How and why to use Mortal Kombat 11’s official tournament variations

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Mortal Kombat 11 offers more freedom for its players than any other entry in the franchise before it. Borrowing from their work on Injustice 2, developer NetherRealm Software introduced a gear system that allows players to change up their favourite character to look just the way they want. While cool, the true revolution is in how Mortal Kombat 11 implements character variations though.

Introduced in predecessor Mortal Kombat X, variations allowed players to use one of three different versions of the same character that each sported their own special moves and combos. Mortal Kombat 11 takes that a step further though, by allowing you to customize these variations extensively. Besides for the aforementioned cosmetics, you are now able to tweak the special move loadout to your heart’s content. While every variation contains certain base special moves (Scorpion’s spear or Sub-Zero’s iceball, for example), you can pick up to three others from a rather large list. But which moves to pick? Well, that’s completely up to you, but I would recommend sticking with the official Tournament Variations.

In a nutshell, Tournament Variations are a set of pre-defined loadouts created by NRS themselves. Why it’s important to use them is that if you’re online in Ranked mode or want to enter any officially affiliated tournaments, then these are the only variations you are allowed to use. NRS put this restriction in place to maintain gameplay balancing on the competitive scene, otherwise you could get custom builds that completely break or exploit certain mechanics whereas the Tournament Variations are usually very good all-around.

So yes, familiarity with them is a must if you want to play Mortal Kombat at even a semi-serious level. The problem is that the existence and usage of Tournament Variations aren’t clearly explained in Mortal Kombat 11, despite it having one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen in a fighting game, so many people don’t even know about them.

To make things worse, by default your characters only have two out of a potential four variations equipped, neither of which are the Tournament Variations. There’s also no readily visible option to use them for practice or unranked play. But this can be done though, and it’s pretty simple.

  • Open the game’s Kustomize menu, select Kharacters and then pick your character of choice
  • On the first Kustomize screen, move left or right to select New Variation
  • You can rename this Variation now or later. Either way, I suggest you give it the same name as the actual official Tournament Variation, (e.g. Reborn or Searing Rage for Scorpion) to not confuse things
  • You can customize the cosmetics here (more on that later), but the important bit is on the Abilities screen
  • This is where you would normally select the various special moves, but if you hit the relevant button (e.g. Square on PS4 ) you can access a list of all the predefined variations
  • Two of these have a Trophy symbol next to them, and these are the Tournament Variations
  • Select the one you want, and then exit to save the variation

There’s a small issue with doing this though. Remember, how I made a note about the cosmetics earlier? Normally when selecting the Tournament Variations in a ranked or competitive match, the character will only use their default look. There’s a fix for this though. After you’ve created your new variation in the steps above, customize the cosmetics as well as much as you want. Then when back on the first customization screen press the appropriate button (e.g. The touchpad on PS4) for your platform to make this the default variation. Now when selecting this Tournament Variation in ranked or competitive matches, it will actually use the cosmetics you customized earlier.

Using and getting to grips with official Tournament Variations can be like Switzerland’s flag: a big plus. These are the variations all the big names on the scene will be using and therefore will have the most coverage when it comes to combo tutorials, gameplay guides, etc. There’s currently some contention in the Mortal Kombat pro scene about whether player-created customizations should be legal in official tournament rules, but until that changes – that’s if it will change – your best bet is still to stick with these, learn them well, and kick some ass.

Last Updated: May 2, 2019

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