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Does Controller Matter? What's the Best Fighting Game Controller?

16 min

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Does Controller Matter? Which is Best for Fighting Games?
When your thoughts convert into inputs seamlessly

Being a dedicated fighting games player often means making progress in quite a few layers. We have fun, increasing the excitement level and motivation. We train regularly to improve various skills. We watch esports tournaments to absorb the mastery of professionals.

Getting proper gaming equipment is also one of those layers. But not everything is that straightforward here — especially when we talk about controllers for fighting games. Someone takes titles and trophies with a default DualSense. Someone performs super impressive tricks and combos, playing with a HitBox or an arcade stick. Questions arise about what is better for keeping the process of growing as a player going. Should I buy a pretty expensive stick? Should I keep the default pad and focus on those other layers?

We discuss this topic in this new video on DashFight’s YouTube channel. Please check it out.

A Standard Gamepad

This piece of equipment comes with a game console, and it’s not too expensive to have one for your PC experience. The exact model depends on your personal preferences, but any choice here comes with the same pros and cons.

We’ve actually started the video with those cons, so let’s emphasize them once again, in a bit more detail.

Analog sticks of a standard gamepad are simply small to be precise with complicated inputs. It is not really hard to get used to quarter-circles, and with proper practice, input errors become less common even during feverish action — like air combos in anime fighting games. But performing moves like overdrives in Guilty Gear Strive or having a reliable DP move within a quick flow of attacks might be a problem for quite a long time. That’s why most fighting games players don’t even consider using analog sticks. It’s more often the choice of casual players.

D-Pads on a standard gamepad may be a good alternative, providing better input precision. It requires some extra training for your thumb, though. And not all D-Pads are the same — diagonal movements can be more difficult on PlayStation controllers in comparison to Xbox, thanks to their general physical form.

The ergonomic aspect also could be named a disadvantage of gamepads as a fighting controller. Some people have to adjust their grip for better access to face buttons.

These downsides of standard gamepads become much less meaningful if a game is actually designed with such controllers in mind. Say, many Capcom games are designed for 6-button arcade machines, and the arcade sticks are more a natural choice for them. But beyond that, most other games are created specifically for consoles. You still may have execution errors in Tekken or Mortal Kombat because of the speed and precise timing for pressing buttons. Some practice should solve them — especially because as games are designed for gamepad, the players also… not designed, sure, but have significant experience with them.

Have you seen a meme about a keyboard gamer who tries to play a shooter with a gamepad? The core of it is that you just get used to a thing you play games with. Through and through console players don’t have that issue — in shooters and fighters.

It’s a big advantage that you don’t need to adapt to a new controller. All those games you played before gather together to support your skills.

The issues sure will come, as no experience with other games can prepare you for those Guilty Gear overdrives. But they are not super pronounced for every single person. It depends…

Many esports professionals still use those PlayStation and Xbox gamepads. Maybe your fine motor skills are okay too?

One more advantage remains to add here. Do you remember we started with gamepads being rather cheap or coming with consoles? It is surely a substantial plus. An esports career does not start with purchasing an expensive fighting stick. That step should come from feeling an internal potential but yet having physical input limitations. Have you objectively reached this level? If yes, a fight stick might be a good next step.

A Fight Stick

That thing about having experience with a specific type of controller and then carrying it through your gaming life is quite relevant for fight sticks.

A long, long time ago, ancient people had to visit arcades to play fighting games. The stick and big buttons are just normal for those machines, and they are very convenient for all sorts of classic inputs. That convenience is a good thing to bring into other gaming devices — up to modern consoles and PCs.

Ok, those people are not ancient; don’t throw anything аat us, please. The point is — the whole game tradition has grown significantly since then. There is no connection between success in fighting games and playing on a fighting stick. 

The thing sure is good, no doubt about it. A big stick offers a lot of control, so you use your whole hand. The playing process becomes more natural in terms of the hand-to-eye coordination since it's a very physical and intuitive thing. You see the DP input or a half-circle, and you just make those movements with your stick. That's not quite the case with D-Pads and leverless controllers, where you have a layer of abstraction and should translate, for example, a half-circle into a Left-Down-Right input. 

But don’t expect to get an arcade stick and then see esports trophies automatically appearing on your shelves.

Some adaptation is needed to move from the standard gamepad to a stick. And the process might not be quick and natural. There are people who abandon the idea of switching to fight sticks as gamepads turn out to be more comfortable for them. In some cases, the improvement becomes clear only after a few months of practice with a stick.

Two other aspects are even more important. First, good arcade sticks are expensive. No jokes here. Be ready to pay a lot. And the problem is not only the money itself, but the adequacy of this expense. Are you sure you are limited by the gamepad and not by the general lack of training and dedication?

The second one is the size of that good fight stick. Not everyone will be comfortable keeping the thing on their knees or on a desk in front of them. Small gamepads develop some habits on how we sit in front of a TV or a monitor.

Is a stick really the best fighting game controller? Yes! But not for everyone.

Is having an arcade stick absolutely necessary for fighting games? No!

Let’s just say — not everyone aims at the pro level. Having fun with your game and being good at it? This is possible without a fight stick too. But such a controller can help you break the limits, it’s true. Isn’t a leverless controller even more effective for this?

One more thing to add about fight sticks is that they are just cool. LIke having one and playing with it often comes not from a practical need but from that specific feeling it gives. For some gamers, it’s nostalgic. For others, it’s just fun. If you feel like this, you probably need no other reasoning.

A Leverless Controller

In theory, this device solves every problem with execution in fighting games. Such controllers have buttons instead of a stick, and the preciseness of input becomes close to perfect.

If we highlight the 623 movement on a leverless controller, it turns into pressing Forward, then Down, and then Forward+Down together. Your anti-air option becomes reliable, not just a chaotic mess with an uncertain probability of success.

Not only does a leverless controller offer a precision-related advantage, but also it has an ergonomic plus. Arcade buttons give a better access to inputs, since your hand is not occupied by having to grip or hold the controller, which usually leaves you with only 3 fingers to press buttons. And using buttons for movement means you don't have to worry about the travel time of the stick, which makes motion inputs faster.

In addition, there are also numerous input shortcuts that are exclusive to leverless controllers. Some of which are almost broken, making Capcom require a rule that Down+Up should result in neutral instead of Up.

Many complicated inputs become simpler here. But again — in theory. What about the real, practical side of the process?

While offering ultimate precision, this type of controller also demands precision from the player. Even something basic like a half-circle requires pressing and releasing buttons in perfect order within fractions of a second if you want to execute it quickly. On a gamepad you just roll your thumb over a D-Pad or ride the gate on an arcade stick.

Let’s remember that part with having general habits as gamers. Having buttons instead of a stick is a clear reference to keyboards, but to be honest, they are rarely used with this intensity of movement — genres like FPS or RTS might require high APM, but they rarely ask you to do a long and strict series of quick inputs. So, even keyboard players will need to adapt to this type of input. And for controller or arcade players, switching to buttons often becomes less exciting than expected. 

The process of adapting to this new input paradigm requires time and patience. It’s rewarding alright, but in the beginning it may feel like you lose victories here and now, just because you can’t make that movement with button pressing as quick and natural as with a stick.

It is pretty important to be aware of this feature and not fall into the illusion of an omnipotent leverless piece of equipment as the absolutely best controller for fighting games. While it could be a perfect fit for you, it can just as easily be awfully uncomfortable and require too much practice to get used to. 

And that nice big model you probably saw many esports professionals use and promote could be very expensive.

Luckily, there is a way to get a feel for them without spending money. Yep, take your keyboard, enter the training mode, and perform all those Specials and Supers. Sure, a real controller is much better thanks to the button size and positioning (even if some professionals are playing on keyboards). But the general understanding of what you will get is certainly easily available.

What about the size? The industry has started to produce some very interesting smaller models, so the controller doesn’t have to be huge. This might be a good feature for traveling or for your personal habits of playing (like how and where you sit). But the position of buttons may bring some tension to your hands and might not provide the same level of comfort. Ultimately, the size choice depends on your personal preferences. 

Otherwise, it’s pretty much like with fight sticks. Are you sure it is your controller that limits your success in fighting games? Can this levelerless thing open a portal for you to that undoubtful dedication and make you more motivated? If so, then go for it!

Your Best Controller

It becomes pretty clear that there is no ultimate decision for everyone. The choice of good controllers for fighting games strongly depends on the game you play, on your previous experience and current habits, on your goal in fighting games, and certainly on your budget.

If you are aware of this limitation of not being able to execute some moves with your current controller, then you probably should look for a solution. Buying a new controller is not always the best one. Dedicating more time to execution practice in training mode and in low-level CPU matches can bring pretty good results.

Or, you could consider switching to a dedicated gamepad, made specifically for fighting games. For example, Fighting Commander Octa by Hori has six buttons, like fight sticks, and an octagonal rim for the analog stick, which makes it more comfortable for FG inputs. Such advanced models might be even better for you than to fight sticks and leverless controllers.

High goals require actions. Winning tournaments or just participating in them as a decent opponent — this requires … practice. And perhaps a dedicated controller will also help. A fight stick is generally a nice thing to have. It feels good to play with one, and the adaptation is not that long and difficult. In general, it’s a choice of highly motivated players, ready to make a step from the causal crew to competitive. (but again, not every game really needs such a stick)

The same high goals in combination with a special mindset may take you to a leverless controller. Make sure you’ve tried the input pattern enough before making this purchase. Make sure you are dedicated enough to pass through the adaptation process — fast-paced matches require performing exact button pressing without any thinking, and that’s not as simple as performing Shoryuken in training. Eventually, leverless controllers may bring good results — but they are not for everyone, and not every player objectively needs them.

In general, switching to a specialized fighting controller should be a logical step in your development as a player. It’s not a magic trick or a shortcut in practice. A person doesn’t become Daigo after purchasing Hitbox. But as a tool, this thing may be something you really need to reach a high level.

What do you play fighting games with? Do you feel like fighting sticks are necessary for a player's progress? Are leverless controllers really that good for everyone? Please, share your opinion in the comments below. As a community, we all will benefit from sharing our experiences.

Some game developers try to avoid any execution difficulties on the programming, moveset levels. We already have simplified inputs in Granblue Fantasy Versus and Street Fighter 6. A deeper dive into this topic happened in a dedicated video on DashFight channel. Have you seen it?

Some Good Controllers for Fighting Games

  • Default PlayStation/Xbox controllers — a decent quality, accessible; it’s a good choice for most casual players (and they can be a good competitive tool too). 
  • Fighting Commander Octa by Hori — an improved version of default controllers, with good adaptation to quarter- / half-circle movement inputs.
  • Mad Catz Ego — a fully-fledged fight stick of an exceptional quality.
  • 8BitDo Arcade Stick — a fight stick with a somewhat retro style.
  • Razer Kitsune — a cool-looking and not-so-big leverless controller.
  • Hit Box — a leverless controller of the classic fight stick size.
  • Smash Box — another product by Hit Box that has many additional buttons; it’s a specific choice for some professionals.
  • Snack Box Micro — a leverless fighting controller of a significantly smaller size.

Sure there is no ultimate recipe for success — otherwise, the whole idea of competing within fighting games would be broken. Everyone has to find their perfect path, and we hope this video (and DashFight in general) will help you with this.

Join the conversation about fighting game controllers in the YouTube comments or directly here, under this post.

This material was created with the support of our Patrons. You can support us!

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