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!
A couple of weeks ago, I covered how to develop matchup strategy. Afterwards, I got a lot of questions specifically about how to improve in neutral.
To be honest, the scope of this question is huge. So instead, I’ll try to break it down in a easily digestible fashion.
Matchups are often discussed between players, and for good reason. As I covered before, understanding the interactions between characters is crucial to victory. One thing you can keep in mind when thinking about this is that most characters have an overall goal in neutral. You can determine this by thinking about the most common way that a character wins games.
For example, occasionally you’ll run into unplanned situations, or an awkward situation caused by poor positioning, a move not working, or a host of other reasons. In my area, this is called a “scramble.” It’s that situation where you and your opponent are desperately vying for control because of an awkward exchange. On review, you’ll want to figure out why these situations happen, and whether it favors you or not.
First off, you need to consider how beneficial this type of situation is for you. Some characters and players benefit from this, and the reward can vary from game to game.
For the most part, the characters I play don’t want to engage in scrambles. I go out of my way to prevent them, avoid them, or disengage myself if I recognize the situation. But you have to consider my character selection. While I get rewarded for winning a scramble (as in, getting the hit and conversion in an awkward situation), in the case of Millia, losing a scramble usually means taking heavy damage and getting knocked down. Overall, the return is not in my favor.
Some characters, however, get rewarded for these situations. Grapplers or characters with short range/explosive offense and damage might look to force situations like these. You have to break down whether or not this kind of situation can benefit your character more often than not.
From here, we can start to consider risk/reward situations in neutral. I’ll use Millia as an example – why would I go so far out of my way to avoid scrambles? Again, while the reward is high (conversion into knockdown, which can lead into potential round victory), the risk is also high (her defensive options are poor and she has a low life total). In addition to that, there’s no real reason for Millia to try to force gambles in random situations – whether she’s played optimally or in a risky, dangerous fashion, I get the same high reward (conversions into knockdown).
The above is a good platform for beginning to understand the risk/reward dynamic that can take place during the neutral game. This is an important point in developing neutral strategy. You can infer the weight of something happening in neutral based on how you feel a character wins games.
Take a character that has extremely heavy, very safe rushdown. If their rushdown is truly dominating, then they would try very hard to catch you blocking in neutral rather than hitting you. In that case, you wouldn’t try to avoid getting hit by whatever attacks, but rather come up with ways to minimize being caught blocking. Also, knowing this will help you know what tools the opponent will use to catch you blocking in the first place, which is a great place to start building counters to your opponent’s strategy.
While all characters have different and unique tools, their goals in neutral essentially break down to this:
- Zoning – Keeping you out with projectiles or exceptionally large attacks
- Rushdown – Trying to get into close range, as their rushdown is strong
- Conversion ability – Trying to convert hits into knockdown due to dominating setplay
- Midrange/neutral – Characters that excel and win from poking midrange
- Force scrambles – Characters who purposely try to force awkward situations
Keep in mind that characters have goals in neutral. Determine what you and your opponent’s characters want to operate in the general scheme of the match.
Think about characters you have problems with. What type of character are they, what moves do you have problems with, and what counters might you have for them?[hr]
(Featured image courtesy of FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)