Welcome to the second edition of More than a Masher: my journey from total FGC noob to competent tournament player. If you missed the first issue, be sure to check it out before continuing the adventure!
This week saw a ton of progress, and I was finally able to measure myself against other players! Let’s get into it.
More Time on the Stick
So, as I mentioned last week, I got my first-ever fight stick, and I’ve been playing through the Skullgirls tutorial to learn some basic fighting game concepts, and get my hands used to the mechanics of using the stick. After a week of practice, I’ve become much more consistent with my basic combos in training mode. Then, something interesting started to happen.
I specifically have avoided looking up the most optimal combos online. Once DBFZ is out, I’ll likely spend very little time in Skullgirls and so I’m not concerned too much with optimizing my Filia to take on the ranked Skullgirls ladder. I figured it would be better to just focus on getting the basics as mastered as I possibly could, since I’m entering the entirety of fighting games from the most beginner level. I’ve got a basic ground-to-air combo that cancels into a super, and a simple crouching poke combo to use in neutral. My thought was to get both of these to the place where they always came out when I wanted them to in any situation. However, as i would sit there practicing the combo again and again, a little voice started whispering: “I wonder if I can squeeze another hit in before the super.”
Instantly, I would start experimenting with different buttons, seeing which would combo, seeing if I could cancel into the super a bit later in a multi-hit move. I ended up adding like 3 hits to the string, and let out an involuntary “that was awesome!!” the first time I executed my new combo. This is especially interesting because I’m not an explorer in video games. When I played League of Legends, I didn’t want to make up my own builds, I just went online and found the best build to copy. I’m sure eventually when I’m playing DBFZ I’ll eventually want to look at optimized damage, but I’m genuinely surprised by how much fun it is to just experiment in training mode.
Here Comes a New Challenger!
My hope with this series is to get it up on the weekend, or at the latest on Monday of each week. However, this week I knew I wanted to make sure I included a few of my first experiences playing online against actual humans. Up until now I’d only been doing the tutorial, having fun in training mode, and occasionally playing arcade mode just for fun. I knew I needed to actually play against some real humans to see how my training would hold up in real combat.
So, I reached out to my buddy Windows, who is a top level Rivals of Aether player. He hasn’t won any Skullgirls tournaments or anything, but he knows the game well and has the mechanics of a pro level fighting game player. As I expected, most of our games were a complete stomp in his favor. We played about 20 games, and I think in total I took about 5 rounds. I discovered two things during the first 10 or so games as I was getting absolutely obliterated:
- My neutral game was awful. The buttons I was using in Arcade Mode, it turned out, were easily punishable by a competent player who knew what I wanted to do. I felt like I was actually blocking pretty well, but whenever I threw out a move in neutral I immediately got blown up.
- Pushblocking is incredibly important. He played Fukua, who has a combo she could use while I was blocking that ended in an armored command grab. There was no way to block and punish the string. This being my first live match, however, I completely forgot that pushblock was even a mechanic in the video game. Over and over I would just eat this combo and either attack into the armored grab, or just sit there and eat the throw. I think by the end of the session I had calmed down enough to think about pushblocking, and even successfully did it once or twice.
I also learned that, while my combos were not optimal, I could execute them about 70% of the time during a live match. Before I spend a ton of time adding to the combo, I want that number to be as close to 100% as possible. I have watched enough high level FGC to know that everyone drops a combo from time to time, but right now I feel like I will learn more by having reliable combos and playing live matches than i will from spending all of my time in training mode learning combos I can’t actually use against a real human.
To contrast my experience playing Windows, I managed to get a session in with my good friend LiqiudGG, who is a content creator in the Heroes of the Storm scene. He’s an old school fighting game player, but hasn’t really spent any time playing Skullgirls, so his specific mechanics and combos were nowhere near Windows’ level. Again we played about 20 games, and this time I won every single game. To me, this said that my time learning the game is actually translating to some actual skill. During this session, I was also able to actually pushblock whenever I wanted to.
My last takeaway from both of these sessions is how incredibly fun both sessions were. Windows obliterated me in nearly every game, but each time I managed to land a solid combo, or actually take a round, it was exhilarating. By contrast, my games against Liqiud were fairly stompy in my favor, but I still really enjoyed being able to execute combos and dictate the pace of the match. At the end of both sessions I just wanted to play more. As it turns out, not only are fighting games really cool to watch at high level, they’re also super fun to play!
Thanks for reading this week’s installment of More than a Masher. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to play the DBFZ beta, so we’ll have to wait for launch before this series has any actual FighterZ content to it. However, I hope you’re enjoying the journey as we lead up to release day. This week I’ll be looking for more online Skullgirls matches and I’m going to start learning a new character. To follow along with that process, or to play some games, be sure to follow me on Twitter. See you next week!