Invaders? Could Pac-Man block? Blocked any quad-damage railgun shots lately? No. But the scrub still feels somehow especially violated when he’s hunkered down, jamming the stick into block, and something still disappears off his lifebar. “What the hell! I was BLOCKING!”

Well… so what? What is it about the block that makes the scrub feel he’s entered the magical-happy land of no damage, no worries, and no threats? I have no idea. The fact is, he isn’t in that happy place. It just isn’t true. It was never true, of course, although enough people insisted on playing make-believe for so long that they almost believe it now. And when someone walks up and, say, throws them, giving them the unpleasant reality check that reminds them they were playing make-believe, the poor widdle scwubs get all upset.

The reason the Capcom designers didn’t make blocking completely impervious to damage is extremely obvious- if they had, the game would be reduced to a question of who could hit who first, then block like a madman for the rest of the round. That would suck. Everyone knows this- even the dim-witted scrub- so instead of abandoning the first make-believe rule that led them into this mess, they tack on another make-believe rule. Rule #2: “Too much blocking is also cheap.” How much is too much? “Well, um, you see… it’s not a set amount, exactly- it’s, uh… Godammit- I know it when I see it!” So instead of just facing up to the glorious truth, the scrub has dug himself deeper into a pit of nonsense, trying to cover for the initial nonsense. This is another clear marking of the scrub- when called on their crap- they will never admit they were just wrong- they’ll retreat endlessly into as many tacked-on rules as are necessary to get you to quit picking on them, often making desperate appeals to this being their “opinion”, as if that makes what they’re saying somehow less stupid (editor’s note: it doesn’t).

The obvious appeal of this highly stupid approach is that it’s easy. It’s very easy to call things cheap and tack-on more rules (free, actually), whereas learning to, for instance, counterthrow effectively is very hard. Since those in question are scrubs, and not very skilled, they’re very happy not to have to learn anything else. What’s always been so amusing to me was that the scrub actually tries to turn this around to his own advantage, claiming that throwing is “just pushing the stick, and hitting a button! It’s so stupid- I’d rather flex my might with my amazing combos!” (editors note: combos by these scrubs are never amazing) (of course combos aren’t just pushing the sticks and hitting the buttons, right, right?). It’s also amazingly stupid in the way it seems to imply that the skill in a game is being able to do a move (or series of moves), rather than understanding that it’s seeing when to do a move that counts. The scrub, who sees little more to the game than combos, never has to grapple with this- after all- when’s the right time to do a combo? All the time! You never even have to think about it!

One response to the hordes of unskilled losers who are most often the champions of crying “cheap!” has been simply to claim “There’s no such thing as cheap”. If the one-word cry of “cheap” didn’t convince anybody by itself, neither should this tough-sounding little catch-phrase. Although it may be surprising, I think it’s pretty obvious that there is, at least hypothetically, such a thing as cheap. Imagine a regular SF game, with joystick and six buttons. Now imagine a seventh button, available on each side, labelled “WIN”. If you hit that button at any time during the match, you win. It would be simple enough to design. If Capcom started releasing their games with that feature, and you were notorious for hitting that button, I’d be perfectly willing to admit that doing so was “cheap”. If enough stuff like that finds it’s way into a game, then it’s just a bad game- you can play as hard as you want, but that simple tactic can’t be surpassed. This emphasizes a third characteristic of “cheap” tactics- that they’re efficient.

3) “Cheap” tactics kill with minimal effort. In this respect, they’re difficult to distinguish from just plain good tactics, which are aimed at making you efficient, effective winners. Good players play to win- they’re about winning, not whining. But scrubs become edgy and irritable when they’re killed really easily. They know that killing a serious player should be at least a little bit hard, even if he is a scrub. This resistance to extreme efficiency is well-founded, in some respects. A tactic is great when it kills efficiently, but can justifiably be called cheap when it kills too efficiently. In the MVC2 with the “WIN” button, the best tactics are too efficient in just this way- once people catch on, the game just becomes stupid. It’s not fun, or entertaining. It’s Capcom’s job to provide games that are fun for a wide range of playing ability without allowing the game to become transparent, and to degenerate into simplistic routines for winning, incapable of holding a serious players’ interest.

Some answer cries of “cheap” with a different cute little catch-phrase: “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.” Well, of course. How could that not be true? That doesn’t really advance the “debate”, except by pointing out that by banning throws (or whatever they’re calling cheap that day), what the scrubs are really doing is just playing a different game. So if MVC2 came equipped with that “WIN” button, it would be fair to say that it’s “in the game”, obviously. But the previous point about actually hitting the button still being cheap also stands. That would just be a really crappy game. Which is what I think it really comes down to: “Cheap” is an aesthetic judgment.

When you claim something is “cheap”, what you’re really saying is that the game would be better without it. In effect, you’re staking your judgment against the combined efforts of the best design team in history. Sometimes people can be right about such judgments, as in the case of obvious bugs/glitches (e.g. resets, L/M-ism A3 bugs, etc). Why are these obvious candidates? Because they weren’t things that were intended or assessed by this designers, so they don’t already have their tacit stamp of approval. And, unsurprisingly, they tend to detract from gameplay (though this isn’t always the case, of course- interrupting normal moves with specials for combos wasn’t originally intended in SF2: WW, but turned out to be a happy accident that evolved into the world’s most-loved combo system). The best way to tell whether something helps or ultimately hurts a game is to play the hell out of it. If it really turns out to detract from gameplay, then avoid it- fine. But you’ll never be able to decide that if you don’t play it to the fullest to begin with. – something people fond of denouncing things as “cheap” never seem to do. Does this mean I think that everything that was intended by the designers is necessarily a good idea? No. But it should be a hint to scrubs that maybe they should play around with that aspect a bit more before deciding it’s “cheap”, and writing it off. Especially if you want to have a chance at winning in a tournament, or against real players. Remember- when you claim something is “cheap”, especially if it’s something the designers clearly intended to be there, you’re attempting a very sophisticated judgment. Since most of you are morons, this is usually a very bad idea. Let’s look at examples of things that are most often (and wrongly) declared “cheap” by retards:

-Throwing in general, and the SF2 series especially. Bzzz. Wrong. Very wrong. Yes, it’s difficult to counter at first, but once you do, the game becomes far more complex and interesting, not less. Don’t believe it? Ask anyone who’s any damn good.

-As for keepaway tactics being “cheap” in MVC2- please. This only reveals how little most of you understand not only MVC2, but SF in general. Historically, the greatest dynamics in SF games have always come from the opposition between keep-away and up-close characters. One side tries to keep the other out, the other pushes constantly to get in to the sweet, sweet chewy center. In MVC1, the majority of matches were completely dominated by up-close tactics. In MVC2, the balance has shifted, apparently favoring keep-away tactics. All this means is that you have to think about what you’re doing for half a second before going into your same old dial-a-combo routine that you think looks so cool. The fireball (beam/projectile) is the key feature behind all high-strategy in SF games, and one that’s been sorely missing from most of the Versus series. Complaining about it’s return in MVC2 only shows you to be the arch-scrubs you are. It also completely fails to appreciate any real character variety. Was Dhalsim cheap for trying to keep people out in the old Streetfighers? Was he a scrubby character? Should he rush in with a bunch of chain combos in MVC2 to avoid playing “cheap”? Or would that make you dishonorable for picking the pixies that are so much better at that type of game as to make Dhalsim look like a joke? What the hell. So stupid.

Also, Scrubs: do not give yourself the undeserved break that comes with thinking “keep-away players only play that way because they’re not good enough to do combos!”. That is simply a dud. The timing and precision involved in a really good keep-away trap is typically far in excess of all but the most difficult trick-shot combos. Also, since there are no air-tight keep-away games, you have to be on your toes to play that way. You must think dynamically, and react to the adjustments your opponent tries to make. In a combo, once you start, you can virtually go on auto-pilot. Finally, players good enough to execute the best keep-away traps also have great combo skills- they’re just not naive enough to try and use them all the time. Now what’s up, combo-boy?

-Block damage: Busting somebody out for 50% damage even while they’re blocking seems more impressive than doing the same thing in a combo, doesn’t it? Which one is harder to do? Which one takes more resources? What percentage of characters can do it? Of players? Is it harder to hurt the opponent while they’re blocking, or while they’re not blocking? Then how can you say dealing out major block damage isn’t skilled, if it’s harder to do? The ability to deal substantial amounts of block-damage is critical in a game with as much play-area to hide in (re: turtle) as you have in Versus games.

So the surprise conclusion is that there clearly is such a thing as “cheap”, but history (throwing is cheap!) and the current batch of whiners (keep-away is cheap!) show us that, apart from painfully obvious glitches, most people are too stupid to be able to determine just what that is. Instead, it gets used as a crutch for players too weak to play the game seriously in the first place.

  • Martini Whoelse


  • Michael Quinn

    While I could have done without the lame “retards” insult (we can all do better than that), that was an awesome article.

  • Thomas Manson

    I agree with the overall sentiment, but not with the nastiness.

    For all the credence the American FGC gives to the Japanese arcade scene, you don’t see a tenth of the shit-talking over there as you do here.

    You don’t see a hundredth.

    And the best Japanese and Asian players mop the floor with us, to this day, even in the games they don’t take seriously. I remember a couple years ago when a bunch of Japanese players came to America to play UMVC3 and dominated our best players using characters like Viewtiful Joe – and nobody thought that was even possible.

    Meanwhile, when you see a Japanese (or even Korean) player in an interview before Evo or something, all they ever say is “there are a lot of good players there. I’ll try my best.”

    Meanwhile, you see a western (especially American) player, and it’s all showboating and shit-talking. “Im’ma body those bitch-ass scrubs cuz I’m so bad azz!”

    And almost every time, the guys who are humble as shit beat the snot out of the boasters.

    Maybe, just maybe, there’s a correlation. Maybe, just maybe, every second spent talking shit and saying how great you are or bitching about “scrubs” is a second not spent on improving your game. They seem to understand that in Japan.

    Meanwhile, there are guys who don’t say half the ugly shit we do, never scream in public about scrubs ruining their game, and shitting on every newcomer and inferior player, and come home with the wins.

    You would think, for people who put so much value on winning at a video game, the shit-talkers and the braggarts would pay more attention to who gets the most wins, and at the most crucial moments.

    Whining about whiners whining – this has all been said before. We all heard the “throwing is cheap” bullshit back in the 90’s and we have all heard the refutations for that as well. We all know there is no such thing as “cheap” and it’s just excuse-making for the people who can’t get wins. Most of us know better, and we just laugh it off when we hear it. But going out of your way just to shit on people who aren’t as good as you, or are new to the scene, isn’t going to make anything better.

    When are we going to address THAT problem?

    Edit: sorry, made a couple of grammar/spelling edits for clarification.

    • Alex Acosta

      Maybe this article deals with things we ironed over the last decade because it was written before it happened.

      • Thomas Manson

        Whoops! My bad. Didn’t know the article was so old!

  • Omar

    Lovely article. The few times I have an hour to play SF4, I spend 30min in the lab and 30min getting beaten online, but it’s never going to mine my desire of getting better (nor the trash talking msg I receive calling scrub are).

  • Azrael VG

    I agree that a lot of players use cheapness as an excuse for why they lose. I play as cheap as possible when prize or the arcade coin is on the line but when playing casually I hold back on spamming lame shit my oponent doesn’t understand.

    Also it seems lately that tier is the new loser excuse. It is sad to see Seth Killihan making the case that tier is the reason Daigo is losing the top position. Is there a article on tier?

    • Thomas Manson

      Tiers don’t matter?

      Well, I won’t say TIERS matter, but matchups and toolsets certainly do. I’ll use shotos as an example:

      Ryu’s fierce DP hits once for 160 damage, and can’t be FADC’d or super canceled. Akuma’s fierce DP does three hits for 160 damage total, and can be FADC’d on the first and second hit.

      What does this mean?

      It means, for one thing, that Ryu can’t throw fierce shoryukens with impunity. Ryu players can’t afford the risk; he has to KNOW it will hit before he can risk throwing one out. If it’s blocked or whiffed, he will be punished for much more than 160 damage. He can use his jab or strong dragon punches, but he will either lose invincibility (jab), or over half of his potential damage (strong). Also, note that he has to plan to FADC beforehand, one hit isn’t enough time to *know* whether or not you’re being blocked.

      Akuma, on the other hand, has two chances to bail out of his fierce DP if it’s blocked. Two blocked hits is plenty of time for most players to know that they’re being blocked and need to FADC accordingly; it’s a hit confirm all on its own. And if the hits actually CONNECT…then you can save your meter instead! This means that if Akuma has enough meter, he can throw out a fierce dragon punch very safely. And he will.

      Akuma also has his demon flip, which gives him mad space control as well as an (extra) divekick. It’s also pretty safe. He also has considerably more juggles than Ryu, and more ways to get a hard knockdown to start his vortex game. He also has a 3-hit fireball that costs no meter.

      Defensively, he has a teleport that can get him out of bad situations, and his safe fierce DP can handle a lot of corner pressure easily (provided he has meter).

      So, Akuma has tons of ways to get in, and to get out, and most of them are pretty safe.

      And also note that all these extra tools (except for the demon flip) don’t come at the cost of a lot of extra difficulty to use. A focus cancel is easy to do, especially when you have two chances to do it. A DP motion with three punches isn’t really more difficult than a DP motion with one punch.

      The risk/reward ratio with Ryu is totally different than that of Akuma. Ryu has a lot more risk, Akuma has a lot more reward. Same was true with AE 2011 Yun, and Vanilla Sagat.

      Daigo knew this, and he could have played a better character, and played it well, and if he did, he would have probably taken first place (or maybe second, because Xian’s Gen was rockin’) at Evo this year.

      But he didn’t, because he said he’s won enough tournaments and winning doesn’t matter as much to him anymore. He’s in the comfortable position where he can play the game he likes the way he likes.

      What’s wrong with that?

      • Azrael VG

        What an unnecessarily long response !

        Match-ups and tool-sets are what determine character placement in the Tier ranking. So if tier matters then match-ups matter and vice versa.

        What I was trying to point out is that saying that someone is losing because their character isn’t high enough on the Tier list is as pathetic an excuse as those given by “losers” that point to cheapness as an excuse to why they are losing. Match-ups matter as far as they are a obstacle to overcome. If Daigo was playing Akuma, who is to say he would not have still lost to Infiltration’s Akuma. And if I am not wrong here isn’t Ryu favored as the better in a Ryu vs Akuma match-up on most Tier lists. Actually come to think of it none of the top 8 matches played out according to any Tier match-up advantage I know of, they were either even match-ups .Or in the case of Akuma and Gen they were playing against slightly unfavorable match-ups according to community match-up rankings I have seen floating around. You can argue that the Tiers out there are wrong but I think we only think so because good players have proven them wrong. And that is what Daigo should do either play Ryu and win or play (insert high tier character here) and prove himself. But no loser tier excuse for losing.

        Note: I am not specifically bashing Daigo, I find him to be a excellent player and far above my league but I am more concerned with the pathetic excuses on Diago’s behalf being put forward by prominent member of this so called community.And reading this article about “cheapness being a loser” excuse made by the same member just seems so hypocritical

  • Rafiqul Islam

    Even to this day there are still people out there who complain about throws, my friends hate playing street fighter with me because I play as Abel. Even when I do the fadc combos all it takes is one command grab and thats it – income the bitching. sigh, the ignorance.