Counter Picking

What are your thoughts on counter picking?

What part of counterpicking? People who counterpick? The strategy? Games that facilitate it?

Well this came up just after an Overwatch ask, so I think I’ll talk about counterpicking in that. I’m in favor because it means that first off, there is a natural counterbalance to good team compositions, without having to get stuck in a bad matchup for a whole round. Second, sure all the characters are kinda simple, but you get to switch between them frequently so it kinda makes up for it in variety, because they’re fairly dissimilar. Third, there’s an actual extra strategic layer in counterpicking that happens over the course of the match, which is pretty neat.

As for counterpicking in general as an honor sort of thing. There’s no shame in it, it’s another part of the game. If you know your opponent favors a character, there’s absolutely no shame in picking one that beats their common choice. I did a $100 money match with a friend of mine once, and I went entirely Snake instead of my main character Marth. Play to win. With that same friend on another occasion, we did an draft pick Iron man competition in 3rd Strike, where we went back and forth picking characters from the roster. On my first turn to pick, I snatched his best character, Q, and was sure on the second turn to grab my best character, Ken, before he realized that this was the optimal strategy. I didn’t need Q to win, I only needed Ken, but I grabbed his best resource, where I could fall back on a bunch of characters. If counterpicking is the right strategy, go for it.

So sometimes you come up against an opponent that gives you a tough time. You have a bad matchup against their character. Maybe this is a recurring thing, maybe you play Ice Climbers and run into Peach a lot. Should you counterpick? The answer here gets a lot more fuzzy. In fighting games, getting good with a character is a big investment. Being good enough with two characters to be able to pull one out in response to your opponent is tough. In the moment you gotta question yourself, “am I actually good enough with this second character to stand a better chance of winning than if I stick with my primary character in a disadvantageous matchup?” Then beyond that, can you adapt to the new character fast enough to play effectively, and can you switch back to your main when the time comes. You might even have a situation like Infiltration at Evo 2015 where he clearly has a massive bag of characters to pull out and it causes doubt during character selection.

On the game design level though, how much should the game be about picking characters before the round even starts? You get competitive card games which are almost entirely determined by this sort of thing, and some fighting games have so many characters that it becomes purely about who can play more of them, which kinda sucks if you’re a mono-main or a beginner. In that respect, keeping the character count down isn’t an entirely bad thing, if it means that people can just choose a character and stick with it, much like how Smash Bros Melee players do. Having options is cool, but you eventually have to pay a price logistically. This can also be aided not just by making the game really balanced, but by preventing any matchups that are 7:3 or worse, however as more characters are added, that’s harder and harder to do while preserving diversity. Higher levels of investment into characters, such as in Guilty Gear, can also lead to players being less inclined to counterpick or stray from their main.

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