In the vast majority of fighting games, the only thing separating you from your opponent is empty space. While there isn’t anything tangible in between, it’s imperative that you control that empty space. At this point, it’s fair to ask, “How do you control empty space?” and, “What does this have anything to do with fighting games?”.
With this latest instalment of the Universal Fighting Game Guide, let’s cover the concept of space management. We’ll discuss what that means, the different ranges you should be mindful of, and how to control space in a way that gives you a distinct advantage over your opponent.
What is space management?
You may have heard other fighting game players refer to the concept of space management as ‘spacing’ or ‘zoning’. Whatever you want to refer to it as, the concept is the same. Space management is the act of controlling the distance between you and your opponent. The reason you want to control this is because depending on the character you choose and your particular play style, you will generally fight better in certain distances and worse in others. Your opponent will also have certain distances that they’re better or worse in. If you can keep yourself at a distance that’s in your favour, you will have an easier time winning the match.
The classic example of space management
The Zangief vs. Dhalsim from the Street Fighter series is the most obvious example of a matchup where space management is important. Zangief fights best in close, as he has a number of powerful grab moves at his disposal. However, if he’s far away, he can’t really do anything of value. Meanwhile, Dhalsim is the polar opposite. His stretchy limbs make him a force to be reckoned with from a distance, but he doesn’t have any good weapons to deal with opponents when they get in his face.
This match is dictated almost entirely by space management. If Zangief can consistently get in close, he will likely win. However, if Dhalsim can prevent Zangief from closing the gap, he will likely win. It’s up to the players to determine how this battle of distance plays out.
There are a few general distances or zones you should always be mindful of. Those are:
At this range, you are basically nose-to-nose with your opponent. All of your normal moves should connect at this range. You will also have the ability to complete a regular throw from this distance. Characters with command grabs in general are particularly strong at this range.
This is a distance where only your farthest-reaching normal moves will connect. This is often known as ‘footsies’ range, as combat at this distance often involves players sticking out their feet great distances to poke their opponents. Characters with fast and far-reaching normal moves operate best at this range.
Your normal moves will not connect at this range. Depending on your jump arc, you can usually get right beside your opponent again by jumping towards them. At this range, projectiles or attacks that move your character forward become handy.
At this distance, only projectiles really have the ability to connect with a few exceptions. Characters with a large suite of long range attacks work best here.
Approach to space management
Regardless what distance you are from your opponent, you should always have a general plan for how to operate when you in that zone. Know what moves work best in certain ranges, what moves don’t work in others, and how to get into your comfort zone when you’re currently not there. This plan will vary depending on your own play style, the character you choose, the character your opponent chooses, and your opponent’s play style. While you can’t always prepare for your opponent’s specific behaviours, you can have a plan ready based on your own play style, the character you’ve chosen, and the character you’re fighting against. While you may operate in certain zones better than others, it’s imperative that you have a game plan for every range, because the likelihood of you spending time in every range during the natural flow of the fight is extremely high. If you enter a match understanding how to operate in any given zone, you’ll have a much easier time maintaining control.
More granular examples of space management
Besides the above ranges, you should be mindful of a myriad of different ranges, as the slightest difference in space can create or close opportunities.
For instance, cross-up attacks are an extremely powerful way to hit your opponent in a way that is difficult to block. However, most cross-up attacks require a very specific distance to jump from in order for certain moves to cross-up properly.
(image from IPLAYWINNER)
Having a granular understanding of space will also help you punish your opponent in very specific circumstances. For instance, if Blanka in Street Fighter IV is using his electric thunder move, you can successfully hit him out of it with a properly spaced low attack. Regardless of the game you’re playing, you can find all sorts of opportunities to punish your opponents at certain distances with the right maneuver.
Dividing up the battlefield into zones and having specific approaches to fighting in each area will greatly improve your ability to throw down. Take the time to understand how to battle in each, and put in the extra effort to find all of the specific spacing instances that could help you better attack your opponent or better defend from them. Always be mindful of where you are and where you want to be!