The importance of Controlling a Match

I’ve been watching March Madness and seeing Butler in the Finals has gotten me thinking about how they’ve been able to win, especially against powerhouse teams that were supposedly better.

The game commentary today really helped put things into perspective for me. Butler wins because they make other teams play their game. The same idea applies in chess, boxing, Starcraft, and most importantly to us, fighting games.

The idea is that everyone who competes has a strategy set in place. At least, at a higher level of performance, you’re hard pressed to find someone that doesn’t have an initial game plan.

Starcraft players have a beginning build order, Students all take tests according to their strengths, Chess players will make their strategy depending on their opening move. In fighting games, you learn a matchup, and then you know the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent’s character. No matter who your opponent is, you have a basic strategy in mind because you know how to fight their character in general.

This is where Match Control comes into play: Match control should appear to be very dynamic when two professionals or advanced players are playing. Each character pushes a little bit and their opponent pushes back. The control of the match might shift frequently. As long as a player has a good strategy and a few fallback plans, he has a chance. Of course, the important part of having strategy is sticking to it.

This brings me back to my point with Butler. Butler isn’t renowned for its specialties. It’s not the best defensive team, it’s not the best offensive team. As far as their gameplan goes, they have a basic strategy, and they enforce it for the full duration of the game: Make the opponent play basketball to our advantage. They control the flow of the game, and this really throws powerhouses off balance. Humans are creatures of habit. We like to stick to our plans. If we’re thrown out of this element and we’re forced to make tough decisions impromptu, we’re more likely to make mistakes.

In fighting games, we saw this last Evo: Justin vs. Daigo, the most cliche, but suitable example. Justin and Daigo had fights against each other leading up to Evo 2k9. Justin was maining Rufus for those fights, and he also played Abel. Daigo knew the Rufus matchup inside and out, and he knew Abel really well too. He was very well prepared to face Justin at Evo. Justin was close to being eliminated, Daigo was in control of the matches, so Justin had to make a gamble. Justin chose Boxer. Now, this may or may not have been Justin’s plan from the beginning. Seeing how well Justin played Boxer, I think he had this character change in mind this whole time. Justin’s character change gave him control of the match, and Daigo was forced to play with a different game plan.

Now, let me say next, that choosing a different character during a tournament is a two edged sword, your opponent might be taken out of his game, or you might, so if you are going to change characters, have your new strategy in mind before you commit.

Ultimately, Justin did lose, but only because he lost his momentum. Daigo regained control, just like in his match against AfroLegends.

Starting at :40

Afro was playing a near perfect game. What happened? Daigo’s Ume-shoryu shifted the momentum. Have you ever gotten so sure you would win a round, that you would start planning for the next one, just as your opponent lands the one combo that turns everything around? Then you’re stuck trying to pick up the round you thought you won, just as your opponent steals it away from you. Not only is that devastating immediately, but the mental shock that comes with knowing your opponent just stole a match that should have been yours is awful. It becomes this nagging voice in the back of your head that keeps you from committing to the strategy that you were going to use.

This match illustrates a very important concept:
Match control does not always depend on character health.

Sometimes it does, as you have to fight the clock as well. Your opponent may control the match by turtling and waiting for you to meet them.

However, when time isn’t an issue, even the player with less health has the potential to set pace. Consider Justin vs. Yipes.


Justin had about 1/3 of the health Yipes had. For all intents and purposes, Justin was done for that match. What happened though? Justin shifted momentum and took control. Yipes played co-pilot as Justin drove to a win. What’s most interesting though, is that Yipes could have won. Even after Justin defeated Magneto and Storm, Yipes had the chance to beat Justin at 1:12-1:15. If Yipes had followed up with Butterflies, that would have been game. He didn’t though. Why? Yipes was out of his game, and he messed up. Justin had placed himself in such great control that Yipes began making basic mistakes. What’s even better, is that Justin beat Yipes entire team with a strategy that consisted of block, punish, block, hit-confirm, super punish.

That brings my next point:
Sometimes you can win with a basic strategy, but unless you see it out, you’ll never know.

I could have cited David Sirlin’s story about playing in an Alpha tourney as Rose, and using the same attack over and over again, but the Justin video is more hype.

To close this article, I want to analyze Justin vs. Daigo in Evo 2k4. As some of you might call it, “Evo Moment #34” or “Rare footage of Daigo actually angry.”


As the video starts, you see Daigo with less health, but with aggressive control of the match. Justin manages to hit him one last time, and then back off. This seems to have put the final nail in Justin’s coffin. Justin figured he could tick Daigo into defeat. He thought he could make Daigo panic and screw up his timing.

What scares me the most about Daigo, is how he maintains control when the normal player would surely ruin himself. Notice that Daigo changes the pace when Justin backs off. Up until that point, Justin had been trying to avoid Daigo, but Daigo pursued him. After taking off that last sliver of health, Justin backed off, and Daigo chose not to pursue. Instead, Daigo backed off and waited for Justin to make the next move. While Justin had an ADVANTAGE, Daigo still had CONTROL. Daigo wanted Justin to throw the super, and Justin did. If Justin had control, he would have waited. He would have backed off and just chilled as Daigo watched the clock and became desperate.

Here’s where some of you cry, “But Justin made a good decision! It’s crazy that Daigo was able to compose himself and intentionally full parry that super! Justin just got unlucky.” To that I say, it’s possible to make good decisions while out of control. For example, say you are driving a car and you begin to slide on an icy surface. You have just lost control of your car. Now, a good decision would be to continue trying to look and steer in the direction you want to go, but in the end, until you regain control of the car, you are still at the mercy of another force. The same situation applies.

Justin could have done two backdashes and essentially robbed Daigo of all of his momentum. In Street Fighter, when two characters of equal health have the same momentum, they are equal. When one character has a health advantage and the momentum is equal, then control belongs to that player. Daigo had less health, but he had control of the match, and Justin played exactly how Daigo wanted him to. It was risky, sure, but Daigo still controlled exactly where that match went.

This brings me to my last point for now:
You control the match when you choose when to change things up. Your opponent controls the match when he forces you to change things up.

I have more to write, but if this article isn’t worthwhile, or if it outright sucks, then my thoughts on the issue are kind of pointless. I would appreciate any feedback you have to give, and if you think it is worth it, nominate it. I spent a while thinking about this, and ultimately it’s one thing that I think I can contribute to the community.

no imo you’ve done well, it’s the type of article that casual/non players should read to understand fighting games on a particular level

Meh, the casual logic is easier: The more they lose, the more the game sucks.

This really does make a lot of sense, nominated for article.:tup:

so true

That last sentence was the best.
Great thoughts and it made me think about it too.

thumbs up!

Haha, I’m so glad I’m not casual anymore then. Otherwise, I would be under the impression that Super Turbo is the worst game ever.