Conditioning is a term derived from psychology where players learn or are deliberately taught to expect certain behaviors from their opponent. A thoroughly conditioned player will come up with a predictable response to certain situations. The opponent can then counter or exploit said player's predictable response.
While there are common scenarios in which most players can be conditioned into doing something, it is important to remember that conditioning is in the realm of mindgames and so fulfilling criteria for proper conditioning can vary greatly from opponent to opponent. In particular, new players with only a partial understanding of a particular game may be very resistant to conditioning since they may not fully understand the consequences and interactions of certain behaviors.
Steps Involved in Conditioning an Opponent
1. Observation of opponent behavior
The purpose of this step is twofold: it helps to identify obstacles to you/your character's gameplan and also determines how easy or difficult it will be to condition the opponent. Getting a sense of what behaviors of the opponent you want to change and knowing how quickly the opponent adapts will help greatly in evaluating how to condition them. For example, an opponent that adapts quickly will generally take less time to condition than an opponent that does not adjust quickly to new problems.
2. Repeating certain actions to condition an opponent
This is the actual conditioning of the opponent. As you repeat a certain set of actions, an opponent will begin to form a set of expectations of what you will do. Conditioning the opponent is often most effective when there is a penalty of getting hit involved. For example, frame traps tend to work better than jump cancelling pressure when trying to condition an opponent to not mash since the former leads to getting hit while the latter (usually) just results in more pressure.
3. Exploiting expected opponent behavior
Now that you've conditioned an opponent to behave in a certain way, you can now exploit their response or lack thereof to do things that would normally not be possible. Take note that doing so carelessly will result in the opponent returning to their previous behavior. It is important to maintain the conditioned behavior by occasionally performing the action that conditioned them in the first place. Furthermore, an already conditioned opponent can be conditioned further with a different set of repeated actions layered on top of the existing conditioning. Be observant of how your opponent behaves and you will be able to demand respect from them in the match.
Common Examples of Conditioning
Note that these are simplified examples and that a match between skilled players can have a variety of different and unexpected adaptations from both sides.
- Phase 1:
- Step 1: You observe that an opponent likes to mash a lot during the gaps in your pressure.
- Step 2: You remedy this by working frame traps into your pressure. After several failed mash attempts, the conditioned opponent is now no longer mashing against your pressure.
- Step 3: You can take advantage of this by going for bigger gaps that extend your pressure since your opponent is afraid of mashing out.
- Phase 2:
- Step 1: You observe that your opponent is aware of the minefield of frame traps and dash-ins and begins to mash reversal on block to forcibly blow through any gaps in your pressure.
- Step 2: You remedy this by simply blocking after an intentional gap and heavily punish their reversal when it comes out.
- Step 3: You can now proceed to extend pressure safely by running in since the opponent is wary of reversaling or mashing out.
- Phase 1:
- Step 1: You observe that an opponent is anti-airing your jump-ins and airdashes quite reliably.
- Step 2: You remedy this by double jumping in order to bait a whiffed anti-air. If it does whiff, you fall on them with a jump-in combo to punish them. After several baited anti-airs, the opponent is no longer attempting to anti-air.
- Step 3: You can now safely jump in normally and force the opponent to either avoid the jump in completely or block.
- Phase 2:
- Step 1: You observe that the opponent is catching on and is starting to jump up and attack with a rising normal before you can double jump.
- Step 2: You begin to alter your jump trajectory with different jump directions and attacks so that the opponent cannot perform a rising attack without getting counter poked. After being poked out of the air several times, the opponent stops trying to jump and meet you.
- Step 3: You are now able to safely jump in on the opponent again.