There are a lot of reasons players prefer sticks over pads. Probably at the forefront is the intense customization process a player can craft a stick to their every artistic and functional liking (check out our “‘Check out my new arcade stick!’” thread to see some examples. Not only can you use the types of buttons with a certain amount of tension that you like, you can also change the entire “feel” of the stick to match your personal comforts and play style. There’s also a lot more space and flexibility with arcade stick cases, allowing for a lot of custom modifications, such as dual system mods, LED button mods, and others.
Functionally, for all fighting games, they were originally made for arcade sticks, and the mechanics stick true to this. Unlike first-person shooter games which have very specific degrees between up, down, left and right. Fighting games were designed for only 8 directions, up, down, left, right, and the corners between any two. This hold true for all modern fighting game. There are only 8 directions to go. Because of this, a player is at no disadvantage by dumping their analog functionality of having all the possible degrees available.
Because of the arcade legacy, some players, such as myself, cannot play with a pad anymore. After playing on a joystick in an arcade for years, it’s extremely difficult for me to go back to a pad.
The functionality is much easier to use your whole hand as opposed to two thumbs doing most of the work with your index fingers picking up a bit of slack. For QCFs (quarter circle forward?a motion commonly used in almost every fighting game. It’s usually combined with a button press to perform a special attack, such as the classical Hadoken?a fireball that combines a QCF and a punch button. However, by combining a QCF and a punch, :qcf::p:, instead of punching, a character shoots a fireball. A QCF is performed by pressing down, right forward, right when facing right :qcf: when facing left, it is by down, left-down, left :qcb:), I can perform them in a split-second when able to use the full motion of my wrist (sometimes arms in rougher players), something that my thumbs can simply not do. And this is crucial in some combos that QCFs are performed very quickly, as sometimes a move must be done in a split second, or your combo will be broken, giving your opponent a chance to recover.
Button functionality is also a very crucial factor. Sometimes buttons must be combined in order to perform a certain move. While sometimes buttons are easy to combine with you thumb in its natural position (A+X, A+B, Y+X, A+B+Y+X), there are a lot that are not (B+X, A+Y, most combinations of three, B+Y, etc.). In the standard 8-button set-up, you can assign these buttons to the entire top row of the stick, and each of your fingers can press a button, making combinations of buttons easy to pull off. This is, again, a case where combos come into play. The wrists (or arms in some players) can move across buttons much easier than thumbs, allowing you to get that crucial split-second input in time without dropping a combo.
However, one of the major cons is usually the price of these sticks. One of the cheapest commercially produced sticks, the Madcatz Standard Edition fightstick at ~$60, has forgettable quality in its components, and usually break or become unresponsive fairly quickly. Players usually replace it with higher quality parts, but a quality japanese joystick replacement is about $25, and $3 for a pushbutton, $24 for 8. That runs the pricetag up to about $110. This is about the cost of a Madcatz Tournament Edition fightstick, which has the same high-quality parts, but is a huge investment for the casual gamer. Custom-built fightsticks with dual system mods, high quality art printing, plexiglass covers, LED mods, japanese-sytle parts, and custom cases can easily run over $200, even if the owner builds it themselves. Pads are essentially “free,” as the person who owns the console and buys the game already owns a pad. Madcatz fightpads, pads that are shaped for fighting games, run around $30?$40, and work well on most fighting games, and aptly well on Street Fighter, because the layout of the buttons was designed for, and works best with, Street Fighter IV.
Another minor advantage is vibration. Sticks don’t vibrate, some pads do. And while visual cues are much, much more heavy, sometimes a little vibration may give a gamer just the tip they need to pull out a victory. Not all games, however, have vibration programmed into the game, so this is at the least, a slight advantage.
One huge advantage I saw at this year’s Evo (I believe it was by Vangief himself, one of the top 8 players) was the “walking 720,” something a stick can’t possibly ever do. By this, I mean, that he was able to perform a 720º motion (like this?:360::360:) on one stick, a crucial input much like the QCF, but it is necessary for a heavy-damage dealing ultra move. Now, all players on a stick would have to stand still in the time it takes to make this motion. However, because a pad has multiple sticks, he was able to hold one stick forward, while also making the 720 motion on the other stick. Because he was walking forward, no player was expecting him to be able to perform this devastating attack because he was walking forward. No player on a stick would be able to walk forward while inputting a 720, because their character would move a little bit backwards. However, because they weren’t expecting such a thing, he was able to surprise them with the move and catch them off guard to deal serious damage and turn the tide in his favor, or even provide the finishing blow for a match.
Hope you can link us to it when you’re finished, I’d love to give it a read!