The war on WiFi: fighting game communities unite to thrive and survive in laggy quarantine times

Courtesy of Nelo Hotsuma via Flickr

Lag has always been the most despised part of any online video game experience. It causes frustration and anger in gamers everywhere because of its prevalence in the modern connected world. While each game and genre have their issues and irritation with latency, most notable is the fighting game community (FGC). These Esport players are dedicated to the infinite grind of self-improvement and 1v1 competition for the chance at glory and much more. With that much at stake, it’s no wonder why wired connections and stable internet connections are a must for many hardcore fans. The FGC in particular places a large emphasis on peer-to-peer connection between players called netcode. The backbone of any online game is how players connect, and for fighting game players, it means more than anything. In recent times, this conversation has become more important than ever with more communities organizing online events and tourneys.

The pandemic has caused many fighting game players unrest as local tournaments and larger events across the world get canceled and postponed. With the quarantine putting limitations on gatherings, the FGC is still playing their favorite titles at all levels. Yet more emphasis on these online experiences displays a need for more reliable network solutions, especially when national level tournaments will take advantage of the online space to host their events. On May 1, the Evolution Championship Series (EVO) announced it would cancel its July event and switch to an online format. This annual tournament is the most prestigious FGC event that gathers the greatest fighting game players from around the world. Showcasing exciting and exhilarating matches from a wide variety of games, EVO always showcases the best fighting games and players on a Las Vegas stage. While information has yet to be released concerning registration, they set the stage for EVO to encompass the month of July with four new titles with an online open format to all fans. 

These include titles like 2013’s “Killer Instinct” revival, the indie classic “Skullgirls 2nd Encore” and even an animal fighting game titled “Them’s Fightin Herds.” The latter features designs by “My Little Pony” animator, Lauren Faust, with her unique and cute style. This is a year of firsts for EVO with so much variety to keep fans entertained. Each game uses rollback netcode thanks to GGPO, to make the online experience as lag-free as possible. The open-source networking software has often been lauded as one of the better options for implementing a peer-to-peer connection to reduce input latency. This announcement generated hype and excitement as players gear up to try their hand on the primary stage. This brilliant move has opened the doors to any WiFi warriors with enough resolve to compete for glory and prize money. The outpouring of support for this announcement has caught the attention of the events tournament organizer (TO), Joey Cuellar aka, Mr. Wizard, who teased on Twitter about the possibility of more online events. The interest is certainly present in the community and EVO is finally recognizing how important GGPO netcode is for great online experiences. While the announcement was to the delight of many fighting game fans, it also generated some controversy.

The event’s change of format led to EVO dropping “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate” from this year’s circuit. To much dismay from the competitive Smash community, this decision stems from the unstable network connectivity Ultimate is notorious for. Not to mention, due to the ongoing pandemic, they have postponed the Smash World Tour that scheduled many events this year for the prize of $250k! With the state of many upcoming events hanging in the balance of navigating this new normal, fans are trying to make their voices heard. As more events were facing cancellation, many pioneered and unified regions of the US for netplay tournaments. 

The “Super Smash Bros. Melee” community standards are high and set the bar on what a well run online experience should look like. With region exclusive events and wired connection requirements, being able to play a 19-year-old game competitively without tournaments is excluding players with faulty connections. Even Nintendo’s delay based netcode in Smash Ultimate is prone to turning matches with terrible connectivity into horrifying slide shows of miss inputs and dropped frame rates. It’s because of the unsatisfying online experience that it started a social media campaign with #fixultimateonline trending for a few days raising awareness and getting the word out. Coupled with the cost of Nintendo Switch Online, the experience can often feel unfulfilling and too expensive. Eventually, this led to Nintendo pledging to address their concerns, thus proving how the community can enact change on a company that hardly supports the Esports scene.  

Some FGC members have already embraced the online ecosystem, using the power of the community to make a difference. The greater New Jersey fighting game community organized and partnered with the Direct Relief Charity by starting a new tourney called the Quarantined Rapport. An online tournament that took place this March is a perfect example of solidarity in the greater FGC community, all in the name of charity and salty matches. Committed to benefiting Direct Relief, the event features over 35 grassroots communities that successfully unified and gathered despite considerable differences and variations in video game preference. Each title in the tournament ranges from mainstream fighting games with “SoulCalibur 6” and indie titles like “Rivals of Aether.” 

More popular games featured at the event are those that include GGPO netcode for smooth gameplay. Even non-traditional fighting games have rallying communities like the baseball fighter, “Lethal League Blaze” featuring great connectivity to ensure an impressive experience. The organization has even been planning a bigger and better event to take place from June 12 to 14. Promising more games and charity funds, the event is gearing up to be one of the best charity tournaments in a long time. 

Amidst all the trouble in the world, fighting game fans are advocating for better online experiences. The ongoing pandemic has shined a light onto these issues and is finally giving a platform for FGC fans to voice their praises and concerns for the future of netcode. It goes to show how important an issue this is for the health and future of competitive fighting games. Quarantine times have certainly heightened the need for better online experiences, and it’s comforting to see these issues addressed. By successfully maintaining good online experiences, the community can draw in more newcomers and novices alike, which is exactly what all Esport groups should strive for. With less lag and more transparent online experiences, more players will become interested in wanting to support their favorite titles. As more companies release and update fighting games in the future, all fans can do is hope they take notice of why good netcode is worth fighting for. 

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