Fundamental Skill Areas where Players Excel


After a long discussion with a friend of mine about what the best way to effectively train a beginner in a fighting game is, we ended up identifying 9 fundamental areas of skill where players excel. Some areas can be developed by practice easily, other only come through lots of dedicated work. I figured I’d share this since some people were interested.

** Reaction**
** Observation**
** Spacing**
** Execution**
** Punishment**
** Originality**
** Rhythm**
** Experience**

I’m trying to avoid being general and vague as much as possible. I’d also like to point out that this was developed in reference to 3-D fighting games, but I still believe it applies to 2-D fighting games.

Concentration is the ability to stay focused within a match. It’s the ability to play regardless of external distractions, as well as the ability to utilize one’s knowledge and technical within a match. When two equally skilled players are playing against each other the one who’s concentration breaks first will almost always be the first to lose. Sometimes concentration can break due to a strange set-up, an untimely whiff, or some kind of activity from spectators.

Concentration is absolutely essential within a tournament environment. Talented players often fail to perform well at tournaments, because they haven’t developed the level of concentration needed to get them through matches. Some players can get distracted by their opponent’s friends cheering them in the background. Or they might be distracted by hecklers. It could even be they are playing a well-known player and aren’t used to a large crowd. Regardless, without the ability to stay focused on what the opponent is doing in the match a player will not go far until they improve their concentration.

Reaction is the ability to quickly respond to an opponents moves, particularly their mid-low mix-ups. The average player can defend against a 27 frame mid-low mix-up on reaction. Someone with high level reaction can defend against 20-23 frame mid low mix-ups on reaction. (Note: some of my friends and I are able to do this, but other friends can’t do it at all.)

The ability to react against a move is not something that occurs in a vacuum. How well a player can react to a move depends on their familiarity with the visual cues of a move. Moves that have very distinguished visual cues are easier to react against. If the initial frames of a move’s animation are unique many players will be able to respond to a move. Kunimitsu’s ss3+4 in TTT is a 16 frame move, which should make it impossible to react to, in theory. Yet virtually all players can block it on reaction due to the sidestepping animation that proceeds it. Likewise, slower moves that may appear similar to other moves start up frames may be harder to defend against. Other moves have auditory cues that players consciously or unconsciously react to.

Players with high level of reaction ability do not have to guess as often as those with average to low level reaction ability. Reaction is one of the most difficult skills to train.

Observation is the ability to identify set-ups, simple patterns and recognize player mannerisms and habits. Players with high level observation skill often have an eye for detail. What strikes average players as minutia, strikes people with good observation as important details. High level observation ability allows people to identify patterns and determine what move is coming next. Not to be confused with experience or rhythm.

High level observation skills allow players to overcome unorthodox players with high originality. Observation is more of an inherent tendency than a skill which can be developed, but it can be trained.

Spacing is the understanding the range and hit boxes of a characters moves, as well as a characters various option at certain ranges relative to the opponent. Players with good spacing only use moves at their optimum range, whiff punish often and only miss when their opponent jumps/sidesteps/backdashes or performs another evasive movement.

Players with terrible spacing throw moves out at ranges where they can’t hit. They whiff moves without their opponent even evading and leave themselves very vulnerable to whiff punishing. This is not to be confused with a skilled player who throws out a move that recovers quickly in an attempt to bait the opponent.

Having a sense of a hit-boxes shape, and angle also contributes towards one’s understanding of spacing. Spacing also encompasses the geometry of projectiles, particularly in Versus games. Understanding a character’s offensive and defensive options and how they change from range 0 to full screen is a product of spacing.

There is no substitute for good spacing. It can be a big factor between two otherwise equally skilled opponents. Fortunately spacing is something that can be developed with practice with minimal difficulty.

Execution (or Technique) is the ability to consistently perform combos or movements that require strict timing and which often involve long and/or complex inputs. Players with high level execution are able to perform “just frame” moves consistently, and pull off long, high-end combos with little or no error. High level execution is largely a matter of manual dexterity.

Consistency is the key factor in determining a players execution. While many players are able to perform complex combos, many are not able to perform them reliably against an opponent. Players with high level execution are much less concerned with dropping combos than other players are.

While execution comes easier to some than others, it’s also a skill that can be developed very well with practice.

Punishment is the ability to consistently capitalize on another players mistakes, whether it be a whiffed move, blocked combo, or dropped combo. Though partially a product of reaction and experience, some players are far more proficient at punishing minor mistakes than others. Good punishment ability it determined by how consistently a player is able to punish mistakes. Thus more opportunistic players will reap the benefits from punishing moves that have small risk associated with them, or more consistently punishing moves with larger risk. In some instances, high level reaction is required to punish a move.

Virtually all players who excel at punishment have high concentration ability, but the reverse isn’t always true. There are plenty of players able to maintain their focus on a match who don’t punish moves as often as they should.

Originality is simply uncommon responses to common situations. Originality is reflected in movement, combos, and various set-ups. Players with high levels of originality tend to play their character in a very unorthodox manner. Or players with high originality often use combos and set-ups that are unique or rarely seen.

Original players can often go online and view match videos and see that either their combos, or tactics are not used by other players using the same characters. Or they can attend tournaments, find success, and see droves of players copying their tactics/combos. Often the best combo videos online are produced by players with high levels of originality.

Originality runs counter to experience. Player with highly distinctive play styles are often able to overwhelm experienced players who are used to a particular character only being played one way. Originality is also the ability to come up with creative responses to an opponent within a match. Thus a player with a high level of originality may be able to develop a strange set-up on the fly, or a distinctive counter to an unfamiliar tactic.

A sense of playfulness, is one of the most important elements of originality. Playfulness allows a player to be willing to experiment.

Players who are original in their tactics, may not necessarily be original in their move selection, or their combos. Some are original in all areas, and those players are difficult to overwhelm. However originality can be overcome by a player with a good sense of rhythm.

Rhythm is the ability to recognize an opponents sense of timing and flow. It is often misunderstood and lost under the blanket term of ‘adaptability’ but it is far more specific than that. Each player has their own rhythm, which is largely predicated by the moves they use.

Often players will get crushed in a match an not understand why. Their opponent will suddenly start hitting them with flashy, and often unsafe moves, and they will connect seemingly out of now where. This is because the opponent has discovered their rhythm. They may not understand exactly what move is coming next(pattern), but they understand when the next move is coming(rhythm). Players have an easy time consciously changing their pattern, but often have a difficult time consciously changing their rhythm. Predictable patterns make it easy for players to pick up rhythms.

In 3-D games, experienced players, whether novice or expert can have difficult with complete beginners who mash buttons. This is because a player who is randomly button mashing without any sense of what they are doing, has no set rhythm, and they cannot be read or anticipated. It’s one frantic, annoying, unpredictable tempo, which can force even the best players to fall back to blocking and punishing.

Players with a great sense of rhythm are adept at delaying and pausing to throw off their opponents timing. In addition to picking up their opponents rhythm, they are able to consciously change their own rhythm.

Experience is knowledge gained through gameplay. Experience can be knowledge of set-ups, tactics, combos, character properties, match-ups, strengths, and weaknesses. Players who have played a wide variety of human opponents, or who have consistently played a smaller variety of highly skilled opponents tend to be more experienced.

Most players gain experience through tournaments, and/or online. However there are players who are able to study their character in training mode without human competition and still develop highly effective tactics. Experience allows a player to effectively deal with familiar tactics that a less experienced player may be incapable of dealing with on the fly.

Knowledge of match-ups is a huge part of experience. Some players might be intimately familiar with popular characters, but be unfamiliar with an unpopular character. Lack of experience against an unfamiliar characters can be quickly lead to defeat in many cases. This is largely do to the fact that players who use unpopular characters can quickly develop experience against more popular characters, but the reverse isn’t true.

Experience is staple for all skilled players but it is not the same as skill. A more experienced player does not necessarily possess better execution, faster reaction, more originality, or any of the other skills mentioned.

Of all skills, it is the easiest and most fundamental to develop. Experience can be gained through both interaction and observation.

Originally my friend and I wanted to develop a rating system, allowing a player to rate themselves in each category from a 1 to a 7. The problem was that certain skills such as were too difficult to quantify in a simplistic easily understood manner. While players who’ve attended a lot of tourneys and had a lot of competition probably have a great understanding of how good their skill are relative to others, people who lack experience probably aren’t able to make an honest assessment.

I was hoping some folks on SRK could help me to come up with a way to develop a rating system for each of the nine areas. Even if you’re not interested in giving input, thanks for taking this time to read this huge post.


Most of that stuff you don’t actively practice, most of it comes with experience and is experience.


Would you care to elaborate on that?



Usually gained by going out to tournaments and events. The more tournaments you go to the better your concentration usually gets. Something you just can’t get from going online or practice mode. Can really only be forged by tournament nerves or if something is on the line. Usually the more experience you have in the environment, the better you can concentrate.

You can actively train reaction no problem there but experience plays a part in that too however since usually the more you play you begin to notice certain things and learn to react to it on the fly but that runs into…

Something that grows as long as the player plays. While you learn to play (and I mean actually playing the game and not scrubbing around) you begin to notice things a lot more than you would if you were just starting out. You start to see different plays styles, pattern and things of that nature. You can read up on it sure, but being able to pick up on it during a match only really comes from playing and gaining experience.

This is a hard one but I will say you can’t gain this by going into practice mode.

Something you can get in the lab to work on but as you grow as a player things get easier if you try to learn different games or characters.

Same as execution and reaction but it can go into observation.

I think this is completely an innate skill. Marlin Pie for example is a good example of an original player as he comes up with his on tech, combos, etc. (for the most part anyways). Aris, the Tekken player, has gone out and said that he really isn’t good with stuff like that. I think as you grow it can get better but only so much depending on the player.

I think this also goes into observation which goes into experience. Just something that develops as you play and gain knowledge.

So that’s what I think anyways.


I think you can train spacing in training mode. You can record the dummy using a particular normal or inputting a setup so you can see the spacing it leaves the opponent at and the options they have at that range. That can help you with getting down a persons “rhythm” because if you know the options they have at certain ranges and after certain moves/setups you can note what they like to go for or take a educated guess on what they might be trying to set up further down the line. I actually think it’s one of the easier things you can work on.


Too many factors in spacing to just go into training mode to practice imo.


Holy shit. I recently came up with something like this, and it’s a very similar list.

Movement - how well you can maneuver your character/have control of where they are
Positioning - how well you can keep an opponent at a certain distance/range
Precision - reactions and execution
Vulnerability Recognition - when you can sense where people crack and capitalize on them being afraid to make a decision or make a wrong decision
Game Knowledge - how much of the game you know (your tools available, your opponents tools, what can punish, what has priority, etc)
Pattern recognition and creation - how well you can identify patterns of yourself and the opponent and how you can create them
Resource management - how well you can utilize your meter and life
Nerve control - how well you can control yourself under any kind of pressure


Thanks for replying MikeBreezy. Reading your post, I think you might be the type of player who relies on intuition more than most. That is to say, when you’re playing, a lot of things you’re able to learn unconsciously. I think being able to do that is great, but not every is capable of doing things so intuitively.

I think spacing is something that people can easily practice in training mode. Whether you have a background in 2-D fighting games, and you know how to measure distance in terms of character lengths, or whether you simply know the max range of your light attacks, and heavy attacks practicing spacing is straightforward. All you have to do is get to range 0, then slowly back up up and see what moves connect. I know a lot of people don’t do that, but it’s easy enough to practice. Just as a lot of people don’t take into consideration the knockdown properties of certain moves. The pushback for a fireball on hit will often knock an opponent out of range for other footsies if done at range 0.

You can go into practice mode, and throw your opponent, and look how far away the throw leaves your opponent. Some throws that leave opponents close make for a perfect cross-up attempt(depending on the game), others leave them too far away. When I first played SFA2 I used to always go for the RH Hurricane Kick with Ryu, because I thought I was doing more damage. Then when I was messing around in training mode, I noticed the medium hurricane kick didn’t knock the opponent as far away and put me in a better position to go for wakes and apply pressure.

Without experience I wouldn’t have understood the importance of the knockback distance of the move, but it can none the less be practiced in training mode. That’s what I mean when I say spacing can be trained.

I agree that a large portion of what I described can be gained through collective experience, but I don’t think describing each category as “experience” is accurate. I’ve observed tournament level players, and they’ve shown vastly different levels in terms of punishment and observation. The ability to identify patterns is one thing, but punishing them consistently is a different story entirely. In general turtle players are able to punish more consistently than rushdown/pitbull players, even if both of them can pick up patterns the same way.

Rhythm isn’t something I can lump together with observation either. Maybe the term ‘observation’ by itself is misleading. The more I play, and the more I see people play, the more of a difference I see between players knowing what move is coming(pattern), and when the move is coming(rhythm). The ability to throw in delays and feints, and knowing when to expect them is different from expecting a move. Even though rhythm is an important aspect of all fighting games, it’s more essential to the gameplay of the Soul series, and the DOA series.

I agree with you on originality not being something that can be taught. Experience can show us set-ups, but originality is how we develop our own. Some people have it, and some people don’t.

Thanks again for contributing.

HyperViberBeam your list is similiar to mine. I’d probably say that your list is more specifically applicable to 2-D fighting games.

Movement - Part of movement is execution(being able to perform the movements consistently) and part of movement is spacing(knowing where to move to). When I say movement is execution, I’m thinking of MvC2 style wave dashing, Korean Backdash Canceling, and Tekken Style Wave Dash, and Snake Step. Knowing when you need to move in and out of position is a matter of experience.
Positioning - Falls under the category of spacing.
Precision - A combination of reaction and execution, yeah, you got that right. Precision would be the ability to DP Claw on reaction in ST. It takes a high level of reaction, and a low level of execution, but it takes a combination of the two.
Vulnerability Recognition - This sounds a little like punishment, but more like the ability to apply pressure. I think how much pressure you can put on your opponent depends largely on how good the character you select is able to apply those mix-ups. It’s easier to force a guessing game when your character has the tools to do so.
Game Knowledge - Essentially what I described as experience, but yours is broader.
Pattern recognition and creation - I think finding patterns, and coming up with your own are two separate skills.
Resource management - I think meter management is game dependent. Meter management is only a factor in 2-D games and in Bloody Roar. It’s 100% legitimate, but it’s not universal.
Nerve control - Basically what I called concentration.

Seems like you were thinking about the same stuff, but only with 2-D games.


For resource management, that’s not only your meter. Your life counts too, because sometimes you have to consider the option of eating damage to reset the position.

For pattern recog, I dunno, I just figure if someone is good enough to notice what’s going on in defense consistently, why wouldn’t they know how to put on offense? It’s still just being able to think about that stuff mid match either way

For vulner, yeah it’s the ability to apply pressure, but I don’t mean literal in game pressure. I mean things like feeling when someone is desperate or knowing when the opponent thinks no options are available. And desperation doesn’t have to be random ultra or whatever, there are other little subtleties that can give it away throughout a match.

I said movement and positioning were different because if you have great positioning but bad movement, you can still be really good. That’s basically ST Sagat’s entire game (ignoring O Sagat because he’s too good). He has no real good footsies (footsies being more a part of movement than spacing because the main thing is to move in your range and out of their range). Or John Choi. I mean, he has really good footsies, probably some of the best around, but I don’t think he’s nearly the best when you look at the other top players. But he excels in positioning, and that works just as well. Or Fchamps Sim vs Arturo’s. I think FChamp has a much more mobile Dhalsim which opens up new opportunities to him that Arturo doesn’t have. There’s a difference in the two that I’m having trouble articulating, but I know it’s there. Like the difference between ST and MvC2. MvC2 focuses more on movement, but ST focuses more on spacing, but they both matter in both games. Also, yeah I agree that part of movement is execution, but so is everything, they aren’t all interdependent.

I’m not trying to say I’m right or you’re right, just kind of elaborating on your comments on my list.


Needs to add:

Composure: i.e. how well a player plays under pressure. For example, you have players like Fanatiq who actually thrive under pressure and do better in FT15 money matches than in tournaments.


Example please. I can’t think of any situation off the top of my head in a game where I’m willing to take damage and give myself frame disadvantage, except maybe with Gief in a few games. That’s why I say your list applies more to 2-D games than mine, because you never want to willingly take damage in 3-D fighting games.

I’m not really analyzing things in terms of right and wrong either . I’m just examining your list with the purpose of improving mine. It’s interesting because people describe similar things in different ways. For example you said you think that footsies is more movement than spacing because of the nature of moving into and out of range. However when I think of spacing I think of moving into and out of range being a function of spacing. Movement would be more like wave-dashing, backdashing, air jumping, and low jumping into and out of range well. My overall goal is to come up with a language that covers everything, even if everyone doesn’t agree on the specifics. Your list was very helpful.

Dev…I want to change my language to fit composure into concentration. The problem is being absolutely technical, they aren’t necessarily the same thing. I can argue that a person with strong concentration skills is highly composed, but a person who is composed isn’t exactly concentrating.

On a side note, I do pretty well in money matches. But rarely give re-matches and people complain. I don’t ask for them either. However I’ve learned that people play differently depending on the amount of money on the line. I’ve learned that you can actually psyche people out by upping the ante. A guy wanted to do a money match with me at a Final Round for $10 dollars. He was pretty confident. When I asked him to up the ante to $100 or I wasn’t interested, he got nervous. We played, and he lost. He beat me in a rematch for $10, but cracked in the next match for $30.


In ST:you have less hitstun on hit than on block, so sometimes it’s actually better to get hit with a jump in attack to change the timing of the tick throw (ie you grab them earlier because you recover faster). E Honda vs projectiles, you HAVE to eat a lot of anti air butt sweeps to your butt slams and fireballs to your hands/jumps to get in. You have to sometimes ‘randomly’ go for the headbutt because E Honda is incredibly good on wakeup. Also, E Honda’s super isn’t safe on the 2nd hit (he does two headbutts, and you can reversal in between them). Sometimes, I blow the super for one fireball just to get closer, because I’m fine with losing a little bit of life to get up close and actually ‘start’ the game.

In SF4, sometimes its better to backdash and eat the jump in attack in to avoid a vortex like Cammy or Akuma. Of course, there are technically counters to this, but you can get away with it if spared correctly.

In SF3, when facing Yun, you will get hit by a Genei Jin combo no matter what. You can get lucky and avoid, but it’s the best to sit there and block low because he wastes time when he command grabs and overheads cant combo (and are easier to see). You are basically trading away the lowest amount of life that you can.

Sometimes, it’s better to guess the cross up and keep your super than using meter to get out.

I don’t mean it as in you should just randomly get hit just because. It’s willing to take the risk of being hit in light of a larger goal. Kind of like with meter, ideally you’d never use it, but sometimes just willing to give it up to change something is an option.

Also, yeah I guess this wouldn’t apply as well to 3D games. Though IIRC, Soul Calibur now has meter. I’m not well versed in anything 3D, but perhaps taking a sweep is worth not being near the wall/edge? Or getting hit with a single attack while rolling in a direction is better than standing up and blocking the incoming pressure?

Good stuff with the money match stuff, lol. There’s some vulnerability recognition right there.