Here's an article about the role of execution in fighting games, by James Chen. I think the title and conclusion are kind of misleading because it does not really discuss the role of exeuction in fighting games, but rather the role of how different move commands affect the game.
Let's start with the good. Every example given is helpful to know, and I think each one is a correct example. In each case, Chen shows how the motion for doing a certain move being one thing rather than another thing affects gameplay and that this is usually for the better. Yes, a dragon punch motion and a reverse dragon punch motion do have different effects, and cause the moves to be used differently. Players should take that into account whether they are playing *as* such a character or *against* one. Good stuff here.
The problem is that that's not really what people mean when they talk about execution in fighting games. It's a very narrow, cherry picked kind of thing that doesn't fairly represent the topic. It also lead Chen to make this conclusion:
"Execution isn’t just about performing your combos. It’s also largely about knowing what your opponent CAN perform in given time frames. That ADDS to the mind games and the gameplay, not detracting from it."
I agree completely that the different motions chosen for moves gives another layer of things to think about and that that kind of variety is interesting relative to a game that had no such variety. The thing is, "execution" in general (not these very specific examples) has the opposite effect and it reduces strategy, relatively speaking. The more a game is about the difficulty of making your character do what you want to do, the necessarily less it is about strategy (that is, making good decisions).
This is why it's not a good idea to make special moves really hard to do. Make them take some *time* so some prediction is needed (even a few frames of prediction), yeah that's great. Make them start at a particular place on the joystick, such as a reverse dragon punch, and that affects how they're used, right. But to have some tiny input window to make them hard to do even when you have decided you want to do them, that's taking away emphasis on strategy. Making a game where the command to throw is secretly an option select tricky thing that you want to do basically always is another way to put more weight on dexterity that necessarily reduces strategy. Choosing commands that overlap too much (for example, ST Cammy's hooligan throw and spinning knuckle) puts more emphasis on dexterity than the decision of choosing the right move. So to increase strategy slightly, it's better to make those not overlap (and in HD Remix, they don't).
Making a game such that bread-and-butter combos require 1-frame linking is another great example of reducing the importance of strategy. In a recent stream, Chen himself said that in SF4, if you can't do Sakura's 1-frame link combo, you shouldn't be playing Sakura. I agree! That goes to show how strongly execution is favored over correct decision making / strategy in the case of SF4 Sakura.
We should really be striving to reduce execution requirements as much as possible while keeping the nature of the game intact. That is, making all dragon punches a single button press would reduce execution, but it would also actually ruin a bunch of strategy stuff by making them too reactive and not predictive enough, so we shouldn't do that. That's not a case where reducing execution helps, so I'm not talking about things like that. I am talking about sequences or moves that are hard apart from any strategic consideration. Like Sakura having 1-frame links as a critical thing, instead of being a character anyone could play. (You don't even need to change the power level of the character or reduce any strategy here, it's just a matter of being more inclusive as to how many players get to participate in that strategy.)
I know there's a lot of execution fetishism going around, and that's unfortunate for a genre that many would like to point to as a strategy genre that happens to have a dexterity requirement to play. Rasing the dexterity requirement above the minimum needed to make it all work just subtracts from the importance of strategy while excluding people. I'd like to see more love for an inclusive approach, as that restores more power to good decisions while inviting even more players to participate in those decisions.