The replay function might be one of the most underutilized tools for any serious fighting game player. There’s good reason: it’s not fun for people to watch themselves get bodied. As a result, players typically choose to power through and just play more matches to “grind it out” instead.
But is the time spent grinding better than time spent on replays? Here we’ll help answer this question to see the value that replays hold and how they can improve your game
Why Watch Replays?
After taking a loss, the last thing you’d want to do is to see it happen again. But getting over the embarrassment of watching your own losses will bring great benefits.
First, you’ll see what went wrong without being distracted by the pressure of the match. Just like you can see what Daigo did wrong in a top 8 that you’ve watched, you’ll see your own faults more clearly in your replays. You may want to just try analyzing your own play in the immediate aftermath of a match, but it’s extremely difficult to remember everything that happened. The “fog of war” is lifted when you can watch as an observer and see the cracks in your gameplay.
You’ll also save time and improve faster. Instead of playing a hundred matches to figure out a bad habit that you might have, it’s easier to step out of yourself one time and see it. After a hundred of those matches you might have also missed out on other lessons that aren’t brought to your attention. With the info you have from replays, you’ll be able to put a laser focus on the weak parts of your game.
The fact that you can recognize faults in your own play is pure gold for improvement. There’s also a power in seeing the faults yourself (as opposed to being told) because you will own your faults and become determined to improve.
What to Look For in Your Replays
You may be watching replays already but still don’t know how doing so can help improve your game. You just see yourself winning or losing and not understand exactly what happened in the match. So here’s some basic things you can watch for to immediately improve:
The first thing to look out for is whenever you’ve taken damage. These are usually the points where some mistake was made and you received punishment for it. But there’s a distinction between what we call “bad damage” and “OK damage”.
Bad damage will show you when you are not properly punishing or that you have bad habits an opponent picked up on. This is the type of damage that is typically your own fault. You’ll want to take note of these instances and see what you can do to fix it right away. A common example of this is not anti-airing (in 2D fighters) when you had a perfect opportunity. You should find out why you aren’t consistently landing anti-airs and practice to overcome your hurdles.
OK damage is damage that is unavoidable or inconsequential damage that you cannot blame yourself for. A common example of this is unseeable lows in 3D fighters, chip damage, or taking a hit from a Dragon Punch on someone’s wakeup. You can’t expect to be 100% perfect and be able to guess everything correctly. You should be able to forgive yourself for taking this type of damage and evaluate it with less weight.
There are too many instances of receiving damage to fully catalog, so start with what is obvious to you for discerning bad damage and OK damage. As you grow to become a contender more and more things will be considered bad damage. The peak of perfection for a fighting game player is to get a perfect for every round in a tournament (but this has yet to be seen).
The next thing to look out for is any situation where you remembered feeling helpless or thinking “what do I do now?” This typically happens when you’re under heavy pressure or you’re very frustrated that something is not working. This is where you can pause the video and think about what answers you might have for this situation. If you can’t think of an answer, then you might want to watch other players or reach out to other players and ask for help. It could also be the case that there is no way to escape this situation and the answer is “don’t get yourself into this situation.” You then see what events lead up to this unavoidable situation and work around it.
The last thing to look for is anytime you missed an opportunity to gain an advantage or you gave it away. You may be able to see that you hesitated or dropped a big punish opportunity. You may recognize a situation where you could have employed a strong mix up but didn’t do anything. You may see that you rushed down an opponent with a life lead and lost the round by taking unnecessary risks. Take note of these instances and either tell yourself to try something different or practice some canned responses for the situations (e.g. use this combo every time I block a DP).
Once you have answers for these situations that you’ve easily identified, then you can go deeper in analyzing your replays to improve further.
What to Do After Watching Your Replays
With this newfound knowledge, now is the time to implement solutions. Developing new strategies or practicing for situations will really help to reduce the amount of mistakes you make.
The easiest thing to implement is what I mentioned earlier called the “canned response.” This is a bit of a robotic answer for a situation that you know will work every time. Practicing these will help avoid any instance of being confused about what to do for any given situation. One response everyone should have in their repertoire is what to do after baiting a big reversal. You’ll probably want to have a combo that does fat damage to punish the reversal attempt. Once you’re comfortable with using this single response consistently, then you can add more responses to your liking. You might want a combo that leads to more mix-ups, good corner carry, etc.
The next thing to do is try recreating scenarios you lost to in training mode. The most likely reason you lost to something in a match is lack of knowledge. Having a solid answer to a situation will boost your confidence in a given matchup. An example is a normal that you’re having trouble with vs. a certain character. If you keep losing to Zangief’s stand heavy punch and don’t know what to do, you can record him spamming st.HP and see what your character can do to counter it. You may find you can easily whiff punish it with a certain normal or special. You might have some armored move that can blow through it. Some situations may be tougher to recreate for newer players so you might want to try asking someone to help you.
After finding answers for these individual scenarios, you may want to rethink your overall strategy. Evaluate whether your approach to the match up is making sense and see what you can adjust to keep your advantage. You can see if you’re deviating from a game plan that you want to use and adjust your play accordingly. If you aren’t sure on how to make a plan, you might want to check out our article here for 2D game plans.
You can watch other players who are great with your character and see how they handle similar situations. Comparing your play to better players can be discouraging but it can help you to see what you can improve on. Stealing some good tactics from the best doesn’t hurt either.
You can post on Twitter or Discord to ask for feedback on your matches. Many Discords have channels for match feedback and people are usually willing to help. Just be open to constructive criticism and understand that it takes time to improve.
The replay function is a powerful tool that you must utilize in order to improve in fighting games. Finding out practical answers to beat stuff you struggle with is a big part of the fun of labbing in fighting games. When you come back next week after a local and outright beat the gimmick someone pulled on you, you’ll experience a great feeling of accomplishment. When you win, you can proudly tell them to hold that L because you earned it by training smart.
Choysauce plays as many fighting games as possible and writes about how to play them. He also helps with management for toptier.gg. Catch him on Twitter @choysauce85.