Tips on turning off your autopilot in fighting games

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • March 19, 2017 at 7:49 p.m. PDT

"Flowchart..." "autopilot"... there are multiple names for that frame of mind we fighting game players so easily slip into, but doing so can often result in a beeline to getting KO'd.

As a game that sees relatively few interactions before victory or loss, SF5 allows for almost no mistakes. Having your head in the clouds while you allow your character to "do that thing they're really good at doing" is an instant death sentence if your opponent shifts to a counter gear.

The problem is, Street Fighter 5 simultaneously promotes and punishes flowchart play in some ways. Some characters in this game have sequences that carry a risk/reward so in their favor that I may go as far as to say they needn't worry about this at all.

It's very easy to identify a move or a sequence that your character does well, and often times these trademark approaches develop organically because you'll win a few times by doing them, (especially online where your list of opponents is ever revolving) but if you find your go-to approaches and knee-jerk reactions aren't netting you wins, read on for some strategies to get around autopilot play.

Lesson one of avoiding autopilot: Be aware of autopilot

When you first begin playing a character, things don't work for you. You explore different moves in different situations until eventually something does work. At this point, it's very easy to bake these into your gameplan as the "correct" answers for said situations and let your fingers simply execute them whenever gameplay prompts them.

We can quickly transition away from this exploratory approach wherein we soak up new information like a sponge, to simply doing the thing that works most of the time. That's autopilot.

It's something every player wrestles with, but the sad reality is that some players never transition back to learning new approaches. They accept that their basic strategy either wins or it doesn't, and they become cemented at the skill level they're at.

Sometimes it works well, but even winning with autopilot doesn't yield much satisfaction. It's almost like playing against an AI boss, identifying his patterns and defeating him. It's fun the first time, but once you've done that the puzzle is solved.

It's not to say that one shouldn't resort to their character's strengths, but they should be thoughtful of the results each and every time they try to implement them. When a strength stops working, you start changing.

Lesson two of avoiding autopilot: Don't get too comfortable

The main reason a player will fall into autopilot is because they're not actively thinking in enough detail about the match in front of them. This can happen to anyone at any moment.

I'll use a recent experience of my own as an example. I was recently playing a friend in a series of first to five sets. I was completely engaged in the first set, looking at their decisions in every interactions and quickly adjusting to counter them.

The first set or two went heavily in my favor, and I actually became (perhaps for lack of a better term) a bit bored with the play. Come to think of it, it was surely a combination of being both overconfident from winning and disenchanted from apparent lack of challenge.

No sooner did I fall into this than did autopilot rear its nasty head. Guess who stopped winning by a landslide? Guess who stopped winning at all?

Lesson three of avoiding autopilot: Steer your emotions before they steer you

Jumping from the logical side of the spectrum to the emotional, I call back on a recent tournament that I participated in. Long sob story short, I wound up losing in the winners bracket in an extremely demoralizing way. (It had to do with knowing Kolin was negative after certain attacks but not knowing the timing to actually punish her. Also, I don't wanna talk about it.)

Transitioning into the losers bracket, my heart was still very much hung up on said demoralizing loss. Sure enough, my head followed and I found myself more focused on how stupid that initial loss was than the game I was playing in the losers bracket.

Thoughts of "I shouldn't have lost that, it wasn't my fault, it's because of some flaw in the game's design..." (you've been there) took the place of thoughts like "Hey, this Karin I'm playing right now has a good read on when I want to jump forward, I should stop doing that."

Negative emotions can distract your brain away from the task at hand, and when that happens, autopilot will inevitably kick in.
As simple of a game as people tend to say Street Fighter 5 is, it requires a constant, high level of focus to be consistent at. It's a decision you make and remind yourself of every time your approach starts to become unsuccessful. The moment you let any outside influences begin affecting your thought and focus, your fingers are going to start doing what they're comfortable with.

Please let us know if this was at all helpful to you so we can plan to do more or less like it in the future. Feel free to offer your anti-autopilot strategies in the comments section below.

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