There’s no sugar coating it, fighting games are tough. And, unlike many other genres, they can seem impenetrable to newcomers. Navigating the countless characters, the reams of character-specific combos, the subjective tier lists, and the lightning-quick moment-to-moment gameplay is enough to make your head spin. But don’t worry, if you are dedicated, you will be able to get better. Much better.
Let’s take a look at the six steps necessary to kickstart your time with any fighting game.

Choose Your Fighter

Before you do anything, boot up the game and go through the characters. Who’s your favourite?

No, don’t go rushing to tier lists, pro gamers or forums to find out who is the “best” fighter. Go with your gut. To get good you’re going to need to like your chosen fighter, and you’re going to need to like them a lot.
Okay, to give a little more direction about how to choose a fighter you’ll want to look out for two things:

1. Do you like their aesthetics? Simple enough, do you like the way they look, move and sound? If you’re not constantly thinking “this character is badass” I’d recommend switching it up to find a character you really bond with.
2. Do you like their play style? You may love how a small, agile character looks, but if you love playing hard-hitting tanks, you’ll not be happy picking them. Obviously, deciding whether you like a character’s playstyle will take a few rounds to properly find out. But you usually get a good feel for this even within the first few moments of a round.

Thus, the best way to choose your fighter is to pick all the characters which fit the two aforementioned criteria, then choosing a favourite. Fortunately, given that modern fighters have such huge rosters of characters, there should be at least one who fits the bill.

If you’re new to fighting games, it’s strongly suggested you first main just one character, then you can branch out if you like more than one.

Study Their Abilities and Combos

“Study? Boring! I’m just going to play…”

Hold up. I know “studying” combos sounds far too boring to be part of a game but hear me out.

Abilities are the core of any fighter, and combos are the road to victory. So, it’s time to pull up those ability/combo lists to truly get to know your character. Some games will have character-specific tutorials, while others will require you to manage your own learning which brings us onto our next point…

Abuse the Practice/Training Modes

While most first-time players will dismiss these modes as for noobs, they’re actually there for the pros. After all, it’s the pros who need to practice their timing and execution in order to reach the highest level of play.

As such, you’ll want to hop into these modes. A lot.

When you’re getting started with a character, a good way to use the practice mode is to challenge yourself to hit specific abilities or combos. You should aim to work your way through the entire roster of abilities and combos at least a couple of times to hone your skills.

But, of course, limit your time in these modes to avoid tedium. A good way to do this is to give yourself timed practice sessions of 10-20 minutes a day, where you can work on specific aspects of gameplay.

Acknowledge Your Gameplay Shortcomings; then fix them

We all have a weakness when it comes to our fighting playstyle. Perhaps we’re too aggressive, too defensive, or simply have a stupidly underpowered ability we love the look of. Whatever your weakness is (or weaknesses are) you should spend time analysing your own gameplay to find them.

With them identified, you’ll have some clear points for improvement, which you can then tie into you practice sessions.

And if you’re having trouble seeing your own weaknesses, you can ask other players to review your gameplay to point them out. After all, it can be hard to see our own mistakes.

Play, play, play

Ultimately, getting better requires you to play. If you love your character and chosen fighting game, this will be no chore at all. But to reach a high level of play, you’ll want to be playing a lot—and interspersing matches with down-time of training.

Enjoy Yourself

These are fighting games after all, so it’s vital to keep enjoying the game. This means that every now and again you may want to switch things up, trying out whacky objectives in online matches or even trying out oddball heroes and transferring what you’ve learnt. Of course, if you’re trying to get good, you’ll want to mainly stick to your key fighter, but there’s no question that we learn and perform better when we’re in a good mood.

Whether you’re looking to master Tekken, Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros or any other fighter, it’s time to get down and dirty with it. Pick your fighter, master them and dominate the opposition. I know you’ve got it in you.