How the Fighting Game Community Fights Through a Pandemic Year

By on January 26, 2021

Naturally, with a 10-month break from the live tournament scene, members of the FGC have resorted to some less than usual hobbies to pass their idle time. While the online tournament scene was still trying to solidify, the Final Fantasy 14 retirement home was firin’ up and ready to go; suddenly, none of us knew which games to play, and as has been said countless times, 2020 was certainly the year to prove that netcode matters. Perhaps the most curious thing though, is that after the initial turbulence of realizing the entire FGC would have to stay home for a year, everyone started playing games from a generation prior. Of course, we’ve heard “Marvel LIVES!” but beyond the phenomenon of 2020 UMvC3, the landscape of active games in the FGC may have been its most varied during this time when we were all stuck at home.

 

Rollback Moves Games Forward

It’d be remiss not to mention that a huge portion of titles revisited in 2020 primarily generated interest because of their online experiences and because they were enjoyable in a time where all we could play was online. Rollback netcode nearly singlehandedly revitalized and brought new members to communities that were off or under the radar prior. Guilty Gear XX Accent Core +R, King of Fighters 2002 UM, and plenty of other titles received huge amounts of attention sheerly because their games had tolerable online play compared to other titles. Even Tekken 7, which saw a tumultuous 2020 in terms of community opinion, updated its unorthodox implementation of rollback netcode and had the entire FGC talking about how good it was.

What the addition of rollback meant for these games was not purely that the netcode checked a box, but that having a varied selection of games with rollback netcode gave communities definitive titles to point interest towards and spur existing players to build a player base around. Now, there are titles for GG, KOF, and other players to host meaningful online tournaments for while also expanding the possible connection of players tremendously; on top of this, some people have simply wanted to play these older titles and now that the experience has been significantly improved, they can actually play large amounts of people in a good environment. We all know the benefits of rollback netcode, but the unique circumstances of these recent netcode overhauls gave some bigger benefits than simply “more people can play online now.” This hasn’t necessarily been ignored by developers, and we’ve even seen the effects of such a strong movement play out across last year. Upcoming games have shifted development to accommodate rollback netcode frameworks, and hopefully, as time progresses, the standard will be raised for all titles to include meaningfully functional online.

 

Community Effort Online

Beyond netcode, communities also organized themselves in 2020 through sheer numbers to develop some striking infrastructure for online tournaments in the absence of adequate online play. Obviously, by now we’ve seen the resurgence of UMvC3 through Parsec but what might not be initially obvious was the stunning community effort put in place to make it happen. The Marvel community almost literally built up an improved netcode infrastructure by hand using what they could to play the game; people bought server time in multiple locations to accommodate different regions and took advantage of Parsec in a novel way to be able to host adequate tournaments for their favorite game of the prior generation. I certainly never thought distributed cloud computing would be a hot topic in the FGC anytime soon, but hey, I guess if there’s a will there’s a way.

An interesting conclusion from this though is that the meteoric rise of Marvel back into the mainstream shows that what we consider “main competitive games” won’t always hold steadfast, and now is a more varied time than ever. The technology used to play UMvC3 over Parsec isn’t exclusive to any one particular title, nor is it new technology either. Parsec has been used on a small scale for quite a while and recently has even been applied to other games already. The Tampa Never Sleeps crew of course runs their Parsec UMvC3 tournaments, but they’ve also used the same method to facilitate Dragonball Fighterz tournaments, another game with less than stellar netplay in its current form. Additionally, much like how adding rollback netcode to GGACR galvanized the Guilty Gear community, just having the ability to play DBFZ, UMvC3, or any other game in an adequate online environment can completely drive a game into mainstream discussion. As time continues and we move on from 2020, it’s likely the influence of this varied landscape of titles will continue into local and offline community interest, and hopefully, when live tournaments begin again, we will continue to see this varied representation of titles in the FGC.

 

Time For Change

These movements to unexpected games over the course of 2020 hasn’t gone completely unnoticed by developers, and that’s probably the most meaningful outcome of the FGC’s unusual choice in games. The Japan Fighting Game Publishers Roundtable back in August was an attempt to address these concerns, and while some of the questions discussed in the presentation were a little tone-deaf to what fighting game fans actually want in their games, considering what’s known about each developer’s capabilities to implement good online infrastructures, the potential future doesn’t look so bad. Critically, just before this time was when Arc System Works announced that Guilty Gear -STRIVE-‘s development would be altered to work on accommodating rollback netcode into the game directly as a result of community concerns. Capcom has already demonstrated with MVC:I that they can make a game with better rollback netcode than Street Fighter V, and while Bandai Namco’s approach certainly doesn’t always feel like it works as well as other netcode frameworks, their improvements to it show that they’re capable of producing an adequate online experience.

As the standard was raised higher last year through the efforts of developers and the community, it’s beginning to look like the expectations for upcoming fighting games are fairly sink or swim. Many players are starting to feel that adequate netcode isn’t a bonus, but a necessary feature, and that could make or break the release of some upcoming titles. It has already been announced that -STRIVE- will have rollback netcode, but as this seems to be ArcSys’ first in-house foray with rollback, some are hesitant. Other titles that haven’t discussed the issue head-on are on even more uncertain terms. If KOF XV were to release with the same poorly received netcode as past SNK titles, it could be catastrophic for the game’s release in The

West. With all these considerations in mind, it seems positive that the actions taken by the community resulted in constructive dialogue with developers and useful changes to the games we play, and if it’s a priority, you can only hope the trend continues.

From Them’s Fightin’ Herds, to legacy ArcSys titles like BlazBlue: Centralfiction and Guilty Gear XX Accent Core +R, we’ve certainly seen it all in 2020, and while some titles saw a bump in popularity due to the huge movement to support games with rollback netcode, can this enthusiasm for old and underrepresented games keep up as time goes on and tournaments come back? For now, it certainly seems like it. Considering the strength of scenes spawned from these resurgences, it’d be hard to argue that this huge breadth of active games hasn’t majorly influenced the FGC in such a pivotal year.



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