Freshman Series: Neutral Game Guide

So you’ve decided to play street fighter. You picked a character. Round 1. FIGHT, right? If you’re like most newbies, you probably won a couple, but for the most part, lost. So I don’t wanna open up any fresh wounds, but from all those L’s you’re holding, I’m pretty sure that some of them were particularly painful. You probably came across that one person who just DESTROYS you. Like no matter what you did, you just seemed to lose, right?

So I’ll settle down for a moment, and let you know that in order for you to hand out beatings like the one you probably got, you have a lot of skills to develop as a player. Suddenly, street fighter sounds way less like an enjoyable game, and a lot more like work, right? Well what if I told you that there is a skill that will make you better right out of the gate. Hopefully it makes the game sound a bit more bearable. The skill I’m going to talk about is what seasoned players call “the neutral game.” So what is a “neutral game?” You know that moment where you’re both ready to just tear the other’s life bar to shreds, but you’re waiting for the announcer to start the match? That’s basically the start of the neutral game. A more exact definition is when you and your opponent are fighting for space on the screen in order to gain an advantage over one another. You know how at the start of the match, you and your opponent start a bit away from each other? Well the first thing you do is either press forward or move backward. What may look like simple movement to rookie players, is a very important time where high-calibur players are fighting to get into a good position on the screen, where their character does best at.

So let’s look at all the things you can do when the round starts, or anytime you find yourself in the neutral game. Against most characters, in the neutral game, you are surprisingly safe. The only way either you or your opponent can hit each other is from above, via a jumping attack, or from the front, by playing footsies. Let me say that again, because I NEED this to stick.

The only way either of you can hit each other is from above from a jumping attack, or from the front, by playing footsies.

That’s it. There is no other way you can be hit in the neutral game. Think back to all those ass-whippings you just got. You must be scratching your head at the fact that you got hit at all. Well fret not. I’ll just say don’t worry for now, because you didn’t know what to do. Well let’s solve that problem, shall we. When all else fails just remember in the neutral game you have only 2 jobs.

Watch out against a jumping opponent.

If your opponent hits you with a jumping attack, they get a huge reward, BUT. BUT BUT BUT BUT while they’re in the air, they can’t block. If you hit them, they will always take damage. If you don’t know yet, I suggest you get your ass in training mode and find a move that hits your opponent when they jump.

And job number 2:

Play footsies

This will be the meat and potatoes of this guide. So we’re gonna get into some fighting game lingo. First off, footsies is a term that embodies moving into a range where you can hit your opponent, and attack them, AND all the strategies revolving around that ideas. Footsies, is probably the one skill players overlook the most, because the alternative (jumping) is way easier to do, and if the jump works, again, it’s the equivalent to drawing Exodia in Yu-gi-oh when you have like 12 life points left. You know should’ve gotten bopped but…. Heart of the Cards, son.

While some strategies can get pretty in-depth, in this guide we’ll focus on the ones that will be the most beneficial for you as a player. Everything after, you can easily develop on your own. Right now, however, we’ll talk about offensive and defensive-oriented footsies.


Offensive Footsies

Offensive footsies are the purest form of footsies, and I already told you how to fight in this fashion. Basically move into range where one of your quicker long range attacks juuuuuuust hits your opponent. The simplest example of this is Ryu taking a step forward and using his crouching medium kick attack. Ryu’s crouching medium kick or any quick, long range attack from any character that is often used in footsies, is called in fighting game circles a “poke.” Fireballs are also considered a type of offensive footsie, because they generally go the length of the screen, and force your opponent to react in some way. Finally, remember that this attack-oriented style calls for you to move forward. Well it also has the added bonus of pushing your opponent to the corner, where they essentially can’t move backward anymore and as a result, limits their mobility options. What does that mean? You’re literally forcing your opponent into a back alley, to beat the crap out of them. Pretty effective.


Defensive Footsies

Alright folks, more vocabulary coming down the pipe-line. This WILL be on next week’s test, so be sure to take notes. Defense-based footsies also go by another term, “whiff punishing.” While the offense-style has you move forward to hit, defensive footsies are about moving backward to counter-attack. The idea is that when your opponent moves forward to hit you, you take a step backward to counter-attack. The idea is that when your opponent moves forward and tries to attack you, you move backward and make the opponent’s poke miss, or as we call it in fighting games “whiff.” Their moves comes out and hits nothing, because you’re too far away, then you just hit their extended poke. Now I’m gonna level with you. This skill is harder to master than offensive footsies, because it forces you to quickly react to something, but I promise you, it is a learnable and usable skill. When you finally get this skill down it will be like when Goku comes out of the hyperbolic time chamber to defeat cell. You’ll have some battle scars from the ass-whippings, but you’ll be super-saiyan.

With all this talk of footsies, offense, and defense, it’s hard to know exactly which you should be doing in a match. So here’s a general guideline for you. If two characters are ina match, the one with the longer range attacks will usually take the role of defensive footsies, and the one with shorter limbs will generally take the role of offensive footsies. This can change however, and if you want to try a different strategy, by all means, try it out. Remember, Street Fighter is not a rigid game. It’s fluid and adaptive. And you need to be as well.

So we looked at the baby-steps of the neutral game. We discussed footsies; the offensive and defensive variations. We figured out how to make each effective and how to know what role you should play in a match. So now let’s look at some strategies so that, given you know your role and your opponents role, you can provide an effective counter to their play and emerge victorious. The two concepts I’m going to present take advantage mostly of your opponents mindset during the match in a very “I know that you want to do X, so I’ll do Y.” kind of situation. These two methods of play are called “counter-offensive footsies and counter-defensive footsies,” and serve as the basis for “mindgames” or the mental struggle of trying to outsmart and outwit your opponent in a match.


Counter-Offensive Footsies

Counter-Offensive footsies takes aim at your opponents willingness and desire to move forward so that one of their “pokes” will reach you. So you know that your opponent wants to take a step forward so they can hit you, so what do you do to stop them? If your answer here is jump forward and hit them, you are absolutely wrong [have you been listening at all?] Jumping is too slow, they can react and put their knuckles to your chin. In Street Fighter every character has a move that must be blocked crouching. For most characters this move is the crouching heavy kick [there are exceptions], referred to more commonly as a “sweep.” If a sweep hits a standing opponent, they will be hit and knocked down, guaranteed. This means if you see your opponent acting like a bully and walking forward a lot, your counter play should be to knock them down. This does not come without some risk however, because if your opponent blocks your sweep, they usually have enough time to hit you afterward.


Counter-Defensive Footsies

Counter-defensive footsies serve to take advantage of the opponent who is focused on whiff punishing any move you try to do. If you can’t remember what a “whiff punish” is, it is taking a step back when an opponent does an attack. Then while their limb from their attack is still extended, you hit the extended limb. Anywho, back from that review,  to set this up, you  need to step into range where your “poke” move would hit, but instead of using your normal poke, you can use a much faster attack that does not reach your opponent [typically a character’s crouching light punch or crouching light kick]. Upon seeing a move come out, the opponent will be misled into thinking it is your poke, they will try to punish it. Because your move has such quick recovery, you should be able to recover in time to counter their whiff punish with an appropriately timed and far reaching move.

So now that you have some basics down with the strategies, and how to beat them, I want to talk about a topic that gets overlooked by a lot of people. When you sit down to play street fighter, you are generally concerned with the buttons you press, unfortunately, this next bit is going to be regarding the time you don’t spend pressing buttons. New players believe that you need to be pressing buttons all the time. The more you press buttons, the more you can damage your opponent right? You should have known by this point it was a trick question. As you get better, you realize that it’s not how many buttons you press that matters, but rather the “economy” of your buttons, which is to say how useful the buttons you press actually are. So with that said, let’s focus on movement. The question, I know the lot of you have is “East, I can’t just walk or dash forward, I will run into my opponents attacks,” but this is not always true. Next time you’re playing someone who has a decent grasp of the game, at the start of the round, just try and walk forward and see how far you get before your opponent hits you. Chances are you’ll get farther than you thought. It has been my experienc that if an opponent is not actively thinking about defending their space, they will surrender it. You can also test the waters against your opponents in the first round by watching how they defend their space then second be more bullish in moving forward. Daigo Umehara [Probably the worlds best street fighter player] was in New York at an event and played a couple of people there. Check out how his movement changes from the first round to the second against the Cammy player. Check out how his movement changes from the first round to the second against the Cammy player. The first round he doesn’t do much to get into the guy’s space, but the second round he relentlessly presses forward; After 20 seconds on the clock, his opponent is already in the corner.

The first round he doesn’t do much to get into the guy’s space, but the second round he relentlessly presses forward; By the 20 second mark his opponent is already in the corner.

Within the matches above are some great examples of the two concepts I’ll explain below that you can add to your street fighter utility belt. The first of which is offensive movement.


Offensive Movement

Offensive movement serves as a purpose to gain ground and make your opponent move toward the corner. This idea comes from the player’s mindset, given they know about offensive and defensive footsies. If they believe you will walk forward and try to use your poke move, they will try to walk back and whiff punish. using this theory, you can use it to your advantage to gain more ground and walk farther forward if they simply continue waiting for you to attack while walking backward. Be wary, if they realize what you are doing. At that point it becomes a game of “I know that you know that I know…” and will take appropriate and your opponent will take measures to attack you.


Defensive Movement

Sometimes when an aggressor is playing footsies, they will tend to buffer one more after another. A prime example is ryu’s crouching medium kick buffered into his fireball. I fyou se this and get a sense that the opponent is doing this, sometimes it’s helpful to take a walk into it face first. What I mean is, take a small step forward into the opponents range and then immediately block low. If an opponent does a buffer [cancelling one move into another], that is unsafe and you block it, you can attack them before they can do anything. This is sometimes range specific with certain moves, so play around with it, and see what you can get out of it. The drawback to this is that you are moving into your opponents poke range while they are also moving into a range to hit you. If they recognize what you are doing, they may be apt to get close enough to throw you, though this is generally a rare situation.

Holy crap, you’re now 6 times smarter than you were when you started reading all this neutral game stuff. Way to go! With all this power though… [RIP Uncle Ben]. Anyway, it’s really easy to get caught up in the parts of street fighter about dealing out big damage and landing hits, but good players recognize that in order to get the big damage, you have to put your opponent in a situation that is not advantageous to them. The aforementioned concepts are great examples of putting your opponent in a bad place. You either move them to the corner, where their footsies potential becomes limited, or you force them to do something unsafe in order to gain the upperhand. And remember: It’s not always about the buttons!

Phew this is getting a bit lengthy, I know, but we have only one more topic to cover, I promise, and it’s the simplest one to describe! A quick recap; we’ve talked about the neutral game golden rule: “The opponent can only hurt you from the front via footsies, or from above via a jumping attack.

Question: Is jumping is better than footsies?
A: Very Yes
B: I am not a heathen [No]

If you answered B, I could shed a tear, I’m so proud of you. If not…… really? REALLY?! Anyway, we also talked about offensive and defensive footsies, which involves moving into your opponents range and attacking or moving out of your opponents range and counter attacking, respectively. Next I introduced counter-offensive footsies, and counter-defensive footsies, which takes advantage of your opponents gameplan and mindset.  Finally, we talked about movement in general. First there is offensive movement, which aims to move forward, in hopes tha tyour opponent moves backward and puts themselves into the corner. The second is defensive movement, which aims to walk forward and block unsafe moves and attack afterward. With all of that covered, the only thing left to talk about is the worst option:



Jumping is generally a bad move, because it presents a great risk during footsies. This next sentence I need you to ingrain in your head. It should only be used in situations when you need to make a great comeback. Jumping in footsies is dangerous because you essentially surrender your ability to block for a set period of time [the time during which you’re in the air.] The trade-off is two-fold. The first assumes the opponent gets hit. I the jumping move hits, it does significant damage and can be followed up with powerful combos. The second assumes the opponent blocked the move. if the attack is blocked, it puts the opponent in a pressure situation where, depending on how you mis up your offensive, you might net some damage in the end.

Just a caveat here: Please be aware that when I refer to jumping in footsies, I mean jumping forward. Jumping backward and jumping straight up pose  less significant risk, and are used for different reasons entirely. I’m not telling you to never jump in footises. I’m just saying that there is a time and place for jumping [typically during a knockdown, and if you do jump during footsies, you should first weigh the risk and reward of the situation, and accept the risk you’re taking is actually worth the reward.

Take some advice form the best Guild player in the world, Kevin “Dieminion” Landon:


This will wrap up this guide regarding the neutral game. I really hope you were able to take something away, and if you have any questions, please feel free to contact me in any way you deem necessary [Twitter is probably easiest] and I’ll try to get back to you. Also, if you found this useful or you know a friend who would benefit from this, share it with them! That way, when you improve and beat them down, they have no excuse for why they lost. You’ve got the tools to win, now get out there and prove it!



One Reply to “Freshman Series: Neutral Game Guide”

  1. Amazing, I know about fighting games, and I just wanted to see how you’ll break it down. Assuming I was a noob [new learner]. I hope people get to read this. Good work

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