Specializing in underrated “brawler” characters, Scott “SaBrE” Bender has been an active contributor to the fighting game community since the very beginning of SRK – moderating the forums and running tournaments in his home state of Arizona. His most recent claim to fame was putting SF4 Sakura on the map in spectacular fashion at Evo2k9.
Maj: How long have you been playing fighting games at tournament level?
SaBrE: While I played competitive Street Fighter since 1991 with WW, my strong SF connection was with the Alpha series. A2 and A3 brought me back to Capcom fighters after I stopped playing them back when SSF2 came out in arcades. I felt burned on SSF2 so I just kept playing MK, KI, primal rage, NBA Jam. I played Super Turbo for a short while. But SF2 just kinda died to me cuz of SSF2’s horrible speed.
When I first met Cigarbob and others through SNES XBAND, playing KI with them, I learned they still thrived on Capcom fighters. I pretty much credit Dogface and Cigarbob, 100% for bringing me back to Street Fighter. And this was when Alpha 2 was hot, so I started to love the game.
When A3 came out, I absolutely fell in love with the series even more. I know Alpha 3 has a very strong love/hate polarizing effect on the community, but I embraced the game. I was obsessed with Alpha 3. Played it non-stop, and got very good with V-Akuma. The cast of characters grew on me. I had an affinity towards the roster. And I started playing the Alpha-only style characters, especially Cody.
There’s something about the Alpha characters that just resonated with me. Much more than the SF2 characters did. And I love SF2. But Alpha was more special to me.
Maj: Coming from an SFA3 background, what was your initial impression of Street Fighter IV?
SaBrE: Well, when arcade SF4 came out in 2008, I was primarily a Ryu player. I’ve always loved shotos in every SF. They represented every fundamental in SF. But in the SF4 engine, it never felt right to me when it came to fireball zoning.
I was doing well with the character locally in my scene, but for myself, I didn’t feel like I was playing at full capacity. I could never seem to get the flow and rhythm that met my standards. And none of the other characters at the time, really interested me.
Maj: You became known for playing Sakura in SF4 and now Cody in SSF4. How did you end up with such unorthodox characters?
SaBrE: When console SF4 was announced, a good amount of the new roster was Alpha characters (Rose, Sakura, Gen). I mainly wanted to use Gen, cuz he was one of the most interesting and unique characters ever seen in SF. But when I learned that he lost his chain combos, I quickly dismissed him. I felt that was a massive diss to Gen players, and also eliminated a big part of the character’s identity.
Alpha Gen is remembered for having two very unique traits: chain combos and stance change. And they got rid of one of his identities. I also quickly realized that he would be heavily mash move oriented with the handslaps. I pride myself on execution skills, but mashed move precision execution is one thing I am not good at. So Gen, Blanka, and Honda are out of the question for me.
I didn’t like Rose at all. She was one of the few characters in Alpha that I didn’t care for. She was too basic and boring to keep my attention. So I went with Sakura. My Sakura history is pretty basic. I could competently use Sakura in A2/3. But she wasn’t my style, and she plays literally exactly the same in A2/A3/CvS2.
As we all know, SF4 Sakura played NOTHING like her past iterations. The EX HK was also of special interest to me. I knew she would be a tricky bitch with this move. But I wanted to see if this was a one-trick pony move or if I could generate a lot of different resets/mixups with it.
It took me a good month to start winning consistently. I was having fun cuz I love zoning and rushing down. Since zoning doesn’t feel good to me in SF4, rushdown was my only choice.
Everyone thought she was trash, I wanted to prove people wrong. In the end, yeah, shes not that great, but I could always find ways to win. I wanted to inspire players, and lead, show people how it’s done – instead of being a tier whore clone with no identity.
When Cody was announced with SSF4, I and everyone in the community that knew me prior to SF4 knew I was going to rock Cody from Day one. After all, at the end of A3’s life cycle, I would like to think that I put Cody on the map and trademarked how he was supposed to play. He was my identity back then.
Cody just struck a chord with me back then. No one was using him at the time, not even Japan really. I decided to drop V-Akuma (arguably best character in the game) for Cody (probably low mid tier at best at the time). I was tired of having a really strong V-Akuma, but no real identity to separate myself from everyone else. I loved Cody’s playstyle, his swagger and attitude. He just ended up being my favorite SF character ever.
It was simply a no-brainer to main him in SSF4. Whether he sucked or not. But I was gonna make sure that I could do some damage with him and see if I could still make that character synonymous with my name, and just innovate and be creative. I don’t have the time these days to dedicate myself to be a top player anymore. I’d rather be the innovator and show people how the characters I love are supposed to be played, and just inspire others who have more time to spend on improving, to take these characters to the next level.
Maj: Since you mentioned V-Akuma … Top 5 Shoto players of all time. Go!
SaBrE: 1. Alex Valle, cuz I admire his rushdown and his unorthodox take on the characters.
2. John Choi cuz his textbook style of play is amazing. No one know how to perfectly throw fireballs and uppercuts like he does. He knows how to make you block 356754 fireballs in a row instead of just jumping over them or neutral jumping.
3. Daigo. What needs to be said about him?
4. Mike Watson. Dude can do it all. His mastery of intimate matchup details and his spacing game is some of the most jaw dropping things I have ever seen in SF. I think in his prime, (except maybe Tomo?) no one on the planet could match his footsie game. I still don’t think players today can match what he did over a decade ago. He is, hands down, the best shoto player to ever grace the game, IMO.
5. Aniken, possibly. Fifth spot is where it’s hard to judge, so many to consider. But Aniken comes to mind first, so it’s going to be him. I really love this guy’s Ken, he rips it up. Shenanigans and rushdown for days. He makes Ken seem broken at times in ST.
Maj: What was the last top tier character you mained?
SaBrE: During the end of my 3S run, I did main Ken. I used all shotos in that game tho. I also used V-Akuma in A3 for a very long time. For my brief GGXX period, I used Ky in GGXX Slash, and Jam in GGXX AC.
Maj: Man, those were a while ago. Don’t you ever get frustrated dealing with the limitations of bottom tier and middle tier characters?
SaBrE: I do get frustrated with limitations. No doubt. Like with Cody, I’m extremely frustrated with his complete lack of defensive options. Divekick characters and other airborne-dominant characters just give him the hardest time (Cammy, Rufus, Seth, Viper, etc.) as well as Guile’s frustratingly difficult zoning game.
But it just forces me to learn my character and matchups more intimately and also get me to think outside of the box, rather than bitching out to the counter character choice. I guess I like it when the road is long and hard. Victory will be that much sweeter.
Sometimes I do contemplate just going to a top tier to handle some of my matchup issues. But like I said earlier, I don’t play enough these days to juggle more than one character at high level. I also think my muscle memory is going to crap. If you asked me to play Sakura right now, you would probably laugh at how bad it is. I just simply don’t invest enough time to stay sharp with more than one character, these days.
Speaking of tiers – as much as I believe that they exist, I also think they are extremely flawed. It’s impossible to tell if two players are equally skilled. So to me, tier lists are fundamentally flawed and very opinionated. And I also think people live and die by the tier list way too much. Just cuz a character is top tier, will the character be top tier for you?
This philosophy is exactly why I just play who I like, not who is high on the list. And I think a lot of up-and-commers would actually perform better, following this. I know many will disagree. But it’s true, IMO. The top tiers in SSF4 (which is a vague list) don’t suit my style or compliment my strong points as a player.
Yeah I can grind out and become pretty good with Rufus, Cammy, Akuma, etc.. But will any of them be as strong as my low mid tier Cody? I think a lot of people fail at SF cuz of this. Just jumping to the top tier, and ignoring if it’s even the best choice for their style/skill. Of course some people are just naturally good and can do this. But it’s not true for most.
Maj: Usually with lower-ranked characters, there are way fewer tournament videos to study and way less matchup information available. How do you remedy that deficiency when you’re trying to learn the character?
SaBrE: It all comes down to not becoming the sheep, and innovating your playstyle. To me, these days, players are too used to being spoonfed strats. Dont get me wrong, youtube and match videos are amazing resources. But people rely on it too much to guide them.
You definitely learn basics to get you started with the character. But people also try to emulate too much when they don’t know what the actual player in the video is thinking about at that moment, in that situation. It’s like the tier list, people live and die by match videos.
There are just some strats that players use, that no one else can do, just because of different mindsets/strategical breakdown of the situation. Look at Alex Valle’s Ryu in SSF4. Who else in the SSF4 scene uses s.fierce punch in footsie games? I can’t think of one person, not even Daigo. Valle uses this move so much, and it works A LOT for him.
Newer players are going to see this move land a lot on youtube, watching Valle’s matches. But they don’t understand why it’s working, or why Valle is using that move. So you got a situation where these players are trying to use this move, and it’s just failing for them.
To me, I see that as a Valle-only strategy. Many top players have those unique quirks in their gameplay that cannot be emulated. Viewers see those “quirks” and try to implement them, but eventually just end up wasting their time.
The only thing you can do is ask players that may have more knowledge about the character. And just keep playing. Sometimes people read too much into finding answers, when really the ultimate answer is to just keep playing people. It eventually clicks.
I know it’s harder as a newcomer to SF or fighting games in general. I know it’s easier for me and older players to dive right into the unknown since we have deep understanding of SF fundamentals and also the mental aspect. It allows us to dissect the characters rather fast, with no prior info.
If you have SF basics, there should be no reason why you shouldn’t be able to figure out how to use a non-popular character to his strengths. Just play people, various people. Go into training mode and experiment. Find solid damage combos that seem to work very consistently and realistically, without having to put much execution effort in, AKA, bread-n-butter combos. Practice practice practice!
I guess that’s a hard question for me to answer since I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be new and being able to figure things out.
Maj: Having been involved in the fighting game community since the early arcade days and the infancy of online play through XBand, what’s your take on the age of SF4?
I think online play has really made this game even bigger. While I wasnt a fan of Vanilla SF4 online functionality, it was still playable, but I didn’t use it that much. When Super SF4 came out, while the netcode isn’t really all that different, the experience was completely revamped and much more fun. 8 player lobbies, spectator, replays, etc. That’s what I’m talking about. While I’d still rather play in an arcade, it’s a decent replacement.
Back when I was addicted to SNES XBAND, it was all I would do when going to the arcade wasn’t an option (no money, no ride, too much homework, or arcade was closed). It was something to fill the void of not having access to the arcade during specific hours. Now that arcades are mostly gone, you definitely rely on online play to stay sharp. Especially if you live in an area that doesn’t have much competition offline.
People are now understanding the convenience of online play. While it’s not the same thing due to lag – good, competent players are starting to find ways to extract the good things that come from online, like valuable matchup experience, testing strategy theories, and facing an infinite number of styles. While at the same time, knowing what the crap, online strategies are and throwing that stuff out the window.
And I think the older players like us are finally starting to figure this out, therefore, getting a lot of mileage out of online play. I see old school top players playing online all the time that I never thought I would see playing online in a million years due to lag (Valle, Jason Nelson, Jason Wilson, Jason Cole, Graham Wolfe).
I’m just trying to imagine what will happen when Capcom and other companies finally start to put GGPO in their games while having all these options. Then the online revolution really begins. But no matter how dope Online can get, Arcade is where it’s at!!!! =)
Maj: I know you’re looking forward to Mortal Kombat 9, and it certainly seems like it might be a solid competitive game for once. What advice would you offer to Street Fighter players who want to give it a shot?
SaBrE: I guess my advice would be, to have an open mind to a different style of game, and not expect it to be the same game. Just because an uppercut is a good anti air move in SF games, doesn’t mean it’s a good move in other fighters.
You have to be open to a different mindset to stop strategies in a different way. I think once you can accept thinking outside of the box, rather than only trying to solve problems using “Street Fighter” methods in a non-Street Fighter game. If you have a basic fighting game fundamental skill, you should be able to figure it out.
In the end though, the most obvious answer to this is to just keep playing. If you got other people playing with you (offline or online) and enjoy the game, you will eventually figure the game out. Practice practice practice!!!
Maj: Most SRK members recognize you as one of the SF4 forum moderators, but your involvement dates all the way back to the early Fighting Game Discussion days before SRK had game-specific forums. How did you become a mod on SRK?
SaBrE: I was very active early on in SRK’s lifecycle on the forums. Back in 2000, no good players would ever be found posting on the forums. There was a lot of elitist attitudes back in the day. No one wanted to waste time with scrubs, especially forum scrubs.
I took advantage of the forums immediately, because at the time, I was in the military, and naturally I moved around a lot, and it was a new way to find players in a city that I was new to. Before then, all we had was usenet with alt.games.sf2, which was very underground.
I knew that the whole forum thing would eventually explode as a way to bring players together in a more unified way, since it was easier to deal with and find for internet noobs. Arcades were on their last legs and the days of finding random comp in random arcades was coming to an end. So we had to have a way to get players together to keep the scene alive.
So I became very active in the forums. I suppose it helped too that I knew MrWizard (he made me Pacific South Moderator). He knew I was always on SRK, which meant I had time to traffic all the BS that went on in the forums and help keep it under control.
Today is a different story. Since SF4 launched, SRK forums are a totally different beast. It’s damn near impossible to control all the garbage that makes it on. These days, my time is more limited, as I don’t surf the forums much anymore. Which means I cant police the threads much anymore. I’m more of a mod in the background. I’m there to help people if they need it.
Maj: Is it fun being a moderator?
SaBrE: Being a MOD on SRK or any other large forum site is a very tough job. You really have to have a love for the community to continuously do your job, for free! I remember many times where I would get harassed by people I gave infractions to, closed their threads, deleted their post, or flat out banned. You can’t ever really get rid of these people, it’s an endless job.
You get people criticizing your MOD decisions, putting you on blast. Like I said, you gotta have a strong love for your community to be able to deal with all this. It’s really tough. People just want to ruin other’s good times on the internet. To movie quote The Dark Knight, “Some people just want to watch the world burn.”
Scott Bender regularly attends major fighting game tournaments in Arizona, as well as neighboring states California and Nevada. You can subscribe to his u2b channel for the latest pre-release SSF4 Cody combo videos.