2D Fighting games are essentially a big game of rock paper scissors, except the players have a lot of options and there are multiple games of rock paper scissors going on all at once, and each of these is affected by the timing, positioning and move choice of both players. Understanding fighting games is a matter of understanding your character’s options, and how they interact with the options of your opponent.
The first thing to understand is the basic controls. In Street Fighter, the character you choose is controlled using 6 attack buttons and an 8 way directional pad (like an arcade stick). Moving closer or further is done by pressing forward or back. Pressing any of the 3 upward directions will have the character jump in a fixed arc in that direction. Pressing the downward directions will have the character crouch. While jumping the character has access to different jumping attacks. While crouching the character has access to different crouching attacks. These movement basics are the same in every traditional 2D fighting game.
Blocking attacks is important to survival. Blocks are performed by holding directions relative to the way your opponent is facing you. Holding back or downback while your opponent is attacking will cause you to go into a blocking animation. All attacks are broken down into 3 categories, Mid, Low, and High. Most attacks on the ground are mid, and can be blocked with either a high block or a low block. Crouching attacks, especially kicks, are usually low, and must be blocked with a low block. Jumping attacks and a few rare ground attacks called Overheads are blocked high. Since the majority of ground attacks are either mid or low, most of the time on the ground you can block low and keep out most attacks by crouch blocking (holding downback). When your opponent jumps or winds up an overhead that’s a signal to stop crouch blocking and block high instead by just holding back. Overhead attacks are a few rare ground attacks that can hit your opponent high, these are typically designed to be slower than other attacks so that you have time to react to them and block high, or interrupt them with a faster attack. One example of an overhead is Ryu’s forward medium punch. Some aerial attacks have hitboxes that are close enough to the center of the character to still hit you when that character has crossed you overhead. These need to be blocked the opposite way of a normal attack, by holding the direction forward of where your character is facing, which is now away from the person attacking you. You’ll see your character block while facing away from the opponent if done successfully. These are called Crossups. You always block by pressing away from the direction your opponent is, no matter what side they’re on.
In Street Fighter specifically there are 6 attack buttons. These are broken up into punches and kicks, and each scale up in power from light, to medium, to hard. So all 6 buttons are light punch (also called LP or jab), medium punch (MP or strong), hard punch (HP or fierce), light kick (LK or short), medium kick (MK or forward), and hard kick (HK or roundhouse). The names like jab, fierce, and roundhouse are old names for the attacks on the original arcade cabinets for street fighter. They’ve stuck with the game since and are still used by some people. These 6 attack buttons are the convention specific to Street Fighter. Other fighting games tend to use their own convention, though a couple rare ones use the same 6 buttons.
Pressing an attack button will, of course, produce an attack. The attack produced is relative to the movement state the character is in. If they are standing a different attack will come out than if they are jumping or crouching. A few attacks are also accessible by pressing a direction and a button, like Ryu’s overhead forward medium punch. These are called command normals, and they tend to have special functions. In general, punching attacks hit higher up tending to be a bit faster and stronger than kick attacks, while also being shorter range. Kick attacks are usually the ones that hit low while crouching, and have long ranges which make them great for pokes on most characters. Jabs and shorts (LP and LK) are fast short range attacks, good for getting an opponent off you if they’re too close. Medium kicks tend to be the best poking tool for hitting opponents who are further away from you. Crouching hard kicks sweep your opponent, knocking them off their feet. Crouching hard punches tend to be angled upwards, making them great for hitting people trying to jump in at you. Normal attacks are important to success in Street Fighter as they tend to be quick to come out and quick to recover, making them more safe than the flashy special attacks.
How to Do Specials
Special attacks are performed with specific commands involving multiple directional presses, like Ryu’s quarter-circle-forward punch for Hadouken or quarter-circle-back kick for his whirlwind kick. The quarter circle forward motion consists of pressing down, downforward, and forward in one fluid motion, then pressing the button as you reach the forward position to activate the special. Quarter-circle-back is the same thing starting from the down position and moving to the back. Importantly, specials will do a tiny amount of damage to people even if they block (called block damage or chip damage), so people can’t just block specials forever without getting chipped out.
The Hadouken can be performed with any of the 3 punch buttons and the whirlwind kick with any of the 3 kick buttons. In Street Fighter, special attacks will vary depending on the strength of the button you press. For example projectile attacks like Hadouken will move faster or slower depending on whether you hit hard or light. The whirlwind kick moves further across the screen and will do more damage if performed with a hard kick instead of a light kick. Remember that you don’t always want to do the strongest or fastest version of a special attack, because they typically have other drawbacks, and the slower or weaker versions usually have their own advantages.
Other types of special command inputs include half circle back or half circle forward, which are similar to quarter circle motions except they start from the front or the back position and move through the downward position to get to the other, making up the bottom half of a circle.
Massively important is the Dragon Punch motion (DP or Shoryuken motion), Forward, down, downforward. It looks a bit like a Z and it can be tricky to perform for new players, who might mash out something similar to a super input. It’s worth it to learn the dragon punch movement because important moves like the Dragon Punch are usually tied to it. Ryu and Ken’s Dragon Punch are powerful moves that do a lot of damage and can hit the opponents out of the air, and beat most ground attacks too, however don’t use them unless you’re sure you’ll hit, because it leaves you extremely vulnerable afterwards.
Last are the charge inputs, these are on characters like Guile and Chun Li. Charge inputs involve holding a direction, like down or back, to “charge” your special, then pressing the opposite direction and an attack button. Guile has 2 charge attacks, back to forward with punch, and down to up with kick. Holding back then pressing forward and punch will produce Guile’s Sonic Boom attack, much like Ryu’s Hadouken. Holding down them pressing up and kick will produce Guile’s flash kick, much like Dragon Punch for Ryu. Charging for charge characters has no onscreen indicator, so players need to learn the charge timing internally. In all Street Fighter games, the charge timing is exactly 2 seconds, though looking at the clock will not help you very much. Charging for charge moves is constantly going on at all times you’re holding the back or down directions. This is true even if you’re jumping or doing other moves. You can even charge both down and back simultaneously by holding downback to have both a sonic boom and flash kick ready to go. Charge characters can be a bit tricky to understand for beginners, but some people might find their inputs easier than regular command characters.
Next are throws. If your opponent is blocking, then you can try to hit them high and low to get around it, but a good player can react to either and keep you out. Throws are fast short range attacks that do a lot of damage and cannot be blocked. If your opponent is blocking and not attacking, you can walk right up to them and throw them, usually knocking them down and dealing a lot of damage. Because throws are short range, they typically lose out to longer range attacks. In Street Fighter 2, throws are performed by holding forward or back, and pressing any medium or hard attack button. If the game detects that you are close enough to your opponent to throw, then both your and your opponent will be locked into a throw animation. In SF3 and SF4 throws are performed by pressing LP + LK. If you are close enough you’ll throw, and if not you’ll do a failed throw animation. Throws can also be done in the air with specific characters, like Ken, Cammy, Chun Li or Guile. Air throws can only be done against aerial opponents and ground throws can only be done against grounded opponents. To avoid getting thrown, it is usually best to use a throw of your own, hit them before they can get close enough to throw, use an invincible attack like a dragon punch, or to jump so you cannot be thrown by a ground throw (beware of people who expect this and anti-air you).
Supers are powerful attacks that can only be done when your super meter at the bottom of the screen is full. Super inputs are different for most characters, but the most common is 2 quarter circle motions, like quarter circle forward, quarter circle forward punch on Ryu to do his Shinku Hadouken. Super meter fills every time you hit your opponent or use a special move. Super attacks are powerful, but also extremely vulnerable once they finish. Many beginner players get distracted once they get a full meter, which lets more experienced ones bait out a wasted super attack that they can punish hard.
Now that you know how to control your character, I would advise trying out the various moves they have until you know generally what they all do and you can use your special attacks consistently. SF2 is a great game for starting out simple, but it’s also a lot more exact in how it reads inputs, demanding you perform absolutely correctly. SF3 and 4 are much more non-standard and they have advanced systems that might be a bit overwhelming for beginners, but their input read algorithms are more flexible, which makes specials easier to perform. SF4 is the most lenient of these to the degree that it can lead to bad habits, accepting mashed inputs as correct, which could lead to poor consistency when switching over to other games, and using the wrong move at a critical point in a match. If you go with SF4, always try to input the moves as correctly as you can. Training mode’s input display is a big help in this.
Understanding what your moves are actually good for and being able to identify the properties of a move is one of the first steps to playing any fighting game well. I went over some basics on normals earlier, but I’d like to go into a bit more detail. In Street Fighter you have 6 buttons for normals, Light Punch, Medium Punch, Hard Punch, Light Kick, Medium Kick, and Hard Kick. These are abbreviated LP MP HP LK MK HK, or also known by their older names, jab, strong, fierce, short, forward, roundhouse. Some characters have different versions of standing attacks depending on how close they are to their opponent. Close versions of attacks generally have better properties or are sometimes useful for alternate purposes, like anti-airing opponents. There are generally 3 versions of each of these, standing, crouching, and jumping.
In general the big differences between various normal moves is how fast they are to start up, how quickly they recover, how big an area they hit, what range that area covers, how much of the character is made vulnerable by it, whether they’re allowed to cancel into special moves or super moves, how much frame advantage they get on hit or block, and of course how much damage it does. If you’re unsure what a move is good for, or what the weaknesses of a particular move are, try looking at these properties for an answer.
Frame advantage or Advantage time is a term for when a move’s hitstun animation inflicted on the opponent lasts shorter or longer than the time it takes the move to recover. When a move has positive frame advantage, meaning the hitstun lasts longer than the move’s recovery, you get a chance to act before your opponent does. If you can start up another move during this time and it hits your opponent before your advantage time is over, the opponent will be hit by the second move without a chance to retaliate or even block. This is called a combo. Canceling moves means that the recovery animation of the move doesn’t play, yet the hitstun animation on the opponent remains the same, so you effectively get more frame advantage from canceling moves over waiting for them to end. This is how special moves can be slower to start up than normal moves in many cases, yet still combo when canceled into. If you hit someone with a move, let the move fully recovery, and then hit them with another move, this type of combo is called a link, it’s considered one of the harder types of combos. Frame advantage allowing opponents to attack first effectively makes your attacks slower, meaning the opponent will beat them out if they attack first.
Light attacks typically start up the fastest, and many of them self chain, meaning you can mash the button and do them over and over again really quickly. This makes them good as a panic button, for getting people off you. They also do a small amount of hitstun, usually enough to last until the move has fully recovered, so you have a small amount of advantage time.
Medium attacks are typically less fast, but still pretty fast, however they do a lot more damage (usually at least twice as much, sometimes 3 times as much or more, light attacks are really weak to offset their self chaining ability), usually have more range, and frequently get the most frame advantage in a character’s moveset. Medium punches are typically always cancelable into special moves or supers, where medium kicks usually can only be canceled with their crouching versions. Because of Medium Attacks’ range and fast startup times, medium attacks are typically great pokes, especially kick attacks. Their relative frame advantage and cancel-ability makes them useful in combos.
Heavy Attacks typically have the most range, but the least frame advantage, and longest startup. This makes them less suited as pokes than medium attacks in many cases. This varies by character of course. Heavy attacks are also the normal moves least likely to be capable of canceling into special attacks or supers. This makes heavy attacks more specialized than medium attacks, which tend to be general. Some characters however have amazing heavy attacks, like Akuma’s standing heavy punch or Bison’s standing heavy kick in Street Fighter 4, so feel free to experiment and find out what’s right for your character. Worth noting is that on most characters, crouching heavy punch and crouching heavy kick have a special function. Crouching heavy punches typically uppercut upwards, making them good anti-air moves. Crouching heavy kicks are usually sweeps, meaning they will knock the opponent down if they hit. Sweeps in most fighting games are uncancellable, and if blocked, have massive frame disadvantage, enough to allow your opponent to hit you back before you recover. If you encounter an opponent who loves to sweep, then block it and hit them back for all that you’re worth (or just sweep them instead).
In general moves to look out for are good pokes, counter pokes, anti-airs, whiff punishes, combo moves with good hitstun on hit, and pressure moves with good hitstun on block. Common tradeoffs are that moves with long range typically have poor hitstun and cannot be canceled, moves that are closer to you have larger hitboxes, more hitstun, and can be canceled. Pokes are long range moves that prevent the opponent from moving into your space where they can get a combo off. Counter pokes are moves that go around pokes to hit the opponent. Anti-airs are moves angled upwards in the direction opponents will jump in at you. Whiff punishes are frequently like pokes, except they hit the opponent’s outstretched limb after they have poked. Many moves can be used to whiff punish, and it is highly dependent on the matchup, so it’s worth paying attention to where your moves overlap your opponents. Moves that start up fast are best for whiff punishes because they make the timing easier. Same for moves that stay close to you, like Ryu’s standing hard punch, because they don’t require you to stick out your vulnerable limb at your opponent. Combo moves usually are cancelable and have good hitstun, as well as not pushing your opponent far away from you. At a low level, it’s best just to know what moves you can cancel into special moves, doing 2 move combos with a normal to lead into a special.
When jumping, you have 6 options for attacks, though most of them are useless on most characters. The factors to consider about a jump-in move are mostly where it hits. Good air to ground attacks hit diagonally downwards in front of you, like Cammy’s jumping MP in super street fighter II turbo. Good air to air attacks hit the area in front and above you, like Ryu’s jumping MP attack in every game. Another type to look out for is crossups, which can hit the opponent from behind, because there are hitboxes behind your character as well as in front of them. Ryu and Ken’s jumping MK moves both do this, as well as Guile’s LK, and Zangief’s body slam, which was designed for this purpose. Additional factors to consider are how long the move stays active and how much hitstun it gets. Heavy jumping attacks can get a lot of hitstun if used low to the ground, but staying active for a long time like medium or light attacks often do can help them cover more of your opponent’s options.
Pressure in fighting games is something you’ll eventually run into or need to do for yourself. Pressure in fighting games typically revolves around blockstrings, mixups, attacking people on knockdown (called Okizeme), and tick throws. Each of these are taking advantage of your opponent’s disadvantage to attempt to get past their block and deal damage.
Blockstrings involve hitting someone who is blocking your attacks with a series of attacks that are safe on block, meaning they have frame advantage, or push your opponent so far away they cannot retaliate. If all the moves in the blockstring stay positive on block, then you can effectively combo their block, forcing them to keep up their guard. Because normal moves don’t do damage on block, this isn’t as helpful as real combos, however Blockstrings can still deal damage in multiple ways. By getting frame advantage on their block, you can attack before they do, hitting them as soon as they come out of blockstun. If they try to attack or escape, then they can get hit by these, since they don’t have enough time to act, they get trapped by the next attack coming in. This is called a frametrap. Frametraps are formed by either delaying the links in your blockstring (or combo if you like giving up free damage or have a way to reset the combo), or using a move with just barely less frame advantage than the next move’s startup, so the window between them is so short that your opponent cannot start up a move. Escaping blockstrings usually means either waiting them out until the opponent is too far away to continue the string, or performing a fast move to beat the opponent out during the gaps. Invincible uppercuts are especially effective here, because their invincibility will prevent the second attack of a frametrap from hitting you. Many opponents also choose to frametrap using unsafe moves that have larger consequences for you if you don’t block them, but which are punishable should you successfully block, such as sweeps. These types of moves can become safe however if spaced correctly, so that the tips of the moves’ hitboxes hit you, pushing you out of range. Always be ready to punish improperly spaced unsafe moves during a blockstring.
Mixups are usually a component of blockstrings, but are a more general concept. The idea behind a mixup is to attempt to get you to change your block zone to the incorrect one. The most common type of mixup at a low level is jumping in with a high attack, then performing a low attack. This is so common, it practically isn’t a mixup. Other common tricks are to use frame advantage to jump overhead for a crossup, or to use an overhead immediately after landing from a jump-in attack because they’re expecting a low attack, because it’s so common. Using the frame advantage of a blockstring to cover a mixup is usually an effective tactic. When the opponent expects a series of mid and low attacks intended to frametrap them, it can throw them off kilter to see an unexpected overhead attack. By design, overheads always have more than 15 frames of startup, to give the blocker time to react and block high. By jumping and attacking instantly off the ground with a jumping attack that can reach down at your opponent you can perform high attacks faster than the normal 15 frames of startup, however because you can only attack once per jump, this means sacrificing your offensive momentum to mixup your opponent for a little extra damage. This technique is called an instant overhead. Mixups more generally refer to any scenario where there are several possible things you can do, and you switch between them in the hopes of catching your opponent off guard to break their defense.
Tick throws are like the opposite of frame traps. They involve getting frame advantage on your opponent, then throwing them the instant they come out of hitstun (or depending on the game, the instant they’re allowed to be thrown after hitstun). Because you’re throwing them so fast, typically they can’t get out an attack before being thrown. Modern games added a short throw invincibility period after hitstun and knockdown to help make sure jabs or other fast attacks can beat tick throws. Unlike frametraps where the answer is to do nothing but block, tick throws need to be actively defended against by either jumping (to get off the ground where the throw cannot affect you), attacking (depending on the game), or throw teching (if the game has throw techs, otherwise throw them first). Tick throws are typically done off jabs or jump-in moves because of the low push-back on them and low amount of hitstun, making it easy to time the throw for the first moment of vulnerability. If you’re playing a game like Third Strike where command throws have a delay before activating, this is likely to help time them to hit at the first point of vulnerability when canceled off of jabs or other tick setups, even if it makes them lose to regular throws.
When someone is knocked down, they’re temporarily invincible until they get back up. Because the knockdown period is so long, this generally lets their opponent set up with whatever move they want unopposed, even long startup moves like overheads are now safe from being stuffed with a jab. If you can knock your opponent down, then hit them with something that knocks them down again it’s possible to keep your opponent from hitting you by continually knocking them down. The idea with Okizeme, or attacking people who are waking up from a knockdown, is to time your attack to hit them at the first possible moment they get up to prevent any type of retaliation or escape, essentially force them to block the hit correctly or eat it. In addition to this, if you time it so the last active frame of your attack hits, you get more frame advantage than normal, enabling more combos or blockstring pressure setups than otherwise possible. This is called a meaty attack because of the extra hitstun on the attack. If your opponent has a move that is invincible on startup, like an invincible uppercut, a teleport, or a super move, then if they use that the instant they get up, they can extend the invincibility time of the knockdown, allowing them to also beat out whatever attack you’re doing. This is called a reversal. If your opponent is doing this a lot, you can beat their reversal by simply blocking it, or standing out of range, then punishing the long recovery that is common among reversal moves. General advice is to almost always block low when you’re waking up, especially if you’re new to the game. Most big combos are started from mids or lows, and overheads don’t do as much damage by comparison. Dragon punches can help you get momentum back, and deal good damage in the short term, but more experienced opponents will bait that shit out and if they do it’s as bad as not blocking at all.
Special moves are typically a lot more extreme than normal moves, possessing special properties like invincibility, knockdown, projectiles, movement across the stage, or incredible range. The advantages and disadvantages of special attacks balance them against normal attacks. To get their powerful benefits, there is an appropriate amount of risk. If a special attack ever seems too good to be true, check out its properties, it likely has a long startup time (fireballs), or is extremely vulnerable on block (Cammy’s spiral arrow, bison’s psycho crusher, most uppercut specials), or a point of vulnerability (chun li’s lightning legs and blanka’s electricity can be sweeped and have a limited range).
Special moves can be nearly anything, however some common types include invincible uppercuts (or other high priority anti-air moves), fireball moves, self projectiles, teleports, special overheads, divekicks, and high startup block pressure moves.
Uppercut type moves usually start up quickly, and have amazing hitboxes in the area above them, so as to beat out opponents in the skies. They often have limited forward range and coverage very low to the ground, but their invincible startup guarantees that up close they can beat most other ground attacks. The idea is that they can beat anything right now, but have such a long recovery that they are extremely vulnerable later on.
Fireballs exist to control space. Because they operate independently of the character and they don’t have a hurtbox, they can beat out any melee ground move. Fireballs force opponents to either jump, throw their own fireballs, or use another move to get through them or absorb them. Fireballs can vary in speed, with slower ones controlling space for longer and frequently allowing pressure followups on top of the fireball, and faster ones allowing quicker punishes at a range. Using a slow fireball then a fast one can frequently frametrap people at mid-screen. Fireballs get different amounts of frame advantage depending on where they hit the opponent on the screen. At point blank range they’re extremely negative, but at midscreen, the character has usually entirely recovered by the time they hit. It can be useful to cancel into fireball to push opponents out of range and get a little block damage on the opponent.
Special overheads are nice because they can be canceled into, making them more disorientating to block, and allowing the frame advantage of the first move to cover their startup.
Self projectiles typically have great hitboxes, beating out many other normal moves in neutral, but are unsafe on block.
Divekicks are awesome and occasionally just plain broken, getting large amounts of frame advantage and allowing quicker high attacks. They don’t get as much range as normal jumping attacks typically though, and are usually vulnerable to standing punches or regular anti-airs.
Teleports, ground dashes, and other movement tools can help characters escape the corner, move in for pressure, cross up, and other such things, with the additional benefit that they can be canceled into.
High startup pressure moves are fairly rare in street fighter, Hugo’s clap being one of the most prominent examples. These moves set up for big combos, but are risky to start up at close range.
On the most basic level, fighting games are like rock paper scissors, it’s a question of what beats what. From a neutral starting point both you and your opponent have a number of different options you can take, and there are different options that will beat your opponent’s options.
All the time everywhere
Attack > Throw > Block or Dodge > Attack again
Resets or wakeup games
High, Low, Crossup, throw, bait
Ryu’s basic game
Anti-air > Jump in > Fireball > Anti-air
Poking > Throws > Counter-Poking/Whiff Punishes > Poking
Hop Attacks > Low Kicks > Standing Punches > Hop Attacks
There are a lot more examples like these across fighting games. Figuring out what move can beat what move is the first step in taking down opponents. Then realizing what they can do to beat that, and how to do it safely, or beat their counter-option and so on. These types of counters don’t always go in a smooth triangle, like Ryu’s basic game, if defused, typically doesn’t lead into more fireballs, it leads into a mid-to-close range ground game instead, with the threat of his basic game ever-present. No matter what, everything in fighting games always has a counter of some kind. Opponents can force you into situations with no options except taking damage, but you need to screw up first to get there.
In Street Fighter, the basic game for a shoto-type character, like Ryu or Ken, typically consists of throwing fireballs, and anti-airing people who want to jump in. Learning how to effectively do this, and how to break down others trying to do this is usually the first step in learning to play the game. Also understanding when to properly read or react is critical.
In Street Fighter, jumps take a long time to get over to your opponent. If you jump forward, it’s like asking your opponent, “are you paying attention?” If they answer, “Yes,” then they get free damage on you. The counter to jump-ins is to be doing nothing when they choose to jump in, because then you can anti-air them when you see them in the air.
Fireballs are useful because if your opponent can’t threaten you up close on the ground, then the fireball can control all the space in front of you, and force the opponent in turn to either get rid of the fireball by throwing their own, get around it with a character-specific move, or jump. Jumping is the most ready option, and what a lot of beginners stick to. However because it’s so easy to anti-air people, jumping forward is typically a risky option. Less risky is neutral jumping. If you jump straight up, then it’s a bit harder to get over the fireball, but the fireball will still be on the screen when you land, preventing your opponent from launching another one until it leaves the screen. Neutral jumps have the added benefit of being in a great place to beat earlier jump-ins, and people advancing on the ground.
To successfully punish a fireball though, you will need to read your opponent throwing the fireball and jump forward. There is a short recovery time after the fireball is thrown where the opponent can be hit. The goal is to jump almost exactly when they throw the fireball to catch this recovery time. If you space it so you land outside their anti-air range, then it’s even safer if you mess up the timing.
When you throw a fireball, you must keep the same things in mind. Is your opponent close enough to jump in on you? Are they close enough you can anti-air them if they do? Is it safe to throw a fireball right now, or should you wait to anti-air them when they try to jump in?
To anti-air you should use a move that hits upwards at the air and doesn’t expose the character much. This can vary from character to character, and may depend on spacing. For Shoto type characters like Ryu and Ken, as well as many other characters, crouching hard punch is the go-to normal move for anti-air. Characters with invincible uppercuts have an even better (and riskier) option for beating jump-in opponents.
Because normal anti-airs are only one button, they’re much easier to do in a pinch, where dragon punches with their special move input, although more powerful and higher priority, can be harder to do on reaction. A basic trick to anti-air more consistently is if you have a read on exactly when they’ll jump, input the directions for the dragon punch, then check if they’ve jumped, and press punch if they have, don’t press anything if they haven’t. If you don’t know exactly when they’ll jump, but know they’re going to, then you can crouch and keep your eyes on the sky, pressing the punch button when they jump. Beware of opponents who purposefully try to bait out anti-airs. Using these tricks to anti-air on reaction will help prevent making yourself vulnerable.
Once you can shut down your opponent’s fireballs, and keep them out of the air, you’re both forced into the ground game, which many people call “Footsies”. To beat someone in footsies, there’s a number of ways. If you expect your opponent is going to throw a move out, you can throw one out first, or in the place they’re about to move into, in order to catch them when they open themselves up. This is called a Poke.
Pokes are usually characterized as relatively fast, long range moves. If you think your opponent is going to poke, then you can yourself poke them before they poke you, or try to poke them in a way that you won’t get hit, usually called a counter-poke. One example is if they use a standing punch, you can hit them with a crouching kick, another is hitting them with a hop kick or long range standing kick if they try to do a crouching kick. Alternatively, you can attempt what’s called a Whiff Punish. When someone attacks, their limbs have hitboxes too, so by attacking, they’re increasing the range you can hit them at. A whiff punish is when you read them attacking, move out of range of their attack, and use a move that will hit their outstretched limb. It’s like baiting. Whiff punishes can be hard for beginner players and take a lot of practice. In low level games, it’s more common to rely on poking your opponent before they can poke you, or counter-poking them.
If your opponent sees you waiting for a whiff punish, trying to bait something out, then they can walk up to you and if they get close enough, then they’ll throw you. To beat this, you need to poke them, throw up a hitbox in the space they’re moving into, because they need to get close in order to throw, and most hitboxes outrange throws. In this way, the counter triangle of poke > whiff punish > throw comes back to poke again.
Of course, up close instead of throwing, they can attempt block string pressure. Block string pressure usually revolves around doing combos on block which put the opponent at frame disadvantage (into blockstun), then either throwing them, or hitting them as they try to mash out. Very common in beginner games is if two people get close, one will throw out a bunch of normals, and the other gets hit by all of them as they try to mash out. Or they get hit by one, and feeling like it’s now their “turn”, eat another move in the face.
One of the basic rules of all traditional fighting games is you cannot throw someone who is in blockstun, and you usually can’t throw someone who is in hitstun, unless it’s a special throw, or they’re in a special throw-able type of hitstun. However one thing you can do is hit them with a move while they are blocking, then throw them as soon as blockstun ends, this is called a Tick Throw. To avoid getting tick thrown, one must either tech the throw by throwing back, do something invincible out of blockstun, like a shoryuken, super, or teleport, or jump to avoid being on the ground where they are ground-throw-able. To make the throw unpredictable, most people vary the number of times they attack on block, which can push them back from the person blocking, requiring them to walk forward a little before they throw. This can also give the opponent a chance to get the thrower off them by attacking. To catch opponents like this, frametraps are employed.
A frametrap is essentially dropping a perfect blockstring or combo to allow the opponent to come out of blockstun or hitstun, giving them a chance to attack, then hitting them with an attack so fast it catches them in the opening frames of their next attack. Link combos with delayed timing become frametraps. If opponents are trying to poke you or jump when you go in for a throw, or just don’t understand whether it’s their turn to attack or not, then frametraps can help shut them down. Block strings are also useful for leading into mixups, as once an opponent learns to stop attacking into frametraps, you can mix in overheads or jumps.
Another important element is keeping the right amount of space between yourself and your opponent. Your options change significantly based on how far away you are. The speed of normal moves generally correlates to their range, so using the normal moves that hit closest to you are generally the fastest response to someone that’s in your face. Faster moves trump slower ones. Learn the range of all your moves relative to how fast they are, and the range of all your opponent’s moves relative to how fast they are. The goal is to move into a range where you can hit them, but they can’t hit you. This means using pokes effectively.
Pokes are usually your longest range moves. The idea with poking someone is to keep them out of your personal space. You want to throw out pokes when people try to move into your personal space, catch people when they walk forward. This says to them, you cannot get close to me or you will take damage. However as discussed earlier, pokes are not free, you can be counterpoked or whiff punished. If your opponent expects you to poke then they can poke you trying to poke them by attacking first. If they have a longer range poke, then they can poke you before you can get in range to poke them.
Your movement is also critical here. Many players move back and forth because they are trying to jockey for position on their opponent’s next move. Moving forward decreases space between you and your opponent, it functions as pressure, because by moving forward, you gain access to better attacks, and puts pressure on them to push you outside melee range. Moving away functions as bait. You can get out of range of attacks and whiff punish over extended attacks from here, but you’re giving up position and slowly pushing yourself into the corner. Watching your opponent’s movements as you move is important, because they’re also trying to pressure and bait you, and the range both of you are at when one of you decides to attack will change what the most effective attack for that range is, and what the appropriate counter is. If both of you move away from one another, then you deescalate the amount of risk in the engagement and make it easier to react to one another. If you both move towards each other, then you both increase the level of risk, allowing each other to use harder to react to options. It’s good to watch for the pattern the opponent moves in. If they walk towards you, then you can frequently move towards them at the same time to surprise them with a faster option. Much of the time however, both players try to keep just outside each other’s poke range, moving into range to bait out the poke, trying to get out before it actually hits and whiff punishing it.
Other ranges to watch out for are mid-screen and fullscreen versus characters with projectiles. Midscreen is where projectiles become dangerous, with frametraps and being so fast they’re tricky to deal with on reaction, however they’re also vulnerable at that range to jump-in attacks. Past that range and at fullscreen you can easily react to any type of fireball and neutral jump it, or even forward jump it without much threat of reprisal, but you also can’t punish your opponent for it.
Jumps in traditional fighting games have a fixed arc, meaning they have a specific range too, which is usually landing on the opponent at about mid-screen, usually a bit less. At close range jumps can land behind your opponent and cross up. Beginner players frequently love to use jumps because jumps hit high, so it seems like an obvious way to change their opponent’s block zone and get in for pressure or a combo. In most fighting games, but especially street fighter this is really dangerous, because once you decide to jump, you’re locked in, and the majority of the cast has time to react and anti-air you basically for free, as covered above. This means spacing your jumps can be important. If your opponent likes to use normal anti-airs, or only has normal anti-airs, it may be beneficial to space your jump to land right in front of them, then actually attacking after their anti-air move comes out to whiff punish it.
Notes for expansion:
Also focus on spacing
keeping in your characters optimal ranges to maximize the amount of good options you have, keeping out of your opponent’s optimal ranges to minimize good options they have, movement in combination with the threat of your space control to force the opponent to make decisions
Other good resources include (in order of advanced-ness):
David Sirlin’s Street Fighter beginner tutorials
A video showing how cancels are performed in any fighting game
Kayin’s Reaction Speeds in Gaming
Patrick Miller’s Beginner Street Fighter Guides
Maj’s footsies guide
JuiceboxFGC’s footsies explanation
Another beginner SF tutorial, simplifying the game into ryu’s fireball game:
Mike Ross and Gootecks teach the fundamentals to WWE star Xavier Woods:
A general resource list:
Another beginner tutorial series with exercises for you to try out.
Tutorial series that goes over the basics, first video explains a bit about what it’s like to play a fighting game and some popular misconceptions about the genre.