Fighting Game Expertise: it's Knowledge, not Skill


I think this article is extremely relevant to fighting games. A lot of people seem to think that skill (being psychic/having good yomi) and not knowledge is what makes experts great at fighting games, but ever since my experience in Japan, I have disagreed with that. The Japanese understanding of fighting games (which I now share) is that the player with the most knowledge of the game (especially their character and the character matchup) will win.

The thing is, you can sink 10,000 hours into a fighting game and still not be very good; but that’s if you’re not actually trying to learn anything new or forcing yourself to adjust through stronger opponents. Arcade environments certainly contribute to that knowledge development, but personally, I like to study videos and Japanese strategy guides as a supplement for that since I don’t have as much time as I would like to play at the arcade.

If you’re in an area without an arcade, I think that supplements to deepen your knowledge of the game go from “optional” to “absolutely necessary”. We do get guys out of the woodwork every year who are great at a game, and I guarantee that this is never a coincidence. Of course, with the improvement of online thanks to GGPO, this is another option for those players, but only for older games unless the SF4 netcode is really good.

Anyway, I hope this sways some of your opinions about fighting game skill, especially those of you who are discouraged because you’re not a “natural”. Remember that the 26-year old Daigo played 7 hours a day on average from age 14-18. He was also the first SF4 player with over 10,000 wins on his data card. Justin Wong was “the bully who took everyone’s money at CF after school” before becoming the 5-consecutive-year MVC2 champion. Alex Valle worked at SHGL from age 14.

There is no such thing as a natural! Anybody can win with enough effort.


A lot of good points in the article, nice find. A large portion of street fighter is just getting to know match ups (what to do) and programming that knowledge and execution into your muscle memory (how to do it). Intuition comes last because it is basically making decisions based on past experience. If you don’t have the experience then you are likely making a decision between choices that are less than optimal or among a list of choices that is not complete (i.e. you may not know a certain option exists due to your lack of experience).


Well according to the book “Blink” the subconscious part of your brain (which is god tier at fighting games and at many other things) calculates the situation, and it’s sending you “messages”, in the form of a strong feeling that “you should really do an SRK now” (for example), but when asked about it you can’t really explain why you decided to SRK at that point, you just “felt” like you should.

I guess Daigo has a direct phone line to his subconscious part, so you may call that some sort of “talent”.


Makes sense. So a scrub is someone who sees three tick-throws in a row and goes “Error cannot compute” before BSODing.


Maybe its not so much a direct line with his subconscious. It could very well be a forced outcome in his favor. When I play I try to set up situations which force my opponent to make a decision. Opponent conditioning plays a very large and quiet role in the grand scheme of things.


But there are other factors too, what happen if you don’t have people around you that play when you are very young? Then what? You go find competition?


ahvb plays a large role in owning


Then you won’t be very good at fighting games until you do. I read “Outliers”, which is a fantastic book by the way, and tl; dr version says you need 10,000 hours in anything to have “mastery” in it. This includes fighting games.



It’s a combination of both…

reaction time and dexterity play role … just like knowledge.

I saw a video of daigo stuffing balrog’s dash punch with fierce before I could blink.
Dping Dhalsim’s legs like it was nothing, back dashing with ken then coming in for the low forward super on hard to punish normals.

An old school player posted on here… his name I think was… Jeff schafer(excuse me if I’m wrong) apparently he was one of the best in his day. He mentioned he got tested and his reaction time was .15(or .16 I can’t remember)

and dexterity… solid execution… no mistakes. (guilty gear, marvel,super smash brothers melee(tech skill) insert execution heavy games)

Match ups are important but from what I can see most serious tournament players have vast knowledge of the games they play. There are things that separate us and form our play styles. These aren’t the only factors that make a good player but they are definitely very important ones.

Of course they play a lot but there are lots of people that play a lot… and know a ton about the game but they don’t have “it”


Its both. Cause i can figure out how to beat characters and see through strategies with enough watching and figuring out the nuances.

However, my reflexes are shit and I can’t keep my cool, so it doesn’t really help much in the end regardless. I end up just telling a friend of mine how to and they usually get the job done instead.


A lot of times when it looks like someone has godly reflexes it’s not really about reflexes… some players just “feel” that something is coming and react correctly because they know the game inside-out and recognize situations. The article writes about that and I agree.


Exactly. When you’re expecting a certain thing to happen, it’s less “reacting” and more like a situation you were already trained to look for.

Unless you have a legitimate mental retardation or other handicap that slows your reaction time way below the human average, your reaction time is pretty much irrelevant. I think this is just another excuse or scapegoat people create when they’re trying to explain why they aren’t at Daigo’s or Wong’s level (I remember everyone’s initial explanation for Justin’s MVC2 winnings: “his reactions are just better because he’s so young”).

I think we can agree that both Daigo and Wong are way past the peak of their best and most youthful reaction time. Can you really keep using that as an excuse to explain why they are still winning? Can you say that about Choi, Valle, or Hsien Chang? I know at least two of those three are over 30!


Exactly, soemthing I was thinking to myself, that really all my skill is already maxxed out, and really you need to play alot too get good, but during the school year I never find the time.

Reaction time is irrelevant guy’s…You actually have to look at the situation…most great reactions are just guesses that come from playing alot.



u can have all the knowledge in the world…if u cant execute on that knowledge, its useless

by ur definition, 80yr old martial artists should be the best fighters and athletes in the world…
but no, they get kicked by 30yr olds in their prime quite easily


I agree with this article 100%. Growing up in the Guilty Gear community, I had nearly no competition for 2 ~ 3 years. I just practiced 3-5 hours a day with each character, learning the basic combos and attacks, memorizing the range and watching videos.

When you understand the basics of a game perfectly, there is very little reaction involved when you understand risks. If you stand at range A, only attacks 1 and 2 will hit; 1 hits this angle, 2 hits this angle. 1 beats this, 2 beats that. And just like a switch, every pixel you move, these imaginary lights in your head “blink” on and off.

Or maybe I’m just crazy. :c


You guys dont are taking it too seriously, when I say reaction time is irrelevant, I mean incredible reaction is not needed.


no you are right, when you play things at a competitive level you need to strip away the “game” per se and only pay attention to how the mechanics are going to influence the outcome of what you do


I believe that footsies will ultimately make you decent at any game. They appear to be relevant for any fighting game in existence. Knowing ranges and proper spacing and what options are availbe to your opposition at any give time.

Fubarduck was on Gootecks podcast, and he stated that the Japanese don’t really base things on player skills, but character matchups. Basically you have to have good knowledge of the game before you start the mind games. I think that is really important. It’s very evident in things like chess. someone who reads on the topic know exactly how to counter each situation. It’s the same for fighting games.

However, even if you know the background theory behind a fighting game, you still have to know how to play under pressure. Recongnizing it in a video isn’t going to help you too much. Sure, you’ll see the situation, but your anxiety will take over.

As far as reaction time is concerned, I believe it is important. You do have to be able to think fast in a game like Marvel. However, interactive setups don’t see as important in Marvel as something like say ST. You just know if your opponent is in A or B position, then it’s a high probability that you could combo them. However in games like MVC2, it’s much more important to have “ring presence” than reaction time. Justin Wong or Sanford just have a good feel of the game to the point where they can maximize any opportunity given to them.

I believe the person with the best footsies win the game overall. And footsies do require knowledge of the game. Execution is midly important, but I think it’s overempahisized by a lot of players. Reaction time is a good to have but not need to have type of thing. If the person with better footsies don’t win, then I believe that there is either some glitch, or undocumented tactic that the opposition is using. For example, if the person with good footsies aren’t familiar with something like Valle CC, then they probably will lose, despite the fact tha their footsies were better. However, I still believe it’s the foundation to solid gameplay in any game.


There is a manual dexterity component to fighting game expertise. It differs from game to game, but its definitely there. As others have noted, you can have the knowledge, but without being able to execute it, that knowledge is useless.

I know a variety of setups for Mags’ ROM in MvC2. I cannot pull of ROM to save my life. At my peak, I couldn’t even do simple air combo to Mag Tempest (the kind of combo that was leet back in, say, May 2000) with more than 60% accuracy, far less ROM, and I’ve been playing Mags since May 2000. My hands simply cannot move that fast. It is a barrier to me, one that I can try and get around in a number of other ways but, depending on the game, my poor execution just doesn’t cut it.

I still go by Onaje’s old definition for fighting game “skill”, or expertise in this case: skill = knowledge + dexterity + experience (not the same as knowledge). You need a good combination of all three in order to be the best.


Execution Aid

The problem is, we don’t really focus on improving because-- let’s be honest about this-- who actually cares about anything in this thread to do anything about it? I really would like to know.

Most people would rather play single player against a cheating AI than go into training mode. Most people would rather go on “forums” and argue about theory fighter. But nobody does the homework. I assigned the homework already, trying to start to put some hard numbers behind all this talkety talk and blah blah blah, but nobody did it. All this talk, what, we have a nice article written intelligently about high brow stuff, ok wonderful, but this is being drowned out under threads of “who is the best player? 1) the guy that wins all the games, or 2) your best buddy”.

It takes discipline to sit down during what you perceive to be your game time, and practice Execution/combos, but the payoff is there if you develop the habit. It’s boring at first, especially if you have no clear set of measures laid out.

Nobody really cares though, they’d rather mess around, and just go through the motions. I’ve seen chess players do this a lot too, by simply not spending even 2 minutes reviewing their last game, and just go on to the next blitz 2.5 min clock games- what a waste… playing faster might look cool (esp. to people that don’t even know the rules of the game) but you’re spending so much less time thinking during your games that at some point you just go through the motions-- and that is just not what the game should be about. It ought to be about thinking.

So, for the philosophy majors and basket weavers, carry on, actually this is a great topic of discussion compared to almost anything else on this forum but anyway… [media=youtube]xi_BYZM1LsA[/media] .

Ultima has a good point:

Amen… Execution with a capital “E”.

Actually, Daigo seems to disagree with you on this minor point of footsies breaking into the best of the best. During 2003 I played ST almost every day with Kameraya-san, who, Daigo has said has the best footsie game. In general, I agree that footsies and ranges/proper spacing can often determine the entire match more than just about anything else.