LordKnight Explains: You Have No Excuse for Not Knowing the Matchup

By on October 23, 2015 at 2:33 pm
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Hi everyone!

If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been posting long reads on Tuesdays about fighting games. They’ve ranged from how-to guides to strategy and philosophy. This column is a continuation of that.

I want to share my experiences with both new and intermediate players who might be stuck. If you read one of these and think, “Well, that was obvious,” then good! If you take something away from these articles, then that’s good too.

For those of you who have been following these, I’ve added a section called action items at the end of the article. These are a bit like homework – it’s something you can try immediately. Let me know what you think in the comments!

If you have any questions or suggestions for topics, feel free to ask me on Twitter at @LordKnightBB Previous articles in this series can be found here.

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If you’ve been playing or paying attention to fighting games for any amount of time, you know that matchup knowledge is critical for any level of success. That being said, you can’t go to a tournament without hearing people talk about lack of matchup knowledge. First off, you have to understand the difference between:

“I don’t know the matchup,” and “We don’t have a (insert character) player, so I don’t know the matchup.”

To be frank, at a tournament level, neither statement is acceptable. However, at a personal level (as in, your personal growth as a player), the first statement is far preferable to the second.

Saying, “I don’t know the matchup,” suggests that you don’t know it now, but you’ll learn it eventually. Not knowing a matchup is a pretty valid excuse for a loss – not having answers for an opponent’s tools against your own almost guarantees defeat. But saying, “We don’t have a (insert character) player in our area, so I don’t know the matchup,” suggests to me that you not only haven’t looked into the character, but you don’t plan to because someone who doesn’t play the character isn’t readily available to you.

As you’re learning a fighting game, I think it’s quite important to have at least a baseline knowledge of the entire cast. I go out of my way to play against the “weird” characters in a game (think El Fuerte, Bedman, or Arakune) so I don’t get caught off guard early in a game’s life.

Below, you’ll find my personal process for learning a matchup. You don’t have to follow it to the letter (or do any of it, for that matter), but this might help if you don’t have some sort of structure already.

  • Playing – This is obvious. You play against the character and write down/keep in mind what you are having trouble with in-between games. It doesn’t matter whether the matches take place in real life or online because the whole point is to get comfortable with your tools against human opponents. Winning doesn’t matter at this point. Usually, whatever I have at the top of my mind after matches are the things I review first.
  • Analyzing matches – Since I get a good amount of practice online, sometimes I save replays and look over a couple of matches. If you play online, I highly recommend saving replays. If not, recording a set works as well. Usually, my memory of a match doesn’t really align with what happened, and there may be points I need to cover that I could’ve missed.
  • Watching videos – This kind of depends on the game and the character, but if possible, try to watch strong competitors play the matchup with your character. I especially look for whatever things I was having problems with in step one. If the character is new or no one really plays them for some reason, then this step might not be available. It’s also important to note that just “watching” videos isn’t enough – you want to analyze matches carefully for the points you’re looking for.
  • Reflection – Try to put together all the information you’ve gathered for the next set of games.
  • Play again – Try out your answers and thoughts in matches. Here, I’m just trying to apply what I learned. Again, winning isn’t totally the goal, but you should hope to notice some sort of return on results.
  • Reflect again – The more you cycle through these steps, the more tiny details and nuances you’ll begin to understand in the match. You can slowly work towards refining your strategy to perfection as long as you keep thinking about how the character interacts.
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(image c/o Dustloop)

As for matches themselves, here’s how I usually I break them down:

  • Neutral (Full screen/mid-range/close range) – I define “neutral” as any situation where neither character is stuck attacking or defending. The ranges that matter vary by character matchup, but it’s usually a breakdown of important spacing tools and projectiles. I further break this down into ground vs. ground (my ground tools against the opponent’s ground tools), anti-air (my ground tools against the opponent’s jump-ins and aerials, air vs. air (my aerials against the opponent’s aerials), and jump-ins (my aerials against the opponent’s ground tools).
  • My character-specific tools – A section detailing how to use whatever special mechanic my character might have. For example, with Millia, I break down how to use Silent Force (the pin) against every character.
  • Offense (My pressure) – Special things that work on this specific character while attacking them directly.
  • Defense (Their pressure) – How to deal with their offensive tools.
  • Setplay – Special things I can do to them on knockdown – dealing with their reversals, any special things I can do to them, etc.
  • Their setplay – The same as above, but how to defend against it, and any special things I should know.

Action Steps

How do you break down your matchups? Do you do any research, or just play by instinct? Also, try to break down a character you’ve had difficulties with in the past, and come up with counter strategies.

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(Featured image courtesy of FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)