We missed a week last week so this week's topic is kind of a double topic to make up for it. This week we're going to talk about both matchups and improving yourself through online play.
The first phase of a new game is general exploration where we try to get a rough idea about what each of the characters can do, their general strengths and weaknesses, any special tools that stand out. Partly because this game had multiple open beta tests and partly because our community is just getting really good at this stuff, we're mostly done with this phase of the game. We have a rough idea about what all the characters can do and all of them seem pretty strong on paper.
Tools seem so evenly distributed that if you asked me to tier the game as of early March I really couldn't give you an answer. The 2 characters most people had their eye on in the pre-release as far as possibly being disadvantaged were Zangief and Laura. But right now Snake Eyez has yet to lose a post-release tournament with Zangief, stomping everyone in his path. And Laura is the winner of the first CPT event with Mister Crimson winning Cannes Winter Clash in impressive fashion. So for now they seem fine to me. As of now, no character really stands out as having a noticeably weak tool set.
The next phase of the game is looking at matchups. At this point thinking about matchups will help us understand the overall balance and tenor of the game and it's the easiest way to start improving as a player.
Thinking about matchups on an individual level is also an easy way to avoid an early roadblock that players typically run into in a new game. You've worked hard in training mode to get your character's combos down. You're getting better at choosing the right normal for each situation and your footsie game is improving. You've developed some good setups off common openings, like off your main bread and butter combo or off a crush counter sweep. A lot of players get stuck here, not really knowing what to do next and how to make that next leap forward.
To start with, I'll break down some matches and I'll use myself and some of my matches as an example here since I know what I was thinking even if the answer was “not much”. At this point in the game, I like to start by focusing on my worst matchups first. I get to see results quicker this way and it's easier to stay motivated. If a match has stuck out in my head as being obviously rough for me within the first month or two, I've probably been losing that match so consistently that just getting over that hurdle, just improving in this one match will make my overall experience so much better. So far for my current main character (Chun-Li) that matchup is Nash. I struggle against him online, I lose the matchup in tournament. The match just isn't working for me right now.
In order to improve in the match, you have to first understand what you're doing wrong and that involves looking at videos of matches you've lost. Let's break down some matches. Here's a recent example from the losers semis of last week's San Diego weekly of me vs. Genghis, a strong player who I have 15 years of history with, ever since the Marvel 2 days.
Round 1 starts with a poking exchange and a couple of punishes on his moonsaults. My read going into this match is that really likes setting that up so I make a point of checking him on those early in round 1. That's about all that goes right for me in round 1, I miss a few whiff punishes and the commentators (accurately) call me out for going fishing with low strong trying to anticipate a sonic boom. The story of the round is me not being able to get to the right range. I walk forward, he dashes back and counter pokes. Easy win for Genghis.
Second round is almost all one big scramble situation. Genghis gives me a gift at 20:30; once he has sonic boom range set up, he jumps IN instead of holding range, letting me anti-air him and take the lead. At 20:40 I'm slow to react to EX moonsault and at 20:55 I'm slow to react to v-trigger. As the commentators note, Genghis gives me a second gift in this round by not closing me out with critical art when he has the chance. I close him out with my own.
I make a mistake at the start of round 3 by starting with kikoken. He dashes away and absorbs it, a double negative as I got him one step closer to v-trigger AND gave up space. At 21:28 he gets big damage on the raw critical art through a kikoken. Jump back jab at 21:38 gets Genghis right back to the range he wants to be at. I spend v-trigger to get pressure going again but at 21:49 he uses v-reversal to get away and I'm just chasing ineffectively. Note that there are no mixups here, I'm just hitting buttons and trying to not let him get away. This is the sign of a player without a plan, I'm just hoping something goes right for me and not setting him up for anything. At 22:13 I have a bad reaction to v-trigger and take it right to the face. I basically lost this game 3 rounds to 0 since I didn't deserve the second round.
Game 2, first round, Genghis has accurately assessed that I'm having a serious problem with the sonic boom. 22:48 I try to low strong under and get hit, it's very difficult to low strong under a slow sonic boom. 22:51 I low strong under and get thrown for it. Could have been worse for me, so that's almost a gift. 22:58 he checks me with a forward sonic scythe and I get nothing off of it. 23:17 I show a DIFFERENT bad reaction to sonic boom as I jump over it and eat EX sonic scythe. 23:29, Genghis commits fully to the sonic boom strategy and just keeps pumping them out until I make a smart decision. None is forthcoming. A brief hope for me at 23:40 but he smartly blocks the meaty back fierce and closes me out with a sobat.
Second round I get air legs to connect and get pressure going finally. Good blocks by Genghis on all the frame traps. Of course there's no reason for him to feel frame trapped. Have you noticed that I haven't thrown him or even really tried to throw him once in this set so far? I just did. There's no reason for him to stand up and tech if he doesn't have any reason to believe a throw is coming. 24:11 is my first smart jump against a sonic boom all set and I get corner pressure out of it. I mistime my meaty setup and put myself IN the corner. That's not the worst mistake in the world since he was mashing and if my timing was on I would have got a juicy combo out of it so I'm not TOO broken up about it, just an execution error at an unfortunate time. 24:40 commentators call me out on fishing for low strong again. This time I'm hunting for a dash or to counter poke low forward but it's still a mistake. Rest of the round is me chasing him ineffectively. 25:00 I don't punish his v-trigger even though it's a poor activation. I have to get SOMETHING there, I get nothing and go back to chasing with no plan. I just can't get him to stop backing up and since I'm so afraid of sonic boom I'm just jumping for no reason, dashing for no reason, basically a total lack of discipline. At this point I'm broken; it's a 3 out of 5 set so I switch to Vega, I just don't know what to do in this match.
Obviously at this point I know I have a problem so let's try to solve the problem so that was a little mini goal of mine this past week. Online play is SF5's biggest strength and the easiest way to work on matchups. I ran into 40Flashkick, a Nash player, online in ranked and we decided to play a short FT5 set just for fun and to work on the match a bit. Here are a couple of my losses from the set.
First round of this match goes mostly the way I want it to. After the first fireball exchange of the round, it turns into a scramble situation which I win. I hold momentum until about 1:03 when sonic boom pressure starts but at this point I'm ahead in life roughly 75% to 20-25% so zoning is off the table for him and he comes in to me. The whole round plays like an offensive round, which is good for me and I take it comfortably.
Second round is different. Match is fought at Nash's dash range and slightly extended. The round is even until about 2:00 when he first starts working in sonic boom range. This shuts my offense down a bit and I stop attacking. This lets him dash in and out while I start thinking about fireballs. He gets a dash in throw, then a dash in counter hit strong because now that the sonic boom is in my head, I'm looking for it. I guess with low strong into v-trigger, going on motion and when I miss that, that's pretty much the round. He closes me out with an anti-air v-trigger juggle.
Round 3 starts by him checking me with the forward sonic scythe. This is either the second or third game in our set and I've started almost every round holding forward so he's adjusting to me here. The next 30 in game seconds are fought at his pace and at his range, letting him get the dash in and dash out pressure that won him the second round. I cooperate by backing up voluntarily and throw a kikoken at 2:45 which does nothing and actually costs me space. The tide turns at 3:06 when a guess air legs gets me a knockdown and lets me start my game. I have a chance to close out the game at 3:23 but I'm on autopilot and choose the wrong combo. This is a fatal mistake and he closes out the game immediately after with an EX moonsault that I'm late anti-airing.
This is either the fifth or sixth match in the set so 40 starts the first round with sonic boom pressure since he's figured out that I'm not dealing with this range well and it works, immediately netting him a sweep, then a combo and a ~50% lead. At 0:56 I get lucky with a crush counter sweep and get my game started, first with a safe jump setup, then air legs pressure. I make an execution error at 1:01, missing air legs and ending my short run of pressure. Round closes with a v-trigger that I don't see coming.
Second round starts better for me. I guess right on forward sonic scythe as his opener and go to work. By the time he gets to play at 1:42 I'm already ahead big so by the time he gets to his range and gets sonic boom pressure going at 1:51 I have a commanding lead. Which I almost squander. At 1:53 I guess with low strong to get under the sonic boom which isn't even remotely safe. I'm lucky that wasn't punished. At 1:56 I guess low strong AGAIN and get punished for it. You can tell I'm not reacting to sonic boom I'm reacting to motion at ranges where I EXPECT a sonic boom. At 2:00 my lead is gone. I jab after the throw which is a big no-no in the Nash matchup but I get away with it. I don't even get a combo for taking such a big risk, just a jab. Same mistake at 2;08, hitting jab there was a bad decision, but I get away with it, get the hit and no followup. I close it out at 2:35 with a poke. So even though I start this round off up ~75%, I need to get lucky repeatedly to win the round once he got his range established.
Round 3 starts with the forward sonic scythe. I block it but get nothing out of it; I was considering punishing with critical art, then thought “nah I'll just get EX legs” and split the difference and got nothing. Brilliant. Round is going well in my favor up until 3:12 when the first sonic boom comes out. I react poorly and jump, giving him the chance to get a big combo. Scramble situation leads to crush counter sweep and he finishes with a really nice empty jump setup into low into critical art which kills.
So let's review here. I'm having a lot of trouble anti-airing. In the first round against Genghis I did a good job because I was looking for it, but if it's not in the forefront of my mind, I'm not doing it. I'm reacting poorly to v-trigger and EX moonsault for the same reasons. A little bit of training mode shows that I can react to all of these situations with the same button, the standing short. In the case of v-trigger activation I could jump towards him and minimize my loss if I'm really struggling but I want to concentrate on standing short instead since it'll beat all of the v-trigger options cleanly and improving my reactions and comfort with this button will close multiple holes.It seems that I'm struggling mightily with the sonic boom but that's not exactly right. I struggle with sonic boom but that's a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. I'm losing to that range specifically. When I'm all the way in and pressuring with air lightning legs I'm doing OK. When I'm all the way out and I can jump or v-skill in safely I'm also OK. It's that range slightly outside of sweep range where he could sonic boom but he could also check me with low forward or dash in that I'm just clueless in.
So the very first move of the match, I start with a forward sonic scythe because I've been having trouble with this move. Instead of going for a quick legs punish, Raigunned goes for pressure instead. Even though nothing he gets is guaranteed, I've basically lost my turn for 8 game seconds when I can finally get started again. Worth thinking about. From this point up until 1:10 I'm concentrating on creating range, throwing sonic booms and anti-airing to the best of my ability and it's working out, I have a big lead. At 1:10 though, he gets v-trigger started and the pressure's on. He closes the round out at 1:30 with super which I didn't even notice him building. This is interesting, there were a couple opportunities for him to spend meter earlier in the round but he was deliberately saving for super and he takes the round. Interesting.
Round 2 this time I don't start with sonic scythe, I just go right to creating space with sonic booms. At 2:03 Raigunned makes the same mistake I usually make in this match, an unsafe low strong. Seems common in this match. At 2:39, I get dash into throw and it works, which again is something that works on me. Once I telegraphed how I was going to play the match, leaning heavily on sonic booms and step back buttons, this other Chun-Li started playing like me down to making the same mistakes I'm making. Though clearly I have a personal problem playing at this range, it seems that this problem is possibly universal to the matchup.
Round 3 I start with the same setup I started round 1 with, whiff low forward into forward sonic scythe. I'm actually disappointed he got hit, I wanted him to block it and get pressure on me just to see if he had a secondary pressure pattern. Oh well. Back to sonic booms which he critical arts through at 3:18. He'd been sitting on it for most of the round and I should have been more cognizant of that. 3:32 he gets a throw, then immediately gets a crush counter after that when I stood up to tech a second throw and he takes it.
So what did we learn here, other than the obvious, that I'm not a good Nash player? Meter is really important in this match and I throw it away. Raigunned played specifically to hoard meter and it worked out well for him. This is something I'm going to have to consider. I also learned how few answers Nash has to Chun's pressure. I mean, it's something I already knew from playing the other side, but it's one thing to know that the other person has no options and another to know exactly how it feels to have no answer besides blocking for 5 seconds. More importantly though we learned that other Chuns have the same trouble areas that my Chun has.
One of the best things about SF5's online is the Capcom Fighters Network and the replay system. You can follow any player in the world, watch their replays and see how they deal with situations that give you trouble. So this situation that I'm in right now, CFN is perfect for that. Time to load it up and look at what the best Chun-Li players in the world do about this range. What can I learn from the best?
This match is Ricki Ortiz vs. GeeGee. Ricki has been a top player at almost all SF and SF related games since CvS1 and this game seems like it's going to fit her style really well. Since we play the same character I make a point of viewing her replays so she's a natural choice to get some answers from.
Ricki starts out round 1 basically going berserk to avoid the trouble range. Her first four advances are 99 second v-skill to try and get in, dash up towards strong and then 2 straight v-skills from range trying to anticipate a sonic boom and get started. Pretty dramatic switch from how Ricki normally plays. She's telegraphed that her solution to the trouble range is to take risks to get out of it and never let Nash get started. It works and at 0:50 Nash is in the corner and she's in. GeeGee jumps out of the corner and is on the run to try and establish range and Ricki cooperates by jumping into EX sonic scythe. Interesting to note at 1:01 Ricki makes the same mistake all other Chuns so far make, a whiffed guess low strong. At 1:03, Ricki gets anti-aired going for guess v-skill again, but the punish doesn't do much and she's in again at 1:05. Great dash in whiff punish at 1:20, now Ricki has the corner and she sets up an empty jump low, but GeeGee makes a good block and gets v-trigger to get back in the round. Ricki takes a big chance at 1:38 with v-skill and gets away with it but gets caught on a double dash (!) at 1:44 to lose the round.
Round 2 starts out similarly with Ricki rushing hard. GeeGee counters the first v-skill with EX sonic scythe, but Ricki gets in with it at 2:07 and gets started. Ricki controls with pressure until an execution error at 2:16 and GeeGee finally gets to set up with sonic booms. He gives away ground by going for moonsault, kind of a big error and Ricki puts him right back into the corner. Another big mistake not finishing his combo at 2:35. Might not have killed but he really wanted that. Ricki closes out with v-trigger.
Another show of aggression to start round 3 by Ricki as she follows a kikoken with a double dash and towards strong. It pays off since she gets the corner. Doesn't get much out of it. At 3:18 another guess low strong by Ricki and at 3:20 a misplaced option select low forward into EX legs. It shows Ricki is taking some chances in footsies here. Another guess v-skill at 3:33 and another guess low strong into v-trigger at 3:42. Ricki follows with a sweet counterhit towards roundhouse set up and gets a big combo and closes soon after.
So what did we learn from this match? Ricki recognizes the same trouble area of the match that other Chun-Li players do but Ricki's way of solving it in this match was just overwhelming offense. She's a cautious footsie oriented player usually but we saw a whole lot of shows of open aggression bordering on recklessness in this game. At least 10 different “no reason” v-skills, more than a few double dashes. Non-stop pressure. But you know what we didn't see towards the latter half of this match? Sonic booms. I count exactly 5 after the 2:20 mark with 2 of them coming in one string in a row. Ricki's aggression made GeeGee afraid to sit in the trouble range. So yeah it was a close match and yeah you can make the argument that Ricki was on borrowed time in the second round but the plan worked! Very interesting game. Let's look at a different take.
This is Majorboy, a top Japanese Chun-Li player vs. Gamerbee who you may have heard of. To start the round Majorboy takes a noticeably less aggressive posture than Ricki did at the beginning but turns on the offense at 0:43. Note the dropped combo here. Instead of finishing with legs, Majorboy tried the forward spinning bird kick ender. Majorboy continues the aggression at 0:49 with dash in throw, then a naked jumpin that he gets away with and guess low strong into v-trigger at 0:57 that goes through. Guess v-skill at 1:05 and a dashin reset at 1:08 to take the round.
Second round starts out more of the same, Majorboy taking risks in the midrange, even landing a rare crush counter roundhouse at 1:27. Execution error at 1:30 lets Gamerbee off the hook and he gets back to his range. The aggression that Majorboy showed early isn't letting Gamerbee throw sonic booms though; at this point he's counting on Majorboy coming in so he's looking to counter. Interesting. Once full screen is established at 1:54, he begins throwing them though. Gamerbee's read pays off at 2:10 when Majorboy walks into a backfist and eats a massive combo for it. That basically seals the round.
Third rounds looks a little more standard but once Gamerbee throws a second sonic boom, Majorboy punishes him with the critical art. Majorboy had that one stocked for awhile and he baited Gamerbee with that by acting submissive in that trouble range. Execution error at 3:02 lets Gamerbee out of the corner and the backfist into v-trigger nets massive damage again. At 3:11 Majorboy uses EX spinning bird kick; there's no use saving meter anymore, he figures he can't get another critical art so why not. Sweet corpse hop setup at 3:25 and Majorboy takes it.
So what have I learned about this match that I can use going forward? The first thing is that in all replays studied, all other Chuns I've looked at have the same problem with that range but had different answers. Raigunned's answer was stocking meter; it's OK to be in the midrange if you have the meter to make Nash pay for it. Meter by itself can discourage passive play and can open up midrange pokes for Chun-Li that Nash normally doesn't have to worry about. Ricki's answer was just non-stop violence; if you can convince the Nash player that you're going to be wild and that he's going to need to anti-air you every time and stop your dashins every time, then sonic booms and hanging out in the mid-range don't seem to be such a good idea. Majorboy's answer was a little bit in between, he's saving meter and taking risks, but he's taking more poke related risks and not as many movement related risks.
But watching this showed me that I need to be using v-skill more. I need to be saving my meter. I blow my meter on EX spinning bird kicks and finish combos with EX legs because I'm too afraid to finish combos with forward spinning bird kicks. I'm too willing to play this match at kikoken and standing fierce range when that's a range that you notice these players specifically avoided unless they had meter. I need to get into mixup range. I need to throw more. You notice in my replays I almost never throw but in the other ones, the throw is a bigger part of the mixup game? This is a big part of why my frame traps didn't work but theirs did.
Have we solved the matchup? Does Chun beat Nash now? No on the first and probably no on the second as well. Feeling like you've got a matchup down in the first month probably means that you're being overconfident and overlooking something. But this is progress. Thanks to online play and the CFN, I learned a lot and I'm better now than I was last week and one step closer to achieving my goals. That's a good week of practice right there.
That's all for this week. Next week with Final Round on the horizon, we're going to talk about tournament preparation. See you then!