Banning Hit Box Controllers

Evo is considering new rules for which controllers are allowed in their tournaments. Their call for feedback on rules is here. Their actual rule document is here.

In my opinion, Hit Box controllers should be banned. I find discussions of this topic often muddled by bad arguments which makes it difficult to get to the substantive part. I will explain the forces at work.

The Baseline

To be clear, before saying anything at all about Hit Box controllers, I think pads and joysticks should be legal. This is hopefully obvious because these have been the standards for 20+ years. Fighting games have a long history of joysticks, the games are designed for them, tournaments were like 99% - 100% joystick users for years.

Gamepads must be allowed as well because they are the stock controllers on the consoles these games ship on. It would be too bad of a situation to tell new players that using the default controller of their console is BANNED, and no one is calling for this.

I state these things to specifically call attention that the reason these controllers should be allowed is that they are and have been the standard for decades. If actually doesn’t matter if one has some sort of advantage over the other in that we can’t feasibly ban either of these types of controllers even if we wanted to (and I don’t want to). The point being, it’s a GIVEN that we’re allowing these.

And later in this discussion, you don’t get any cleverness points for saying “but one of those two allowed types of controllers has an advantage over the other THEREFORE we should allow anything!” No. The reason these two should be allowed is that, like it or not (and I like it!), they are the 20+ year standards.

Hit Box Facts

Hit Box controllers offer a material advantage over other controller types. Part of the difficulty in discussing this is getting mired in a debate about whether this is true. It is absolutely true, and we should move on. It allows inputs faster than is humanly possible with the other controllers, like going left, then right in a single frame, or doing 360 motions so fast that you can do a standing 720 with a consistency that’s impossible otherwise. There’s a reason that players who use characters that need to do a bunch of difficult tiger knee motions (d, df, f, uf) have used Hit Boxes: because it’s just easier to do those hard (very fast) inputs consistently that way. Hit Box’s advertising emphasizes these benefits as well.

The material advantage these controllers offer should be a given. That, in itself, is not a reason to ban it without considering the full picture.

Next, the natural consequence of allowing new hardware that gives a material advantage is that competitors will eventually be forced to use it. It’s actually wrong to view it as “just a choice that 1% of players choose.” The natural consequence is that more and more competitors will have to use it until it basically obsoletes other choices. Oh you use a stick or a pad? You’re just bad, and you shouldn’t. Now you’re at a hardware disadvantage. This, in itself, also isn’t a reason to ban it. You’d have to decide if that outcome is good or bad. But it IS what will happen, so we have to acknowledge that reality.

Where to Draw the Line?

Another ridiculous argument that often comes up is the claim that there should be no line at all and Hit Boxes should be allowed because EVERYTHING should be allowed. I wish that were not a strawman, but I’ve had to answer it multiple times now. That’s a very very extreme opinion that is divorced from the reality of every other sport. There needs to be some definition of a line about what’s allowed and what’s not and the question is WHERE is the line, not if we should throw out the concept of lines.

Other sports face this same issue. I’ll give two examples.

In NASCAR racing, a driver might think “I could go faster if my car had a jet engine on it.” Yes, and if that’s allowed, then everyone must use a jet engine too. The rules people decided that that would be transformational and that it would be some other sport. They want to have a race using something more similar to the kind of cars they had before. So there are limits on what’s allowed that exclude things like jet engines.

In golf, there is the pretty close parallel of a “new, weird” kind of putter. It’s longer than usual and you can anchor it to your stomach as you use it. At first, it looked stupid but soon players realized it offered a material advantage. Anchoring the putter this way allows for more precise control than had been possible before. Is THAT the reason to ban it though? Not exactly. It could be allowed if golfers wanted that, meaning if they wanted the entire endeavor of putting to be replaced by this new, different thing. Again, don’t fall into the trap that it’s a “choice.” If golfers are ok with replacing current putting with this new thing, they could allow it.

This came to a boiling point after a streak of four out of six major winners were anchoring their putters. Tournaments decided that they didn’t want the sport to transform such that putting would be entirely shifted to this new kind of putting, so they banned it in 2016.

What to Do About Hit Boxes?

So with all that in mind, the situation is ultimately simple. The Hit Box controller does give a material advantage, and it will eclipse the other controller types if it’s allowed. If you’re ok with that happening, then you should advocate allowing them. I, personally, think it’s a terrible idea. Having to tell new players who use gamepads or the vast majority of fighting game players who use joysticks that you’re all doing it wrong sounds pretty awful. Having to tell them that you now must, for reasons of competitive advantage, switch to this—honestly pretty weird—new thing is just a very extreme thing to do. When we choose where to draw the line, I think a reasonable place is to draw it is to include the hardware that’s been standard for the last 20+ years WITHOUT obsoleting that very standard by including some new (weird) thing with a hardware advantage.

So Hit Boxes should be banned.

(Disclaimer: Hit Box controllers do NOT need to be banned when playing Fantasy Strike specifically. The game is designed with keyboard in mind, and does not feature any joystick motions like qcf or 360s, etc. Hit Boxes do not offer a material advantage in Fantasy Strike, so they are fine and welcome to use there. Allowing them really does just give one more choice, rather than cause an inevitable shift that would force everyone to use them.)