After having several training sessions this week, as well as taking a heartbreaking loss at Vancouver Street Battle this week, it's become very clear to me that the number one reason why you and I are not better at Street Fighter and fighting games in general is that, to put it mildly, our execution leaves something to be desired. Or to pull no punches, your execution sucks.
Now I know what you're saying. "But gootecks, I can hit the combos in training mode, I just get nervous sometimes when I play real people and I fuck up!" And let's pretend for a moment that that's true. Even assuming that you actually can hit the combos most of the time in training mode, most of the time is not enough. You have to hit it EVERY time. And it has to be so second nature that you can do it in training mode by yourself, on stage at Evo, or while you're having a conversation with someone about something completely unrelated. That's true mastery, right there.
However, without fail, every time I have this conversation with someone and ask them to demonstrate a simple combo for me in training mode, they inevitably fail to hit it on the first try. Even after a few tries, their success rate is usually between 30-50%. I'm sure even if you are no longer going to school, you remember that anything below 70% and you might have to repeat the course and certainly anything under 65%, you are gonna be here for another semester. So then why are you not holding yourself to a higher standard when it comes to something that you love?
Why do you want to bullshit me and more importantly yourself into thinking your execution is good when it's not? My guess is that you don't really understand what it means to have solid execution. You don't realize that it doesn't matter what we veteran players are doing; we could throw that fireball or hit that uppercut a thousand times in a row because it's just ingrained in our blood. We've performed these moves so many times that our children's children will be able to perform these moves and not know what they do or why they can do it.
That's the level that you need to be at in order to be one of the best. Ok well not really, but you certainly need to be way better than where you are at now and that's what we're going to be talking about.
Why Do I Need Better Execution?
You might say to yourself that your execution is fine because you don't play that seriously and you're not hoping to win Evo one day. I'd argue that your execution is still what's holding you back from reaching your goals, whether it's to be #1 on Ranked, win your local weekly tournament, or just beat your friend/brother/neighbor/coworker/cousin/whatever. The fact of the matter is that in the clutchest of moments, even if you know the correct move to do, there is still a high probability that you will screw it up under pressure and lose when it counts.
Just the other day I was playing in Richmond, BC at Vancouver Street Battle on stream against a local Abel player. This is definitely a match I don't like because I'm unfamiliar with the character (yeah even after 6 years of playing this game, I still am not an expert on Abel) and it came down to the wire. In the third round of the last game of the set, I was down quite a bit, he had about 40% life compared to my 2% with Rose.
After getting away from a grab, I activated Ultra 2 and walked forward. He tried to chip me out with EX Wheel Kick which goes through projectiles including Ultra 2. I smelled it coming and was able to do EX Soul Spiral, juggle with the Orbs and then finally Soul Throw. After that, I went for an ambiguous empty jump into throw which connected, followed by another ambiguous cross-up. This time, I did j. MK, cr. LP, cr. LK, cr. MP xx Soul Spiral and DROPPED THE GODDAMN SOUL SPIRAL. Obviously he killed me after that and I lost by a pixel. 100% my fault and 100% due to my sub-par execution. Oh also the crowd of dozens of people were watching cheered for him and I think there were about 1500 people watching the Canadian Joysticks Twitch stream and have a nice chuckle at my expense. FML.
I'm sure there are dozens of other examples I could name of clutch moments and opportunities lost due to execution errors, but this is just the most recent one that sticks out to me since it's still fresh in my head and could have easily been avoided with some extra practice.
How Do I Know My Execution Sucks?
Here's the best way to know that your execution sucks: if you can't perform your character's most common no meter BnB without fail on both sides ten times in a row, then I hate to break it to you, your execution sucks. Now okay, you got me, even I fail at that sometimes and you know what? My execution is mediocre to average. But if you can't even get close, like let's say at least 7 or 8 times in a row on each side, then yes, I'm sorry bruh, your execution is garbage and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone had to tell you.
I really don't care if you can do some stupid fancy impractical FADC combo in training mode that costs 4 bars that starts with a Counterhit and does a whopping 300 damage if you can't do the simple stuff every time. Please stop whatever you think you're doing in training mode and go back to the basics because it's only through mastering the basics that we can move on to the next level.
It pains me to say but almost every single person I've ever trained ever has had this problem and I'll bet you do to. But hey that's okay, let me show you how to get past this and start putting in quality practice time.
The Music/Sports Analogy
When I talk to people who are not familiar with Street Fighter or the FGC I usually explain it as a combination of a sport and playing an instrument. It's like a sport (or e-sport, if you will, hehehe) because of the competition aspect. There is a clearly defined winner and loser, people play in tournaments, people PRACTICE TO IMPROVE (hint, hint), etc.
But what makes it similar to music? If you've ever learned how to play an instrument, whether it was guitar, piano, or something wacky like a tuba, you should remember that you had to practice scales, strumming patterns, chords, play with a metronome, etc. in order to be a better player. This was mandatory and non-negotiable.
Any music teacher worth their salt would insist that you practice anywhere between 30-60 minutes a day in order to prepare for next week's lesson. The reason for this is because you would be tested regularly, whether it was just one-on-one without your teacher or by performing onstage in front of a lot of people, including your family who was probably paying for the lessons. You don't want to go up on stage and look silly do you? Of course not, your teacher wants to make sure that your performance is flawless so that your parents continue paying for lessons so that you can go on to become a young virtuoso in music.
Street Fighter is the same way. By dedicating practice of 30-60 minutes a day, you can incrementally improve your execution so that when you're on stage aka at a tournament, playing on stream or just simply playing ranked online by yourself, you can perform at the same level as you can when you're by yourself. Yeah I know that's a lot of time to spend every day and that you're a busy person with school, work, a life, etc. but that's just what it's going to take. You simply can't grind out matches in person, or in Endless/Ranked and hope to improve your execution.
Next time, we'll talk about the specific methods you can use to improve your execution incrementally over time. I'm not going to bullshit you and tell you that with one simple trick you can instantly have Sakonoko-like execution, but I promise you that these methods work and are practical, if you are willing to put in the time required over a period of time.
Till next time...
gootecks is the co-founder of Cross Counter TV and co-host of YouTube series Excellent Adventures. He is a longtime tournament veteran first getting his start in SF3: 3rd Strike in 2003, with multiple Top 8 finishes and wins under his belt over the years, including representing America at SBO 2008, alongside Justin Wong. His latest project is Cross Counter Training, which connects tournament pros with players like yourself who are anxious to fast-track their road to success. You can find out more at: http://crosscountertraining.com.