Fighting Game Online Renaissance: How COVID-19 Has Affected the Fighting Game Community.

With COVID-19 forcing the closure of fighting game tournaments, many players have turned to online play. As we’ve covered previously, Smash Bros. players have begun participating in online tournaments as an alternative. However, these were met with less-than-stellar results largely stemming from Smash Ultimate’s poor netcode.

For other fighting games, many of them are played on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. The latter two feature monthly subscriptions that cost more than Nintendo’s yearly $20 online service. However, they’re also far more functional choices for online play given the wider array of resources, such as messaging, profiles, matchmaking options, and more. However, much as with the Smash community, fighting game players also feel disillusioned due to many of their games suffering from similar netcode issues.

Fighting games, particularly those developed in Japan, use a delay-based netcode. This causes input delay which may force players to rely on anticipation over reaction when playing against opponents, largely depending on the connection. Even with an ethernet cable, this only tends to mitigate some of the worst connection experience.

In the end, while fighting games online are plenty playable, some have worse netcode than others. As such, it becomes difficult to pick which ones to play online, even among the most popular titles. This goes especially true during a time when we can’t play online with friends or at tournaments. Yet players will persist in their love-hate relationship to play an enjoyable game despite its major drawbacks.

Which games have the worst netcode?

For starters, the most popular known fighting game, Street Fighter V, is unfortunately the most infamous case of poor netcode. Capcom’s flagship fighting game series has seen significant criticism regarding its netcode since the game’s release in 2016. When Capcom released Street Fighter V: Champion Edition earlier this year, a fan took it upon themselves to patch the netcode. Capcom later updated the game removing the patch, once again causing netcode issues and also locking out players who downloaded the patch.

From personal experience, I dove into an SNK kick after the release of Terry in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate late last year. In doing so, I decided to buy The King of Fighters XIV for PS4 while also playing Samurai Shodown. I may have gotten only one random match in KOF XIV before never finding another one again. Meanwhile, in SamSho, I could not find a single random match. The difference here is that KOF XIV was notably unpopular due to its first impression character models being deemed ugly. As a result, many KOF fans jumped ship back to KOF XIII and earlier titles which are available on Steam.

SamSho, on the other hand, has only been out for roughly a year and has already died online. For players who live far away from prevalent fighting game scenes, this means they are unable to practice and play the game with others unless they’re in a dedicated online community, such as Discord or Reddit. Once again, players cite the netcode issues as why the online scene died early.

Which games are most playable online?

Keep in mind that many fighting games follow suit. Bandai Namco titles, like Tekken and SoulCalibur, also use delay-based netcode. The same goes for any of Arc Systems Works games, such as Guilty Gear Xrd, BlazBlue Cross-Tag, and Dragon Ball FighterZ.

However, one mainstream game in mind gets it right. In particular, Mortal Kombat 11 is known for having solid netcode. Netherrealm Studios has also announced their latest update – Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath – featuring new DLC characters.

Developers have been using rollback netcode dating back to the days of GGPO, an online client to play fighting games online, which was released in 2009. More recently, players have also begun using Fightcade, a platform based on using GGPO.

CodeMystics, a developer that ported several SNK fighting games across platforms, also implemented rollback netcode into their games. The developer explains the process below. Furthermore, you can find a list of games using rollback netcode here.

The Biggest Impact on Fighting Games Right Now

EVO recently announced EVO Online, an online tournament which will replace their annual offline fighting game tournament. As such, they’ve included a new lineup which excludes one of EVO 2020’s initially featured titles, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. In doing so, they chose to host some of the most popular fighting games on the market right now.

Perhaps one of the most notable parts of this announcement is the return of Killer Instinct. Originally released in 2013, the title was exclusive to the Xbox One console until 2016, when it was released for PC. Despite not being released for PlayStation 4, the title’s second lease on life gained major traction online.

While it was hosted as a major title at EVO and CEO for several years, Killer Instinct’s popularity began to wane as other titles came out and received timely updates. Killer Instinct is one of four games being featured in the open online tournament alongside Mortal Kombat, Skullgirls, and Them’s Fightin’ Herds.

Rollback: The Future of Online Fighting Games?

While western fighting titles have largely adopted rollback, however, Japanese developer Arc Systems Works will be using it for their upcoming title Guilty Gear Strive. Arc Systems Works has been one of the foremost fighting game developers, over the past decade, having released Persona 4 Arena, BlazBlue, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Guilty Gear Xrd. Now their latest game will enter the current decade with the first Japanese-developed fighting game to use rollback.

Perhaps this will set a precedent inviting other fighting game developers to follow suit and develop a more consistent, quality online experience. The COVID era has proven one thing and it’s that players will continue playing fighting games despite poor netcode but suffer while doing so. With rollback netcode setting the standard, hopefully more developers will take note and the current decade will feature some of the best fighting game experiences online.

On that note, keep in mind that you may play any fighting game online you choose. Even despite some of the netcode issues, most of these games remain playable and functional online even without rollback. Many players will endure a few frames of input lag to just enjoy the feel of the game they love the most.

Which fighting game do you play or follow right now? Let us know in the comments below.