LordKnight Explains: Reads and Risk/Return

By on January 14, 2016 at 4:34 pm

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’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!

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.

If you’ve watched any major event, you’ve almost definitely heard commentators note an action from a player that, in that specific situation, seems to be looking for a specific action. Daigo Umehara’s fabled “Ume-Shoryu” is a well-known example of this – a dragon punch that, while seemingly random, is calculated to call out an opponent’s tendencies. In the scene, we call these reads.

A successful read can leave quite an impact on the opponent. A novice might feel like you know exactly what they are going to do, while a higher level player will keep that action in the back of their mind, and consider that you are willing to make a guess in a similar situation, thus potentially peeling off to less committal options. An unsuccessful read, of course, can leave you at a large disadvantage – usually in the form of taking damage and getting knocked down.

However, you can’t win a game on reads alone, and the majority of a high-level match doesn’t revolve around those types of decisions. There is a method that can help determine what’s generally risky and what’s not, which is referred to as risk/return. The implication of this is two-fold:

  • Within the game, you’re judging the risk of your action, against the return (usually damage or the situation that immediately follows) if you’re successful.
  • Between the players, you’re establishing your general decision making – whether or not they will account for that is up to you to figure out.

It’s worth noting that just because something is risky doesn’t mean that it’s completely off the table. Its importance depends on whether or not the option you’re considering can actually do something, which is usually dependent on the situation and the game you’re playing.

Let’s look at a couple of examples, centered around my Guilty Gear main Millia, in order to get a good idea on how to think about this.


Millia is focused on knocking the opponent down in the corner and following up with a high or low mixup. While the idea itself is simple, you need to be prepared to deal with varying defensive options when trying to apply this to the entirety of the Guilty Gear cast.

Ideally, because the goal in this situation is to land a hit in order to repeat the situation, it makes sense to select low risk options that are difficult for the opponent to deal with. For example, if an opponent has a reversal and 50 meter, it makes sense to choose a mixup that can both hit an opponent who blocks and makes the reversal whiff. In short, it is quite risky for the opponent to try to get out, but the return is high if they are correct since they escape the setup.

As mentioned above, Millia’s knockdown game is extremely good, but she’s quite weak on defense due to her lack of meterless reversals and low health. With that in mind, my defensive decisions tend to be more on the cautious side. If my opponent converts a hit, I’ll take a good chunk of damage. Because of this, outside of guaranteed punishes, I aim for resetting to neutral on defense rather than trying to fight my way out by counter-attacking.

The pace of neutral varies in every fighting game, but Guilty Gear has a good balance of playing on the ground and in the air. All characters usually have a couple of good ground normals (be it because of speed, recovery, range, or whatever).

At the same time, a character can have moves that are somewhat slow or have a lot of recovery. From Millia’s perspective specifically, her best ground poke is probably her far Slash attack. The pros and cons at a glance include:

Far Slash


  • Fast.
  • Decent range.
  • Good for whiff punishing.
  • Low recovery.


  • You can’t convert from max range without meter.

I would say that, in general, far Slash is low risk, low reward. It’s not too risky to throw it out, and you don’t really lose out if it whiffs.

On the other hand, Millia’s forward H is quite different. At a glance:

Forward H


  • Launches the opponent on counter-hit.
  • Long range.
  • Almost always trades in Millia’s favor.


  • Slow.
  • High recovery.
  • The second hit is only special-cancelable.

If you get a counter-hit, you get a great combo, but if it whiffs, you’ll almost certainly be punished hard. Just based on its long recovery alone, this attack is high risk, high reward.

When you look at characters moves and what they are able to do with them, you can start weighing the risk of using X move against Y character.

Above, I described Millia’s far Slash as being a low risk, low return attack – and generally, this is true. One of the reasons that it was low return is that she can’t convert at maximum range without meter. However, if you put her against Sin, who can convert pretty much any hit into a knockdown, her far Slash seems much riskier.

If you can break down an interaction between you and your opponent in this way, then you can reduce the chances of the opponent escaping your offense and hitting you with a rewarding attack in neutral, then establish your defense. Also, it really helps in judging how people make decisions in different situations. Combining this sort of evaluation with matchup knowledge is a crucial step towards refining your game plan.

(Featured image c/o FGC: Rise of the Fighting Game Community)