For many esports players, choosing the right peripherals can make or break your gameplay. And for athletes in the fighting-game community, the most important tool in their arsenal is the fightstick. Every movement, every fireball, and every use of meter demands precision, as every single input matters and is incredibly crucial. But with such a menagerie of fightsticks out there, how do you decide which one is right for you?
Like keyboards and mice, the options are near-limitless with fightsticks, and the majority of options come down to preference. There are definitely important factors when choosing which one works best for you, however.
When you’re going shopping for your first fightstick, you’ll certainly be overwhelmed by the vast majority of options, but I promise you, it doesn’t have to be nearly as complicated as it looks. Like many PC peripherals, there is a ton of freedom in choice, so it’s hard to go wrong. Many players who use their sticks have been using them for months, if not years, so once you find one you like, you’ll be with it for a long time.
One of the biggest variations in fightsticks is layout, and having one that fits you best can broaden the line between a great stick and an unusable one. Looking at the intricacies of your playstyle is key to narrowing down which stick to invest in. According to many fighting game veterans, the two major types of sticks, ball top and bat top, have pros and cons. A bat top stick, for example, may be easier on those who have larger hands, whereas a ball top may benefit those who prefer to rest their hand on top of the stick.
Strategically, there is no evidence that one is superior to another, and both are very popular among players of all skill levels. I generally prefer a bat top stick, and have used those since I started playing fighting games seriously. Bat tops are generally larger in size, and I tend to use a “slapping” or “tapping” motion when making my inputs. When it returns to neutral, it feels a bit faster, and it’s easier for me to go right into another action. It’s harder for me to replicate this on a ball top, and I’m more inclined to grip or hold it to make my inputs.
Buttons are also one of the most important factors. If those aforementioned larger hands are drawing you toward a bat top stick, then it may be worth looking into larger buttons. Smaller buttons, on the other hand, could be more beneficial if you prefer a finer feel, a lighter touch, and/or don’t want to move your hand much, maximizing endurance and efficiency during those long tournaments and lab sessions. There’s an entire anatomy when it comes to what buttons are made of and how they feel, but after talking to many fighting game regulars, the overwhelming praise went to both the Sanwa OBSN buttons, and the Seimitsu PS-14-G. These buttons are found in almost all of Japan’s arcade cabinets, as well as many pre-made fightsticks. The number of buttons may also be relevant to you as well. If your game doesn’t require any more than four buttons, and that’s the only game you’re playing competitively, it may save you some space, time, and configuration effort getting a stick with only four action buttons. If your game has functions like assists and multiple super combinations, then six or even up to eight buttons may be required. Personally, I prefer not to go for more than I know I’ll need, for simplicity’s sake, but you may also want to use the same stick across multiple games.
Additionally, there are gates, which are the physical borders of a directional input. The two most commonly used gates are square and octagonal. Square gates have an equal distribution of all directions (about 11% for each of the nine possible directions); you have the same amount of physical space inputting up+back as you do inputting forward. Square gates also have physical corners, which feel a lot more pronounced. Octagonal gates have more distribution going up, down, back, and forward, and less distribution on the diagonals (about 14% and 6%, respectively). The tradeoff is, of course, the octagonal shape, which allows the player to roll the joystick more in the direction they want to go, such as when executing a traditional fireball. This also results in less “hanging up” or “locking up” of the joystick (getting caught in a corner, requiring more physical movement to execute an input), and allows for a smoother experience. Your corners do have less space, however, which means that any input involving a diagonal will often provide little room for error. Six percent of a side isn’t a lot of space to work with, and being more strict on your inputs is key to mastering this gate.
Lastly, there is size. The science and technology behind a fightstick is pretty fascinating, as each and every part can matter greatly. Size, however, doesn’t quite have much behind it, and it’s really up to you what size fightstick you’d like to go with. Larger fightsticks also tend to be heavier, which means the likelihood of it moving around during play is lessened. This is especially important if you rest it on your lap, tend to put a lot of movement in your inputs, or would just like a more stable experience while playing. Smaller fightsticks are easier to move and carry, of course, and may also be a better fit for smaller hands. Many players agree that, usually, it’s worth having a larger and heavier fightstick, since stability is often very helpful when you’re engaged in a frantic match.
Overall, the multitude of choices available can be trimmed down to the feel of the particular fightstick, relative to physical features like hand size. If you prefer gripping your stick, a ball top could work for you. If you hit your buttons hard and are prone to mashing, then larger buttons may appeal to you. Heavier fightsticks won’t move around much, and having a rounder gate would make diagonals easier, in exchange for the amount of space you have to make that input.
Got any fightstick tips of your own? What’s your favorite stick? Join the conversation in the comments.
Anthony Lowry is a former professional gamer, streamer, and columnist, with a focus on gaming, esports, and culture, both on- and offline. He currently resides in New York City, and manages multiple competitive players and teams across a number of games.