The fighting game community is one of the oldest competitive video game scenes. It started with meetups at local arcades and has since become much more accessible to players.
Even though the platform has changed, the urge to compete remains the same and players are always looking for an edge. So which of the two most common inputs in the Fighting Game Community (FGC) is better: controller or arcade stick?
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Controller vs. Arcade Stick: Factors to Consider
Most fighting games were initially ported to consoles before becoming available on PCs. The controllers that came with these consoles have changed significantly over the years, but the original design concept has remained the same.
Controllers try to capture the magic of the arcade in a smaller form factor. Some of the best controllers out there like the Xbox Series X|S controller and the PS5’s DualSense controller go beyond that.
While these serve their intended purpose, portable arcade sticks are now readily available for fighting game enthusiasts. Both options have their merits, and here are some factors to consider when deciding which one is best for fighting games.
1. Input Accuracy
It’s time to take a closer look at what it takes to be competitive in a fighting game. There’s a reason the FGC thrives after over 30 years of competition.
When it comes to the best, every input matters, creating a high skill bar for new players to explore. There are no limits provided your precision and execution speed are right. With this in mind, the controller of your choice must support input precision.
First, let’s look at the controller. Controllers have different buttons that can be assigned to different actions in the game. However, the movement is usually limited to two possibilities. You can use either a joystick or a D-Pad. As liberating as both options can be, they have their problems.
The joystick is quite small and can be imprecise for beginners. Joysticks also tend to drift after prolonged use, which can cause your character to move unprompted. On the other hand, the D-Pad is a bit more precise but more difficult to use with a limited range of motion.
An arcade stick outperforms a controller when it comes to input accuracy. The stick is quite large and combines the freedom of movement of a joystick with the precision of a d-pad. Most arcade sticks have eight input buttons, which is usually enough for most games. However, players are forced to use shortcut keys for other in-game actions.
An arcade stick, while precise, requires more skill than a controller.
Fighting games are input-intensive and will push any controller used to its limits. Therefore, it is important to check the durability of your chosen input before making a purchase. So let’s look at the build quality of most controllers.
This argument has two sides. Some users are praising newer controllers for their ingenuity and solid build, while others feel they’re not as good as they used to be.
The fact is that the performance of controllers is declining much faster than before. However, this is also due to the increase in competitive gaming. While we’re not privy to the manufacturing processes of most mainstream controllers, we can understand the process behind the development of an arcade stick.
A few YouTube channels cover arcade stick customization, which shows how solid the build quality is. Ultimately, arcade sticks are specifically designed to take a lot of abuse and last a long time.
A quality arcade stick can last five to six years without maintenance and even longer with regular maintenance. However, controllers need to be replaced more frequently and are costly to repair if damaged.
3. Function keys
Input specifications are as unique as any fighting game. Therefore, it is important to research what the game of your choice requires in order to provide the best user experience.
Controllers typically have many more function buttons than arcade sticks. They feature face and shoulder buttons that most modern fighting games incorporate into their control schemes.
However, some gamers swear by arcade sticks because they are customizable. You can disassemble your arcade stick, change the layout and add any buttons you deem necessary to participate in the game of your choice.
A downside to this approach is the technical knowledge required to customize an arcade stick. Ultimately, a controller might be a better choice depending on how many function buttons a fighting game requires.
Console gaming feedback has been a big topic since the release of the early dual shock controllers. Most modern fighting game titles allow for varying degrees of feedback. It may just be a slight vibration when your player is hit.
However, not every professional gamer enjoys the distraction these vibrations can cause, so this is often not a factor to consider when choosing between arcade sticks and controllers. Regardless, it still comes down to choice.
A controller is the best option if you’re the type of gamer who likes feedback while playing your fighting games. Arcade sticks do not have any vibration feedback.
However, some enthusiasts are toying with the idea of introducing haptic feedback to arcade sticks. It’s also worth noting that the DualSense controller in particular supports haptic feedback, which can make your fighting games a bit more immersive.
Ergonomics as a concept has become increasingly important with the emergence of the competitive gaming scene. Figuring out how best to optimize your environment for prolonged sitting is important, especially if you spend long hours playing your fighting game of choice.
Your controller of choice can add to the ergonomics of your setup, surprising as that may sound. Here’s what I mean.
A controller allows for a more relaxed posture as gamers can move their controllers as they please. Modern controllers are also designed to fit many grip styles over extended periods of time. Plus, a controller allows you to be further from the screen and sit in a chair that’s as comfortable as you own it.
An arcade stick, on the other hand, is big and clunky. You could put the box on your lap or put it on a table. The first option encourages bending over during gaming sessions and can be bad for your back.
You can limit the damage by placing your arcade stick on an adjustable table. An adjustable table allows you to experiment with different heights until you find the one that allows you to sit up straight while using your arcade stick.
However, this takes a lot of effort to play comfortably. Consequently, there is no denying that a controller is ergonomically better than an arcade stick.
This is the deciding factor when choosing between a controller and an arcade stick. Most fighting games are now available on both console and PC. However, does your device support a controller or baton? Or does it support both? And how easy is it to connect your controller or fight stick to your device?
Well, both consoles and PCs support controllers to varying degrees. Controllers work well with the appropriate console and also on the PC. Both the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S controllers are plug-and-play compatible with Windows.
Most fighting games run on Steam, which has facilities that support traditional controllers and arcade sticks. So you shouldn’t have a problem with either option when running your game on Steam.
On the other hand, consoles are very picky about the arcade sticks that are allowed to run on the platform. Therefore, you need to do some research and find out which arcade sticks your console supports.
Long story short, compatibility is a limiting factor that affects console gamers more than their PC counterparts. Both inputs work seamlessly on PC, while only a small selection of both work on consoles.
Controllers vs Arcade Stick: Which is the Better Option?
After going through some criteria that are crucial in deciding which input you should choose, let’s come to a verdict. Well, if you want to reach the pinnacle of competitive fighting games, you need an arcade stick. The precision and functionality are incomparable.
However, some top players in the fighting game scene use controllers. While this is possible, it takes a lot more effort to get on well with a controller consistently. If you can invest the extra time, no problem. Otherwise, an arcade stick is the right choice.
Get the best competitive advantage
The ultimate goal of every competitive fighting game player is to be the best. As a result, fighting games have created a passionate community of gamers dedicated to improving their skills.
But to be the best, you need the best equipment. It depends on what feels right. Do you prefer the control of an arcade stick or the comfort and convenience of a controller? Either way, you’ll have a great time playing the fighting games you love.