The Fighting Game Community offers many things: entertainment, friendship, inspiration, passion. Like other esports, it also offers the chance to be a world-class competitor without developing world-class athleticism. But if you think you can get by without working on your body at all, you’re wrong.
First and foremost, we should all remember that esports still do favor some types of bodies, even if the range of esports body types is wider than the range you’ll find in a professional sport. While competitors like “Blind Warrior” Sven Van de Wege and Mike “Brolylegs” Begum can do damage in a bracket, the fact is that they (and other players who have physical impairments) have to work much harder than the bulk of the population.
Still, no matter how easy it is for you to access all the features of your favorite fighting game, leveling up your physical attributes will make you a more formidable opponent. In this article, we’ll discuss what it means to win at fighting games using bodily attributes; we’ll see some examples; and then we’ll discuss how your physical characteristics affect other paths to victory.
What Does It Mean To Win With Your Body?
In a trivial sense, everyone who wins at a fighting game does so with their body. They use their eyes and/or their ears to gather input; they use their hands (or some other appendage) to manipulate their controllers; and so on. For the purposes of this article, we want to focus on the players who not only play using their bodies but who specifically gain a competitive advantage over their opponents because of the way they’ve trained and developed their bodies.
For competitors in the FGC, bodily competitive advantages usually belong to the following categories: coordination (more commonly known as “execution”); spacing; timing; and reactions. Every one of these attributes can either boost you over the top or let you down at a crucial moment.
Coordination, usually of the hand-eye variety, is the single most vital physical attribute that a fighting gamer can develop. Without being able to quickly and comfortably input complex commands, fighting gamers are barely more intimidating than digital punching bags.
By now, the FGC knows that execution matters. But many players still work on the wrong skills when they go to training mode, grinding combos instead of fine-tuning their fundamentals. To turn coordination into a true competitive advantage instead of a mere opportunity to show off, you have to put your effort into the movements and actions that you’ll actually perform in competition. Put plainly, you have to train to fight, not to look good. If you’re unsure what the difference is, just ask Logan Paul, the muscle-bound YouTuber who was recently outboxed by Floyd Mayweather, an opponent who was eighteen years older, six inches shorter, and thirty-five pounds lighter than Paul.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 7, 2021
Using coordination as a competitive advantage means practicing basic inputs until you don’t have to think about them anymore. It means training with intentionality so that you can remove mistakes and miscues from your game. Most underrated of all, it means working on your movement.
Movement is one of the hardest skills to master in fighting games, not least of all because many advanced movement techniques weren’t designed by the developers and aren’t included in any tutorial. Whether it’s the Korean backdash in Tekken, wavedashing in Smash, or using kara inputs in Street Fighter, high-level mobility is often the key that unlocks superior play. As Paul learned in his fight against Mayweather, you can’t hurt what you can’t touch.
Spacing & Timing
In the world of sports, it’s a well-worn cliché to describe something as “a game of inches.” Fighting games, however, are much more precise than that. At the highest levels of competition, the result can come down to a single pixel or frame, which means that you might lose because you were off by one ninety-sixth of an inch or one sixtieth of a second. Bad spacing and timing can ruin your chances for offense and open you up to needless damage. This is why spacing and timing offer real competitive advantages in fighting games. As Stephen “Sajam” Lyon puts it in the context of teaching footsies, “There’s no whiff-punishing a move that doesn’t whiff.”
In some situations, fighting game players get spacing or timing for free. For example, with frame kills, you can use a simple series of button presses to make sure that your timing is always frame-perfect. Most of the time, though, you’re on your own, which means that you have to rely on your eyes and ears. Luckily, you can train your senses the same way you train your muscles. With proper practice, you can teach your body to recognize tiny differences that your opponents don’t.
Most of the FGC has been taught to think of reaction speed as an unchanging, inborn quality. But professional athletes train themselves to lower their reaction time, and so can fighting gamers. By drilling specific responses until they happen automatically or teaching yourself to enter “reaction mode” mentally, you can change the entire nature of a match. You can punish your opponents for doing things that they believe to be unreactable and you can escape setups or mixups that would normally force you to guess.
Limitations, Complements, And More
Of course, physical prowess alone usually won’t be enough. Someone who has near-instantaneous reactions will still lose at fighting games if they’ve never played them before. However, with that said, this is one of the most straightforward ways to improve your game. Coordination, precision, speed, and quickness don’t require you to research the game deeply or learn the subtlest nuances of its mechanics. You don’t have to come up with a unique style of play or a whole new set of tactics. Think of it like a fastball: there’s nothing fancy or clever going on, but if you can throw hard enough, the batter has no chance.
To get the most out of any physical advantages you have, you really only need two things. First, you need a basic game plan, i.e., simple knowledge of what you should be doing in most circumstances. Again, think of baseball: slower pitches have a tiny margin of error, but super-fast pitches just have to end up somewhere in the strike zone. Likewise, superior physical attributes can make up for a lack of originality, intricate matchup knowledge, and so on.
Second, you need to ensure that your body can perform up to its potential. That means sleeping well, staying hydrated, moving and stretching in between matches, and so on. Tournaments are long, physically demanding events. If your body can’t hold up to the stresses of tournament life, then your biggest competitive advantages will degrade or collapse as the event wears on.
And remember, these paths to victory aren’t meant to be all-or-nothing. In all likelihood, you’ll have to vary your approach from match to match as you measure your own capabilities against those of your opponent. But when you find an opponent whose raw bodily skills are worse than yours, you should be ready to take advantage of their weakness and use your superior physical attributes to win.