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Theory Fighter

Being part of the fighting game community and having internet access, it happens to all of us from time to time. We all get sucked into heated forum arguments about which character is superior in head-to-head battle.

Instead of playing the matchup in real time for twenty minutes, we sit around debating every possible move and its flowchart of counters for hours. This bizarre turn-based text RPG version of Street Fighter is such a common activity that we’ve coined a name for it: Theory Fighter.

The whole idea behind it is that breaking down the risks and rewards of each action helps both sides understand the matchup better. Furthermore, it highlights a character’s problem areas and directs the community’s attention toward finding new solutions. Lastly, it helps us develop a more nuanced and sophisticated tier structure.

However, the curse of theory fighter is that it almost always devolves into trite internet arguments. Both sides quickly forget they share a collective goal, common courtesy goes out the window, and everyone tries to win at all costs.

Of course, “winning” a round of theory fighter doesn’t get you any closer to winning an actual match. Nor has there ever been a theory fighter tournament held at Evo.

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It’s alright to indulge occasionally, but the moment you detect stress or irritation, do yourself a favor and drop it. If you ever feel the desire to win a theory fighter argument solely for the sake of winning, you’ve probably gone too far.

Personally, i think theory fighter is a waste of time; or at least more trouble than it’s worth. At the end of the day, there are no shortcuts to fundamentals and there is no substitute for real match experience.

If you have trouble against Vega, you can learn much more from an hour of playing against a strong Vega player than from arguing with the same player for an hour. Obviously you have to concentrate and think harder to adjust from mistakes in real time, but that’s the only path to cultivating the most important skill of all: adaptation.

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  1. August 1st, 2010 at 01:54 | #1

    Hahah back in 2004 when they announced Evo was going to all consoles, there was quite a bit of derision, especially from the older players. At that time, I made this post to SRK (which I still had saved in a text file):

    I figured I’d provide this helpful timeline of future Evolution tournaments so everyone can start planning and practicing as early as possible.

    Evo 2004: All games played on console.

    Evo 2005: To alleviate problems caused by incompatible sticks and other mechanical failures at Evo 2004, all games are played on pads only.

    Evo 2006: In the continuing effort to make the event bigger and to accommodate more people, players that can’t make it to California can play their matches online via emulator.

    Evo 2007: To deal with complaints of lag from Evo 2006, the tournament is switched to a vs CPU / highest score tournament. Players e-mail their results and the winners are posted on the site.

    Evo 2008: This year, Evolution is the biggest ever! Players will no longer have to worry about traveling or even having access to a console version of the games (or a console) as Evo 2008 is pure Theory Fighter. Big upsets in 3s by players using the unbeatable “parry everything” defense.

    Evo 2009: Always looking for ways to improve the tournament, Evo now allows fan art / fan fiction as valid entry for any related game. Saigado strongly favored to win KOF.

    Evo 2010: All games replaced by Street Fighter 2010.

    Personally, I have some great 3s combos ready for Evo 2008.

  2. View619
    August 1st, 2010 at 01:58 | #2

    Theory fighter is nice for the match revision and next match planning, imo. Still, that’s useless if you don’t actually play again.

  3. August 1st, 2010 at 02:43 | #3

    My problem is that I’m always drawn in to correcting someone who is glaringly wrong. I remember at one point there was one guy in the Abel forum who sweared blind that f+mk was crap. Everybody flames him and tried to convince him that he was wrong. I made one post of such nature before I realised that he clearly does not want to help his own game by bothering to learn an extra option for when he is challenged greater so why should I bother helping him.

    I hope in general that I come across well online, I think I’m not too bad. I did actually have someone add me because they said that I was one of the few non-retarded people on srk, if that’s true it’s probably down to what I’ve garnered from you Maj.

  4. NA
    August 1st, 2010 at 06:28 | #4

    One of my least favorite things about the fighting game community is the rampant theory fighter before a character is released, or before a rebalance. All that SSFIV speculation about how Adon sucks and Dudley is OP, before the game was even released, drove me crazy. Turns out both were wrong, as usual.
    With theory fighter, it just seems like everybody loses.

  5. c001357
    August 1st, 2010 at 06:43 | #5

    seems to me this article is more about discussing theory fighter that theory fighting itself.
    of course nothing beats experience, but not everyone can know just what to do and why they are doing the things they do in a fight. theory fighting is just shorthand for describing what happens in a real match.

  6. Pokey86
    August 1st, 2010 at 06:52 | #6

    Theory fighter does have its advantages, & it can relate to any game, not necassarily to match up specifics. Certainly talking about a strategy & actually executing it is two very different things.

    that said i love theory fighter, it’s a great pastime, hell in my DMC days, as i had a relatively nice amount of renown in that game i used to sometimes defend the wrong option (Like, if a debate sparked up as to what is better, Dash or Sky Star…, If you know DMC >_<) To which i'd defend the weaker side, even though i know through significant playthroughs that it is out & out the worst of the two.

    I did this purely to see how many people i could get agreeing with me.

    Thatmajor fault that comes from TF is that skill level is brougt in to question, someone online can post with great ettiquette which could lead to the guise of a skilled player even though he may very well understand the do'd & don'ts but can't put them in to practice or understand the reasonings behind them, meanwhile someone with a better understanding of the game overall could simply suck at bringing his point across.

    The problem lies in evaluating the ability of the people you're arguing with, which is why i argued for the weaker argument. If people have to look at the players above them to make there own decisions then it just shows a lack of understanding, or willingness to test theories, in favour of just taking the word of another player.

    That said i indulge in it any chance i get… In general i'm nowhere near a competent level on SF but if the right argument comes in i could go on for pages.

  7. taofeld
    August 1st, 2010 at 08:35 | #7

    I play Theory Fighter (or Theorycraft in the case of Starcraft/Warcraft) purely for fun.

    But I also only engage in battle with my friends. Playing devil’s advocate with strangers online would get me on a lot of peoples’ bad sides fast.

  8. Smileymike101
    August 1st, 2010 at 08:40 | #8

    Theorycraft is fun.I like giving people in WOW advice although i have no idea that the heck i’m doing myself.Same thing applies for SSF4 lol.

  9. Rufus
    August 1st, 2010 at 08:41 | #9

    I think questions like “what are the possible option selects” or “what should I do in this situation” are the sort of thing that theory fighter can help answer. When you’re not under pressure in a match, you can explore some things more thoroughly.

  10. Tarnish
    August 1st, 2010 at 09:05 | #10

    Eh, I think there’s a lot of what is amicable online discussion being confused for “Theory Fighter” here. People who ask questions and want concrete data usually aren’t trying to hold a position for the sake of holding it, nor do they need a heavy amount of argument to change their minds. It’s why they’re asking a question in the first place. Theory Fighter ends up being 2 people who are convinced they’re right. As stated in this article, whatever benefit you might pull from a discussion like that is usually time you could have spent actually playing games or experimenting on your own while just reading information you know is correct.

    “X Player is the best (character).”

    Why does a topic like this matter? Maybe one side will talk about it being in the context of online, another side will talk about offline play. Both sides possibly have a point, but the discussion isn’t meant to highlight that, it’s meant to polarize.

    Theory Fighter can possibly be a byproduct of someone challenging something you’ve tested, but how often are you going to be at that stage? And when would you want to waste your time with someone who isn’t providing physical evidence or comparison to yours in the first place? I remember someone telling me that SFIV lariat doesn’t lose to DR, and I had visual evidence and context and he had… “no it doesn’t.” At the end of the day, rather than having a discussion about ranges or something that was actually useful in the match up, it was two people bickering. Huge difference from discourse there. Theory Fighter is rarely useful.

    The exchange of information in regular discussion compared to theory fighter isn’t as pained or drawn out or, quite frankly, asinine to witness. If you can tell what is and what isn’t, then “testing people” during theory fighting is taking that knowledge and being incredibly obtuse about it. Test videos, tutorials, concrete data… that’s definitely more meaningful than the ol’ back and forth horseshoe toss.

  11. August 1st, 2010 at 10:41 | #11

    I would enter a Theory Fighter tournament at evo

  12. August 1st, 2010 at 13:06 | #12

    SlimX: Haha as soon as i wrote that line about Evo, i knew someone was going to propose an Evo Theory Fighter tournament. It’s even funnier that it happened back in 2004. I’ve “suggested” online Evo before too, but that was four years after you did. When did you discover that you could see the future?

    Pokey86: Yup, i agree. At it’s best, theory fighter is flawed due to unrealistic expectations and skill level inflation. People start listing ridiculous counters that they can’t actually perform consistently in real time, or start confusing reactionary counters with anticipatory counters. At it’s worst, theory fighter is a shit talking competition where the funniest player always wins at the cost of everyone else’s nerves.

    Tarnish: Right, there’s a clear line between asking a question and making a statement. Theory fighter starts with a statement (sometimes hidden within a question). Someone else fires back and suddenly it’s about winning the ensuing argument. This can go on for hours, usually becoming hopelessly cyclical and conveying less information than the civilized thread next door.

  13. Tarnish
    August 1st, 2010 at 13:30 | #13

    We couldn’t get Theory Fighter locals going out here because no one can agree on what version of the game to play. Pencil and paper purist often clash with people who prefer a computer keyboard… and the guys playing the new version where you just speak, well they get on everyone’s nerves.

  14. August 1st, 2010 at 13:34 | #14

    To clarify: Yes, there is a “friendly co-op” version of theory fighter which serves the greater good, but it’s so incredibly rare that we may as well call it Miracle Theory Fighter or Unicorn Fighter or something. There’s a long list of problems with the way these discussions normally go down in reality.

    A few people already mentioned engaging in theory fighter for fun, which doesn’t sound so bad until some unsuspecting fool gets caught up in it. The easiest way to win a forum argument is to antagonize someone to the point of frustration, where they simply hand you the “win” by imploding. That doesn’t really advance anyone’s knowledge of the game, does it?

    Maybe you’re one of those rare theory fighter players who always plays nice and fair. But i can count on one hand the number of people who can manage to do this for an hour without restorting to mud slinging when their ego starts to get in the way. The vast majority of people play dirty, everyone gets angry at each other, and nothing gets accomplished. It’s just not worth the hassle.

    Then there are the people who engage in theory fighter as a way of winning vicariously through text because they’re too lazy to put in the practice to win an actual tournament. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with not being good enough to win a tournament – until you go around acting like you’re ten times better than you really are.

    These people go around inserting coins in the theory fighter machine and trying to win based on second-hand knowledge they’ve gathered from past theory fighter bouts. They never have anything new to contribute to any discussion. They’re just recycling unverified information for the sole purpose of sounding smart. It’s crazy to see someone who barely plays the game going around acting like a forum boss.

    You know, i can understand asking a question like “What makes Dhalsim so good against Ryu?” or better yet, “What can Guile do against Sagat?”

    But if you don’t even know what makes Dhalsim and Sagat good in the first place, then you obviously don’t play the game enough. What kind of answer can you really expect? No matter how accurate an answer someone gives you, it’ll totally fall apart the first match you play against him.

    That’s kind of the ultimate catch-22 of theory fighter. If someone tells you how to counter their character, then they either have a counter to that counter, or they’re already actively searching for one. It might work against other users of that character, but it won’t work so easily on the source.

    And if you’ve made it obvious that you don’t know jack about the game, at least provide some sort of frame of reference like “Hey i’m actually good at Alpha 2. Please explain this concept in terms of SFA2, so what you say will mean something non-trivial to me.” Otherwise it’s just a bunch of semi-valid statements floating out in space that sound pretty smart and wise and clever for as long as you don’t actually plan on playing the damn game.

    Theory fighter mainly becomes a problem when it takes on a life of its own. The problem is it almost always does that.

  15. August 1st, 2010 at 15:42 | #15

    Unicorn fighter happens either 1) in real life, face to face 2) when there’s only a small group taking part were everybody knows one another and where they stand. In my opinion.

  16. August 1st, 2010 at 15:45 | #16


  17. N00b_Saib0t
    August 1st, 2010 at 17:05 | #17

    story 1 – i got out of the theory fighter habit back when SF4 was new and we were discussing the tiers and how they do and dont apply on gamefaqs (i know, lol gamefaqs but there were a few of us there with knowledge). some guy comes in and swears up and down bison is the best character in the game. better than sagat and ryu. his logic? he can headstomp them when they fireball, like any good ryu or sagat are going to repeatedly throw an unsafe fireball at a bison with a down charge. at that point i realized that unless its done in a private chat, some jackass will always come in and wreck a beautiful session of theory fighter with that kind of crap.

    story 2 – i won a game of theory fighter for MvC2 once. i suck at the game but know some basic stuff. guys were swearing up and down that strider isnt top tier because he is dependent on the doom assist. i proposed that cable would then NOT be top tier because he is dependent on capcom/cyke/huge AA assists just like strider. i couldnt believe i won :)

  18. Pokey86
    August 2nd, 2010 at 10:12 | #18

    jamheald :
    Unicorn fighter happens either 1) in real life, face to face 2) when there’s only a small group taking part were everybody knows one another and where they stand. In my opinion.

    I wouldn’t say that, among friends or competent players i think it can balance, it’s important that ego doesn’t get in the way, the advantage with non-competetive games is the majority want to see new & interesting stuff so few are really going to let ego get in the way or have pre-arranged methods that disrupt the advice they give (non-human players don’t learn etc, if i tell youhow to beat geryon the only hindrance you have is your ability to execute it.)

    That said when i legitimately took part in these i had some advantages.

    1) I was good at the DMC, i also discussed NG but i was good at that to, (Unoffical rank top 5 [11 now] on karma) & the NG community i discussed with was nothing like anywhere on the internet, i swear it is so civilised at IberianWarrior it’s unreal (An invite only site, which helps)

    2) i could record… this lead to replies like “Well if i could record i’d prove you wrong” blah blah blah, but it did help greatly in my favour in “winning” arguments… though who really wins in a theory fight.


    ^^Someone uploaded one to youtube :P shame the sod missed a bit at the end where Arkham quotes “You have lost” But yeah, it does show i take these quite light hearted. But i back up my evidence.^^

    At least you don’t have arguments over plot… hell i was so sad that i argued over whether Vergil was evil or not, i mean he soooooooooo is. & i’m right & your wrong.

    … God, i’m still gay

  19. Pokey86
    August 2nd, 2010 at 10:44 | #19

    Oh yeah, it helps when a game doesn’t incorperate mindgame strategies… as they’re a key problem with comparing techniques. you could play someone who consistently doesn’t low block & then deem MK -> EX Ball -> FADC -> Metsu most broken shit ever to happen in a game (Random example)

  1. August 1st, 2010 at 00:58 | #1
  2. August 1st, 2010 at 01:00 | #2
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