If you are a spammer, you’re in good company. Look at the comments beneath any Street Fighter match on YouTube where someone plays a character with a strong projectile game. Someone will accuse them of spamming, without fail. Apparently, even Daigo Umehara is guilty of spamming – as I said, good company. Likewise, for every boy who cries “spam,” another will cry “scrub,” dismissing the first commenter because he “just doesn’t get it.” To a new Street Fighter IV player looking to improve his game, such exchanges are – to put it diplomatically – f***ing unhelpful. Enough is enough. What distinguishes a fireball spammed from one well-thrown? Sit tight, you YouTubers, you comment mongers, you trolls and assorted stream monsters: we are going to figure this out together.
Popular Street Fighter community site eventhubs.com defines spamming as, “Repeatedly doing a move over and over again, usually a ‘safe’ attack that cannot be countered easily.” I’ll take it one step further. To say a player is spamming implies that the player attacks thoughtlessly, and lacks sufficient skill or knowledge to defeat his opponent without resorting to the spammed move. Ironically, a person who spams a move would probably be considered a scrub – “someone who thinks they’re a great player, but actually sucks” (again, CO: Event Hubs).
Fireballs get a bad rap because they’re so good. When a player throws a fireball, his opponent has to quickly react in one of a few specific ways, or take damage. If the opponent blocks, he gets pushed towards a corner, where his attacker’s options for combos and offensive pressure become more powerful. If he jumps, the attacker has time to close the distance and set up an offense, or punish him as he lands. Against aggressive opponents, fireballs can also be used to control giant chunks of screen, and create nigh-insurmountable defensive setups. And they can do all of these things from a safe distance! These strengths combine to make fireballs the ideal spammable move: powerful, versatile, safe.
So when does a fireball thrown become a fireball spammed? To answer that question, I’ve turned to Mago the 2D God, and Sanford Kelly – two of the most notoriously powerful Sagat players on the Street Fighter scene. In the video above, taken from offcast’s live stream of the Redemption Suite post-EVO 2011, many fireballs are thrown, but are these players truly washed-up, spamming scrubs? The answer is: sometimes.
Before heading into analysis, a brief note on Sagat’s fireball game. He can throw high and low “Tiger Shots”. The High Tiger Shots can be ducked. The Low Tiger Shots take a little longer for Sagat to launch. As with all projectiles in Street Fighter, when two Tiger Shots collide, they negate each other. Each Shot can be thrown at one of three different speeds, and has an “EX” variant which uses one bar of Super Meter, hits twice (allowing it to blow through non-EX fireballs) and knocks the opponent down. Both of these Sagats are using his 2nd Ultra attack, which is a multiple-hit, High Tiger Shot that renders Sagat invulnerable during the first part of its animation. This is about 90% of what you need to know to understand what’s going on in this match.
Mago’s Sagat wears white. Sanford’s wears blue.
In the first round of their best-of-three set, Mago seems to be doing some textbook spamming: he literally does nothing but throw fireballs. There are a couple stray kicks, here and there, but those can be easily written off as input errors (kick buttons must be pressed to execute low fireballs). It would be easy to stamp “spammer” on this one and be done, but for two things. First, there is incredible variety in the patterns of Mago’s Tiger Shots. Notice how he will establish a pattern – a steady stream of fast Tiger Shots, for instance – and then break it – he’ll throw a couple slow ones. Second, and moreover, the Tiger Shots work. Each time Mago varies his pattern, Sanford takes a hit, sometimes two, before he adjusts. Sanford can’t close the distance to stop Mago’s fireball pressure. By 0:50, Mago has a commanding life lead. His current strategy is working so well, that he has no reason to change it. Except that his opponent is Sanford Kelly.
At about 1:06, Mago starts spamming, but it’s because Sanford tricks him into it. At that point, Sanford’s Ultra is charged with powerful comeback potential – if he hits Mago with it, he will win the round. So he avoids a few projectiles, gains some ground…and gives it up. Sanford trains Mago’s brain to think that his closing the distance is not a meaningful encroachment, and that continued fireball pressure will keep him out. He renders Mago predictable. Then he closes the distance one last time, and makes his move. The invulnerability of Sagat’s Ultra protects Sanford from Mago’s fireball, and it deals enough damage to close the round in Sanford’s favor.
Round Two sees the tables turned in a number of ways. For one, Mago alters his strategy, uses the openings created by his Tiger Shots to move in and put the hurt on Sanford hand-to-hand. Any doubts as to whether Mago can succeed without his fireballs are quickly put to rest. He might even have Sanford spamming at 1:47, desperately trying to keep Mago away. For another, Round Two illustrates two instances of anti-spamming. The first occurs at 2:07, where both players begin crouching furtively at one another, and otherwise do nothing. This strange exchange occurs because the players are at a precise distance such that the only attack that will reach their opponent is a Tiger Shot. They are also close enough that the Tiger Shot would be very difficult to avoid on reaction. However, if the opponent predicts the Tiger Shot, and jumps just as it is released, he’ll get a free combo into his Ultra for massive damage. So both players buffer the motion for a fireball without pressing the punch button that will complete it, crouching tigers threatening to strike. An identical situation occurs at 2:28, but both players unleash a flurry of Tiger Shots simultaneously. These two instances are definitive examples of high-level fireball usage. The players are aware of their attack options, and those of their opponent. They mentally catalogue the way their opponent reacts in a given situation, and then vary their attack patterns to capitalize on their opponent’s behavior when that situation arises again. This is the anti-spam.
Round Three is impressive in that it shows the capacity for both players to adjust their playstyles in the moment. Mago took out Sanford with his aggressive play in Round Two, and so in this round, Sanford seeks to match it. Again, Tiger Shots abound, but this time around it’s because each player’s aggression is checked at a key moment of approach. The player gets knocked back or down, and the distance becomes such that the most viable option is to launch another Tiger Shot and try to move in again. Mago goes down in a similar fashion to Round One, but less because he had fallen into a rather lazy pattern, and more because Sanford made a great read based on Mago’s previous actions.
To say that players of this level are spamming moves shows a clear lack of understanding. To those who complain about these guys spamming fireballs, I say, “Stop spamming ignorance!” The amount of information you need to know to appreciate this match can be encapsulated in a paragraph, or five minutes of gameplay. If you’re going to get up in arms about people carelessly hurling pixels on a screen, shouldn’t you be doubly cautious about the ideas you throw out? Don’t be lazy trolls! Be awesome, godlike badasses! Know what you’re talking about! And you, who call these others scrubs: cut it out! Don’t FADC your knowledge into disdain! Guess what? The people who watch fighting game videos, and know less than you: they’re your audience. The five million people who tuned into EVO were not all top-tier players. Don’t just call these people scrubs and sign off! Teach them why they are scrubs. Enhance their enjoyment of the game! That’s the only way the community can grow.