Having trouble with reactive PvPers? A beginner’s guide to footsies/fighting game fundamentals

Anyone who's a serious fighting game player will know that smart defensive players won't just give you an easy opening. That's where footsies come into play. You might have heard the term before, but not really understood what it meant. Understanding them means understanding that you can't just rush in against someone smart, so you need to feint and bait. Think about trying to rush someone like Floyd Mayweather. How well is that going to end? Footsies, in short, are using intelligent positioning, baiting and bluffing to create an opening against an opponent who's too smart or passive to do anything punishable on their own.

There's a huge difference between waiting for a mistake and actively forcing a mistake.

A quick beginner guide to footsies:

  • Stay outside of your opponent's max un-reactable attack range, so that you don't run into anything, but also don't stay unnecessarily far back. You only need to be just outside their max range for the most part. For example, in Street Fighter, this would mean staying out Ryu's of sweep and initial fireball start-up range, so that you don't end up running into something you can't react to. But you also don't want to be so far back that you can't punish whiffs and other mistakes. This is a big mistake many players make. They give up way more space than necessary and also eliminate most of their pressure in the process. That doesn't mean you want to sit at the exact same range the whole fight, but you should know how close you can get and still be safe.

  • To feint or threaten, move in to a threatening range where you could possibly attack or attack very soon, but not actually doing anything right away. This gives you an opportunity to see how your opponent responds to the threat of an attack. Do they swing? Do they block? Do they parry? Do they walk backwards? Do they try to roll? If so, do they roll forwards or backwards? Do this a few times and get a feel for their habits. Once you have an idea of what their tendencies are, bait a response and punish.

  • Lots of people think you can't feint because there's no actual fakeout ability like in Chivalry or For Honor, but fighting games have never had normals you can cancel early like that. Real feints are about the threat, and a good threat is something they can't just react to. Being able to feint requires you to have at least one weapon that is more or less un-reactable. This is why playing footsies with something like a Greathammer or UGS doesn't work because anyone patient can literally sit right in your face, and there's nothing you can do that they can't counter on reaction. This is also why you see such little jumping with pro players in Street Fighter because it's one of the slowest, easiest things to react to, and it's a set trajectory, so you always know where they'll be in the air/where they'll land. It's also why you don't see people do things like Balrog's rush punch from across the screen because it makes it super easy to react to.

  • Real pressure is about being threatening on a consistent basis. It has nothing to do with pressing a lot of buttons. If you're attacking constantly in Street Fighter for example, and your opponent just blocks or dodges everything and you don't actually land a clean hit, then your pressure is lousy. Real pressure is about creating openings through aggressive bluffs.

  • Again, this is why having at least one fast weapon is so important. If you have something fast that your opponent has to guess against, then that means you can bait a roll or a parry or a swing or something without actually having to press a button and commit. That means that once they make a mistake, since you haven't committed to anything, you're free to punish with something damaging. Depending on the speed of their weapon/the quality of the connection, that can either mean punishing something on reaction or guessing with your timing as well (since you can't punish straight sword or rapier whiffs on reaction for instance).

Loadout recommendations:

  • At least one fast un-reactable weapon in your MH or OH or on swap (straight sword, dagger, curved sword, rapier, katana, spear, etc.)
  • One ranged option to punish casters who keep distance (arbalest, avelyn, throwing knives, spells, etc.)
  • A shield on swap (to deal with crossbow pressure, throwing knife pressure when low, and things that are difficult to deal with like HA Lightning Arrow)
  • One anti-greatshield option (shotels, scythes, deep weapons, whips, spells, etc.)

It gets much deeper once both players understand how to feint/bait properly, but this is the basics of it. Footsies are the fundamentals of any fighting game, and combos only exist to help you maximize the reward you get off of punishing a mistake. They also exist to help close the gap between short range and long range characters (long range zoning characters typically have less damaging moves/combos or way less mobility to deal with pressure once someone gets close).

Now, a lot of of this is unfortunately out the window in some scenarios because of one reason: there's too much space to backpedal, which is why I've been advocating so much for Fromsoft to implement a smaller 1v1 area around the size of the High Wall Bonfire used for tournaments.

In fighting games, the punishment for an opponent walking or sprinting away is that they're cornering themselves sooner. Once you're cornered, you have no room to back way from attacks and that puts you in a very dangerous position because your positioning becomes predictable and you have way fewer options. The problem in Dark Souls 3 is that you can run almost indefinitely without ever getting cornered because the arenas are so big. That means there's no real punishment for sprinting backwards. But as long as your opponent is at least somewhat interested in winning, you can still use these fundamentals to your advantage.

Simply understanding and utilizing these fundamentals will get you very very far in Dark Souls PvP. Credentials-wise, I'm not a known commodity because I'm not a big tournament guy, and I never tried to establish a brand, but I come from a fighting game background and have a lot of friends in the pro community (I was 5k+ PP in SF4 and I've been a respected player in older games like Alpha 3, 3rd Strike, etc.). I've been playing DS games a long time but never jumped heavily into PvP into recently. I've been dueling/invading seriously for maybe a total of 3 weeks, and I have like an 80-90% win rate in the arena or any invasion less than 3v1 these days. Most people have 0 fighting fundamentals and will just run at you and do super telegraphed stuff or sit back, do nothing and wait for you to come in. Neither of those are good approaches because they make you predictable and easily manipulated. The best way to fight is with the right tools and a mixed approach that makes you difficult to read and react to.

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