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What Is Zoning?

October 24th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Zoning means acquiring and maintaining certain positions on the screen favorable to your character’s arsenal but disadvantageous and restrictive to your opponent. Rushdown, footsies, turtling, runaway, and all other major categories of tactical gameplans employed by fighting game players involve some aspect of zoning.

In some cases, these areas occupy enormous chunks of the screen. For example, take almost any Street Fighter character and draw an imaginary vertical line 1/3 screen distance away from their foot. If you put Dhalsim anywhere in the remaining 2/3 of the screen, he’s automatically got a significant advantage that you’ll need to overcome in order to hurt him.

Conversely, if you put Zangief anywhere within that same 2/3 area, he’s automatically got a significant disadvantage that you’ll want to preserve. Of course if Zangief finds his way into your nearby 1/3 zone without leaving the ground, suddenly he becomes quite scary.

In other cases, these areas can overlap in complex and subtle arrangements. For instance, Guile is generally dominant from long distance because he can throw Sonic Booms at will, and your opponent has to take risks to deal with them. If your opponent somehow reaches point blank range while carrying momentum, Guile’s in trouble.

However, the interval between these extremes is actually reversed. Guile has an advantage when your opponent is a few steps away as long as Guile’s still within c.MK range. That’s Guile’s best poke and it pushes opponents away when it connects, enabling you to throw Sonic Booms again. However if your opponent stays a few pixels outside of Guile’s c.MK range, that poke becomes unsafe, severely limiting Guile’s options. Therefore the entire strategic playfield looks like a fuzzy checkerboard.

In addition to character spacing, zoning also includes stage positioning considerations. For example, a runaway character like Vega is in pretty good shape if you can keep at least 1/4 screen distance away from your opponent. However, you have to resist the urge to constantly move backward during this process, because your choices become quite a bit tougher once you end up in the corner. Either you need a strategy to consistently move forward while keeping a safe distance, or you need to plan your escape from the corner before you reach it. In contrast, a hardcore turtle character like Honda might actually prefer to stay in the corner where you don’t have to worry about crossups.

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The first step to understanding matchups is determining where your character has the biggest advantages and finding ways to establish that distance starting from every common scenario. How do you get there at the beginning of the round? How do you get there after you land a combo? How do you get there once you’ve been thrown? How do you get there after blocking a jump attack?

Of course, all of these questions are relative, because your dominant zones change drastically depending on which character you’re facing. Furthermore, they’re relative to your opponent’s status. Sometimes it’s better to occupy your second strongest zone if it locks your opponent into their weakest zone. You may be giving up your most damaging combo setup, but it’s worth it if you’re also keeping your opponent at a range where they have no combo opportunities at all.

Some of this sounds overly theoretical, but it’s simply a matter of trial and error. If you replay any matchup long enough, you’ll start to notice where your opponent needs to go in order to inflict significant damage. All you have to do is keep him out of that spot, or hurt him for trying to reach that spot. The most important thing is realizing when you’re at a disadvantage and trying to find ways to get out of there instead of getting stuck fighting uphill battles all the time.

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  1. Zerodemise
    February 9th, 2010 at 10:12 | #1

    Wow, I can’t believe nobody has replied to this.
    But I completely agree about keeping your opponents from the space where they’re most dangerous. I usually ask myself, “what can my opponent do to me from this distance, and what are my options to counterattack?”
    Thanks for sharing, man.

  2. February 14th, 2010 at 14:01 | #2

    Zoning is cool because it’s probably the easiest aspect of matchups to think about while you’re stuck in traffic on the freeway. If you can visualize the whole playing field and the advanages/disadvantages of each zone, you can come up with a solid gameplan way in advance.

    Even if you know nothing about an opponent’s play style, zoning gives you a basic plan to start with. And that’s always better than nothing.

  3. Azure Black
    February 27th, 2016 at 19:28 | #3

    This may sound very silly, but would you mind creating a visual of the 1/3, 2/3, 3/4 and so forth zones, so that I may see and better understand? Thanks! (^_^)

  4. Azure Black
    February 27th, 2016 at 19:33 | #4

    My favorite character is Chun-Li by the way. I’ve always struggled with playing Street Fighter games for YEARS (since the 90s LOL!) because movement on the screen always felt so stiff to me compared to other 2D fighting games, but now with The Footsies Handbook I can finally begin studying with Street Fighter 5.

  5. April 2nd, 2016 at 15:05 | #5

    Sorry, i just don’t have nearly as much time to work on this kind of stuff these days. I’m glad you’re finding these articles useful though. If you’re trying to learn SF5, the best place to find info and ask questions is still the SRK forums IMO. Good luck!

  6. JoseCharlie
    April 5th, 2016 at 03:58 | #6

    Wow, I can’t believe there’s only two responses and one is way back to 2010. Man, I’ve been playing FG since all my life and trying to learn how to play since SFIV AE. I’m trying now to build a community in my city and I’m giving a few speeches and practicing some of them in a gamer bar here once a week and I gotta tell you that this site and specially this kind of articles but over all Footsies 101 (what I now consider The Bible of Fighting Games) are being really helpfull for me to explain things.
    I hope you don’t mind if I try to put it all together and translate them to spanish for a website of the spanish FGC.

  7. April 6th, 2016 at 22:58 | #7

    Cool, i’m glad they’re still helpful. Someone did make a Spanish translation a while back, so maybe that’ll save you some time. At this point it’s been so long since i wrote these articles that i’m not very protective of them. Whatever people want to do with them is ok with me, as long as the intentions are good for the FGC.

  1. May 7th, 2010 at 07:06 | #1
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