Playing the Player vs Playing the Character


I wanted to know what you think is more important playing the player as in reads, predictions on their play style or even just straight studying them. For example I think this was best illustrated in the Infiltration vs Diago match where I think that Infiltration had studied and analyzed Diago to his last frame and therefore was able to shut him down completely. At one point of the match it looked as the Diago couldn’t even move as Infiltration was countering every move. On the opposite end there is the mentality of not caring about who the opponent is and simply fighting the character and trusting in your match up knowledge.

Videos for reference:
Playing the player

Playing the character by Jeff Schaeffer

Obviously both are fundamentals that should be learnt but which do you think is more important?


Knowing the character first is the most important. If you don’t even know what the matchup is, you can easily get steam rolled or caught off guard. After knowing the character matchup ins and outs, that’s when knowing the player matters. Because you know a player is like this and what options their character has, you can start predicting and wait for chances to arise. Watch the opponents tendencies and bait them out to make mistakes BECAUSE you know them and how they play.


playing the character is a more fundamental skill


You wrote Diago 3 times.


The answer…like most answers in life…is a combination of both. Think about it. What does “learning the matchup” mean? It means learning to defeat the character on your screen. That means understanding the strategies that both you and your opposing character will be trying to use, which pokes they will favor, how to counter those pokes, which jump attacks they will use, which anti-airs you will use to beat those jump attacks, what moves are safe or unsafe, etc etc. That is the definition of learning how to defeat the character.

That’s step one. That’s ALWAYS step one. Use the mechanics of the game engine to defeat your opponent without even trying to commit to risks such as being caught in 50/50 mixups or being forced to make a read. You beat them using sheer fundamentals, which puts much less stress on you as a player when you have a solid gameplan and you commit to it.

Now combine that with the tendencies and definitive play style that your opposing PLAYER will use. Do they play reckless and aggressive? Safe and conservative? Do they favor going for a mix-up intensive style? Do they lame out and use basic zoning and spacing to defeat you? Now you factor in the player during your matchup, and now you’ve swung the match even more to your favor. This is what enables player to win seemingly impossible matchups and defy what conventional tier lists would say. This is also largely why tier lists should be taken with a grain of salt, because there is absolutely no such thing as two players or completely equal skill. You cannot factor in the human element.

If you want examples. Analyse a match of Mike Watson vs. that of Alex Valle. Watson is known for using his strong sense of fundamentals to beat you. He doesn’t really care what your tendencies are, because he’ll beat you with the basics. He doesn’t have to rely on mix-ups to land damage, he’ll attack when he’s advantageous, back off when he’s disadvantageous, and he’ll let the clock finish you off. Valle is known to be a very moment-by-moment player that has a high understanding of how player psychology factors into his matches. This is why it seems like he has a very unorthodox and random style of play. He combines solid fundamentals with his ability to read his opponents, and he’ll punish them for it. What seems like a random move is actually performed to specifically beat his opponent for that specific match, but that very same matchup he’ll handle differently if he plays another person.


For me, importance is half knowing the character and half being able to ascertain how the player is going to come at you.

In terms of learning the character, there is only so much that they can do within that character’s mechanics and abilities. All of it is learnable, and it is important to learn the ins and outs of the fundamentals of said characters. Regarding HOW a player uses those mechanics though, is something you have to learn in the moment. Everyone is going to play different to at least a slight degree, so no matter how well you think you know a character, you still need to be able to know how a human will utilize the character. Now there are some obvious assumptions, like how a good player isn’t going to play Zangief like a rushdown. But there are also some more broad and helpful ones, like how you probably shouldn’t try to grab-spam him on wakeup.

Usually you’re going to have a certain way you play footsies, no matter who you match up against. It’s when you have to change your game up in the moment that makes you a better player.


you need to know how to play the character but at the highest level of play, when both players are masters of their character and can execute anything they want at will, the gameplay will boil down to playing the player.

I don’t agree with Jeff Schaeffer’s mindset in those videos - you can’t react to everything, and if you decide not to make reads because the opponent could decide to do something else (as he states), then you’re going to be taken advantage of. You need to make reads to keep people honest and to turn the tide of a match…I feel like his mentality would work in simpler games such as SF2 where in many situations, there are only a couple of options for the opponent and so there aren’t many things to look out for. In “anime” games or even SF4 and especially SF3 3S, his mentality just won’t work.


Both, not even a question, you need to be playing the player aswell knowing the character. Common sense please.


Playing against the character.

There’s a finite number of characters. There’s hundreds of potential players you can face at an event.

The character will always have the same faults, same strengths, same tools, same options.

The player can learn or switch it up at any point. You might be able to exploit his weakness or tendencies in one game and then as soon as the next game have to be playing a new him and relearn. That is not something you can rely on, especially in high level play when the strength of these players is their ability to adapt and minimize holes/faults.


This topic reminds me of this topic.


It’s basically a summation of my opinion previously listed. It’s far stronger to learn to dominate your matchups based on character and game knowledge alone, and only relying on making good reads based on your opponent’s tendencies when you have to in order to win.


You have to learn to play against the character first before you can learn to play against the player.


Haha fail on my part.


How about play the game ?

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I’d say a mix of the two is important, with at least having a rough idea of what each character wants to be doing and the range they want to keep being absolutely essential before all else so the character does take some priority just for being the base to build off, although I would say playing the player could be more transferable between games.


You are playing a player using a character. You are not playing a character.

When the guy you are playing against picks T.Hawk, loses, and then switches to Blanka, you are not playing T. Hawk and then Blanka. First you are playing your opponent as he uses T. Hawk, then you must contend with his new strategies as he uses Blanka. You are playing the same guy, but you must adapt to him as he tries to change his strategy and mix you up.

MINDGAMES are the foundation of everything. Even at the low level, mindgames come out on top. This is the most important lesson I’ve ever been taught when it comes to fighting games.


In my view, Playing the Player is the final step in street fighter achievement. So its not a question of one vs the other. It’s a question of how you use those skill sets against your opponent.

Here is my view of how you progress as a player:

  1. Execution - ability to perform moves and combos
  2. Knowledge - on game mechanics, moves, match-ups (Playing the character)
  3. Adaptation - tailoring to your opponent’s ability and tendencies (Playing the player)

So to use one concept without reference to the other is moot. As players progress, they advance in each skill set, to varying degrees. But note, skills 1 and 2 - Execution and Knowledge are the easiest to maximize. Skill set 3: Adaptation has a limitation, which is the time constraint. If you can only play your opponent for ONE round or ONE match. You can advance skill set 3 with more experience, PSN, XBL, arcades, but you still limited by your familiarity with an opponent. Skills 1 and 2 are limited by only your motivation, which for some, can be unlimited or infinite. I’m looking at Vangief. :wink:

As a Zangief player, if I know I can defeat my opponent with just “lariat” why would I need to use anything else? Similarly, if I know they can’t full punish, taking 300 to 400 as they are “supposed to” as dictated by the match-up or frame data, then suddenly, the impossible happens. But does that make me a better player? No! I might become complacent by the illusion that I’m good, when my opponent is just bad. If you play against weaker players, your game becomes weaker. And if you always play the same opponent(s), your 3rd skill set, adaptability decreases.


This is pretty much what I was going to say. You need to know what the character is capable of as well as what the person playing them is capable of.
A newbie playing Akuma isn’t as deadly as a pro playing Dan.