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The "zoning" myth vs. the reality of pro-level skill

Obly

Ambiguous world creator
I'm curious to hear the thoughts and opinions of the community on this one.

I've just started trying to pick up Injustice 2, so I've done a lot of general reading to see what people think of the game, and also watched several tournament streams to get a sense of what high-level competitive play is like. And I couldn't help but notice the glaring gap between the two.

One of the biggest complaints among general players is that I2 is nothing but a zoning game: The gameplay heavily encourages and rewards spamming projectiles, only the super-zoner characters are any good, and thus the whole game is a boring spamfest...yada yada yada.

But for the most part, this isn't at all what pro players do. I just finished watching SCR for example, and it was dominated by rushdown characters like Black Canary, Robin, Flash, and Catwoman. Even when someone picked a potential zoner (Blue Beetle, Black Adam, Cyborg), you saw balanced gameplay between use of projectiles and combo strings. Tweedy's Starfire was the only true zoner and he got mowed down pretty hard. Yeah, I know he took Combo Breaker with his zoning SF, but clearly the other pros learned the MU and adapted pretty easily.

So what's behind this common myth that I2 is nothing but a zoner's paradise...?

I mean, I get that there is a huge skill difference between casual and pro players that comes from training and experience. But that doesn't explain everything. There is also a huge skill difference between Little League and Major League baseball players, but it's still easy to recognize that LL players are practicing and using the same skills that ML players use; it's mostly just the execution that needs to improve (and the strength and coordination that comes with age, of course).

Here, it seems to be the case instead that most casual I2 players gave up on practicing pro skills (or never started in the first place) and just settled for spamming projectiles and playing keep-away. And it became so widespread, it gave rise to a myth that were no pro skills and zoning was all there is.

What's behind this? Overly complicated controls? Poor tutorial modes? A player community unsupportive of newbies? And more importantly, how does it get fixed going forward so NRS games stay alive and well?
 

jcbowie

...more deadly than the dawn.
I think it's due both to misconceptions about the *current* state of the game based on certain aspects of the vanilla meta and some earlier patch periods, as well as low/low-mid level players who don't play patiently and want a general, perfect workaround for any and all zoning characters instead of character-specific adaptations and knowing situational options.

This game makes zoning an effective strategy, and lets zoners control the pace of the match a lot. And it seems like that rubs people the wrong way. The age of Deadshot mirrors is over though, and in my opinion people who believe zoning is the *only* viable gameplan in I2 just haven't thought about it very much.
 

Mandolore1123

Man of Science Who Wields the Living Lightning
Time and mentality really. Even now people comment on YT channels of I2 pros that they or their opponents do nothing but spam, even though the same pros go out of their way to explain the differences between spamming and zoning. Many casuals, me included, don’t have the time or patience to grind 2 hours in the lab to learn how to get through zoning, since maybe they’ve just gotten home and want to get games in. Zoning is also by nature frustrating to deal with since you feel that you have to sit and react to lots of stuff while slowly making your way in, and with offence being toned down by way of reducing the number of unreachable/unfuzzyable 50/50s or guessing overhead/low, many people aren’t patient enough to open people up. People exploit this to spam the same move over and over again, frustrating their opponent who don’t know the properties of said moves. Leading to many people defeating others using few special moves that control spacing with little variation of strategy because it works.
People also don’t understand certain play styles of characters, and reason that one can just play certain characters one way so they aren’t “cheap spammers” when that character is clearly meant for zoning. Doing this is fine, but beware that other people do not share your sentiment and you yourself are playing that character un-optimally, which will ultimately net you less wins (in theory).
As for pros, since they live and breathe this game, it’s easy to assume that they know full well that properties of zoning moves. That mentality alone causes one to think twice before even throwing out a fireball unless the matchup is favourable in that situation. I cannot comment on their skill nor character choice, but at least that’s how I see it.
As for the community, there are helpful people around, but also it’s fair share of drama and toxicity like all communities, but the most common response to people complaining about zoning/spamming is “git gud”, so that further acts as a discouragement to newer players. Some will attempt to help and explain, but those guides aren’t comprehensive, and you can’t expect them to be because no one has the time to sit down and talk about all the ways to get around all the moves. So people don’t have their easy-to-access guide around all the zoning/spamming and they hate it even more.

Sorry if this is confusing, but I tend to ramble a lot so just ask to clarify anything :)


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Gooberking

Solidly Mediocre
Balance at the pro level, is not even remotely the same thing as balance at the level most humans are playing at. At the intro level, it's something else entirely. Someone that knows nothing beyond how to df-whatever with a zoner, creates a situation where another player has to lab, get his spacing and timing down, understand the nature of how a particular projectile leaves the zoner vulnerable, know what other projectiles option they have, know about MB-roll, and be able to put it all into practice. That's two wildly different levels of education needed to get on even footing.

It's all great if it's fair when everyone is at the top of the game, but that doesn't help people at the bottom who just want to smoosh a few buttons with their friends and pretend to be Batman every now and then.

I'm legit terrible. I've spent hundreds of hours on the game, did my time in the lab, and have strait up never beaten a Fate. That is after spending time playing him just to try and understand what I was up against. Never beaten a SF either. Not one that knew what her trait button was for.

You could probably watch and tell me all of what I'm doing wrong, and what I'm not getting about what to do. You would probably be right. But after all the time and effort I've spent, the bottom line is I simply do not have the ability to understand, learn, apply, and adapt to the situation. The brain jello is not setting.

I have clothes older than Sonic Fox, and have been playing fighters longer that I've had those clothes. Getting gud, probably isn't going to happen if it hasn't already. Is that the games fault? No. Does that mean IJ2 is a bad game? No, it's a pretty cool game. Does it mean I enjoy playing bullet hell matches as much as some other matches? Not really.

I'm probably right in that skill group of people who want to blame the game for them not being as good at fighters as they like to pretend they are. Maybe that makes me really unqualified for having an opinion, or maybe it makes me more so. I don't know. I'm still fairly confident in saying that if you are really, really good at fighting games then you probably won't care, and if you aren't then IJ2 seems like it would be one of the least fun fighters you could play. There are a LOT of good fighting games out right now, and a lot of them feel like they take you more smoothly up the skill ladder than IJ2 does. Or so I like to think. It's not like I actually know what things are like up that ladder.
 

Braindead

I want Kronika to step on my face
It's a mentality thing.

Casuals (including myself) don't want to take the time to close in. They just want to get in as soon as possible and start doing their shit, compared to the pros who don't have an issue spending 5-10 seconds just walking and blocking until they're close. Hayatei is notorious for this for example. He has no problem taking like 20% chip until he's in the range he wants. He's a mad lad.

Another example I noticed first hand, is as a Wowo player (#buffWowo) I never had any problems playing against Flash. All Flash players I've come across who are at least decent and know their setups and mix it up and so on, I've never had issues because I can always keep them out with instant air shields and catch them trying to RMS from anywhere on the screen. Even when they get in and take a chunk of damage as soon as I get out I feel comfortable again because they eventually have to come back in to take the rest of my health bar.

............ until I played against HappyPow. Oh boy. Aside from his detailed knowledge of the MU (he had oki setups that completely nullified my strong wakeup game, for example), he would just fucking walk in. From fullscreen he just presses forward. Just walks in and I start shitting myself because he closes in with zero risks and if I do one wrong move he's taking me to blender city. I was completely mindfucked. A MU I was always so comfortable in and suddenly I didn't know what to do.

Watching tournaments you see this a lot, both players just waiting for an opening to press buttons so you see a lot of just walking back and forth in neutral for periods of time without any buttons pressed, and you kind of take that for granted without giving it much thought, but when you play against one it will blow your mind. They just let you hang yourself.

So I'm trying to do this more and more. Just calm down and move without committing.


Until I run into Starfire.




Fuck Starfire.
 

Mandolore1123

Man of Science Who Wields the Living Lightning
It's a mentality thing.

Casuals (including myself) don't want to take the time to close in. They just want to get in as soon as possible and start doing their shit, compared to the pros who don't have an issue spending 5-10 seconds just walking and blocking until they're close. Hayatei is notorious for this for example. He has no problem taking like 20% chip until he's in the range he wants. He's a mad lad.

Another example I noticed first hand, is as a Wowo player (#buffWowo) I never had any problems playing against Flash. All Flash players I've come across who are at least decent and know their setups and mix it up and so on, I've never issues because I can always keep them out with instant air shields and catch them trying to RMS from anywhere on the screen. Even when they get in and take a chunk of damage as soon as I get out I feel comfortable again because they eventually have to come back in to take the rest of my health bar.

............ until I played against HappyPow. Oh boy. Aside from his detailed knowledge of the MU (he had oki setups that completely nullified my strong wakeup game, for example), he would just fucking walk in. From fullscreen he just presses forward. Just walks in and I start shitting myself because he closes in with zero risks and if I do one wrong move he's taking me to blender city. I was completely mindfucked. A MU I was always so comfortable in and suddenly I didn't know what to do.

Watching tournaments you see this a lot, both players just waiting for an opening to press buttons so you see a lot of just walking back and forth in neutral without for periods of time without any buttons pressed, and you kind of take that for granted without giving it much though, but when you play against one it will blow your mind. They just let you hang yourself.

So I'm trying to do this more and more. Just calm down and move without committing.


Until I run into Starfire.




Fuck Starfire.
Besides the SF part I agree completely. People are just impatient and don’t want to learn the matchup. And in ranked people are very desperate to get wins as quickly as possible, so they go in and give it all they’ve got. It’s very rare to find someone who’s willing to sit down and play the “walk-back-and-forth-until-someone-blinks-because-someone-has-to-blink-because-they/I-have-the-life-lead” game. I got my first win via time-out recently in ranked because that guy literally did nothing when he had the life-lead except walking back and forth, waiting for me to come to him, and I only barely cheesed out the win because of manta’s manta rays doing lots of chip. It’s very satisfying to win when both of you are playing well and you have nth-level mind games going on, but not many people online do that. Not saying you can’t go full rushdown or full zoning, but at some point you can’t, because people who are more patient and/or have more skill will simply wait until you kill yourself by exploiting openings.


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Braindead

I want Kronika to step on my face
Besides the SF part I agree completely. People are just impatient and don’t want to learn the matchup. And in ranked people are very desperate to get wins as quickly as possible, so they go in and give it all they’ve got. It’s very rare to find someone who’s willing to sit down and play the “walk-back-and-forth-until-someone-blinks-because-someone-has-to-blink-because-they/I-have-the-life-lead” game. I got my first win via time-out recently in ranked because that guy literally did nothing when he had the life-lead except walking back and forth, waiting for me to come to him, and I only barely cheesed out the win because of manta’s manta rays doing lots of chip. It’s very satisfying to win when both of you are playing well and you have nth-level mind games going on, but not many people online do that. Not saying you can’t go full rushdown or full zoning, but at some point you can’t, because people who are more patient and/or have more skill will simply wait until you (EDIT: LOL MOPPED BY THE FILTER!) by exploiting openings.


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You may not have a problem with Starfire but for Wowo it's a 2-8 MU...
 

Wigy

There it is...
Injustice as a whole just balances skill to output really badly.

The skill floor is really pretty low for a lot of the top tier characters especially the zoners, but their skill ceiling is a lot lower too.

Just means up until the highest level where players are good enough to hit the skill ceiling on hard characters it balances out but up til then it's ezmodepewpew
 

Rizz091

Noob
It's just a meme that started with deadshot in the beginning of the game. They nerfed him into being unviable, but the mindset stayed. Now casuals who don't know anything about the meta will keep spouting the rhetoric even though it's been demonstrably false as you said.

This may be a game that's relatively easy to play execution wise, but I think it's one of the harder games for a new player to pick up due to its inherent nature. No get out of jail free cards, no way to do significant damage by mashing out a super or something to random someone out one round, no hand holding mechanics such as taking chip deaths out, and no comeback mechanics. (Clash sort of is, but it wont kill the opponent for you like many other come back mechanics).

You're left with a game where if you didn't learn to deal with projectiles, or how to be patient, you'll lose and lose in very frustrating ways. So that'll also them your average casual off to playing this in a competitive fashion or to explore further and just spout that rhetoric instead.
 

gitblame

Noob
To be honest the only problem with zoners I had was vs Deadshot when game came out. I used to be shit vs Fate (now I am little less shit) but I've never felt like it's because of his zoning. The same with Starfire. Actually zoning is the least annoying thing about Starfire. It's her BF2 and ridiculous chip damage that drives me fu**ing insane.

Oh, and her J3.
 

Marlow

Premium
Premium Supporter
I think it's mostly a perception thing. When zoning works well, it looks like the zoner is untouchable, and not letting the opponent even play the game. It's a frustrating situation to be put in. What a lot of people fail to see is the other side of the coin, where the opponent correctly times a projectile and gets to punish with a 300+ combo into a corner setup potentially leading to an additonal 300-400 damage.

What I find interesting is why people seem to have a bigger reaction to someone spamming projectiles compared to spamming other moves or strings.
 

Skedar70

Noob
Probably 80% of my matches start with somebody walking back from me and shooting me with something.

Getting around, dodging all the zoning requires a lot more skill than actual zoning. A zoner builds meter while doing it so they end up using 10 bars of meter during the fight while the zoned character gets 6. Looking at one tournament is not a good example to say that "zoning is a myth" or its not part of the meta (We should never forget the six deadshots in top 8 or the other one that had like 4 pocket starfires). The majority of the game is played online casually and most of my time spent on the game has been walking in and dodging tons of lasers, fireballs, batarangs, gunshots, bombs etc. I believe the worse mu numbers during the game have come from characters severely out zoning their opponents. Some Examples I can think of are, Swamp thing vs superman, Grodd vs Aquaman, Raphael vs Starfire.

Zoning is not as heavy in other games as it is in inj 2. Zoning is very effective in inj 2 because of the mobility of the game. So for most people its easier to learn the projectile move of their zoner of choice and be the zoner instead of trying to figure out how to avoid all those projectiles and get in.
 

Marlow

Premium
Premium Supporter
The getting around, dodging, and punishing zoning requires more skill, but I also think it leads to more reward potential for the oponent in terms of damage and positioning. Most zoners (obviously very character dependent) have limited mobility and tend to put themselves in the corner in order to try and maintain a full screen presence. They may or may not have defensive tools like a decent anti-air or decent wakeup. Depending on the character they may have limited mixup or damage potential other than the zoning. Zoning is certainly a part of the meta in Injustice 2, but I don't feel it's that overpowered. Most zoners have weaknesses that can be exploited. Zoning is a viable strategy in Injustice 2, but I'd put it on the same level as any other viable strategy like rushdown, footsies, vortex, whatever.
 

Wigy

There it is...
The getting around, dodging, and punishing zoning requires more skill, but I also think it leads to more reward potential for the oponent in terms of damage and positioning. Most zoners (obviously very character dependent) have limited mobility and tend to put themselves in the corner in order to try and maintain a full screen presence. They may or may not have defensive tools like a decent anti-air or decent wakeup. Depending on the character they may have limited mixup or damage potential other than the zoning. Zoning is certainly a part of the meta in Injustice 2, but I don't feel it's that overpowered. Most zoners have weaknesses that can be exploited. Zoning is a viable strategy in Injustice 2, but I'd put it on the same level as any other viable strategy like rushdown, footsies, vortex, whatever.
Zoners seem to have some of the best wakeups though.
 

Skedar70

Noob
The getting around, dodging, and punishing zoning requires more skill, but I also think it leads to more reward potential for the oponent in terms of damage and positioning. Most zoners (obviously very character dependent) have limited mobility and tend to put themselves in the corner in order to try and maintain a full screen presence. They may or may not have defensive tools like a decent anti-air or decent wakeup. Depending on the character they may have limited mixup or damage potential other than the zoning. Zoning is certainly a part of the meta in Injustice 2, but I don't feel it's that overpowered. Most zoners have weaknesses that can be exploited. Zoning is a viable strategy in Injustice 2, but I'd put it on the same level as any other viable strategy like rushdown, footsies, vortex, whatever.
I disagree. Zoners in inj 2 are just as good up close as any character. Aside from Deadshot they have good AA tools, good footsies, mids, range and good damage. Maybe Zoning wouldn't bet soo OP if the characters were actually weak up close, but lets be honest they are not.

Also, something that we should be clear is that Dr fate and Starfire aren't the only zoners. Almost every character in this game has projectiles which you can zone with and that is why we see sooooo much zoning in inj 2.
 

Marlow

Premium
Premium Supporter
Cyborg has pretty lousy AA tools, no mixup, stubby normals, and no real good mid, other than his projectile. His wakeup is ok but doesn't seem too special. I can't speak specifically for too many other characters, just using him as an example. When I think of Zoners in this game, I think mainly of Cyborg, Deadshot, Fate, and Starfire. Maybe Superman as well, but his game seems to revolve more around F23 and solid fundamental neutral and punishes than pure zoning.

Most characters have some type of projectile, but I don't think having a projectile (or full screen move) is the same as being a "zoner". Most of the projectiles are highs, and are more of a way to try and build meter, harass the opponent, or counter zone, than an actual strategy of being used to chip out or consistently damage the opponent full screen. For example, Batman has a projectile, but I don't think of him as a zoner per se, more of a pressure character with some zoning tools. Maybe it's just a difference is how wide or how narrow someone wants to define Zoning. I tend to define Zoning more along the lines of being a Full Screen Zoner, where the goal is stay away and flood the screen with as many projectiles as possible.
 
The thing I find is that, as a low to mid level player (as most people who play the game are), trying to get in against a zoner is just really boring and tedious. Yes, you can take the time to learn how to do it, but that's not the game I'm interested in playing.

It's fun punching and kicking against someone who punches and kicks back, but when they sit back and shoot at you and you're thinking "Ugh. Do I want to bother with all this crouching and footsies bullshit, or do I want to leave and find someone else who's playing a character that interests me more?", I tend to pick the leave and find somebody else option, especially now that it's the best of five games instead of a one-off.

The point of playing a game is to have fun, not to learn new skills, and I find that playing against zoning characters just isn't as much fun.
 

Obly

Ambiguous world creator
Thanks all for the really thoughtful comments. It's all great food for thought.
Getting around, dodging all the zoning requires a lot more skill than actual zoning. A zoner builds meter while doing it so they end up using 10 bars of meter during the fight while the zoned character gets 6. Looking at one tournament is not a good example to say that "zoning is a myth" or its not part of the meta (We should never forget the six deadshots in top 8 or the other one that had like 4 pocket starfires). The majority of the game is played online casually and most of my time spent on the game has been walking in and dodging tons of lasers, fireballs, batarangs, gunshots, bombs etc.
To be fair, I didn't say that zoning itself is a myth (that would be a silly claim to make); the myth is the belief that the whole game is nothing but zoning and no other strategy is viable--which seems very widespread and persistent despite the counter-evidence. But yeah, I'm basing this mostly off 2018 tourneys, so point taken that it used to be a lot worse.

All points taken, really. I don't have much experience yet to confirm this myself, but it all makes sense. Sounds like there is a big skill learning gap: learning to spam a projectile is easy and usually rewarding, while learning to get in on an opponent spamming projectiles is difficult and usually punishing. So I guess it's no surprise most casual players stick with the simpler, mostly successful tactic? And they don't see enough zoning get punished (or get punished themselves) for it to really take hold that there's another way? Or maybe the other way just has too much learning curve, I don't know.

I mostly ask because I'm a new player and I'm going to make valiant attempt not to fall into this same pattern. I have no delusion that I'll ever be a competitive player, but if I'm going to learn the game, I'd rather take the time to learn competitive skills than learn bad habits or be a one-trick pony. Maybe I'm fooling myself. I'm very interested in any advice or insight folks have into this particular learning task.

I'm also concerned about the game and NRS's future though. Seems like they're not going to survive if they make games where only one playstyle is accessible to casual players and everything else takes pro-level skill. Just a thought exercise, but what would make I2 a better game? Big nerf on projectiles (damage, range, speed)? Easier inputs for rushdowns and combo strings? More RNG to level out the skill gap? I'd hate to see the game become something fundamentally different, but there has to be a good middle ground somewhere.
 

Gooberking

Solidly Mediocre
Thanks all for the really thoughtful comments. It's all great food for thought.
*snip*

I'm also concerned about the game and NRS's future though. Seems like they're not going to survive if they make games where only one playstyle is accessible to casual players and everything else takes pro-level skill. Just a thought exercise, but what would make I2 a better game? Big nerf on projectiles (damage, range, speed)? Easier inputs for rushdowns and combo strings? More RNG to level out the skill gap? I'd hate to see the game become something fundamentally different, but there has to be a good middle ground somewhere.
I don't actually think the game has anything to apologize for. It is a pretty cool game, and there are people that like playing it. Clearly it's not everyone's taste, but that isn't a reason for something to try and be something else. It is what is is. For some people that means not fun, and if that is your goal (@TaserFace007 's post speaks to that pretty well) then you probably will drift somewhere else. It's also been a year. Even fun stuff gets boring after a year.

To specific points, there is some input weirdness, but it's not overly execution heavy. Everyone blames randomness and 50/50's for losing, so randomness isn't going make people complain less. I really don't think NRS is hurting. People are buying their stuff big time, and in MKX everyone was complaining because it was rushdown, in your face guessing, and needed better zoning. They gave us two games for two different kinds of people, and both games sold like craaaaazy. Both games have people complaining, but that's kind of to be expected.
 

Invincible Salads

Seeker of knowledge
Thanks all for the really thoughtful comments. It's all great food for thought.

To be fair, I didn't say that zoning itself is a myth (that would be a silly claim to make); the myth is the belief that the whole game is nothing but zoning and no other strategy is viable--which seems very widespread and persistent despite the counter-evidence. But yeah, I'm basing this mostly off 2018 tourneys, so point taken that it used to be a lot worse.

All points taken, really. I don't have much experience yet to confirm this myself, but it all makes sense. Sounds like there is a big skill learning gap: learning to spam a projectile is easy and usually rewarding, while learning to get in on an opponent spamming projectiles is difficult and usually punishing. So I guess it's no surprise most casual players stick with the simpler, mostly successful tactic? And they don't see enough zoning get punished (or get punished themselves) for it to really take hold that there's another way? Or maybe the other way just has too much learning curve, I don't know.

I mostly ask because I'm a new player and I'm going to make valiant attempt not to fall into this same pattern. I have no delusion that I'll ever be a competitive player, but if I'm going to learn the game, I'd rather take the time to learn competitive skills than learn bad habits or be a one-trick pony. Maybe I'm fooling myself. I'm very interested in any advice or insight folks have into this particular learning task.

I'm also concerned about the game and NRS's future though. Seems like they're not going to survive if they make games where only one playstyle is accessible to casual players and everything else takes pro-level skill. Just a thought exercise, but what would make I2 a better game? Big nerf on projectiles (damage, range, speed)? Easier inputs for rushdowns and combo strings? More RNG to level out the skill gap? I'd hate to see the game become something fundamentally different, but there has to be a good middle ground somewhere.
Rng to close the skill gap is a terrible idea, so is making the zoning play style less effective. high level players work to get where they are at, altering game mechanics so that lower level players can be on even footing is a slap in the face to the players who put in the work.

Honestly, the best option in games like this if you don't want to play against a certain play-style is to just find players who wont use them.