How to better approach the frustrating neutral game of Street Fighter 5

Combofiend in 2015 - 'The idea with Street Fighter 5 is commit. Everything that you go for, you just have to believe in'

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • February 28, 2018 at 7:30 p.m. PST

Though I haven't done the research, I'd imagine Rogaine sales have seen a bump in the fighting game demographic as Street Fighter 5 seems to drive even the most even keeled players' hair to turn prematurely gray, or worse, be yanked out in a fit of rage.

While I do feel I have a better grasp on the game than I ever have before, I wouldn't even begin to claim I've nailed down the elusive, be-all end-all secret to being successful at it. I have, however, spent some time investigating one particular avenue that I think I can give some helpful pointers on.

While I haven't logged equivalent time with every Street Fighter game out there, I think it's safe to say that Street Fighter 5 focuses less on footsies than most other titles in the franchise, perhaps all of them.

Like a great many players in the FGC today, I was brought into the competitive SF world with the mass influx inspired by Street Fighter 4, a game that was very much about whiff punishing and reacting to any buttons pressed by overzealous opponents.

Those trying to carry the honest neutral approach that was apt in SF4 (and to an even greater degree, in Third Strike) over to Street Fighter 5 are the ones finding the most frustration.

Now those that would immediately jump to the broad and overarching conclusion that "SF5 has no footsies or neutral game" are widely in error. There's a big difference between "no neutral" and "some neutral" or "different neutral," which the game has.

"The idea with Street Fighter 5 is commit. Everything that you go for, you just have to believe in" - Combofiend, 2015

It is true, though, that increased input lag and heavy>medium>light attack priority system skews risk and reward in a very specific, namely offensive, direction.

Street Fighter 5 is more of a game of plans than it is reactions. A competent player can counter a jump in, a forward dash, a whiffed poke attempt or an unsafe projectile toss in a vacuum but make them worry about all four at once, and there's a good chance they won't be ready for at least one of them.

Coming off of Street Fighter 4's option select-laden coveralls, Capcom wanted to make SF5 much more about general commitment. We spoke with Peter "Combofiend" Rosas, formerly of Capcom, back in 2015 during SF5's development.

"The idea with Street Fighter 5 is commit," he noted. "Everything that you go for, you just have to believe in. You have to believe in what you're doing."

They very much hit their goal in this avenue. You pick an approach, and you go with it. If you think your foe is about to toss a fireball, you commit to the jump. If you think they're in a hesitant, down-back state, you march forward and take command of the space in front of them. If you think they're going to pester you with lower priority buttons, you toss out a high priority Crush Counter button.

The neutral game becomes much more preemptive than in Street Fighters of the past, and so the game becomes more about reading tendencies than reacting to them. As such, the higher level game becomes focuses on tossing mental juggling pins at your opponent, hoping to overwhelm them with distraction so that you can freely attack from the one angle their brain does not currently have eyes on.

Intentional whiff punishing should be at a lower priority in your personal arsenal of approaches. This is fairly difficult to do, and as such takes a lot of mental attention. Being preoccupied with watching for specific moves likely means you're focusing too much on just one pin.

You can play a preemptive footsie/whiff punish game. This is where you try to trump the opposition by occupying a space with a high priority button just before you think they'll be there/be in recovery of a whiffed move. The problem is that such an approach will lead to a lot of whiffing of slow normals, which can be picked up upon and punished by higher level players.

In SF5, most any character can mess you up once they're in your face. The main problem is getting to that advantageous position, which is achieved through the neutral. Therein lies the importance of neutral control, and as is always the case in fighting games, some characters do better here than others.

Let's take a look at three top tier characters in Arcade Edition and investigate how they each specifically handle the neutral game. These three all do things very differently, but also very effectively.


Rashid (I would argue, the best character in AE) thrives in neutral in no small part because of the threat of his safe, horizontally-moving special move: Spinning Mixer.

This is a constant threat and automatic extra juggling pin that immediately puts opponents on edge. He also has the threat of his down-forward fierce punch that has incredible range, Crush Counters and is safe.

On top of all this, his mobility both on the ground and in the air is very good, (not to mention his fireball and furthered potential with V-Triggers). Not only does he have you constantly juggling, his commitments come with very little risk and decently high reward.

Other characters that might play with this style (just not to the extent Rashid does) would include the likes of Urien (EX Shoulder, EX Knee Drop and a very good standing heavy punch), Balrog (rush punches, though need for charge is detrimental) and M. Bison (safe Scissor kicks, EX Head Stomp and far-reaching, oppressive normals).


The game's most efficient zoner, Guile, also thrives in the neutral, but unlike most any other character. As a character with an exceptional ability to keep foes out, (a good head and shoulders over everyone else on the character select screen) Guile gets to make a lot of first moves.

The onus is on the aggressor to get close to Guile, but they are constantly spending precious life while Guile builds meter during the attempted approach. Given Sonic Boom's insanely quick recovery, the blonde haired American fighter risks very little in spamming them, as the reward for jumping Booms is most often a Flash Kick or crouching fierce.

From there, Guile can choose to keep zoning, or he can go in with the offensive upper hand to try to melt your life bar. The main takeaway for our purposes here: Guile isn't too worried about what you're doing, he's playing his game with little risk and then reaping the rewards of likely eventual success.

Guile tends to sit alone in this style. Menat and Dhalsim can both zone to a degree, but not enough so to make this their standard neutral game plan.


Abigail's neutral game isn't particularly amazing. As a massive character he has some good reach, but he's a slow, large target. He does have some gimmicky ins with his run follow ups and rolling sweep, but these carry much more risk than Guile's projectiles or Rashid's zippy specials.

Why then would such a character be any good or be brought up in an article concerned with neutral control? Abigail embodies the "commitment" aspect of SF5. He can be wrong five times, but two correct guesses on his part and the round is over.

Abigail players are all but forced to rely on the idea of choosing an option and just going with it. With 1,100 vitality and 1,250 stun, Abby can afford more wrong guesses than anyone else in the cast. Wrong guesses mean more V-Gauge, and an activated Abigail is insanely powerful.

As far as the commitment style goes, a portion of play comes down to informed gambling. Sooner or later, the House always wins, and there's little question as to who's running the table when Abigail is on the screen.

This approach is somewhat echoed by Zangief and R. Mika, but they're far and away behind Abby.

Most all the rest of the cast tends to rely on a more honest and or risky neutral game. Characters like Akuma and Karin can rely on a combination of walk speed and decently-reaching normals to get an edge here. Others like Chun-Li and Vega have very far reach, and use that to safely pressure with normals from outside opponent's ranges.

Fighters like Cammy, Ibuki and Nash will rely more on chaotic mobility to find an in. Most characters, however, will have to rely on the good old fundamentals of dash, jump, normal and maybe some kind of projectile to create opportunities.

While this is surely viable, it becomes quickly apparent as to why the three highlighted characters above tend to perform better than others. They take either less risks or more efficient risks in the neutral, and in a game based on commitment, this is a great advantage.

This isn't all that goes in to making a top tier character in AE, but it's certainly a major component. For those brave enough to play a more neutral-basic character, you'll have to rely on misdirection and manipulation with normals, dashes, jump ins and forward marches.

At the end of the day, you have to accept that you'll sometimes be wrong. Sometimes you'll get Crush Countered for a billion damage that leads into unfavorable situations. Sometimes you'll lose because you didn't guess right.

The skill here comes in adapting to the plan of your foe, and the less tools your character has in the neutral, the more you'll have to work to win. It's not impossible to best the top tiers, and the payoff of winning with fewer resources is greater. Just know what you're getting into based on the path you're taking.

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