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With the release of Street Fighter 6, the new generation of fighting games is upon us. With that comes a new wave of players looking to test their might in the crucible of the FGC

But these games have the reputation of being notoriously difficult to learn and even harder to master. So if you’re a fighting game neophyte, it can feel like banging your head against a wall trying to improve. Here are some simple tips that can help you get through the early stages of the mountainous climb up the ranks.

You WILL Lose, Embrace That

This is, by far, the challenge that makes people quit fighting games faster than anything else. When most people play video games, there’s an expectation that you will start “winning” pretty quickly. That’s because modern gaming has a tendency to handhold new players through tutorials and intro levels. In online fighting games, there’s none of that. The moment you play other people, it's all on you. 

In the case of games like Street Fighter and Tekken, you could potentially be playing against people with 20+ years of game sense and muscle memory. You can’t expect to be on that level in your first week. But what you can do is control negative thoughts and salt. Because trust me, there’s always someone losing more than you.

A string of losses can be tough to deal with mentally, but quitting because you’re losing is a perfect way to never improve. In nearly all current-gen fighting games, you have the ability to rewatch your matches. Take a look at them and analyze your weak points. Are you not doing combos? Ok, hit trial/training mode and work on it. Getting hit by anti-air moves? Ok, work on ground movement and not jumping so much. 

Pick Who You Think Looks Cool

There’s a tendency for competitive folks to want to maximize their win potential on Day 1. Because of this, lots of new players research certain characters and mechanics before they even touch the sticks. There’s a ton of resources online that break down the strengths and weaknesses of every character in your game of choice. This isn’t inherently bad at all, but as a beginner, none of that matters. You should pick who you think looks cool. 

Going straight for the “high tier” characters because you want to win is a great way to start hating your experience. Because you probably won’t win much early on, but you’ll feel like your “strong character” should be carrying you to victories. Unfortunately,  you don’t have the mechanical skill yet to take advantage of such specific strengths just yet. 

So if you love a good body slam move, play a grappler. Subconsciously, you’ll want to put more into learning a character you actually like. If you change your mind down the line after seeing what other characters can do, that’s ok too. The most important thing is to just have fun. And a big part of having fun in a fighting game is enjoying the playstyle of your character.

The CPU Is The Worst Teacher

Fighting game AI typically falls into two columns. Completely inept or SNK Boss Syndrome. The former is awful to learn on as it makes you lean on bad habits. The lower level AI doesn’t anti-air, or doesn’t use optimal combos or may not ever throw out certain moves. The latter is inhumanely adept. High-level CPUs often throw out moves faster than a human could input them or react to your attacks faster than a person could. Neither situation is ideal nor is it akin to playing an actual human opponent. So while you can get some practice in on moving targets with the CPU, you’ll learn a lot more from playing other people.

Don’t Run From Ranked

Ranked play can be stressful. That’s true of any competitive game. But because fighting games aren’t team based, there’s no way for you to drop levels because of other people’s mistakes. This makes ranked play in fighting games a much more accurate measure of your skill. But that still doesn’t make the task seem less daunting.

One thing about ranked in modern fighting games is that the experience doesn’t really differ much from a casual match. In other esports, there’s more of a loose feeling in casual games. Sometimes the rules and character selection process are totally different. 

In fighting games, the only difference is that one “counts” and the other doesn’t. This means you approach them the exact same. Casual matches are still good for working on your secondary characters or practicing specific mechanics, but essentially it's the same. So don’t shy away from those ladders and get to fighting. You may end up being better than you think.

Observe. Lab. Implement.

Street Fighter 6 Screenshot

The key difference that separates a novice from an intermediate or expert-level player is the ability to break down gameplay. There’s tons of jargon in fighting games that differs from other esports. You might know what “dive”, “flank” and “CC” mean, but have no context for “frame trap”, “Option Select” or “rekka”. This is why study and observation are so important in fighting games.

After you’ve gotten a grasp on some of the foundational aspects of your game, you should be watching top players and your opponents to get ideas. Sometimes you’ll see combos you didn’t know you could do. Or approach paths you didn’t think of. When there are big tournaments happening you should take the time to check them out. You’ll almost always see something with your character that you didn’t know you could do. But also make sure you are taking note of when you play against the character you main (mirror matches), those can also prove enlightening as you develop as a player.

But For Real, Have Fun

This isn’t really a tip, but it's ok if fighting games aren’t for you. They are still very hard to wrap your head around, but once you do there’s a world of experiences and moments that open up to you. The FGC comes off as impenetrable, but when you’re surrounded by other fighters, there’s a level of camaraderie and excitement that’s unlike anything else in esports. But most of all, fighting games serve as a great way to learn about yourself. Your personality is expressed through your gameplay and how you face losses can help you understand how to face other challenges in life.

So if you’re looking at Mortal Kombat 1 or Tekken 8 with wide eyes, don’t hesitate to join some Discord servers or subreddits and explore a bit. There are even local in-person communities in cities all over the world that you can visit and see gameplay at a higher level. The FGC is truly poised to have a monumental year, and you should try your hand and at being a part of it.