#FightFriday: Is Evo 2020 Online Edition A Bad Idea?

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UPDATE: The trailer for EVO Online (really was hoping they kept it as EVOnline) has dropped as I was writing this and we got a much better idea of how this will work. From what I understand, the original lineup will have closed tournaments and exhibitions over 5 weekends for viewers. Well, excluding Smash. Not only will this be the first EVO Online event but this will be the first EVO related event to not have a Smash game. As you can imagine, the Smash community is far from happy.

Additionally, there will be four open online tournaments: Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, Skullgirls, and Them’s Fighting Herds. Now, a lot of people joked about this happening, but they actually did it. It’s no secret why they did. These games have great netcode. The weakest of the bunch may be MK11, but it’s still better than the netcode that would have been on offer previously. To think, they tried to get rid of MK11 only to crawl right back to it.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty pleased with how they handled this. Not only do we still get to enjoy the games from the original lineup, but people get to play in games that don’t have complete trash netcode. The best part? This is still a wake up call for Japanese developers that netcode matters. Skullgirls came out in 2012 and has better netcode than any Japanese fighting game that has come out afterward, with the only exceptions being the SNK that were retrofitted with good netcodes. That amazes me. The reason why this is hardly matters, but I hope this wakes them up to the fact that they need to really give a damn and fix this. Delay based netcode needs to be obsolete.

Rest in Power Evo 2020

It’s official. EVO 2020 is done, sort of. Ever since the spread of COVID-19, events of all scales and genres have been canceled or indefinitely postponed. As it turns out, Evolution 2020 was no exception. What made this even more disappointing was the announcement of the Marvel vs Capcom 2 invitational. It was going to be hype and amazing, but who knows if it’ll even be possible anymore. That brings up a conversation about preserving games for future use, but we can have that for another time. Today, we’re going to discuss EVO’s solution to a lack of a physical EVO: EVOnline.

Evo 2020 Line Up

For those who’ve forgotten the lineup for EVO 2020, allow me to remind you: Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Granblue Fantasy Versus, Samurai Shodown, Under Night In-Birth Exe Late[cl-r], Dragonball FighterZ, Soulcalibur VI, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. No idea if Marvel vs Capcom 2 will still be a thing, but I highly doubt it. When you see this lineup and remember that EVO is now an online tournament, you may be ready to laugh. I wouldn’t blame you, either. I laughed at the memo, too. Of this list, the game that has the best netcode is Street Fighter V. That is not a compliment.

Now, before we get the anecdotal evidence from people saying “well when I played it, it was fine”, let’s stop. Of this list, Street Fighter V is the only one using a rollback netcode that only sort of does its job. The others are using delay-based netcode, with SSBU probably having the worst implementation of it. Combine that with the fact that the Switch has no native ethernet port (you have to buy an adapter for ethernet support) and you can imagine why their online is so rough. The other games will be run on PS4, but there are so many more issues than just having an ethernet cable. Distance, latency, the nature of delay-based netcode, and more contribute to the online environment.

Netcode Dilemma

Still, I am excited to see the aftermath of this decision. I’m of the belief that this’ll be a glorious disaster because of those horrid netcodes. More than that, it’ll be rock solid proof to those who have become netcode apologists that good netcode matters. Besides all of that, the effect I want most is for it to get Japanese developers to see why rollback is so good and delay-based is so garbage. I’ve ranted on about it before, but just so you have a good idea of the difference in real-time go play any game with GGPO netcode for an hour. After that, go play a game published by ArcSys online for another hour and tell me you don’t feel the difference.

The only reason we still even have a delay-based netcode is that Japanese developers have been stubborn. Despite GGPO being a viable option, Capcom tried their own rollback for Street Fighter V and it was awful. Harada himself has gone on record to say that delay-based netcode can’t be fixed but won’t go with an alternative that has been proven to work. ArcSys finally caved and went for rollback netcode for Guilty Gear Strive, but we have no idea if it’ll work well because we didn’t get to try it. SNK seems to also be given in as they add rollback netcode to their older titles, and it’s been pretty good. Here’s to hoping we get GGPO on some future games because they’ve had some of the worst netcode in the business.

How Will This Affect the eSports Push?

All of that aside, the one aspect I think we aren’t thinking about is that good ol’ eSports conversation. To most, that’ll probably not be something you think a lot about. However, with the way fighting games are being designed these days, I think the conversation is worth having. The push for fighting games in eSports and the simplifying in games are not unrelated. The best kind of game to watch is one where the spectacle is high and the comprehension is reasonably low. The most popular example is Street Fighter V, a game with such a huge eSports push that were it not for the pedigree of Street Fighter it would have looked even more forced than it already does. High damage, easy combos, and mechanics that encourage offense seem to be the blueprint for games like this.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t complex eSports games, but are any of them as successful as Street Fighter in eSports? Can any of them have a tournament as big as Capcom Cup by itself? Tekken would be a safe bet, but we’ve seen that it wasn’t up to par though it has improved from year to year. But no matter what game you think is the most popular, their biggest advantage was that they were offline under level conditions. An online tournament would eliminate all of that. Netplay will never be the same expereince as offline and those glaring differences will be seen on a grand scale. We’ve seen netplay tournaments before, but never on an EVO scale.

For a few of these games, this won’t matter too much. Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 are on their way commercially as support dries up. Even if they weren’t, they’re such a mainstay that they’re basically synonymous with the words “fighting game.” Each game has its selling points outside of that, but online play is vital. For people who play fighting games regularly, they usually endure it or don’t mind it much. However, eSports is an advertisement for the games on display with fighting games being near the bottom of that barrel. With that in mind, showing off how bad a key feature can be isn’t a good look.

In the end, I think will be a push for better netplay and for us to be finally done with delay-based netcode. Killer Instinct has it. Skullgirls has it. A slew of indie fighters has it. Why can’t these big-budget games do the same? GGPO is free and a damn good netcode. There’s no excuse to still be playing games that just freeze or feel like your input was done years ago. We deserve good netplay, and after EVO debuts this online tournament, I hope we get it.

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