Images are courtesy of Stephanie ”Vexanie” Lindgren, except where otherwise stated.
Fighting games are full of rivalries that span decades. It started with Ryu vs Ken back when Street Fighter first released, but since then the grudge matches have surged with the likes of Scorpion vs Sub-Zero, Kazuya vs Heihachi, and many many more. But, even with all of these varied rivalries, there’s only one that spans the entire medium: Pad vs Arcade Stick.
The discussion surrounding the best method to play fighting games has been around since the genre first graced home consoles. With local arcades being prominent in the evolution of fighting games and playing an integral part of the tournament seen in the Fighting Game Community’s adolescence, there’s a staunch brigade of older players that swear by their trusty arcade sticks. On the other hand, the most prestigious fighting game competition in the world, EVO, has been won by many pad players including France’s Luffy and the UK’s Problem X.
So, to settle the argument (or fuel the flames) once and for all, we reached out to some of the fighting game community’s top players to see how they started, why they use the controllers they do, and what advice they’d give to somebody in the market looking for a new way to play fighting games.
Related: Best Fighting Games
Fergus McGee – Pad (for Tekken, at least)
First up is Fergus McGee. While Fergus is most known for his dedication to Asuka in the Tekken community, sitting comfortably in the top 20 players in the world, he has also boasts a mean Sakura in Street Fighter V and has been known to dabble in almost every fighting game at some level. Although Fergus mostly uses a PS4 pad for competitive tournaments, Fergus has recently shared his brand new UYU themed stick.
When did you first start playing fighting games and on what input device? Is there a particular brand/model you are fond of?
I started playing FGs competitively with Soul Calibur 4 in 2008 on a pad, I don’t really have a particular brand I follow. I used the standard Dualshock 3 back then and now I use Dualshock 4. For Street Fighter, I’m a stick player, for early SF4 I used the Xbox 360 d-pad which a lot of people were surprised by but I could do Sakura’s loops on them. I switched eventually to a Madcatz TE-S in 2011 purely just to try out stick and get a feel for it, ended up sticking with it. Then with SF5, I picked up a venom stick and replaced the stock parts with sanwa parts and replaced the art/design with Karin, my character in SF5 back then. I don’t really have any loyalty to a brand.
How long did it take you to become proficient with the stick and pad?
In Street Fighter 4 from pad to stick, I’d say it took about 2-3 months to be able to do what I did on pad comfortably.
Do you have different preferences depending on game or are you loyal to your chosen input device (pad or stick)? Why?
I don’t really know why I play stick for Street Fighter and pad for Tekken, there isn’t really any difference for me. I’m just weird like that haha. I was on stick for Tekken as well, but the stick broke at one point so I sent it in to get repaired and I was on pad and it took so long for the stick to get repaired that I ended up getting comfortable on pad and I decided to switch over, only because it was easier to carry a pad around over stick if I was travelling. More room in the bag!
Have you ever considered switching?
I saw little to no difference for me with pad and stick in Tekken so I’m gonna stay to pad purely for the reasons above.
What advice would you give to any budding pad players?
I see some people use techniques with their pad to improve their grip on the d-pad, like using vaseline on their hands, wearing gloves, licking their thumbs etc. Personally I’ve never tried any of this so I can’t vouch for it but it’s worth trying different methods on pad to see what’s comfortable for you.
Related: Soul Calibur 6 Review
Shimon “Tissuemon” Kawai – The Stick
Next is Shimon “Tissuemon” Kawai. Tissuemon is a world warrior having lived in Japan, the UK, Canada, and Italy while travelling everywhere in between. Tissuemon is the number 1 contender in Europe for Tekken and has been playing for decades. Tissuemon is revered for his Master Raven in Tekken 7 and has dominated the scene since release with his trusty arcade stick.
When did you first start playing fighting games and on what input device (pad, stick, etc)? And is there a particular brand/model you are fond of?
I started playing Tekken in 2004 when Tekken 5 released. At the time I only played at arcades as my local arcade, Montecarlo, was only 5 minutes from my house. I would spend entire days there learning how to play Tekken.
My first arcade stick was the Tekken wireless stick. It had stock parts and buttons. It was terrible. Now I play on my sponsor’s stick; a Qanba Dragon and Obsidian and I am really happy with them.
As somebody that grew up surrounded by Japanese Arcades, would you ever consider using a pad?
How long did it take you to truly master an arcade stick?
Hmm good question. Actually I still haven’t truly mastered an arcade stick. I have to improve more and progress now.
Do you have a preference of brand or a favourite stick? Why?
Of course. My favourite brand of stick is Qanba. Actually until I met Qanba stick I didn’t care what stick I used. Since using my Qanba, I have noticed a change in the quality of sticks.
I can confidently say that Qanba is the best. They have good response time, minimal input lag, I really like the design, and they are very durable. I love them. Thank you Qanba.
What advice would you give to players looking to learn stick?
Just keep practising and never give up. If you want to change from pad to stick, you will lose a lot but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Believe in the stick and yourself.
Related: Best Xbox One Games
Vincent “Super Akouma” Homan – The Hitbox
Finally there is Vincent “Super Akouma” Homan, an execution demon from France. Known for his ability to pull off some of the sickest combos in Tekken 7 with his Akuma, he has more than earned his spot in the Tekken World Tour this year. As for preference, Super Akouma actually uses a Hitbox, a custom stick that switches out the expected joystick for 4 directional buttons.
When did you first start playing fighting games and what did you learn how to play them on(pad or stick)?
I’ve always liked fighting games but I really got into them around the middle of Tekken 6 I think, I used to be more of an RPG guy and then a FPS guy. I was always a pad player, I tried playing on stick for Street Fighter 4 but I got a pretty cheap stick so I never got that good with it. I did have to relearn it in Japan to play Vanilla Tekken 7 though.
What made you decide to switch to a Hitbox?
In 2012 I think it was, I was looking for a more high end stick to try to get better at Tekken Tag 2 and I happen to find hitbox arcade’s YouTube channel with their series “How to Hitbox” and I thought I’d give it a go and I ended up loving it.
How long did it take you to grow used to playing on a Hitbox?
HitBox is much faster to learn than stick for most people so you can get used to it in just a couple of months if you don’t try to switch back and forth between different types of controllers.
Would you ever consider returning to a stick or trying pad?
I occasionally play on pad when I see a chance to play and don’t have my HitBox on me but I’m never going back to full pad or switch to stick. HitBox brings with it the advantages of both so there’s no reason for me to change.
What do you think the key to being successful on your chosen input device is?
One word: Dedication. You need to invest a lot more time than people expect but if you enjoy what you do, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Personally, I don’t ever see myself playing anything but stick now. The years invested in perfecting my execution are something I’d like to retain. All it takes is time, dedication, and a willingness to learn.
Even though I currently use a Qanba Obsidian, which is an absolute dream to play on, I’ve bought Horis, MadCatz, and even a few budget sticks. If you’re a player looking to make the switch, I’d say a Venom would satisfy the urge to test out an arcade stick while keeping the price reasonable. As far as pads go, you can play any preference of pad on modern consoles thanks to Brook converters and there’s even the Hori Fight Commander for pad players looking for alternative layouts similar to the layout of the Sega Saturn controller.
If one thing is clear, it’s that there is no right or wrong answer to the age old debate. Pad, stick, or Hitbox, there are professionals out there succeeding with every single one. Over the years I’ve jumped from pad to stick, slapped some buttons on a Hitbox, and then promptly returned to stick again. It’s all about preference.