Being a scrub

I have decided to keep a record of my Street Fighter 4 progress and journey. I know a lot of people think investing so much into a fighting game is stupid, but this is strictly for myself.

I started playing back in February 2009, and on pad, and decided to pick up Ryu as my main. Ironically, many people see Ryu as the most boring character in SF4, but in my opinion he is one of the hardest characters to master in the game despite being the “main character”. Additionally, I am aware that a large majority of the fighting game community get irritated at the massive explosion of online Ken and Ryu scrubs.

But why is Ryu so hard to master? Because at the core strength of the character is his ground game, which includes zoning and footsies. This control of horizontal space and limb range is probably the hardest thing to master in Street Fighter, and possessing incredible footsies is the hallmark of OG street fighter legends such as John Choi and Alex Valle. Sometimes such old-school legends do not need to rely on incredible execution and combos, but they simply dominate the other player with pure zoning.

Ed Ma one of the top SoCal players feels that his ground game is insufficient to play Ryu. And look at the Battle Point Ranking in Japan. Daigo is the only Ryu in Japan with over 100k BP, and that’s mainly because, well, he’s Daigo. It is HARD to play Ryu at the top level. You have to play like water, changing your play to accommodate each matchup. So what makes me think that a scrub like me can master Ryu?

For the first few months of playing the game I was struggling with my basic execution on pad, and getting my ass whupped a lot. By everyone. By balding uncles in white tank tops. By little kids.

At the same time, I was losing myself in the fighting game community, the lore and the legends, the comebacks and the history. It fascinated me following the US and Japan professional scene, finding about the Alpha 3 championship back in 1998, Bang the Machine, learning about SoCal personalities such as Gootecks from the Dogface show etc. Watching tournaments, getting hyped about Evolution and Justin Wong vs Daigo, Poongko against Daigo, East Coast versus West Coast. I donated money to “I Got Next” a documentary about the scene by Ian Cofino. I became a fan.

It was around June then my game took a jump. My game knowledge has always far exceeded my actual execution, and because of my obsessive nature I tend to read a ton on my current passion. So knowing about safe jump frames or advanced option select jump ins doesn’t mean shit if you can’t execute properly or have the mental capacity to engage in some basic mind games with your opponent.

Basically, I got a stick. And I switched to Balrog. The combination of the two brought a spike in my motivation to play. Balrog has, very bluntly, very easy execution, and even a scrub like me could pick up his basic combos and ultra set ups.

However, Balrog is a very linear character. He lacks mixups, and he does not even have a crossup. (A jump positioned such that you reverse the direction in which the opponent must block). I found that I could feast on shotos that were the same level of myself with some basic defensive play, and locking my opponent in the corner.

I felt that there was still something missing. I was not developing my street fighter fundamentals by using Balrog, and abusing specials on scrubby shotos. (I still got my ass kicked by anyone who was solid at the game.)

So I picked up Ryu again. And grinded hard. With my stick. Working on bread and butter combos, working on my zoning, eliminating bad habits such as jumping in too much, excessive reversal shoryukens etc. Until finally, in November 2009, I can finally probably say that I have achieved a “basic” Ryu level.

Playing SF has taught me a lot about my mental state. I have learned that there are many many levels you can reach in SF, and losing is the first step. You do not improve by dominating everyone you play. You have to get your teeth kicked in.

I have discovered:

My reaction time is not great.

As per my own personality, I get very very frustrated with myself easily, by my own mistakes. Not necessarily by losing, but stupid simple mistakes, like failed execution. This as a result lowers my own confidence greatly, and I find that it is very hard to exorcise the frustration and bring my confidence level back up. This is my greatest weakness. I get down on myself too much.

I’m not sure if I have the greatest dexterity, but at least my execution is way more consistent. I have a little bit of the “Joon Win Factor” (one of my old friends) which is when someone jumps at me, and as the foot in slow motion moves towards my face, my brain is screaming ANTI-AIR, but my stupid fingers do not react. This will improve with experience I hope.

I find that I can learn mindgames and mixups and tricks moderately quickly.

My zoning has much to be improved. I have to hado with intent, and with uneven rhythm. The best Ryus in the world throw many many dangerous fireballs, but they seldom get punished by doing so. This is because they condition the opponent’s mind with rhythm and patterns, and they throw many infinitesimal dekes, hesitations and fakes. When you slow down the opponent’s reaction time by half a second by being unpredictable, that split second of hesitation is all the time you need to recover from a dangerous hadoken to shoryuken him into an Ultra. When I try to throw dangerous hados, I get jumped in for 35% of my life bar.

Another weakness is pace. At moderate pace, I feel that my reaction time is optimal. When being rushed down at hyper pace by a Rufus for example, I find that I make bad decisions. This is probably related to my ability to multi-task during a match. Take for example when I recently played Daniel and Eugene, two Blankas. To say nothing about wins or losses, I found that I played much better against Daniel, who played very defensively, rather than Eugene, who plays a much more random and offensive Blanka. Specifically, I felt that I could keep Daniel in the corner for longer periods of time, where I have a great advantage. I knew that Daniel would not do anything stupid, like jump at me from nowhere, or slide me at point blank range. This allowed me to work some basic mixups and tick throws. However, with Eugene, I struggled to keep him in the corner at all. To be very blunt, it was because I did know what Eugene would do at anytime. He would do things that were just plain dangerous, sticking limbs and balling recklessly, and it worked because I didn’t and couldn’t expect it.

To break it down; when an opponent plays more defensive, I as an offensive player has much less options to look out for. Let’s say with Daniel, he would probably only look to do two or three things. With only three things to look out for, I can react that much faster. With Eugene, I have to look out for so many things that my own reaction time becomes much lower. This is another weakness of mine. Multi-tasking.

My next weakness is tension. I find that to play well, you have to be at a certain level of tenseness. Too tense and anxiety sets in. Too loose and you do not react on point.

When I achieve optimal tension level, I can do things that surprise myself, such as hit confirming CMK into EX Hado FADC Ultra, or reaction SRK into Ultra a teleporting Dhalsim behind me.

However, since I actually have the ability to let a loss go, and be in a positive mindset when it comes to losing, realising why I lost, and that the player was better, I often fall into this bad mindset too: he’s much better than me. I’ll just play. And lose.

By being resigned to losing, I often play much more sluggish. I need to keep my “not a sore loser” mentality and fuse in with a competitive mentality when faced with a far more superior opponent.

Enough about weaknesses, what about my strengths? I love to nitpick at myself, so hah I have nothing to say about my strengths. I suck.

It’s a long road to actually becoming “solid” in SF. Until then, I will be content with my fandom, watching match videos and learning about new tricks and mindgames. People are discovering new things about the game everyday. One new discovery is that Balrog can link standing lp into Ultra by triggering Ultra with kicks.

I love learning about things like this, even though I may never play on this level:

When Ryu blocks a sweep by Akuma, he can immediately punish with HP super.

However, the Akuma player can anticipate this, and cancel his sweep into Raging Demon. The invincibility frames of the Demon will allow the Super to pass through, and Ryu gets Demoned.

To take it one more level, the Ryu player can anticipate the Akuma player anticipating him, and do LP super instead. The projectile travels slower, and the startup invincibility frames of the Demon will finish, and Akuma will get hit. However, if the Akuma did not do the Demon, he can block LP Super.

All this happens within a split-second, and I love the brain work involved.

This is the essence of Street Fighter, probably the purest competition you can get in games. Too often with other games, random factors come in, such as critical hits in Pokemon, referees and lucky bounces in the NBA, or equipment coming into play in a WoW duel, often player skill can be overridden simply because the other guy has invested more time into grinding out his equipment.

In Street Fighter, Ryu is Ryu. You pick him, I pick him, we have exactly the same abilities. The only factors in our duel will be our dexterity (much less of a factor at high level play, execution becomes a given), and our brains (the primary determiner of player skill).

In the process I learn more about myself. Who would’ve thought that?

to be followed up…

P.S. This is an old post from 2009.

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One Response to Being a scrub

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