"The FGC is at the precipice of a new golden age. The reason? Developers are finally committed to strong online play".

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, offline fighting game events still have yet to return in most of the world, which largely remains in self-quarantine. Last year also saw a raft of terrible news about abuse and harassment by too many people in the fighting game community, a fact that we are still trying to come to grips with today. In some ways, the FGC remains in limbo. 

But I've become convinced that despite our problems, the FGC is at the precipice of a new golden age. The reason? Developers are finally committed to strong online play.

ROLLING FORWARD

Back in 2006, software developer and Evo co-founder Tony Cannon got so fed up with the terrible quality of online play on the Xbox version of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting that he decided to make his own. The result was GGPO, networking software that used rollback netcode to create the feeling of smooth gameplay for players even at great distances and over suboptimal connections, far superior to the delay-based netcode that was the norm in the genre. In 2006. Two thousand. And. Six. And then, we waited. 

Tony Cannon at EVO 2017. Source: YouTube

In 2011, Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition came out with GGPO. In 2012, Skullgirls launched with GGPO as well. In 2013, Killer Instinct came out with its own version of rollback netcode. And then, we went back to waiting. 

In 2016, Mortal Kombat XL overhauled Mortal Kombat X's original poor netcode with its own high quality rollback. That same year, Capcom released Street Fighter V with rollback netcode, but unfortunately with significant problems that limited its effectiveness. Capcom followed this in 2017 with improved netcode in Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, but unfortuntely, the game did poorly for other reasons. And so we waited, yet again. 

But over the past couple years, as great new games were still coming out with disappointing delay-based netcode, we became tired of waiting. Many of us have grown more insistent about asking developers for rollback, pressure that only grew during the pandemic when online become our only way to play. 

And it finally worked. In late 2020, Tekken 7 received an incredible patch to its netcode that made it playable at continental ranges. Just last month, the Guilty Gear Strive open beta demoed netcode with intercontinental reach and even SNK announced that it was developing King of Fighters XV with rollback netcode. 

It's taken 15 years, but we're finally approaching the potential that GGPO first revealed: every fighting game will be playable online.

A COMPETITIVE EXPLOSION 

Obviously it's great news that more people will be able to play. The barriers of geography and resources that have long been impediments to developing talent will no longer be nearly as impactful. Players won't have to set up online play dates with the few people they can connect with on poorer netcodes; instead, their effective pool of opponents will be increased so dramatically that they'll be able to just go online and find good matches whenever they want. 

But less obviously, strong netcode can also lead to stronger offline play. Tactics that work online will work offline and players who are good online will be good offline, making it much easier to know what to look for and who to look out for at in-person events. As a result, practicing for offline events will be easier, resulting in a higher level of play not just online but offline as well. In addition, since players can more easily prove their strength online, offline invitational events will have an easier time picking which players to invite. In short, good online play doesn't devalue offline play, it makes offline play even better. 

And none of this is theoretical. We know that this is what happens with good online play because we've already seen it in game communities like Skullgirls, Killer Instinct, and Mortal Kombat 11. In each of these communities, having excellent netcode has resulted in increased online tournaments and higher visibility on players who are successful online. For example, there are so many events on the MK11 calendar, provided by the community, Playstation 4 Open, the Pro Kompetition, and more, that we have a very good idea of who the strongest players are in each region. This in turn means that organizers of in-person invitationals know more about which players to select, as we saw in WePlay's fantastic Dragon Temple event. 

Source: WePlay Esports

Now think about the impact of this on other fighting game communities. Tekken and King of Fighters already have gigantic scenes; imagine how vibrant they'll be with good online play! Guilty Gear has always been great, but has never made big inroads outside of the dedicated FGC; imagine how much it can grow with top quality rollback netcode! At this point, every major fighting game developer except Nintendo has released or announced a game with rollback. In the near future, then, just about every fighting game we play will have strong netcode. 

A GOLDEN AGE 

I am so excited to see our community continue to grow. In particular, I love the idea of top players from around the globe convening in the same lobbies online, like some giant kaiju using the entire earth as their battlefield. When more people will be able to play, learn, compete, and have fun from so many more places and in so many more situations, we'll have a stronger scene with more events, higher level play, and a bigger player base. 

And again, for some communities, this isn't new! Top players have been training with each other across continents and oceans for years in Skullgirls and Killer Instinct. But what will be new is that this privilege will be afforded to everyone in a way that will help us not only online but offline as well. That sounds like a very bright future to me.

WePlay! Digest

News, longreads, memes – the best from esports world is right in your inbox

Just one more step...

Go to your email and сonfirm the subscription. It's super quick.

avatar
Columnist

David “UltraDavid” Graham

banner background

Rocket League Invitational Tournament

Know more

WePlay! Digest

News, longreads, memes – the best from esports world is right in your inbox

Just one more step...

Go to your email and сonfirm the subscription. It's super quick.