As a beginner, it sounds really appealing to try as many different games to find what I like (Xrd, +R, SFV, Tekken, SkullGirls, KI,…), but I know that it is better to stick to one in order to learn the fundamentals. So my question is, if I find several games appealing for several different reasons, how do I know which one should spend more time in order to learn fighting games fundamentals? Is it bad to jump one and the other in this beginner stage?
Because, on one hand, I understand that the point is to have fun (is a game at the end of the day), but on the other, I want to learn and improve so in a future I will enjoy it more.
This question also comes from the “hype” video games companies are selling, where this week is the new DLC for DBFZ, new DLC for Skullgirls (this game looks amazing and I love the looks of it!), the GGPO for +R, GG Strive for June, the new KOFXV… at the end of the day, I will love to try them all and even play some tournaments, but how as a beginner, can we identify and learn from all of them?
Gotta Mash ’Em All
First off: Learning fighting game fundamentals is overrated.
“Work on your fundamentals” is exactly the kind of advice that experienced fighting game players often give to new players out of the best of intentions, usually because they’re thinking about how much faster they would have been able to Git Gud if they only had the benefit of hindsight. However, I don’t recommend worrying about fundamentals early on, because working on fundamentals is often pretty boring, and it often doesn’t actually feel like you’re doing anything useful at first. Daniel LaRusso’s learning curve makes for a great movie arc in The Karate Kid, but most people who are asked to paint fences as their first step to learning how to fight will quit pretty quick. Instead of trying to learn efficiently, I think it’s better to play fighting games in whatever way you think is fun, and then inject learning opportunities into that routine over time.
The good news is that playing many different fighting games is actually a great way to learn your fundamentals! As you learn to play different games, you’ll be able to see where the games overlap and where they differ, and that “overlap” spot is where the fundamentals are found.
This is actually how I learned early on, and it worked great for me. When I first got into fighting games, I was mostly focused on Capcom vs. SNK 2, but I’d play anything I could get my hands on — Super SF2 Turbo, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, SF3: Third Strike, even some Tekken and KOF (and Beatmania, Pop’N Music, Gundam Vs., Typing of the Dead…). And when I first got into martial arts, I took a similar approach, focusing mostly on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu while also spending plenty of time practicing and sparring in boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, judo, MMA, and some karate.
I prefer this approach because it shifts your perspective from “I am a [insert game here] player” to “I am a fighting game player”, which has a few very useful effects on your experience as a newer player that make it a bit easier to stick with the genre overall. One of the benefits of cross-training in fighting games is that you get to expose yourself to more tests and challenges than you would if you just stuck with one. Each fighting game has different ways to test your brain and hands, and if you regularly play multiple games, you’ll be learning to play with to a wider range of tests than if you stick to just one game. At first, this will make it a bit harder to see your progress, but over time, you’ll find that you’re more able to quickly learn new mechanics, adapt to unexpected situations, and generally play with more confidence and resilience than if you’re only comfortable with a single fighting game.
Drinking from the firehose of fighting game knowledge like this will basically saturate your brain with learning, but it also kind of slows down your pace in each game you’re playing, because you’re spending less time on each one. I actually think this is a good thing, because you can only absorb so much about a fighting game at once. I couldn’t give you actual figures here, but I see plenty of newer players try and download too much information at once on a game or character and end up frustrated that they aren’t immediately able to apply that knowledge. It takes time for this stuff to sink in, and spending more hours doesn’t necessarily make it go faster! But if you shift gears to learn something in a different game, you can give yourself a little time to let the lessons from Game A soak in while you’re playing Game B.
Also, playing multiple fighting games is a great way to get to know more people! The world of fighting games is vast, and there are dope folks all over the place who you might never get to meet if you don’t learn to play Melty or IaMP or Umineko: Golden Fantasia or whatever.
At this point in the essay, you’re probably thinking about the worries you had about cross-training, and wondering, “Uh, so if cross-training is so dope, why don’t more people play multiple fighting games?”
The answer here is that it depends on why you play fighting games — specifically, what kind of feedback you need to feel like your effort is worthwhile. While I believe that playing multiple games makes you a better overall fighting game player over time, the hard part is that your progress in any given game will generally be slower. If you are the type of player who relies on external markers of progress to validate your efforts (ranked wins, tournament progress, getting Likes on tech videos, that kind of thing) then playing multiple games will weaken that feedback loop.
As a player, I am primarily motivated by the feeling of growth. I play these games because I like to see myself able to do more and more cool things that I couldn’t do before, and understand things I couldn’t understand before. This is tied to winning, as when I win stuff it is validation that the stuff I am learning is true, but winning isn’t a primary concern for me; losing while learning is better for my goals than winning without learning. Because this is where my strongest source of motivation comes from, I’m generally better served by playing multiple fighting games at once because this is how I can maximize my ability to grow as a fighting game player. And since I know I’m going to be playing these games for as long as my body will let me, it’s easy for me to think of this training plan as a strategy that will pay off when I’m the first retiree to win a major for Guilty Gear Xhirty.
Newer players usually don’t look at fighting games and go, “Well, I guess I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing this.” So they need smaller goals to work for, like “do ten dragon punches in a row” or “play ranked every night until I get to Gold” or whatever. Fighting games are already pretty hard to stick to, but juggling multiple games can make them even harder to stick to, especially if you’re used to video games that are much better about spoonfeeding you that feeling of progression through unlocks, level-ups, and that kind of thing. So! Here are some tips to make cross-training more enjoyable.
Look for that overlap! Whenever possible, look for opportunities to work on stuff that is relevant to multiple games. If you spend an hour on +R netplay where you are focusing on anti-airs and movement, you’ll be able to keep working on that in Rev2 tomorrow. If you’re focusing on labbing some matchup-specific tech, you don’t get quite as much crossover. This is especially important since you’re still pretty new in your fighting game journey, so you want to make that time count.
Connect to other people. Find Discords that you like for the games you’re playing; if you can’t find any you like, start your own and invite people who you play with to join it. It’s easier to make the time to play fighting games when you like the people you play with, and talking with people about fighting games is really important for growing your perspective as a player. Whenever I read other people talking about a game that I’m play, I’m basically learning more about the game without having to do anything besides reading, which is really efficient.
Don’t be afraid to experiment across games. If you come across something that works in game A, don’t hesitate to see if you can find a way to apply that to game B! Even if it’s not optimal and a game specialist would never tell you to do it, give it a shot. Most fighting game players who have been through multiple generations of competitive FGs are very creative in how they recycle stuff from one game into others, and over time you’ll find that this is how you grow and develop your own personal fighting game style.
Find small windows to focus on one game over the other. Even if you’re juggling multiple games, it often makes sense to prioritize one game over another for short periods of time. I like to use events for this; due to the way our online weekly calendar works, I end up playing +R mostly from Friday to Monday, and Rev2 from Tuesday to Thursday. If there are bigger events on the horizon, I’ll usually pick a game to take More Seriously in my preparations. This way I still get to feel like I get some continuous practice in, just in shorter bursts. However, if you are inspired to go harder on a specific game, don’t let a defined routine like this get in the way of your good time! Start by optimizing for your own sense of enjoyment, because once it starts to feel like work you won’t last much longer.
Putting a game down is OK. If you find yourself saying stuff like “I really should be playing [game] more” every time you play that game, ask yourself why you aren’t playing it more. There’s nothing wrong with putting a game down until you feel like picking it up, and that’s generally a healthier way to deal with it than having it just weigh you down.
Lastly, Don’t worry about playing “the right way”. As long as you’re playing the games and having fun, you’re doing what you should be doing, and you’ll learn and grow over time. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and the person who learns less efficiently but plays for ten years will be a stronger player than the person who efficiently grinds themselves into burnout after ten months. Drink from the firehose, don’t worry about the best way to practice, as long as you’re putting time in you’ll get better.
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