Zoning With Normals

It seems like a lot of what I hear about footsies is often summarized as ‘zoning with normals’, or jockeying for a good position using normals. This is how I heard John Choi define it during that one sitdown with Seth Killian, for example.

But how exactly does one use their normals to either land a hit or get into an advantageous position?

Right now I’m assuming that this comes down mostly to asking yourself: what is he trying to do, and what is he going to try to do, how can I stop him from doing that? If your opponent’s walking you down and controlling space that way, then you can stop him by sticking out a normal and making him hesitant to walk into that space. If your opponent’s walking backwards to whiff punish that attempt thinking that you’re trying to stop him from walking forward, you can just not do anything and take the space or continue to walk him down or maybe even hit his whiff punish attempt. But obviously if you’re not doing anything or walking forward to get into an advantageous position then your susceptible to walking right into your opponent’s foot just like you were doing at the start. I would also think that this comes down to knowing the ‘right’ normal for the situation too- obviously certain normals that are longer and slower might be better to keep your opponent from walking forward or might have a better hitbox for specific situations and spacing and characters, but I don’t really know much about this kind of decision making.

I feel like this understanding is really basic right now and just want somebody to tell me where I’m wrong, how footsies goes further than this, if this even is footsies, etc. I also think this must get a lot more complicated once you start to factor in fireballs and certain character’s specials and fighting game mechanics other than normals and walking, but I just want to hear somebody who knows what they’re talking about talk about this.

this is the right understanding, you just need to play more

in particular, understanding the bolded part and when your opponent is going to press that button and therefore switching from walking forward to looking for a button to whiff punish is what makes a great footsies player

This is one of the really difficult topics of fighting games, since it’s seemingly so basic to apply, yet so difficult because there are so many factors involved, including the human factor of your opponent.

One of the factors behind using normals to zone is knowing your ranges and reaping the rewards off of getting more hits than your opponent. However, you should always factor in how your opponent is going to respond if your opponent blocks your poke, or gets hit by a poke that doesn’t really lead into anything. It’s very common for people to hit buttons or throw fireballs after a negative-on-block poke (like a well-spaced sweep). Using this knowledge allows you to hit the poke in an attempt to damage your opponent, but retaliate in case your opponent reacts in the way you expect. In other words, you get damage if you hit, but you set your opponent up to do something you can punish if they block. The bolded part is often overlooked, but it’s one of the most crucial aspects of footsies.

As examples: the classic one is using the pushback of a normal to space yourself outside of the range of your opponents pokes (“element 07”, which also applies outside of the corner. Try it), but you can also use it to make opponents throw bad/predictable pokes (or even fireballs), or make your opponent hesitate because you hit a poke leaving them open to something like a dash-in (1:14, 1:29, 1:38 are prime examples, even though two of these actually didn’t work in this scenario).

Again, this is a difficult topic, and I only have a shallow understanding of it, so it would be beneficial if someone better than me could explain in more detail how these things work, or in more situations.