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Why strong neutral has become more important than ever in Street Fighter 5

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • March 26, 2021 at 7:48 p.m. PDT • Comments: 31

A new season with a brand new mechanic very likely means a shift in the meta of Street Fighter 5, and while we're only a month into exploration of the evolving SF5 landscape, we certainly are beginning to see and feel some tangible change.

While the more obvious and immediate effects of the V-Shift mechanic manifest simply as more effective escapes from some of the game's most dire situations, downstream effects are starting to take form and it seems those who are best able to thrive and manipulate foes in the neutral are going to see the largest benefits.

The zoning character Menat was one of the first to be highlighted as a clear beneficiary of V-Shift. It takes little imagination to see how a character who controls space with far-reaching, hurtbox-less normals would love to have a tool that helps her escape close quarters situations and get right back to the place where the onus of commitment is more on her opponent than her.

This is probably why Catalyst, our resident Menat main, felt a greater sense of gravity about V-Shift more rapidly than many others in the community. (If you'd like to hear his particular thoughts on the matter, check out our podcast episode from a few weeks back.)

So this clearly helps out zoners, which makes enough sense, but it's not just zoners that appear to be rising to the top of the tier charts. Rumblings about the community say that the likes of characters such as Balrog, Cammy, Abigail, and Urien (to name a few) are also top contenders despite being very different kinds of fighters.

Balrog was one of the most intriguing for me, especially because Rohto|Tokido, one of the absolute best players on the planet, has been using him quite a bit. In watching footage of Tokido and others, I realized that many were not playing Balrog as much in his traditional, charge and pounce sort of style.

Instead, the approach to Boxer has been more of a neutral-based, quick on your feet, whiff-punish and counter poke sort of dance. Instead of using V-Skill 2 to get close or V-Skill 1 to create high/low mix up potential, players have been gravitating toward getting chunks of damage from quick hits, rinsing, and repeating. Dash punches are peppered in to keep foes on toes, but they seem to function more as distractions than damage dealers (though Balrog can still absolutely melt life bars if given the opportunity).

Balrog's more traditional approach of getting in your face or simply pelting you with somewhat telegraphed rush punches wouldn't gel as well with a meta that includes V-Shift, but playing him as a relatively mobile neutral game whiff punisher (complimented by the ever present threat of dash punch) seems to be working out quite well.

Pair this general approach with an eye open for opportunity, perhaps for a TAP through a fireball or simply via an over extension by a frustrated opponent, and Rog can then cash in on all the extra meter and V-Gauge at his disposal.

So what about a rush down character like Cammy? How can she be regarded as so powerful when one of her biggest strengths is obviously nerfed? Cammy doesn't have to rely on heavy pressure to kill you; she can get her damage from a number of approaches and tactics.

Think about when you're dancing in neutral with Cammy, do you ever feel very confident to commit to a particular approach? She's very fast on the ground, great at whiff punishing, can go to the air at any time with sudden and misleading angles that encourage foes to hesitate, she can zip forward at any moment with a sudden Cannon Drill or EX Hooligan, and she's got good anti airs to hold off overly eager aggressors.

It's actually very uncomfortable and very difficult to keep up with Cammy in the neutral, and while she might not score as many wins from counter hits and such, she can absolutely thrive against almost anyone when both characters are on their feet with some space between them... and there's going to be more of that now than ever before thanks to V-Shift.

We're starting to see a pattern that applies to the zoning, the charge, and the rushdown characters here. They don't necessarily appreciate the updated meta in the same ways, but they all can do something with it. They can play a game that's fun and meaningful for them in the neutral, and that's a wonderful look compared to previously having to worry constantly about guessing correctly against overwhelming offense.

Seeing as things appear to evolving in this manner that encourages neutral strategy, I'd surmise that characters who excel at getting damage more immediately (as opposed to those who rely more on getting close and then threatening with scary 50/50 situations) will do best. Karin and Sakura, who whiff punish into strong combos, are two potential big winners in my book. Kage, with his increased walk speed, might be extra scary now as well.

Roster members like Necalli and R. Mika, who like to convert initial hits into opportunities for more damage as opposed to converting initial hits into big combos, will likely suffer most if they don't find new strategies.

It's not to say that any one kind of character is out to dry, though grapplers do seem to stand to lose out most here. That said, baiting and punishing V-Shift is part of the equation now as well, and if Zangief, for example, is able to do enough damage when calling out an opponent's V-Shift that it justifies the amount of times they slip away from his pressure, maybe he stands a fighting chance.

The implications of this might help us evolve the meta even faster once we wrap our heads around it. Perhaps it's better to finish out combos with max damage and forsake okizeme more often than it used to be. Maybe we shouldn't be using advantage to move forward, but instead to move back to an especially comfortable spot now?

It's not to say that rush down offense isn't a tool you should take off the table... not by a long shot. It does mean, however, that there's likely going to be more neutral play than ever. V-Shift not only dissolves actual skirmishes, it also can cause hesitation by aggressors who are wary of it, and can mean a defender escapes even without actually having used it.

It's early and this is still mostly theory, but I'd love to hear how this resonates with the rest of you. Do you see holes in the logic? Does this all align with what you've been seeing and experiencing thus far? Sound off in the comments and let's further explore the new and, I dare say improved, Street Fighter 5 together.

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