Tips on switching from a pad to a joystick

Guide last updated on
July 9, 2009 at 10:09 p.m. PDT

Helpful tips to improve
your skills with a joystick

You've been a pad player for awhile, but you've heard about the great things you can do with a joystick, so you finally took the plunge and bought a stick. The problem? You suck with it, and like Blanka is doing in the picture above you've probably have been tempted at one point or another to bite the controller, throw it through a window or do something else horrible to it.

This is a very common and normal issue that pad players have brought up, and there's a number of things you can do to ease the transition. Here's a run down.

Picking a joystick grip

One of the things that may not occur to you right away is how you're holding the joystick. There's a variety of ways to do this, but here's some things to keep in mind.

  1. Find something that's comfortable. Don't overlook this step, if you're planning on playing the game for hours on end, if your arm wears out after 30 minutes your grip isn't going to work long term.

  2. How's your execution? Can you hit all 8 points on the stick with ease from both sides? Try a variety of moves, Shoryukens, 360 motions, Charge Commands, Supers Moves and C. Viper's Super Jump command. It's OK if your execution isn't perfect, but if you heavily struggle with these commands, either try a new grip or make slight adjustments. You just want your range of motion to be good — it doesn't have to be perfect.

Here's some of the more popular grips used by Street Fighter players. Remember, there's no right or wrong way to grab a joystick. Quite simply, if it works — go for it.

Pinkie on the bottom joystick grip, side view
Pinkie on the bottom joystick grip, top view
1. Pinkie on bottom. Your pinkie goes on the bottom of the stick with your ring, middle and index on the other side, thumb on the top. A popular technique.
Ring and middle fingers on the bottom, joystick grip, side view
Ring and middle fingers on the bottom, joystick grip, top view
2. Ring and Middle fingers on the bottom. Stick between middle and ring fingers, middle and index on the other side, thumb on top. This is also popular.
Two finger joystick grip, index and thumb, side view
Two finger joystick grip, index and thumb, top view
3. Two finger grip. This involves only grabbing the stick with your thumb and index finger, where it doesn't actually touch your palm.
Three finger joystick grip, index, middle and thumb, side view
Three finger joystick grip, index, middle and thumb, top view
4. Three finger grip. Like the two finger grip, except you also use your middle finger. Some players claim the extra finger gives them more control over the stick.
Palm/Fist joystick grip, side view
Palm/Fist joystick grip, top view
5. Palm grip. Basically making a fist around the joystick. This grip might work better if you have smaller hands, or if you feel like the other grips don't give you enough range and control.
Middle Ring Finger grip with upwards palm, side view
Middle Ring Finger grip with upwards palm, top view
6. Open palm with ring and middle fingers on the bottom. Much like grip #2, but your palm is facing upwards more instead of to the right. Some people find this very comfortable.

Important Note: Most players do not keep their hand it the exact same position all of time. They keep it loose and let it flow into comfortable positions as dictated by the moves.

Finding the right surface to play on

Now it's time to decide what surface you want to place your stick on, and it's usually one of two choices. Either your lap, or something else that's more stable, like a coffee table, chair, TV stand, lamp stand, etc.

Your lap: The problem with playing on your lap, is some people people have a difficult time keeping the joystick steady when they're doing big complicated motions like 720s, double fireballs, etc.

The big plus though is that wherever you go — you've got a surface to play on. The only thing is keeping the joystick from bouncing around while you're doing moves, but if your lap provides a steady surface — use it.

Other surfaces: If you're going to use a surface, there's two important things to keep in mind. One, does it keep the joystick steady while playing? And two, is it comfortable?

The floor, a chair, a custom arcade cabinet, whatever you can find that will work will do the job, and as long as the two rules above are met, you should be good to go.

OK, I've found a grip I like and a good surface, what now?

Now it's time to practice, a lot. If you're pretty good at fighting games, you probably don't have to think about executing most moves, you just do them as needed.

It wasn't that way when you first started playing though, it probably took months or even years to develop your skills.

While switching from a pad to a joystick isn't starting all over again, it will take some getting used to before you train your 'muscle memory' to automatically do the moves without thinking again.

While running execution drills might seem boring, it's a quicker way to get your technique back up to par. Hit training mode and throw 50 fireballs on the left side, switch sides and do 50 more. 50 Shoryukens on the left side, switch sides and do 50 more, etc. etc.

This is tedious, but it's often faster than playing games because you're working on the motions over and over again without having to worry about things like blocking, counters and actually playing.

Diagnose and work on your execution problems

No player has perfect execution, but if you find there's a certain move or technique that you consistently have trouble with there's a few things you can do to improve.

  1. Hit training mode and execute the move you're having trouble with. If your game supports it, turn on "Show Inputs."

  2. Do this repeatedly to see where your "hitch" is at. i.e. where you're making mistakes.

  3. Once you've discovered the problem, try focusing on hitting all of the required inputs slowly, and then speed it up to normal game speed.

  4. Practice to build the proper movements/inputs into your 'muscle memory'. In most cases this will take care of the problem.

  5. Optional Steps: If this still doesn't work, you might want to try over compensation. The idea is if you're always missing an extra input at the end of the motion or pressing a button too early, you can over compensate to help ensure the move comes out.

    For example, if you keep pressing the button too early when doing a Super Fireball, like when the joystick is still in the down-forward position, causing a Shoryuken to come out instead, you can try ending the motion with an up-forward command. The input would look like this:

    Joystick Joystick Joystick Joystick Joystick Joystick Joystick Joystick Joystick

    Since you normally press the attack button too early, if you think you're keying it in instead when you press up-forward, you'll probably be hitting it perfectly.

  6. While over compensating can be a bad habit to get into, sometimes it's best to use whatever works, because getting the move to actually come out is a lot better than missing it entirely — in most cases. ;)

Other helpful information

Capcom's Street Fighter games feature a number of tricks you can do to improve special move execution. Some of the tricks are universal to all of their games, like Piano Key button presses, while others will only work in a specific title like Street Fighter 4 (Shortcut motions for Shoryukens).

But all of these guides can be helpful, so they're worth checking out.


TimsonRyota said on April 21, 2010 at 3:50 p.m.

When if playin sf4, i change between method 2&6 for me any of those two are the best

oh yh and...SSF4 FTW!!! :D

Sagats_Scar said on May 1, 2010 at 2:45 p.m.

I have just bought a joystick and hold mine with my index finger wrapped around the top with my thumb around the right side and my middle finger curled on the left side of the stick, Is this a good grip?

Hadookie said on May 3, 2010 at 8:10 a.m.

@76 That sounds like a variation of grip #3 with more control by having your middle finger supporting the stick.

In short, anything that is comfortable is a good grip as long as your moves are coming out consistently whenever you need them.

I personally forced myself to use grip #6 because I found myself to be equally consistent doing specials facing either left or right compared to other grips I tried. On the other hand, I can't dash for sh!t

djquixx said on May 25, 2010 at 12:05 p.m.

I've been a pad player for 15+ years and I recently bought a TE stick to play SF4&SSF4. I'm doing decent with all the normal moves but here are the issues I'm having.

1.) I cannot do Ryu's FADC into his Metsu Hadoken on the 1st player side of the screen. I only seem to be able to do this on the 2nd player side.

2.) I cannot do Guile's Super or Ultra period during a match! That motion is just unbelievably difficult to do on a stick.

I use the grip illustrated in the #1 picture with the stick between my ring and pinky finger which feels pretty comfy to me. For the life of me I just cannot get these moves in during a game. once in a while I'll manage to connect them in practice but after much concentration and countless tries. What is the technique for this?

damaso1980 said on June 27, 2010 at 3:01 p.m.

I just wonder why in oficial SF tournaments we cant use a pad? is there any particular reason?? Just want to know. Thanks

c0ldh34rt said on June 28, 2010 at 4:13 a.m.

I just cant do QCB -> QCF x2 to cancel from thunder knuckle for C.Viper to SuperSpecial...any tips guys ? I can do it but it's just too slow >.<

RZero said on July 23, 2010 at 12:44 a.m.

Damaso1980 question intrigues me, I'd like to know the answer to that question too. So there is no pad players at all in tournaments?

RZero said on July 23, 2010 at 12:47 a.m.

Man, dude, I feel like such a noob and it's very discouraging using and sticking to the joystick after years of being on a pad, I like to play MvC2 and I'm like.... Damn!!!! I can barely win on easy and I don't even place first in arcade mode against computer records! Guys, is my thinking right in staying away from Magneto, Storm and all the fun peeps for a long while till I get better? I can't even do Cables Hyper Viper Beam Hop off anymore,

mach1545 said on July 26, 2010 at 9:07 a.m.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who utterly sucks when playing on the left side of the screen. I can't do sh**. I'm perfectly fine on the right side, though... for the most part.

mach1545 said on July 26, 2010 at 9:14 a.m.

Maybe I'm just used to joining matches rather than hosting...

GUNNAH_MAN said on August 25, 2010 at 7:03 p.m.

basically my execution is pretty much excellent but the 1 thing i cant do is doing ultra and super really fast. does anyone have any tips on speeding up on execution?

Mrb20028 said on September 5, 2010 at 1:23 p.m.

I'm getting a arcade stick this month. Are there any good ones I should know about at a fair price?

DickieGaloot said on September 26, 2010 at 5:14 p.m.

There are pad players in tournaments its just that. People tend to lean more towards to the more traditional stick.

DickieGaloot said on September 26, 2010 at 5:14 p.m.

#86 I am getting one on October 23rd.

AB20 said on December 10, 2010 at 11:17 p.m.

i hope we get to use LP MP HP 3P LK MK HK 3K for MVC3 that's the arcade classic way take it back to the game we hard core fan grew to love n ran to put a quarter in like XMAN VS SF , MARVEL VS SF , MVC1 & SNK VS CAPCOM 2 cause the control sit up on those classics r supper

Wuddha said on April 11, 2011 at 5:06 a.m.

Important note should be added for tips. For a good month or two I've been using stick after my pad shorted out.(I used xbox controller too but pad was better).

I've read some of these tips, some helped, some didn't. Try out my personal tips to better yourself if you play like me.

1.Hold the stick with a mixture of grip 2 and 3, keeping your fingers and thumb placed like 4, but grip around the ball with your two fingers like grip 2.

2.A major breakthrough I had by using a very nice personal tip. when struggling with doing motions on a certain side with quickness(i.e. RSF or mashed ultra), Look at your hand as your doing it. focus on the ball and watch it hit all points. Once you keep doing this, look at the game and let muscle memory lead the way.

cvs said on April 14, 2011 at 2:51 p.m.

Or just buy a bat top to put on the SE or TE stick.

Stitchking said on June 29, 2011 at 10:38 p.m.


That's kind of off topic for a fighting game site don't you think?

Ghostdog753 said on August 27, 2011 at 9:14 p.m.

Lol hey stick guys I own several sticks even the x-arcade. But I gotta let you kno Mike Ross got his ass handed to him by Fanatiq on Crosscounter Tv um and he plays strictly pad! So that would suggests it just depends on what the player is comfy with...Peace!

Rocketscience said on November 26, 2011 at 1:29 p.m.

I would play stick but, I just can't do freaking dp motions on them and it drives me crazy...

FrostSamurai said on December 28, 2012 at 12:24 p.m.

My stick came in the mail today! Hopefully, this guide will be useful.

Boris_17z said on April 24, 2013 at 10:17 a.m.

Just bought an arcade stick after using a PS3 pad for over two years. I think this guide will help me a lot. :D

8589brian said on May 24, 2013 at 1:38 p.m.

The girlfriends ironing board is brilliant for bringing home an authentic arcade experience.

sergio_reyes_ said on August 6, 2013 at 12:33 a.m.

you're right must be in good condition has to be sensitive and practice is important I watched many joystick on the internet There are many models here on internet .

bigdaddyjosue said on August 10, 2013 at 11:29 p.m.

yeah I too suffer from this changeover (although it has been a few years after I switched)All I can say is practice as much as possible! I still have difficulty with certain attacks on certain sides but after a while it will all come together. J-ultras are still tougher on the stick, my main issue is that my hands are too big for most joysticks so I get stuck in certain moves on certain sides of the screen which hurts my reaction time

kenmasters87 said on August 18, 2013 at 10:46 a.m.

Please tell me pads are allowed in tournaments! I've recently reached a new level of skill using my madcatz ken pad which i love! I only want a joystick as a collectible really. Someone clarify this for me please!

dpaduser said on September 10, 2013 at 2:40 p.m.

Does anyone know good website to order an arcade stick I want to transfer over after getting my ass handed to me by stick users, I'm going to check online buy I'd anyone knows feel free to reply

CriminalUpper said on September 13, 2013 at 5:37 p.m.

I've been thinking of getting a joystick for SSF4 for a while, but every time i've used one i've sucked with it. Everyone at the tournaments i've went to have told me that the joystick is better. I've been reluctant to get one because of how terrible i was with it, but after reading this, I'm glad i wasn't the only one having this problem. I really want to get one now!

BoldSchool said on September 26, 2013 at 9:02 p.m.

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm still on a 360 controller but the input suggestion helped a lot, I could quickly see what my mistake was.

This is a ton better than when SFII first came out. There was no way to practice with a line around the block and you'd blow through quarters pretty quickly if you tried. Not to mention no input viewing. Even the moves were not always clear and there was no internet.

I eventually just gave up, some people got it but I couldn't. Now I'm giving it another shot and having fun, thanks

Kaskha90 said on December 31, 2013 at 12:47 p.m.

At first I was a little bit skeptical on arcade sticks, I thought "Why make an upgrade to a super expensive box?", until I fell in love with the Injustice Battle (Arcade) Stick edition.
I struggled constantly with QCFS, HCFS, 2x QCFs, DPS, and learning the button layout all together.
About after 6 weeks of owning it my muscle memory started to kick in and I no longer struggled with the inputs that gave me trouble.
IN my opinion if you want to improve your game-play in fighting games, I would make the jump. Maybe start with something simple and not too pricey, like a Qanba stick or less expensive variant of a Hori stick (they're out there). Overall they're worth it.

8589brian said on January 8, 2014 at 11:55 p.m.

I find an ironing board makes a fantastic surface to play on as it has an adjustable height so you have the option to play seated or standing as nature intended ;)

fabfred said on June 13, 2014 at 9:54 a.m.

i feel all of you guys pain,ive been a pad player for 20 years plus and it extremely difficult to switch to arcade stick,i just give up right now,lol.

kingraj20 said on August 21, 2014 at 2:42 a.m.

Im really good with a ps3 controller....I suck with stick....I dont wanna have to commit time to learn stick...but all big tournaments are on xbox....I cant find aa ps3 tournament anywhere...suggestions? Converters suck they screw up my inputs...I cant use stick...I have trouble hitting the buttons when I look at the screen...what do I do?

dwchunli said on September 11, 2014 at 12:15 a.m.

I'm a keyboard player with Chunli.

HIKIKOMORINOKLAST said on February 22, 2015 at 8:23 a.m.

good article, the concept of compensating helped me a lot with moves involving half-circle motions...

Explosia said on September 2, 2015 at 4:08 a.m.

I tried switching to a stick in the early days of SF4 but failed and gave up. It just seemed impossible, and I didn't have time to keep practicing and eventually threw in the towel. It's a shame because playing on a stick feels way more authentic and enjoyable. I had similar issues to others here, couldn't get moves out consistently on both sides of the screen, couldn't get fast enough execution for certain moves/combos (ryu FADC into ultra being a great example).

I'm left feeling confused about how people say using a stick is so much better/easier. For me, using a D-Pad (especially Playstation) feels perfect - everything is tighter together and smoother. One tiny roll of the thumb, fireball comes out perfect everytime etc. The only thing with using a pad is having to use the shoulder buttons, which is sluggish. I have always had light punch as L1 and light kick as L2, with R1 as punchx3 and R2 as kickx3. I can't have heavies as shoulder buttons when these are used often in make or break situations.


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