A fighting game dictionary
Fighting games have an interesting and impenetrable vocabulary. It describes everything from the personalities of players (scrub: player that never looks inward to think about why they lost a match) to the characteristics of certain moves (overhead: any attack which hits "over the head"; beats crouching blocks).
These terms express the shared mechanical framework, a language of punches and kicks and throws, that all fighting games adhere to. Without looking at these words within context, and how they influence you as a player, you'll never truly understand them.
Mix-up: Using moves which require the opponent to react in different ways
Mix-ups are the fundamental concept upon which all fighting games are built. It's a very simple one at its core, too: "fight unpredictably."
However, mix-ups are a very specific concept within that greater notion of fighting unpredictably. Button mashing (slamming on all the buttons randomly) is not a mix-up, for example, even though it is unpredictable. Rather, mix-ups are directed unpredictability. It's about locating your opponent's weakest point and hammering on it until they learn, then switching. It's about pivoting from weakness to weakness in ways that throw the opponent off guard.
A classic mix-up is the crouching attack into overhead mix-up. You throw out a bunch of crouching attacks, which the opponent must block low, and then follow them up with an overhead, which the opponent must block high. If they fail to, they take a hit and are opened up for a combo. Other basic mix-ups include throwing a fireball to support a jump-in, and throwing somebody who is blocking too much.
All high-level fighting game play revolves around the almighty mix-up. Having good mix-up play is the first step towards becoming a genuinely great fighting game player.
Zoning: Forcing an enemy into a disadvantaged situation through the use of specials.
Zoning is usually the first advanced concept any player learns, and for good reason. Without good zoning, you can't think ahead of your opponent, and if you can't do that you will lose every fight. After all, fighting games are not about min-maxing; you are here to get into your opponent's head and make them second-guess their actions.
The classic zoning example is the fireball-uppercut scenario. An enemy is advancing towards Ryu, so Ryu throws a light fireball. The enemy jumps over the fireball, which puts them in range of uppercut. If we imagine Ryu's "zones" - that is, the areas of the screen that his moves can connect with at a moment's notice - the fireball extends into a horizontal zone, and the uppercut extends vertically. By forcing the enemy off the ground with a fireball, Ryu traps them within his uppercut range.
Every character zones in a different way based on their movement style and special moves. For example, Zangief has no long-range zoning to speak of, but his close-range ground zoning is impeccable, thanks to his powerful throws and strong reach. Thus, learning the zoning for each character is an important part of getting good at a particular fighting game. Zoning also leads into the "honorable" way to play fighting games: footsies.
Footsies: The act of constantly moving back and forth within a certain range to both bait out enemy normal attacks and land some attacks of your own.
Footsies are a difficult concept to master, as most players will jump into an enemy out of frustration after a few failed attempts. However, learning how to do footsies well is essential if you plan on becoming a better player, as more skilled players will easily punish any jumps that bring you within attack range.
The key to performing footsies well is to visualize the attack range of both you and your target. You should move in and out of your opponent's longest-range move to bait out an attack, while trying to keep your longest-range move in range to punish it. The goal is to score a counter hit to throw your opponent off their game and lead into a combo.
For example, Ryu's standing medium kick and crouching medium kick both have decent range and are relatively safe to use for footsies. You can also combo into a hadoken from it, which gives you a strong and simple combo you can bust out whenever you like (this sort of combo is called a "bread and butter", as it's simple and effective). If your opponent loses patience with your footsie game and jumps, you can punish with a shoryuken or a crouching heavy punch.
Footsies are easy to grasp, but hard to master. They require a lot of patience to perform well, and the minutiae of attack ranges might be frustrating to learn. Most players who don't use footsies instead rely on a separate and far more unpredictable concept known as "oki".
Okizeme: Usually shortened to “oki”. Attacking the opponent as they wake up, forcing them to guess your move or take damage.
Also known as vortex in some circles, oki is extremely frustrating to play against, but when done right can result in a decisive win.
Oki is usually broken down into a triad, where reaction to one will lose to another if the defending player guesses wrong. The three parts of this triad are meaties, throws, and aerials.
Meaties, normal moves which deal damage on the same frame that a player wakes up from a knockdown, can be used to quickly start the next big combo but are relatively easy to punish on block if they aren't done frame-perfect. They are the most effective way to shut down a reversal (an enemy attack on wake-up, usually a special) during its start, unless the move has invincibility frames on startup.
Throws are great at punishing a player that tries to block on wake-up, but are incredibly obvious and easy to counter with an attack unless you play some mind games. Since throws require you to be so close you could kiss the other fighter, it's not exactly subtle. A common tactic in oki is to pretend like you are going to throw to bait out a reversal, then punish the reversal after you block it.
Aerials are usually used to start a cross-up (attacking a player with a move that hits backwards as you jump over them; forces blocks in the opposite direction) or bait out an attack that can be punished. Aerial okis are extremely dangerous unless you've completely destroyed your opponent's morale or understand how to make a move safe, since most characters have a simple and dangerous anti-air move (like Ryu's shoryuken) that can be mashed out as a reversal.
The key to overcoming a player subjecting you to oki is to know exactly what kind of move beats an opponent's attack. Blocking will always beat a meaty but loses to throws, backdashing causes throws to whiff but can be ineffective against normal moves, and a reversal can punish a player that is too aggressive but renders you vulnerable if you are blocked.
Understanding zoning, footsies, and oki is the surest way to becoming a better fighting game player, but the vocabulary doesn't stop there. From resets (dropping a combo to put your opponent in a specific situation) to infinites (a combo which can be repeated indefinitely), fighting games are replete with terms for unique scenarios. If you can think of a specific style of play you've encountered before, or a specific technique you keep losing to, there's probably a word for it.
So go out there and learn those new words, and maybe make up a few of your own, by playing some fighting games! Learn the language of force, and build beautiful stories through your punches and kicks.
- 5 Tips For Getting Started With Street Fighter 5 by Suriel Vasquez: A great article on basic mindset things that will help you improve faster and player better.
- From Masher To Master by Patrick Miller: A free ebook that offers a comprehensive view on improving your game through practice and mindset.
- Learn to Teach by Patrick Miller: While nominally a guide on how to mentor other players in fighting games, also useful as tips to help guide your own learning.