Universal Fighting Game Guide: Throws 101

Since the hey day of fighting games, the throw as a maneuver has received a lot more heat than it deserves. In the early days of Street Fighter II, I remember going to the arcades and hearing other kids talk about how the throw as a move was ‘cheap’ and that people shouldn’t use it in fights. Even now, I still get hate messages on XBOX Live and PSN about my use of throws in a fighting game, regardless of what game I’m playing.

Particularly around entry-level fighting game players, there’s a weird dichotomy at work where there’s a group of players who think throws are super awesome and will exploit them at every turn, and another group of players who actively handicap themselves by not using throws because of some phony gentleman’s rule that’s reached urban legend status. In this edition of the Universal Fighting Game Guide, we tackle the art of the throw, which is a key element to almost every fighting game ever made.

What is a throw?

This is fairly self explanatory. A throw is a move whereby you grab your opponent and force them into a direction against their will. Most of the time, you will be throwing your opponent to the ground. However, opponents may be thrown into the air, against a wall or in some other direction, depending on the throw used.


What types of throws are there?

Within the context of fighting games, there are two types of throws: regular throws and command throws. A regular throw is defined as a throw triggered by the standard throw input that every character has access to. Command throws are throws triggered through a character specific input. The classic example of a command throw is Zangief’s Spinning Pile Driver, which is the most iconic throw in all of fighting games. Some characters do not have access to a command throw at all, while others build their entire offense around connecting their command throw(s).

Common characteristics of a throw

– throws usually (but not always) lead to a hard knock down

– characters usually (but not always) have to be in close range though there are exceptions

– characters usually (but not always) can’t combo after one

– characters usually (but not always) can’t combo into one

– throws usually (but not always) cannot be blocked

– characters can usually (but not always) hit opponents out of a throw attempt


The myth

If you’ve ever been within any sort of proximity around fighting games, you’ve probably heard someone say something about the fact that throws are cheap. Maybe you’ve heard someone say that throws are banned in tournament play. You might have a buddy that has specific house rules that ban throws when you two play each other.

The reality is, throws are a part of the game. A pivotal part of the game, in fact. Are throws cheap? While their effectiveness will vary from game-to-game, the answer is, “No, throws are not cheap.” Every fighting game is designed in a way that allows opponents to escape a throw or ‘tech’ a throw. Even in games where there isn’t a specific mechanic built to help you beat a throw, such as the original Street Fighter II, you can still avoid throws if you play smart and can see them coming. Simply jump or move out of the way. If you’re still in the camp that believes that throws are cheap and no one should use them, then you can continue to whine while your opponents mercilessly throw you around.

The primary reason why throws are important

Fighting games at their core are a game of rock paper scissors. They are so close in nature that you can even map rock, paper and scissors to the three primary actions you have as a player in a fighting game. They map as follows:

Rock = Block

Paper = Throw

Scissors = Attack

If you played a game of scissors rock, the game would suck pretty bad. Without the guess work, everyone would pick rock. In a fighting game, without throw as an option, your opponent could simply hit you once, then block all of your attacks until the time ran out. Throws, when used effectively, force your opponent to play more honestly. Your opponent can’t simply turtle, because a throw will beat their block every time. 

When you’re running an efficient offense, your opponent will constantly have to guess every time you approach whether you’re going to attack, throw or block. While the weighting of these three tactics will vary from match-to-match, you should always show your opponent that you’re willing to use all three to keep them on their toes.

Other reason why throws are important

Scoring a hard knockdown: Scoring a hard knockdown is an excellent way to break your opponent’s momentum and/or keep your momentum going. Once you’ve scored a hard knockdown, you’ll have time set up and put your opponent in a mix-up situation when they get off the ground.

Positional advantage: Throws can either leave an opponent directly beside, you, on the other side of the screen or somewhere in between. With the right throw, you can either put your opponent in your deadly vortex or get them off of your tail.

Damage: Throws generally do a decent amount of damage. While they are usually no substitute for a full combo, they’re great in key situations, particularly when you’re fighting someone on the defensive.

Mix-up potential: The tick throw is one of my all-time favourite tactics in all of fighting games. Above is a tutorial video, but I’ll explain the concept anyway. The way you do this is by hitting your opponent with an attack, which either puts your opponent in hit stun or block stun situation, depending on if they got hit. From there, immediately throw your opponent. This technique is particularly effective when your opponent blocks the initial attack, as they’ll likely still be holding their block from the first attack.

In Conclusion

Don’t let others fool you; throws rock as part of a healthy, balanced offense. Mix them appropriately into your game and you’ll be very hard to predict.

3 thoughts on “Universal Fighting Game Guide: Throws 101

  1. MGT128 June 21, 2017 / 5:59 AM

    I would get a wrestling game if I wanted to throw, chip damage works well and power moves that can’t be blocked are a good option plus high mid and low attacks make it harder to block. Boxing manages to be a good fighting style to watch and they never throw, maybe grappling and holding but never doing masses of damage to the opposition by throwing. Some fighting games used to let you turn throws off and others like virtua fighter 2 on the Sega Saturn let you teach the fighters moves so you would do as many moves and combos as you could with each character except from throws and it was the best fighting game I’ve ever played.

    • Jett June 21, 2017 / 11:03 AM

      Thanks for the comment!

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing you’re not a fan of throw mechanics in fighting games? That’s fine if you don’t like them, but it’s a fundamental mechanic in virtually all fighting games that is vital to one’s success. Being reductive here, but fighting games at their core are rock-paper-scissors, as noted in my guide. Without throws, how do you play rock-paper-scissors when rock beats scissors every time?

      It’s funny that you mention wrestling games as an alternative, but they too use the exact same attack-throw-block triangle that fighting games use. Sure, throwing might be a larger portion of the action, but they serve the exact same purpose and can be countered in the exact same ways and have the same types of pros and cons.

      To be devil’s advocate to your specific points:

      Chip Damage: Chip damage does very little damage in most fighting games. Furthermore, the defending player can simply evade incoming attacks instead of blocking to avoid the situation completely. As chip damage is currently implemented in modern fighting games, it’s not nearly enough to cause people to second guess blocking. Throwing, on the other hand, is much more effective to prevent turtling, as it requires one throw to do an equal amount of damage relative to a series of moves that cause chip damage.

      Power moves: In general, powerful moves that are designed to break guards are generally slow on start-up to compensate. Once again, a savvy player could simply avoid the situation completely by evading. Fundamental changes to how fighting games are currently designed would be required to make guard break moves a meaningful alternative to grabs.

      High-mid-low: Yes, mixing up your high/mid/low will help, but the defensive player still has the advantage here. Adjusting block positioning from high to low is not hard to do quickly, as it’s just a slight shift of the d-pad/joystick. Overhead moves in games like Street Fighter are specifically designed to not allow you to combo after them, as this is designed to compensate for the offensive player’s ability to hit high while standing. This requires the offensive player to have a high degree of skill to open up their opponent, and becomes even harder for characters of the grappler archetype who usually don’t get mix-up friendly moves.

      I see what you’re trying to get at with the boxing comparison, but the type of defense required in real life boxing versus the type of defense required in a fighting game is very different. For one, fighting games are mostly designed to be fantastical in nature. People want cool moves like fireballs, flashy strikes, and crushing grabs that don’t occur in real life.

      There’s also some fundamental mechanical differences between the two. In most fighting video games, players only need to block in two spots: high and low. Mid in most fighting games is mainly just high, so two points you need to defend. I can move my joystick from back to down back very quickly, making defense at a root level very easy. In real life boxing, I can get punched in a myriad of spots on my head and upper body, and only have two hands and two arms to defend myself. There is no formation I can put my arms in to cover every possible angle from a punch. This is why boxing can exist as a sport without the reliance on grabbing, as there’s always an opening to strike. Boxers also have access to two arms they can attack with at any interval they want. In most fighting games, you’re limited to performing one move at a time, being forced in most cases to complete a move’s full animation before moving to the next one.

      Masses of damage: I can’t speak for every game, but regular throws in most games don’t do massive damage. In the games that I have played, throws generally do less damage than one decent combo. As the defending player, if you anticipate the throw, you can input your own throw to tech it, nullifying the throw attempt and the damage you would have taken from it. In games where you can use throws to start a combo, damage scaling is adjusted so that every hit after does less damage than it normally would have to compensate for the effectiveness of the throw. If you’re referring to command grabs such as Zangief’s spinning piledriver, they cause massive amounts of damage, but are high risk too. They have slow start up, meaning they can get hit out of it or evaded easily. Plus, if the throw whiffs, they’re wide open for a counter attack.

      Yes, Virtua Fighter 2 allowed you to turn throws off. The original Killer Instinct didn’t have throws either. Not to throw shade at either of those games, but there’s a reason why that design choice fell by the wayside with pretty much every fighting game since. It’s not because every fighting game developer in the world is stupid, or because they want to give scrubs something cheap to exploit. At a fundamental fighting game design level, blocking beats attacks. In a world with no throwing, the meta of every fighting game as they’ve currently been designed would devolve into turtling.

      After all of this, if you still don’t like, or agree, or even see my perspective on the role of throwing in fighting games, that’s your perogative. However, as something worth checking out that’s related on this subject, below is a link to my all-time favourite article regarding fighting game design and philosophy from a former pro Street Fighter player, who was in charge of producing Super Street Fighter II HD Remix, and who is the creator of an awesome fighting-game inspired card game called Yomi.


      It’s a post about the concept of Playing to Win, and how the concept of playing to win is muddied by our own perceptions of what that entails, including the role of throwing in a fighting game.

  2. Chuck Cochems July 27, 2018 / 4:27 PM

    Tick throws are more complicated then that.

    They started in street fighter 2, which did not have a dedicated throw button. If you try to throw and the opponent is not throwable you got a normal attack instead. Throws had zero startup.

    When someone is not in blockstun, not in hitstun, and in your throw range they are throwable.

    The character who entered the command earlier, but not too soon would get the throw. If both were entered at the same time, the game would randomly determine who got the throw.

    But this only applied if both people were within throw range. If you outranged them, they can’t throw you, but you can throw them. They can’t try to break it by attacking, because the first frame of the attack will still be throwable, and you will throw them. Only an attack that becomes unthrowable on the first frame can be used to escape the tick, and it had to be timed perfectly. Zangief, with his ungodly throw range, was able to tick very well.

    This was changed in Championship edition. a reversal frame was added. if you entered an input on the frame one before the last frame, you would be able to interrupt the last frame of block/hitstun with a throw or reversal attack. If the other person was in your throw range you could counter their throw, guaranteed, with frame perfect timing. or you could dragon punch out of it. You could also do the same when getting up from a knockdown. interrupt your last frame of standing animation and go straight into a special attack or throw someone next to you.

    This was the situation until super street fighter 2. at this time, Zangief was given a “throw whiff”. this meant that if you tried the throw too early, he would be vulnerable. But this was the first throw with multiple active frames. The throw would only whiff if the target was unthrowable for ALL of them. All fighting games with a throw button use a similar system. You could still bust out with a reversal attack reliably if your timing was good enough. But this made the SPD tick must stronger, because the timing is no longer nearly as tricky. you could do the motion a few frames early, and you would still get it. Since any decent zangeif player will outrange your throw when ticking, you can’t counter throw. so you must reverse. Not all characters have easy to do reversals. Some of them can only reversal as a charge move. which they might not be able to do because they had to block your safe jab jump. if they tried their charge move reversal, you would land first, block, and then beat them up. At this point because you made them lose their charge with the safe jab jump, the tick is inescapable, as long as they lose throw invulnerability before they get their charge.

    The T. Hawk story is even more confusing. he didn’t have a throw whiff, but he had a very nasty and just as inescapable tick. He would start with a safe jab jump, follow it with a crouching attack, then enter the command throw by releasing instead of pressing the button. Either the opponent would not reverse, and you would get the throw, or he would reverse, you would do nothing and you would block the reversal. and then throw anyway during his landing recovery frames.

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