“Who do I pick?”
This is the eternal question when it comes to fighting games. You’ve finished unlocking and now it’s time to make the tough decision: Who will I main? There are so many factors that affect the character or team that you choose in a fighting game. Main selection is very important to competitive play. If you are new to fighting games and don’t quite know where to start, or are just having trouble finding a comfortable match, I hope that this guide will help you. I’m sure it’s not comprehensive, but, as a guy who’s been there, thinking through these elements has helped me find better satisfaction in character selection.
For the sake of contrast I will be using two main examples to help illustrate the process: Super Smash Bros. and Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom. These two games have many differences (one has a single-character selection, the other is a team fighter, etc.) which I hope will give this guide a wider application.
Fortunately (and unfortunately), many of the decisions that go into what character you play are made for you before you have any input. What characters actually make it into the game are decided by the producer of the game: his or her ambitions and limitations. The maker(s) of the game have a plethora of deciding factors when it comes to their game’s cast. Some of these are as follows:
- Availability: “What characters do I have available to me? Do I have to make them from scratch, or can I use characters from the company I work for? Do I have the rights to use guest characters from a number of companies?”
- Cast size: “How many fighters should my game have? Will having more fighters mean serious balance issues?” In looking at our examples, Smash has a character roster of about fifty-five, while TvC has a maximum count of 26, which is half the amount. Complete balance is impossible (more on tier lists later), but a smaller cast may mean a more well-rounded field.
- Personal preference: “Do I put certain characters in because I like them more than others? I really like character ‘X’, therefore I will make him pretty good.” Take Metaknight in Smash Bros. Brawl, for instance. Sakurai (the game’s point man) created the character, and seems overly powerful when compared with the rest of the cast. I’m not bitter.
- Making fans happy: “Fans really seem to like this character, so I might include her. This character wasn’t popular in the last installment, so maybe I’ll remove him.” For the most recent Smash Bros. game, fans got a special treat when Nintendo set up a poll for fans to pick the last character in the roster. Still not bitter.
- $$$$$: “What character can I put in this game as a selling point? If I use a character from another recent/upcoming release, maybe they’ll buy that game, too. If I add characters as paid DLC, will people buy it?” Sadly, money is what makes the video game world go ’round.
Once the game is released, and as long as you have the money to buy the game and all the DLC, it’s finally your turn! How do you even begin to pick? Note that the following doesn’t necessarily go in order, and that they don’t have to happen separately. You may find yourself sliding naturally from one into another or going back and forth between two multiple times. Give the process time and don’t rush it.
The Cool Factor
After watching trailers for a fighting game, there’s usually one character that I want to try out first. I see their fighting style or know them from another game and I naturally gravitate toward that character. Needless to say, I rarely end up sticking with that character. There are some players that stick to a character simply because they like the character and make it work with lots of practice. If you really want to go this way, I wish you luck, but don’t quit a game because a character you love doesn’t gel with you.
Trial and Error
Were you expecting some soul mate, love-at-first-sight mumbo jumbo? Finding the right one is hard work! You should always try out each member of the cast at least once. If you’re playing against someone or see someone playing a character that looks really good or like a lot of fun to play, try that character out next. Don’t expect a character to magically make you good, but once you’ve had a taste of what the whole cast can do, you’ll have a better idea of what you’re looking for. Hopefully you’ll be able to make a list of characters that you enjoy and would like to play. Don’t worry about narrowing down at this stage.
If you’ve played fighting games before, you may have a “style” of character that you play. You may be a more reserved person who likes to slowly chip away at your opponent from a distance, or you might like to play more rushdown where you stay in your opponent’s face, never giving them a chance to breathe. Know your character archetypes and if you seem to fall into one category or another. If you are the kind of person that practices combos all day and relies on muscle memory then you might opt for a combo-heavy character. If you are good at reading a situation and baiting your opponent into a trap, then you might spring for a slow but hard-hitting grappler. If you’re new to the scene or can’t seem to find a pattern, you’re not alone; my mains are very much dependent on the game. But it is very helpful to know what kind of character you might gravitate toward.
A practical tip for any video game that you want to be good at is this: Watch the game! Watch people playing whatever game you want to play, whether you frequent the local tournament hotspot or binge online streams. It won’t be long until you pick out your favorite players. Maybe you like their personality or their play style. Watching people having fun playing a game will make you want to play like them and use the characters they use. I love watching Vermanubis play Smash Bros., and since I started watching him I picked up Gannondorf. Scott watches the Smasher Izaw, and whenever he releases a new video, I know I have a new character to learn to play against, because Scott will try him out.
Let Someone Else Pick
By this, I don’t mean that you should hand your controller to someone else and have them pick for you, but rather that you should keep an eye on the competitive scene. The metagame (factors outside of a game that affect the outcome) is always updating for any given game. Tier lists (though always having a subjective element) are a good indication on a character’s relative “goodness” in the current metagame. Some characters are considered “better” than others because of certain attributes that they have, certain combos they can pull off, or just the number of matches they can win against the majority of the cast. Picking a character with better tools may give you an advantage. There are, however, advantages to picking a lower-tier (“worse”) character. For instance, by picking an unpopular character, it is likely that the people you play against will be less familiar with what your character can do, whereas if you were to play as a top-tier character, your opponent might be familiar with a lot of the character’s tricks and counterpick you. It also helps to know popular characters in your “scene”. Where I live, there are some really good Ganondorf Smash players, so, even though he is low tier, many players are familiar with Ganon’s tools, which put me at another disadvantage. Once again, not bitter.
Ultimately, the deciding factor for me whilst picking a main is whether or not a character gels with me. I might see a character that can do something really cool and try it out, only to find that my character doesn’t move the way I expect him to. There is always a learning curve when it comes to getting good with any character, but there is no doubt that you’ll find some characters that just don’t flow with you and others that do. This is something that’s unavoidable. As with finding a “cool” or “good” character, you can always choose to tough it out and make it work, but, personally, I don’t find that abandoning that natural connection that’s present from the start is an advantage. In my eyes, it puts you one step ahead at the beginning. That could have consequences down the line in developing a main, but keep this factor in mind especially when looking for a counterpick, as you won’t be able to put as much time into them.
In games like Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, you not only have to pick one good character, you have to pick a compliment to your character. This might mean picking two good characters, but that doesn’t always work in your favor. You have to take into account what one character on your team might contribute where the other one is lacking. For instance, if my team consists of Zero (a rushdown character) and Jun (another rushdown character), they might be really good individually, but if I’m up against a team of Alex and Frank West I’m going to have a bad time, as both of those characters are grapplers who want me close to them. You also have to keep in mind assists and DHC’s. Zero and Tekkaman Blade are probably two of the best characters by themselves, but their assists are pretty terrible and won’t extend any combos, whereas Ryu’s assist goes well with just about any character needing a combo extension.
Counterpicks and Secondaries
Unless you are the best (at which point you are probably not reading this), or your game has an unimaginably broken character that you play (and maybe even in those situations), you’re probably eventually going to need a counterpick on your side. A counterpick is a character (or sometimes a stage) that is chosen to specifically combat an opponent’s character choice. These are handy to have practiced up so that you can buff up your main’s weak areas (kind of like team synergy, only not). Many characters have a fighting chance against most other characters, but there are a few matchups for each character that make playing him or her a pain. In these cases, it’s nice to have an option toward which to turn to avoid said detrimental matchup. Picking a secondary character can be pretty difficult, because often the characters that you gravitate toward have similar weaknesses to your main. Try to change it up and learn a different character style or archetype. You’ll learn more about your main by playing a new character, too.
Switching Mains and Stagnancy
There may be some conditions that make you want to switch your main. You may settle into a character, then realize he has an outstanding number of bad matchups. A patch might come along and nerf your character into the ground. You may feel like, though you once really liked a character, you’re bored or falling into a rut that you can’t seem to escape. Before you switch mains, I suggest watching some footage of the character being played by a number of different players. Go back into practice mode and try to find some new options for your character. Sometimes it is a good idea to switch mains, but don’t give up on all the hard work you’ve already put into the character. Knowing how to play more than one character, even if it isn’t your main, will give you more matchup knowledge and even more counterpick options.
However you choose to land on your main, I hope you play hard and never give up. Fight on, fellow brawlers, fight on.