Know Your Fightstick: 5 Things to Keep in Mind for First-Time Owners

As a companion piece to our How to Choose a Fightstick: 6 Great Options You Need to Consider, this guide is designed to help first-time fightstick owner learn more about what they’re getting themselves into, where to start with customization, and how to avoid potential pitfalls when dealing with input lag.

1. Fightpad Vs Fightstick

One thing everyone should know by now is a fightstick won’t make you better at fighting games on their own. Put it this way, one of the best Street Fighter V players in the world right now is PG Punk, and he uses a PlayStation 4 controller, but for a lot of gamers, it does make the feeling of playing a fighting game much more engaging.

Another way to look at is this – you can play first-person shooters on PC with a gamepad, but as a gamer, you also know that a player using a mouse and keyboard will have the advantage. That’s not to say you couldn’t find someone who absolutely dominates using a controller in a PC shooter, but that’s generally an outlier. Dedicated fightpads do exist (like the Hori Fighting Commander in the picture above), and for a lot of people they’re good enough, but taking the time to learn how to use a fightstick is worth the investment. You won’t pick one up and immediately get better, but once you do, it’s really hard to go back to a regular old D-pad.

2. Do whatever you can to fight input lag

One of the biggest issues with cheap fightsticks is they come with cheaply made parts that sometimes cannot be replaced. Worse yet, they often come with a cheap PCBs (printed circuit board) that can cause input lag. The PCB is the internal component of a fightstick that every input (buttons and sticks) pass through before being sent to your console or PC. Though more money doesn’t automatically equal faster response time, the reality is the cheapest stick will deliver cheap results.

If you’re in the market for a new monitor keep an eye out for ones with good response times (the lower the “ms” the better) and refresh rates (the higher the “hz” the better), but if you’re playing on your living room TV there’s a good chance you’re already dealing with a fair amount of input lag. To help fight this you can eliminate extra lag in a few areas. The biggest difference you can make is to learn to love cables. Wired controllers have less lag than wireless so get a long USB cable, and please, please get off the wifi and only play with a wired internet connection.

3. Choosing the right restrictor gate for your joystick

Have you ever noticed how a joystick will often snap into a certain direction when it hits the edge? That’s what a gate does. There are four types of restrictor gates used by the fighting game community: Square have flat edges on the top, bottom, left and right sides, but edges the joystick will snap to in the corner. Diamond gates are basically square gates turned 90°, while Octagons will snap the stick into eight different directions. Finally, there are circle gates that have no edges at all.

Joystick gates. Left to right: Circle, Square, Octagon, Diamond

Typically people use square gates for fighting games, and these are standard issue on both Hayabusa and Sanwa joysticks. But other people (myself included) prefer octagons to give them a little more guidance when dealing with quarter circle movements. It’s all personal preference, and gates can be replaced very easily on most joysticks, but you have to buy the one that matches the brand of your joystick, so if it’s a Hayabusa stick you’ll need a Hayabusa gate.

4. Stick to the established brands

Hori, Sanwa, Seimitsu, Suzo Happ, and Crown are the big brands in the fightstick scene for a reason – they work. You can buy cheap knock-offs, but you’ll always get what you pay for. When buying parts keep an eye out for words like ‘Sanwa replacement’ or ‘like Seimitsu’ as they often mean you’re not buying genuine parts, merely imitations.

Sanwa JLF joystick

Look at it this way, a joystick isn’t just one component but on little ones working together. Inside of a joystick is four microswitches that need to activated by an actuator, which is also kept in place by joystick spring – and if one of these components isn’t doing its job you’ll notice it when you’re dropping inputs and losing matches. Buy cheap components, get a cheap result.

5. Know your measurements before buying parts

I really like the Seimitsu LS-32 joystick, but it won’t fit in the body of my current fightstick, so I instead went for a Sanwa JLF. I know this because I bought the LS-32 and couldn’t make it fit inside my fightstick. Learn from my mistake – either take measurements or ask people on places like Sanwa JLF. I know this because I bought the LS-32 and couldn’t make it fit inside my fightstick. Learn from my mistake – either take measurements or ask people on places like to help you out. You don’t want to buy a bunch of 24mm screw-in buttons on accident then realize you needed 30mm pushbuttons. There’s a lot to know about modding, but that’s part of the fun of owning a fightstick so don’t be put off by it, see it as a learning opportunity.

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Andrew Whitehead is a journalist and writer with over thirteen years of experience in the media. He has written for Game Informer, Hyper Magazine, PC & Tech Authority, PC PowerPlay and worked for over a decade at APN News & Media, one of Australia’s largest media outlets.

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