Lame, unfair, cowardly, no skill, boring, unfun, corny, braindead, cheating, doesn’t belong in fighting games, dishonorable, fight like a man, spam. These are among the plethora of excuses you’ll hear scrubs make when they lose to the elegant, classy, sophisticated, kingly, gentlemanly archetype known as the Zoner. The zoner has no time for foolish games and fisticuffs, as those filthy mongrels don’t even deserve the right to look upon them, let alone touch them, rabid dogs they are.
What is a Zoner?
Zoners are outlined by the following characteristics:
- Typically have one or more strong projectiles
- Long range normals perfect for keeping opponents at bay
- One useful anti air or escape option
- Weak up close game compared to the rest of the cast
These standards were more or less established by Guile, Dhalsim and Sagat in Street Fighter II. In fact, these are good examples of how unique and different zoners can be from one another. Guile plays most effectively at a spacing just outside footsie range, where he can throw Sonic Boom at a forward advancing enemy or anti air a jumping one with Flash Kick. On the other hand Dhalsim wants to be further out, using his incredibly long range normals along with his long and short range projectiles to lock the opponent down at nearly full screen. Not to be confused with the “keepaway” archetype, which focuses almost entirely on non interactive, footsie circumventing, campy, full screen tactics.
The fundamental goal, or strategy, of a zoner is to keep their opponent locked in a range that renders their attacks and grabs ineffective by forcing them to weave through layers, or zones, of projectiles or long range normals, giving the archetype its namesake. Opposed to characters that are strong up close, zoners don’t play mixups with strike/throw or 50/50s, their mix happens as you attempt to get in on them. For example, if Guile is throwing Sonic Booms at the same timing and distance each time they throw it, it’s a simple task to block the projectile and inch forward bit by bit until you’re at poke or jump in range. But Guile can change the speed of the Boom, the distance that he throws it from and the timing he throws it at to catch you moving forward at the wrong time. Zoners also aren’t only going to throw projectiles, they’re going to use those long range normals as stated earlier. Guile will use pokes like forward fierce to ensure you stay blocking and standing strong and crouching fierce to punish your jumps, complimenting his Booms and Flash Kick. Dhalsim is the other side of the zoner coin, he’s going to zone you out using his pokes first and projectiles secondarily, also Dhalsim can’t walk behind his projectiles like Guile can making his up close game even weaker, leading to Dhalsim playing at a further spacing than Guile would. A zoner with a low hitting projectile like Sagat will make you crouch block constantly to lock down all forward movement on the ground, further enticing a jump where you’re unable to block, then when you attempt to jump throw their high projectile to stuff it. Even further, a zoner may have access to a useful escape option, such as a teleport in Dhalsim’s case, increasing their slipperiness and frustrating opponents struggling to pin them down. With the ability to swap between different projectiles, speeds, heights, pokes, anti airs, choosing when to use meter and changing the spacing and timing on each action, it’s the subtle differences in neutral that make up the basis of a zoners mind games.
Who is a Zoner?
Beginning with the aforementioned Street Fighter characters in the early 90s, every major (except Tekken) and most minor franchises have roster slots filled by zoners. These include: Morrigan in the Marvel Vs. series, Freddy Krueger in Mortal Kombat 9, Peacock in Skullgirls and Toon Link from the Super Smash Bros. franchise. Zoners get a lot of undeserved hate from impatient players who are unable to get in, but zoning is a necessary, not to mention legacy, archetype in fighting games and has helped to mold the community into what it is today as part of the trifecta of playstyles. So, “git gud scrub”.