Thinking several steps ahead and having it work out as planned is one of the best feelings ever
High-level, competitive fighting games are often referred to and compared to a speedy, intricate game of chess. Much like the classic board game, you have to plan your moves in advance and know your opponent’s tendencies to be successful, and in fighting games you have the added element of executing the moves to worry about as well.
When playing titles like Street Fighter 5, I find myself continually coming back to and dwelling on one of the most satisfying aspects of high-level fighting games, but I’ve traditionally found that it is really tough to explain to someone who isn’t familiar with how things work. Thinking several steps ahead and constructing a scenario where your play works out exactly as planned isn’t easy to do, but it’s one of the best feelings ever in fighting games when it’s successful.
The mental game that goes into every fighting game round remains one of my favorite parts of playing. Making reads, picking up on patterns, conditioning your opponent, and the overall back and forth was something that initially drew me in and it has kept me competing for over a decade now.
Throughout these many years of fighting games, I’ve always found myself enthusiastically jumping into rambling rants about the intricacies of what makes these titles so great when asked by the uninitiated what I do for a living. I was reminded how difficult it is to properly convey that feeling when you take all of the pieces of your own experience and the knowledge you’ve picked up about your opponent during the set, then use it all to assemble the perfect play when my girlfriend heard me celebrating a Street Fighter 5 online win the other day and asked what happened.
The match up was my Gill against an online Necalli player. Now, the most drilled down and succinct way I can describe the play is like this: a baiting of Necalli’s horizontal slash attack using one of Gill’s ice balls from a safe range and punishing with Critical Art — which likely means nothing to the layman.
Those who understand how these moves work and the nuances of reads and conditioning can probably already begin putting the pieces together of what went into constructing this play. From the start, I could see that this Necalli player was not only testing how I deal with Disc’s Guidance (that horizontal slash attack), but was actively looking for it as a fireball counter.
Several of the early slashes went blocked and one or two snuck in as successful punishes for my fireballs. However, it didn’t take long for me to back up to a spot where I knew the opponent would want to throw out the special move and counter it myself with either parry or a whiff punish.
After the first two games and several rounds of fighting, I was sure that my opponent was leaning on this tactic. With this, I was able to lure them into a false sense of security by throwing fire and ice balls at ranges that I could get hit at if the opponent was sharp.
Doing this made them comfortable and made them believe that I was unaware of what they were doing, but in actuality, I was orchestrating my secret plot. You see, I knew I had a Critical Art stocked, and when the moment came where I wanted to hit it and secure a life lead, I knew that I could get the Necalli player to slash right into my super.
Hanging just a bit further back than usual, I started throwing Gill’s light ice ball. The projectile has slower start up, but recovers more quickly than the fireball, making it deceptively safe once it’s made it onto the playing field.
After a handful of ice and fireballs, the opponent committed to the big slash attack I was waiting for, and though Necalli made it through the projectile properly he ran face first into Gill’s Critical Art. It wasn’t a late cancel either, as the range I created gave me enough time to toss out the super just after Necalli made contact with the projectile.
— Steven “DreamKing” Chavez (@TheKingOfDremes) January 13, 2022
So, why am I talking about a seemingly insignificant play in an insignificant online match against a random opponent? Well, though this moment on the surface doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, it’s what’s at the core that is one of the most beautiful things about fighting games.
The whole point here is that this play wasn’t just a simple reaction to a badly thrown special move. This play was carefully mapped out and was already being formulated the moment the first match began.
I didn’t just luck into the situation where I would be able to successfully land this particular punish, but rather used my knowledge, my experience, and my actions throughout all of the preceding rounds to create this scenario, keep it in my back pocket, and bring it out when I felt it was needed.
High-level fighting games allow you to do this kind of stuff regularly, and it’s incredibly difficult to truly express how it feels when you pull it off to someone who doesn’t play on this level because it requires layers upon layers of explanation.
You have to understand how all the buttons work, the rock-paper-scissors aspect of a match, what each move does, how whiff punishes and counters work, the specifics of each individual character, what actually goes into conditioning the opponent, execution, and so many other nuances about competitive fighters before you can really embrace what this sensation is.
My girlfriend understood the foundation of why I was celebrating, which is great, but I can’t help but wish that everyone could really grasp the full extent of what makes these aspects of fighting games so damn magical.