I am not a fan of fighting games. The term “fan” doesn’t really even sum it up. They aren’t even my favorite kind of video game. To me and many, fighting games feel like a pastime separate from video games altogether.

I gotta admit, I’m jealous of how quickly this family can get goodbyes done at get-togethers. Get it? Because they’re father and son in the story…and…shit. I did it again.

There is a richness in their simplicity. An allure in their honesty. Depth in their systems. On one hand, they are ridiculously simple in concept: a player must beat the other in a virtual fight. On the other, they have such steep learning curves that the genre almost gates itself off from any potential new players. Fighting games are social at their core. They got people to the arcades. You had to interact with at least one other person. Naturally more competition is a good thing, so it is my hope is that somewhere, this is being read by at least one person interested in getting into fighters. Here’s a quick list of tips for getting started on your road to punchin heads:

1. Find Your Game

There are a lot of reasons to pick up and play a particular fighting game, but to really get to that moment where everything “clicks” you have to try a few out. Find the one you enjoy playing most. Don’t worry if it’s not the one you’re best at. You’ll end up practicing your ass off if you want to get any good at a fighting game, so it might as well be the one you enjoy playing the most. Most fighting games have fundamental aspects that they share. Take Ryu’s fireball command. The quarter-circle forward command is used almost universally in fighting games. Other commands are shared similarly, so if you can learn the basics in one game, you can apply that pretty much anywhere.

2. Here Comes a New Challenger!

“I hope someone else is seeing this, because if not, I’m going to have to go to the hospital again.” -Sakura

When I was a kid, I mastered all of Ryu’s special moves in Street Fighter 2. I was an unstoppable, unkillable karate machine…for about a week. Once one friend learned how to shut my everything down, all the other kids knew and I was sent to the back of the line, match after match. This created a tiny meta for the game. Information is learned and shared. Old tactics are sussed out and the bar rises. This is why its imperative to try as many characters as you can. Even if you don’t end up liking a character, by trying them you learn what a person playing them would want to do. If you know that, you can punish it.

Mash less and be patient

“With the power of timing, your super moves shall be powerless before my Smurfy might!”

Now, I’ll start this off by pointing out that everybody mashes a little. Timing can be precise. Nerves get you. It happens. Just don’t start mashing, no matter if it helps you win or not. You will eventually, often early on, come to an abrupt end in the effectiveness of that tactic. If you have problems with a specific input, hit training mode and do it over and over. The goal is precision. Nerves are the enemy. That said, there is a concept of “turns” in fighting games. It will help you immensely if you go into a round calm and observant. Know when to advance, retreat, strike or block. You can pull your ass out and go all YOLO from the word “Fight!”, but even that will only get you so far. Take the time to be aware of the space between your fighters. Does their character have anything that can hit from that distance? Does yours? If you have to move in, is it safe to? These are questions you’ll want to ask yourself while playing.

Normals are moves too!

So much hype…but have you seen this guy’s normals?

We all love the flashy stuff. The fireballs and “get over here” spears and the flash kickin and the bippin an the boppin. These moves are great and help a fighting game find its style and not just be a depressingly boring game of two guys in pajamas punching each other in the mouth. When we learn the special moves and supers, we sometimes neglect their regular moves, or “normals”. A normal is a move that is executed with the push of a button. In many fighting games, a character’s normals can differ widely from another’s. Their animations can give them the advantage in a variety of circumstances and they also often link into special and super moves. Learning the strengths of a character’s normals is 80% of that character’s curve. The more you master your favorite character’s normals, the better results you will see both offensively and defensively.

Play humans

This image is a fine example of online play and in no way just me posting a sick comeback…which I won in case you were wondering.

Turns out the best way to improve at fighting games has never changed. While you may get good enough to crank the difficulty till the knob falls off, the CPU opponent will not help you progress past a certain extent. On the contrary, some A.I. opponents can teach bad habits, as when they allow tactics that no human opponent would. Some games even operate on a level impossible for human hands if you turn the difficulty to max. For example, in Smash Ultimate, playing the CPU at level 8 difficulty will have your opponent pulling off moves that wouldn’t be possible for a human to execute 100% of the time. You could end up conditioned to react in a way that just won’t work in a match against another player. Whether you’re tournament bound or even just trying to be the best out of your friends, playing against other people is the only way to rise to the top.

The internet is your ally

“Ha ha! Wake up EX Dragon Punch strikes again, lol! It’s like the ninth one this bastard has fallen for! He need to shimmy that shit out and punish with a MP into EX Air SPD. This mofo got no footsie game.”

Fighting games bring with them a whole slew of jargon, terminology and slang. To be completely honest, this is where a good portion of the disconnect with new players can arise from. Terms like “footsies”, “anti-air” “neutral” may sound like greek to anybody not at a tournament, but describe important tactics, strategies and features. Look up any terms you hear but don’t understand. I learned pre-internet, so my dumb-ass had to ask people in person. Not only can the internet help you with the lingo, almost any and every sponsored pro player has content online. Watch and learn how they approach certain characters and their setups and moves. Adapt what you learn to your own playstyle. One of the best parts of fighting games is the meta. What one player learns becomes part of the collective common knowledge. We sharpen our skills on each other to bring the competition to a higher level. Plus Ultra and all that.

You can’t have learning without an L

Hit so hard he grew a beard… Feels bad, bro.

Part of the allure of competitive fighting games is the shifting landscape of competition. The bar is always being set higher. This is the same growth that a player should seek if they wish to learn and grow. Keep practicing those combos and inputs. Keep running those sets against that person who you get rekt by every time. Get up every time you get knocked down, and get up stronger than last time. Losses are invaluable teachers in fighting games. If you’re really feeling up to it, watch footage of your losses. Study what you’d do differently and make changes accordingly. When they jumped in, I should use a move that safely knocks them down before they attack (anti-air). Is the startup for one of my characters moves long enough for them to stuff the attack before I can get it out? These are questions that can only be answered by playing and sometimes losing. Never look at a skilled player with fear. You have nothing aside from a match to lose and so much more to gain.

With all that said, I hope this was somewhat helpful to anyone looking to get good at fighting games. It’s an amazing feeling to beat a player who had given you trouble in past matches, and the feeling of achievement gleaned from simply getting a combo down is magical. There’s a deep, wide world that awaits those who take the first step, and certainly a lot of fun to be had. So grab your fightstick or controller and I’ll see you in the brackets!

All images are screenshots taken via PS4. All games and characters are the intellectual property of their respective owners (i.e. not me or this site.) Banner image made by myself from an official image owned by Capcom.