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’ll occasionally add a section for 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!
At this point, we’ve gone through a lot of topics involving actually playing a fighting game. Of course, in a broad sense, the best way to improve at any game is to play it – it’s through play that you get topics and points to think and refine.
That being said, how you go about getting this play time definitely matters, depending on your goals. If your goal is to win (and thus, in the process, improve yourself!), then making the most of your play time is very important.
Generally, people consider offline play to be the absolute peak of play, which is correct – and I would recommend trying to reach out to your local scene, be it through social media, on a forum, or whatever platform you can find. But it’s perfectly understandable that everyone has a unique situation that might prevent them from playing offline often, if at all. When I started playing fighting games, I didn’t have an easily accessible group of people to play (partly because of my game of choice, but that’s another topic).
The benefits of offline practice can’t be understated. Offline play is practically the closest thing you can get to tournament play – you play side-by-side, people are talking around you, the game is (ideally!) being played on the right set of equipment.
If you don’t have a scene close by, there is another option availble to you for practice – we call it netplay.
Netplay tends to get a bad rap amongst fighting game players, and the reasons are all valid. Though fighting games aren’t meant to be played with any sort of delay, most games use input delay in their online modes, which certainly changes the way a game can be played. Basically, if improvement is your goal, playing the game under this sort of condition isn’t ideal.
Before I move on, I went to emphasize that if you do choose to practice online, you should do whatever you can to get your online experience as close to offline. This goes without saying, but a good, consistent internet connection on both ends is ideal for online practice.
Anyway, when used properly, netplay is a great tool for learning and development. As I said before, I started on netplay – and there are plenty of well-known fighting game players who get most of their practice online. The key is in shifting your goals.
Playing online is a great way to test new tactics. In my case, I’m not able to readily try emerging strategies on other strong players. I like gradually easing into tactics, confirms, mixups, etc. with players online. Since the field is more open, I get a lot more data on how people react to any ideas I might have. I can safely say that, many times, I’ve developed some secret omega mixup and taken it online, only to have people react differently than I thought they would. They got hit in a weird way and I didn’t know how to confirm it, they blocked it…the list goes on and on. But because I tested it first, I made sure I covered all my bases before debuting it in tournament.
The great thing about online play is that the scope of players you have access to is likely much higher than the amount of players you have locally. Most games these days have pretty sizeable casts, and people tend to focus on one character. If you play online, you can fill in whatever experience gaps you may have, which is obviously beneficial when you do decide to make the jump to attending an event in person. To be honest, I use a combination of online play and offline play to learn matchups; I go straight to online play if I can’t find anyone in my area that plays a character I’m trying to learn how to fight against.
In the end, you can’t get nuanced points of information on matchups without playing them, and even if someone tells you how to deal with something, it’s very difficult to instantly replicate the proper reaction without having done so previously.
It’s important to note that since online play isn’t an ideal playing field (as everything is delayed), you will most definitely run into people who use netplay tactics. These are tactics that are normally sub-optimal, usually because it is much easier to react to in an offline setting.
Remember that your goal isn’t necessarily to win games, so if you’re trying to refine your play, you (typically) wouldn’t consider sub-optimal tactics in your overall strategy. There isn’t much of a point of getting too heated over someone doing these things – as far as I’m concerned, it’s still good experience, since I know that whatever they’re doing would be easier to deal with offline.
For a classic example, take Ky Kiske in Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-. His Dust (a universal overhead) is 25 frames – quite slow. Online, however, it becomes much more difficult to defend against because of the delay. You might run into someone who uses Stun Dipper (a sliding low) or his Dust as a high/low mixup – something that works online, but definitely does not work offline.
While you can denounce this as netplay tactics and move on, there are a couple of things you can take from this. First off, you can use this as practice for adapting to something new or awkward quickly. Secondly, if you do get hit by this a lot online, it gives you more reason to focus on neutral in the matchup, as to avoid this negative situation. Finally, recognizing that someone is a certain type of player (which becomes easier the more experience you have) is a crucial skill for tournament play against the field – and you can seriously hone this skill by playing online.
(Featured image c/o FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)