How to Watch: Street Fighter 4

Written by SeaGnome
Sep 19 2012, 5:57 PM EDT

This can also be applied to Super Street Fighter 4 and Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition (2012)

An update for Fighting Games in general is coming very soon. This guide will also be updated to better fit with the format.

Why watch SF4?

Fighting games are among the easiest to understand at a glance: the Health Bar is obvious, there is very little clutter on screen, and each move is slow enough for the average viewer to digest. Most people will be absolutely fine not knowing what FADC means, or how difficult it is to link combos, which makes Street Fighter one of the best games to watch.  Additionally, the relatively balanced state of the game means there is a wide character variety in almost every major tournament, offering a nice change of pace from the comparatively low number of matchups in games such as StarCraft II or almost any FPS.

Street Fighter boasts the most tournaments of any Fighting game, and, with Capcom sponsoring the 25th anniversary this year, a very substantial prize pool as well. Plus, there are many fantastic personalities in the Fighting Game Community that are well known for their Street Fighter play: Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, Justin Wong, and Mike “Maximum Human” Ross are just a few.  Street Fighter is also home to some of the best commentators, with David “UltraDavid” Graham, James Chen, Skisonic, and Seth Killian rivalling the likes of Tastosis, TobiWan, and Joe “Joe Miller” Miller.

The Basics

The most popular format for Street Fighter is a series of Best of Three rounds. To win a round, you must either reduce your opponent’s life to zero or have a higher amount of life than your opponent when the timer runs out. You can tie with your opponent if both players simultaneously kill each other or both players have equal life when the timer runs out. In the event of a tie, both players are awarded a victory for that round. The first player to win two rounds wins the set.

There are really only four things you need to keep track of while watching Street Fighter:
  1. Health meter
  2. Timer
  3. Super Gauge
  4. Revenge/Ultra Gauge

To be completely honest, 99 percent of the time, the only vital things to watch are the health bars. Street Fighter is a very aggressive game and the timer rarely comes into play. Both the Ultra and Super meters are extra information, but it’ll be very obvious whenever they’re being used.

Let’s start with the simpler Ultra. To build up the Revenge gauge, a player must either take damage or use a Focus Attack to absorb (and hopefully, recover!) damage. You only need half of your Revenge gauge filled to perform an Ultra Combo. Players must choose which one of their character’s two Ultras they will before the match starts, and the Ultra they select is viewable during the game (notice the Ultra I combo for Ryu and the Ultra II combo for Fei Long in the above picture). Ultra Combos are probably the most iconic moves of Street Fighter 4: the game slows down, almost pausing, then zooms in on the character attacking. If it lands, it almost always has a round changing impact on health or spacing. Winning a round with an Ultra Combo will replace the normal yellow ‘V’ in the Victory Count with a blue ‘U’. Here's what an Ultra looks like:

The Super Gauge is much more complex. It can be increased by both dealing and taking damage, although dealing damage generally nets you a greater amount. There are three ways to use the Super Gauge: for a Super Combo, for an EX move, or to FADC.
  • Super combos are somewhat rarely seen compared to the other options, but are still useful. Doing a Super combo takes up the entire Super Gauge (all 4 bars), and is primarily used as a massive source of damage. This is what a Super Combo looks like
  • EX moves take up one bar of the Super Gauge and are distinguished by the Yellow highlight around the character models.  EX moves both deal more damage and have faster animation than their normal (non-EX) variants. Here's what some EX moves look like:
  • Focus Attack, Dash, Cancel (FADC) takes up two Super Gauge bars and is used to quickly cancel portions of attack animations, enabling stronger and more varieties of combos. If you haven’t played Street Fighter, it can be hard to recognize each FADC for what it is, but that shouldn’t take too much away from your viewing experience. Here's what an FADC looks like:
There are 39 characters in SF4, and almost all of them have seen high level competitive play in the last year. You don’t need to worry about each character’s moveset, especially if there’s a competent commentator on the mic. Advanced concepts like safe moves, combos, and punishes will all quickly become obvious as the game progresses. Watching enough tournaments will naturally give you a better sense of individual matchups and therefore tiering, but none of that is necessary to enjoy what’s in front of you.

Common Terminology
- Dealing small amounts of damage through an opponent’s block. Most moves don’t do chip damage.
Combo - A series of hits that, when unblocked, can be strung together
EVO - The biggest Fighting Game tournament of the year, held every year for more than a decade. Even placing in the top 32 at EVO means you are among the best in the world.
Footsies- Spacing yourself so that your opponent is within range of your longest reaching attacks, while being immune (or at least resistant) to punishes
Fireballs - Most projectiles are generically called fireballs, even if there’s no fire involved
Frames - A unit of time, usually in reference to the start or end of a move
Free- Easy
Major - Fighting Game Major Tournament, usually for EVO seeding points or a large prize pool
Mixup - Attacking in an uncertain way to try to get your opponent to block the wrong area
Overhead - A High attack, usually in the context of a player blocking low
Pad- Xbox or PS3 controller, used by a handful of top tier Fighting Game players
Punish - Countering a missed or blocked attack with a move of your own
Recovery- How long a move takes to finish the animation
Salty- Upset/Sad/Angry/etc
Shoto - Shotokan style Karate-using characters like Ryu and Ken
Stick - Arcade/Fight Stick, what most serious Fighting Game players play on
Stream Monster - Online stream viewers, particularly the ones who participate in the stream chat
Super- This can refer to the Super Combo or Super Gauge
Ultra- This can refer to the Ultra Combo, Ultra Gauge, or type of Ultra
Whiff - Miss

What To Watch
For streams, it doesn’t get much better than Sp00ky and LevelUp, both of which have very regular content. Sp00ky hosts the New York based “Big Two” on Wednesdays, and SoCal-based LevelUp has its “Wednesday Night Fights” just a few hours after. Both streams also cover other Fighting Game events. There’s a very handy Event Calendar on if you feel like diving in! If you want a backup that’s almost always on, the Peaceful Jay (WP.TV link to /peacefuljay) stream is constantly streaming Online tournaments, although it isn’t exclusively Street Fighter.

But if the streams are still a few hours away, maybe you want to watch some VODs. Try out this EVO 2011 game of Alex Valle, who was once the best American player, against Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, who is perhaps the best Street Fighter player of all time:
Alternatively, you can watch Justin Wong, arguably the best current American player, go up against Dieminion, the second highest placing American at this year’s EVO.

There’s a ton of footage of top players from around the globe on YouTube if you want to go looking. Searching for tournaments like EVO 2009-2012, Season’s Beatings, Canada Cup, Shadowloo Showdown, and CEO (Community Effort Orlando) will surely give you great results. Remember to add in Street Fighter or SF4 to make sure you narrow down your search! You could also go the other route of searching for players- Justin Wong, Latif, PR Balrog, and Wolfkrone are some of the best American players right now. Infiltration is undeniably the best Korean. Daigo Umehara, Tokido, Fuudo, and Mago are some amazing Japanese players. Gamerbee is a Taiwanese monster. There are dozens of amazingly good players, far too many to list here. Just picking something to look for and going with it will probably net you a great time!