Let’s start with a brief history lesson. Back in the day, uninformed players would call certain tactics cheap and this would lead to unsavory behavior which got in everyone’s way. People would literally get beaten up outside of arcades for using throws in Street Fighter II. To deal with this ridiculous problem, the players who ran SRK developed and publicized a philosophy of “playing to win.” This was an important step for everyone to take in order to get past their self-imposed stumbling blocks.
Fast forward to today, and the fighting game tournament scene is the strongest it’s ever been. There’s no longer a stigma associated with infamously dominant tactics and “cheap” is no longer a dirty word. All of this is great but we might have gone a little bit too far.
We’re beginning to see a subtle misconception developing – that playing to win is the best way to become a better player. On the contrary, the original argument only held that playing to win is the best way to determine who’s the better player. Sometimes playing to win can lead to bad habits, lazy shortcuts, and poor fundamentals.
See, back in the day, we had people praising themselves for combo skill or mastery of a bottom tier character; finding subjective rationalizations to consider themselves “the better player” while losing to someone “abusing cheap tricks” or whatever. Of course this is foolish because how can you consider yourself successful for achieving a subjective goal when your opponent doesn’t even know what it is? The only definitive way to determine the winner is by playing a match and seeing who ends up with the victory symbol. That’s the only clear goal which both players unquestionably share, so it’s the only properly defended prize.
But again, there are ways to win which don’t require much work. You can pick Sagat and beat down your friend’s Dan, proving that you’re the better player. Today, that is. What about tomorrow? The problem is, if your friend spends every day working twice as hard as you do and learning twice as fast as you are, how long will you keep winning?
This brings us to the topic of option select tricks, which are kind of a grey area in fighting game strategy. The term “option select” can be defined as any joystick and button input which simultaneously functions as multiple possible actions, automatically choosing the best possible counter to several of the opponent’s options. For example, ST Balrog’s s.MP is a quick uppercut. If an opponent attempts to jump away from Balrog’s F+MP throw attempt, the uppercut automatically smacks them out of the air. One input branches into two threats, narrowing the opponent’s viable options.
Obviously it takes creativity and skill to discover and refine option select flowcharts, but beyond that point, including them in your gameplan helps you win without helping you become a better player. Street Fighter IV is becoming increasingly reliant on option select strategies, which isn’t a knock against those players who are taking advantage of them to win tournaments. Yet you have to ask yourself, how much of that skill is going to transfer into Super Street Fighter 4?
As a player, you have total control over which skills you focus on improving whenever you sit down to practice. Option selects fall under the general category of “shenanigans” and that puts them about as far as possible from fundamentals. It’s always a good idea to have a working knowledge of whatever gimmicks are available in a game, but in my experience, you should always spend more time working on fundamentals than tricks which are too localized to one game.