How To Overcome a Character Crisis

Hit The Ground Running is an article series by Jay “Viscant’ Snyder.

This week we’re going to talk about character selection, one of the most important parts of a fighting game.  We’re little bit past the 4 month mark for Street Fighter 5 and I know a lot of players are beginning to hit a wall with their character and wondering if it’s time to make an adjustment, either picking up an alternate character for certain matchups or switching mains completely.  So this week we’re going to go over some of the reasons to make the switch and talk a little bit about whether the character you’re currently maining is right for you.

But first we’re going to start with a reason NOT to change characters. This isn’t the time or place for a tier list discussion but out of the 18 characters in the game so far really only Zangief looks like he’s in a bad place and significantly disadvantaged against the majority of the cast.  All the other perceived weak characters are beginning to find success.  FANG took down a CPT event with Xian winning Moscow Fighting Arena a couple weeks back.  Alex Valle has started seeing big success with his Rashid.  And Justin Wong and Chris G have moved Guile out of the “bad characters” discussion altogether.

So unless you play Zangief (and even then), switching mains because you think your character is too weak to compete is not a good enough reason.  Even though there have been a pile of tournaments already and Evo is less than a month away, it’s still very early on in the game’s lifespan.  In an older era of fighting games, it would be almost bordering on too early to even take results seriously at this point. You don’t want to go to the drastic step of changing characters when the best solution is just to improve what you’re already doing.

Reasons to change characters

So having said that, let’s go over some valid reasons for looking into a character change.  The most obvious and most relevant at this point in the game is for counterpicking, where one match with your main character is just so obnoxious you’d rather just not deal with it at all.  I’m already starting to hear rumbling from top players that this may turn out to be a counterpick heavy game; that simply playing one character and trying to master them will make you exploitable at the top level.

I’m not sure the game is going in that direction.  Games that require you to play multiple characters are games like Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo or Street Fighter Alpha 3; games defined by hard counters even among good characters or games with a top tier made up of unorthodox characters.   Super Turbo was the posterchild game for counterpicks since even good characters had awful matchups.  Ken was countered hard by Dhalsim.  Bison was countered hard by Honda.  Honda was countered REALLY hard by O.Sagat or Dee Jay.  So you needed multiple characters to survive in that kind of game since on a normal trip through a bracket you stood a better than average chance of running into a borderline unwinnable matchup, even if you were playing a strong character.

Early on in the game’s competitive lifespan Alpha 3 was different in that there weren’t a bunch of 7-3/8-2 matchups floating around but there was Dhalsim, a very popular and unorthodox character and one of the best examples of a true roadblock character early on.  The running gag for early pre V-ism tournaments was that in a 64 man SHGL tournament you’d have 50 Dhalsims, 10 Rolentos and 4 people who didn’t know how to play.  So you needed to have a specific counterpick to Dhalsim because he was everywhere and fighting him was fundamentally different from fighting the rest of the cast.

This is why I’m skeptical about Street Fighter 5 being a counterpick heavy game.  There aren’t a lot of 7-3 matchups floating around in the ecosystem.  And the most common characters are the most straightforward; Ryu and Ken are probably the most popular characters right now.  So I’m not sure counterpicks are going to be a defining feature of the game, but say if you play Karin and you hate the matchup against Chun-Li, learning an anti-Chun character would definitely be worth your time.

Another good reason to pick up a new character would be to start playing a character you’re weak against and try to reverse engineer them in a sense.  Figure out what that character struggles against or try to learn what makes that character uncomfortable.  It’s one thing to know on paper something like “Nash is weak in close, he has no reversal so you just need to be aggressive on his wakeup and make sure you don’t let him v-reversal out of the corner” and it’s another thing to actually spend some matches AS Nash, feeling the pressure and getting your v-reversals thrown because the other guy knew you were panicking.  As you’re playing these matches out from the other side you can see what the other person is doing that works on you and pick up new tricks that you can use on the other side.

I feel like this is one of the best ways both to close a leak in your individual game and to learn more about the game in general.  But in order for this to be effective you can’t just be picking that character, you have to spend the time and actually LEARN that character as if they’re your main.  Maybe you’ll end up liking that character and decide to keep them around as a pocket character but worst case scenario you’ll come out of the exercise knowing a lot more about the game than when you started.

But at this point in the game the most common reason people are starting to look longingly at the select screen is due to style of play.  A few months in, maybe you’re starting to feel like this isn’t the character for you.  So it’s time to ask yourself…

What character SHOULD I be playing

Street Fighter 5 started with 16 characters (12 returning) and now sits at 18 characters (20 in a couple days!).  Since Ultra Street Fighter 4 has 44 characters, the odds are that your favorite character didn’t make it and even if your character did make it, they’re so different from what you were used to before that it feels like you’re playing a whole new character.  So this right here is a major reason why a lot of people feel so out of sorts at the select screen.

Let’s look at Street Fighter 4 Bison.  He was never top tier and only anywhere close to that during Super SF4, but he was always at least playable.  Bison in that game had excellent screen control with his normals, good mobility both forwards and backwards and multiple different reversals.  And Street Fighter 5 Bison has…none of these things.  If not for the hat you wouldn’t even know it was him.

So if you spent 7 years playing SF4 Bison and refining that playstyle it stands to reason that the transition over to SF5 Bison would be very difficult.  If you succeeded with SF4 Bison because you’re an excellent footsie player, then yeah maybe you should make the switch to a different character because this version just doesn’t fit your playstyle.

If this sounds familiar to you, take a moment and make a brief assessment of your skills.  If you’ve been good at a fighting game in the past (any fighting game) think back for a minute about what made you good.  Do you have great footsies?  Strong spacing?  Fast reactions with a shoryuken or tiger uppercut?  Are you skilled in scramble situations and just seem to have a knack for getting the best of those?  Are you a patient player who gets their wins from other people’s mistakes?  It may seem elementary to be going over this ground now while the game has been out for a few months now but so many people are playing characters that don’t fit their strengths as a player that it needs to be talked about.

The answers you get may lead you to some strange places.  I’ll use myself as an example for a second.  I’m almost exclusively a charge character player, but I’ll occasionally play grapplers also.  I like long distance pokes and don’t really feel comfortable with a character unless they have that one button that they can lean on (CvS2 Yamazaki standing HK, ST Vega crouching MP, SF4 Blanka crouching HP).  I’m bad against crossups still after all these years so I like a character who has some kind of crossup protection (SF4 Dee Jay upkicks, SF4 Blanka EX up ball).  I also have notoriously bad execution and if a character relies on a tough combo, I probably won’t like them very much.

But most importantly I win at games because I either know a lot more than the other person and can overwhelm them with tricks and gimmicks or because I can control the pace, either forcing the other person to play slower or faster than they want to play.  The best description of my ideal archetype is turtle characters who can force mixups.

So I found my way to Chun-Li in Street Fighter 5.  She has strong buttons (this past week Justin Wong called her standing HP the single best button in the game and I agree with that), charge inputs including one of the only reversals that shuts crossups down completely.  Whereas other Chun-Li players use her normals more for anti-air, mine looks different since I’ll often revert back to SF4 sometimes and sit on my charge.  It’s kind of funny that I wound up playing the character universally seen as the heaviest execution character when that’s been my main weakness in games for 25 years, so it always surprises people when they find out I play her.

The fact of the matter is, there IS no perfect character in the game right now for me.  There IS no character that fits all my strengths as a player and hides all my weaknesses.  When Guile came out I was very interested in what he had to offer but I couldn’t get past his weakness in the poking game.  Guile not having a good button just made him not work out for me.  Chun-Li has the most tools that work within my skillset and I can mitigate the negatives in execution by using easier combos as my bread and butter confirms and avoiding setups that I’m likely to drop like the instant overhead headstomp.

In a game with a smaller roster this kind of experience is typical.  Not everyone is going to have the character that fits them perfectly at first.  For some players that character may be coming later.  For some players that character may never come.  You look at the tournament scene right now and look at some players who seem to have some strange choices because they’re caught between different character ideal archetypes.  Fuudo and Luffy have been defensive and poking based players for as long as I’ve been aware of their play yet both of them somehow wound up with R.Mika.  For someone like Fuudo, there may not be a perfect character in the game for him but he makes the most of Mika’s poking game and ability to walk his opponent down and threaten just by being in the area.  He doesn’t gamble like a player like Marn might but he doesn’t need to do that just because he picked her.  He stays within his strengths as a player and makes the choice work out for him.

So for right now until the roster fills out a little bit more, it’s likely you’re going to have to be willing to compromise.  Figure out what’s most important for you as a player, acknowledge what makes you strong and go from there.  If you have to make a switch to get what’s most important to you then it’s time to start planning for that switch.

Training your new characters

If you’ve decided to make a switch or pick up an alternate character and picked out what character you’re going to work on, where do you go from here?  Learning a secondary or alternate character presents different challenges from learning your first character in a brand new game largely because you already have expectations for yourself.

The biggest part is psychological.  If you’re going to pick up a new character and do it effectively you have to get past one simple sentence.  “If I was playing my main I would have won.”  Sounds easy but it’s one of the hardest mental bridges to cross in fighting games.  If you’ve decided to switch characters or add an alternate you know that this is a good decision in the long run.  And you know that you have to push yourself if you’re going to be as effective as you need to be.  But that one simple sentence can get in the way of so much.

A good example of someone getting past that is Justin Wong.  A few weeks ago at Wizard World he went into the event saying that he wasn’t going to pick Karin and he was going to work on his secondary characters.  The moment of truth came in grand finals when he played Arturo Sanchez, who had already beat him convincingly in that tournament in winners bracket.  Would he switch or would he stick with Guile?  Well…see for yourself.

It worked out (smashingly) for Justin in that set but is that cherry picking?  Would he really be willing to go down to the last game and potentially lose the tournament just to improve his alternate characters?  We only have to go back a couple weeks from that to answer that, and the answer is yes.  At Canada Cup he went into that saying he was only going to play Alex and Guile.  He wound up playing K-Brad in grand finals and lost, refusing to go back to Karin even if the decision cost him money and a tournament win in the end.

In Justin’s case he’s playing for the bigger picture, looking at Evo and Capcom Cup.  He wants to have multiple characters tournament ready by then.  Those are the prizes he’s set his eye on and he’s willing to lose smaller tournaments if it’ll give him a better shot at the bigger prizes.  If you’re reading this you’re PROBABLY not making decisions on that level so you have to evaluate your own goals.  With Evo coming up in a few weeks you probably want to be at your best for that event but how about for a weekly?  Are you willing to play an alternate or a new character all the way through at a weekly even if it might cost you a higher placing than you think you could have got with another character?  That’s where the psychological hurdle comes in.  You have to get past the short term and think long term if you want to be truly effective.

Beyond the mental part of the game there are mechanical adjustments to be made as well.  Street Fighter 5 isn’t generally a high execution game but all the characters are different.  The hardest part for me in switching characters is adapting to different anti-air timings and that takes time and repetitions to get past.  Chun-Li anti-airs are all exceptionally user friendly with the anti-air hitbox on her standing LK being gigantic.  Going from that to Vega’s various anti-airs or Bison’s crouching HP feels like a huge downgrade (probably because it is) and takes a lot of getting used to.

You can usually tell someone isn’t confident in a newer character selection because they’ll be randomly deficient in certain fundamentals like anti-airing or poking at specific ranges.  You can tell they’re good players but they don’t do certain things that people who’ve been playing that one character since the beginning have down pat, largely because they’re seeing this new character through the perspective of a character they used to play.  This takes time and grinding to get through but it’s something you have to do if you want to truly master your new character.

Characters to try out

If all else fails and you’re in a deep character crisis and don’t know enough about yourself as a player to pick a character I have a couple of suggestions.  I think Cammy is the best choice.  She may not be one of the top 3 or 4 characters in the game but there are multiple ways to play her in Street Fighter 5 and she’s one of the best characters to teach you about the game at large.  She has strong pokes, a 3f jab, a meterless reversal (one of only 4 in the game as of right now), good damage, and easy bread and butter combos.

But more importantly I recommend Cammy for people stuck in a character crisis because she can help you learn more about yourself.  Play around with her for a couple weeks then watch your replays.  Are you more comfortable playing the poking game and hanging back?  Are you more comfortable rushing down with divekicks?  Have you fallen in love with that 3f jab?  Do you really like pressuring with her plus frame standing LK and crouching jabs?  Once you have the answers to these questions you’ll know what character you want to focus on.  Maybe you like ALL of her tools and the character for you is Cammy herself.

And if all else fails, Ryu is right there.  There’s lots of match footage to look at to get ideas with him since he’s a popular character.  Both Tokido and Daigo are amazing players but they play the character very differently.  Characters with more room for personal expression are always good choices if you find yourself in between characters.  And hey, being top tier doesn’t hurt, am I right?

That’s all for this week.  If you haven’t heard the big news, both Balrog and Ibuki will be released on Friday and both of them WILL be tournament legal at Evo.  So we’ll have full breakdowns on both characters breaking down their game and what to look out for on short notice to make sure you’re prepared for Evo.  See you soon!

Evolution 2011 Marvel Vs Capcom 3 champion, lover of all things pure and innocent.