The Art Of Learning Street Fighter 5

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

Welcome to Hit The Ground Running!  The goal of this series is to take you through Street Fighter 5 from pre-release all the way up to Evo 2016.  This is aimed at people who are either looking to get started competing in tournaments, people who want to take their tournament performance to the next level or even towards those who are just looking to get started in the scene.  For the next few months we’re going to go over a lot of beginner and intermediate level Street Fighter concepts with a little advanced stuff thrown in, even if that’s not the primary focus

I was tabbed to write this series because I have a reputation for figuring out games quickly.  I’ve never had good reaction time or strong fundamentals or really a lot of overall skill but I think I’m pretty good at gathering and processing information and really that’s the key to learning new games.

The early game learning process isn’t complicated, it’s something that anyone can do as long as they know where to look.  If I can get good at a game early on with my terrible fundamentals, that means you can too!  So that’s going to be the primary focus of this series, helping people study the information readily available and study their own play in order to patch their weaknesses as quickly as possible.

The elephant in the room

Let’s just get this out of the way right now.  There is a problem with unequal access to the beta going on right now.  There is a hacked beta that exists right now that is more or less functional.  There also may or may not be leaked copies of the full build in circulation.  I’m not going to tell you not to play these if you get access to them (in fact if you have access to a full copy, please invite me over to your house to play), but the hacked beta isn’t necessary if your goal is to compete in early tournaments like Final Round or the rest of the Capcom Cup events.

While it is unfair that some people are playing right now by somewhat nefarious means, at least the early access drama with SF5 isn’t going to be as bad as it was for earlier Capcom games.  Since Capcom let us play the legitimate beta, more people have had early access to SF5 than any other game we’ve had.  Remember that SF4 was initially an arcade release.  If you were an American gamer in late 2008, early 2009 and you didn’t live in New York City, Southern California and a couple of other locations, you were out of luck.  Japan and select American locations had almost a 7 month head start.  By contrast the early advantage in this situation isn’t so bad.  In fact it seems to me that a lot of the people complaining loudest are certain players used to getting early access who were shut out this time around.

There IS an advantage to having access right now, I’m not going to lie to you.  If you watched the Mad Catz V Cup, you could see that some players had clearly been playing more than others.  Even Combo Fiend was sarcastically remarking how “quick” it seemed that LPN was picking up SF5 and he clearly had put in more time.  Whether he and Graham Wolfe had access to the final build or not is irrelevant to me but they definitely had put in more time with SF5 than other people competing that night.

But instead of complaining about it, we should try to deal with it as best as possible.  The attitude I choose to take regarding the hacked version is that all of these players have done a lot of the initial work for me.  They’ve found setups and are using combos that would have taken me some of my own time to come up with.  They’ll have an advantage over me for the first week or two but their work will help me get better faster than I could have on my own.

How do I get started?

On Monday, Capcom announced that the last beta test for the game would take place over this weekend.  For those of us who aren’t using hacked or leaked copies, this will be our last look at the game before the release date on February 16.  So how can we make the most of the time we have with the game?

To start with, winning and losing doesn’t matter.  If you go in trying to beat Infiltration’s win streak record from the third beta, you’re doing this wrong.  The goal is to try and learn as much as you can about the game and to get ready for when the game releases.  As I said above, there’s been a lot of complaining about how Northern California has an unfair advantage since they’ve been playing more than the rest of us have.  So why not use the beta to catch up?

If you’re like me, you probably watched the Mad Catz V Cup as entertainment.  I think you should watch it again and this time I want you to watch it more actively.  While you’re watching the matches keep a notepad window open and just make little notes of things you saw that were really good or things you saw that you think the players could have done better.  I’ll give you some examples.

The most obvious thing that I noticed was how often LPN landed Birdie’s EX bull revenger, the leaping grab.  He had a particular setup he was doing on wakeup with that, getting the opponent to tech roll right into its path.  Is it safe if the opponent jumps out of it?  What happens if the opponent doesn’t immediate tech into it, can they just wait on the ground and punish?  If this is unsafe and it’s a risky setup, what’s the second level of the mixup?  Does EX bull horn or EX bull head look enough like EX bull revenger that the opponent will be tricked, try to jump away and get hit by those?  LPN’s success rate with his setup was so high that I got a little frustrated watching because I couldn’t find those answers out for myself.  Well, now’s my chance to catch up a bit.

There are other things I noticed also.  Graham Wolfe had a lot of success using Vega’s barehanded EX wall dive.  On hit that doesn’t knock down so you can actually combo out of that, which allows you to reset corner position, get out of trouble and get good damage.  It seems like a really strong move.  But I noticed when he played LPN, that LPN was anti-airing it consistently with Birdie low strong and Graham’s gameplan was less effective.  I already know that Birdie has some of the best 1 button anti-air in the game with his low strong.  What can other characters do against Vega’s wall dive?  Can all characters anti-air it reliably, making Graham’s strategy just a day 1 gimmick?  We’ll see.

Or taking this in another direction.  Ricki played the open tournament with Karin and used excellent footsies to advance deep into the bracket.  But she relied almost exclusively on the roundhouse chicken kick as a combo ender.  I didn’t like that, I thought she left a lot of damage on the table by not using the just frame tenko (her EWGF looking move) into a juggle.  But other people were pointing out that Ricki’s ender was getting more corner carry.  Which is better?  I don’t know, but it’s on the list of things to mess around with ths weekend.

These are just a few things that I noticed.  Maybe you saw the same things or maybe you saw other things that you wanted to look at a little bit more.  Maybe you saw something with Snake Eyez’s Zangief or Alex Myers’s Nash that I completely missed.  Getting these answers takes priority over just playing for fun.

Also don’t be afraid to let other people do your homework for you.  Take the example I was using with LPN’s EX bull revenger setup.  Now you COULD set this up in training mode, set the dummy to do the setup and then test all available options.  Or you could just pick Birdie, play some ranked matches, and let your opponents do the work for you.  Just use the setup you’re experimenting with over and over and see what they do.  This is why I say that winning and losing in the beta doesn’t matter.  After a little bit your opponents will start catching on…but that’s the point!  I WANT them to catch on.  I WANT them to know it’s coming.  And I WANT them to counter it as hard as possible and as many different ways as possible.  If they get hit by the set up 5 times in a row I’ll probably win the game but that’s bad for me.  All I’ve learned in that case is that it’s really hard to get out of, but I already knew that.  I’ll still use training mode for optimization purposes.  Like if I figure out that neutral jump is the best option to escape I’ll load up training mode and figure out the best possible punish off a neutral jump.  But I’ll let other people be my idea men and women.

After the beta ends on the 31st, there’ll still be two weeks left to go.  What now?  Again, let’s assume you’re not using the hacked or leaked versions and that you’ll be SF5-less for those two weeks.  There’ll probably be a pretty steady stream of tech videos coming out and you should watch as many of those as possible.  But you can also get a head start on SF5 by getting a little better acquainted with SF4.  Treat SF4 for the next few weeks like it’s a brand new game you’re trying to learn for the first time.

Start with character selection.  For this exercise to work out, it helps to play a character you’ve never studied seriously at any point in the SF4 series.  Since there are 44 characters this shouldn’t be too difficult.  There are a few different lines of thought on who you should pick.  Some people suggest you should work on Ryu since he’s the most fundamental and basic character.  I’ve also heard you should work with Cody because SF5 is a frame trap heavy game and that’s SF4 Cody’s whole game.  Both are fine choices if they’d be new to you.  Both of these are good lines of thought.

My take is that in the end it doesn’t really matter.  You’re not picking a character for the next few weeks to learn that character, you’re picking them just to get yourself in the habit of thinking critically about Street Fighter and the learning process itself.  If you want to pick Ibuki and master all of her vortex setups, even though that’s a part of the game largely missing from SF5, knock yourself out.  You’re probably a horrible person for being interested in Ibuki in the first place but that’s your business, not mine.

But even still, let’s say that character is Ibuki.  Now in order for this exercise to work, you have to actually commit to LEARNING the character, not just picking her for a couple hours and messing around.  A huge part of her game is the vortex semi unblockable/hard-to-block-able setup, so learn that.  There are tutorial videos on youtube and in the character forums on SRK so start there and make sure to get the bread and butter combos leading into the setup down as well.

Now you can start playing!  Except that’s probably not going to go so well for you since this is a new character and all.  What went wrong?  Watch your replays and think critically about the losses.  Why did I lose this match?  Why did I get hit here?  Why did my button lose this exchange cleanly?  What could I have done in this particular instance to make this loss a win?  It might also help to watch top player match videos to see what the pros did in a certain situation that you didn’t do.  While you’re looking those up, look for any kind of additional tech videos for your character.  Does this character have any useful option selects?  Look it up.  In the old days this was hard work.  Nowadays just put in “[character name] option select” on youtube and you’ll probably find something good.

That’s what you’re learning when you do this exercise.  You’re learning to think critically about your play.  You’re learning how to use training mode more efficiently.  You’re learning how to analyze your own matches and take stock of your weaknesses.  You’re looking up information and familiarizing yourself with common information sources.  You’re improving your natural Street Fighter skills, working on footsies and reactions.  The specifics of what you’re doing aren’t important.  It’s the concepts that matter here.

And I can already hear people saying “I’m not going to do this, it’s too much work for no reward, it’s dumb, I hate SF4, I hate [backdashes, vortexes, 3f throws, crouch teching, Elena].  I’m only playing SF5 because it looks like it’s going to be more like [Street Fighter game I liked before] with no [tactic I couldn’t beat]!  Then I’ll put in the work and be a top player!”

This is the attitude you want to avoid.  I’ll blow myself up here for a minute.  I was bad at SF4.  There are a lot of fundamental concepts about SF4 that I never bothered to learn.  Like with Blanka I never really bothered to OS against backdashes.  I always knew I should learn at some point and I knew where to find the videos to teach me how to do it but I never did.  Here’s my inner Scrub Quotes monologue on SF4.  “Oh I don’t really play this game, I play Marvel.  This version’s boring I’ll wait for [AE2012, Ultra, SF5] to come out, then I’ll try harder.  I play bad characters, if I had learned Fei or Akuma I’d still be in the mix in tournaments!”  Blah blah blah.

Does this sound like anyone you know?  Maybe you even see a little bit of yourself in there?  It’s OK, the point isn’t to beat yourself up about not taking SF4 more seriously.  The point is that why would you expect to have a better work ethic for a new game if you’ve never proved to yourself that you can work hard or improve at other games?  Why is SF5 going to be any different?  There’s going to be top tier characters in SF5.  Someone’s going to find some tech that makes you think “this is ridiculous, why does this exist???”  If you can get over that mental hurdle now, even just a little bit, it’s going to make the transition to a new game easier.

Ready?  Let’s get to work.

That’s all for this week, next week we’re going to look at the first 8 characters, Ryu through Necalli, and see how they’ve changed throughout the beta process and what we can learn from the changes

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