COVID-19 and the suspension of offline events have taken a massive toll on the fighting game/Smash communities.
Exposing the lack of quality netcode most fighting games desperately need to maintain a semblance of competitive integrity, most of the tournaments have been relegated to casual matches with hefty prize pools on the line for those willing to endure the pain of playing a set of Smash Ultimate online.
During the last few days, the Ultimate community has been very vocal about the unacceptable online state the game boasts. At best, the delay is 12 frames - considering the native offline input delay plus the online base delay - and at worst, the game becomes so fundamentally different there's room for online-based tier lists.
Characters like Sheik, Joker, or Fox that rely on precision inputs are almost worthless in an online environment. Ledge trapping, and to an extent tech chasing, become impossible to execute on reaction, removing an important part of high-level Smash play - furthermore, the already campy nature of Ultimate gets exponentially more value since there's less room for reaction-based counterplay.
VoiD and MkLeo during the Genesis 6 grand finals (Credit: @Genesis_Smash)
Take for instance the set between Wrath vs Laid, maining two of the campiest and gimmicky characters in the entire game, Sonic and Pac-Man, they faced each other in a matchup that showcases how an atrocious online system can incentivize less than stellar gameplay.
Are the players to blame for the almost anti-competitive nature of their playstyle in the online landscape Ultimate allows? Of course not, at the end of the day, this is as good as it'll get in terms of competition for the foreseeable future - with substantial prize pools on the line, unless you're a top player entering tournaments for content's sake, this is your best shot at securing the bag.
For big personalities with decently sized followings, The Quarantine Series has been nothing more than fodder for their YouTube and Twitch channels. Guys like Leonardo "MkLeo" López,Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada, or William "Glutonny" Belaid, to name a few, are opting to treat the competitions as little more than a fun exercise - choosing secondaries, playing low-tiers, and outright going random.
This isn't the case for all top players, Enrique "Maister" Hernández for instance, has made a point of trying his best, investing money in better equipment to avoid the most amount of issues online tournaments inherently bring to the table, especially after he was criticized for possibly having connection issues last week.
"To avoid these kinds of problems with any other player, I decided that the best thing to do was to get an upgrade."
Regarding my situation with last week’s tournament, getting rumors cleared, since Pound Online is this weekend. pic.twitter.com/74Bi4qoDKX— SSG Maister (@Maister_SSB) April 24, 2020
The issue here is, it doesn't really matter what kind of money one puts into gear, internet, or other technical stuff. Sure, Maister is doing so because streaming is a priority to him, but getting a stable connection from Mexico City to any state in the United States will inevitably result in unhappiness, calamity, and frustration for everyone involved.
Moreso than what's happening in-game during these online competitions, which quite frankly, are irrelevant in and of themselves, The Quarantine Series has become a cesspool for obsessively pointing fingers at bad connections and stirring controversies over an inherently broken product.
The biggest one Pound has given us involved Grayson and Brian "Cosmos" Kalu. The R.O.B main beat Cosmos 2-0 during their bracket match, however, inconsistencies regarding Grayson's connection allegedly were impacting the performance of players during the set.
Speed tests were performed with both showing more than decent connections, with moderator Cagt revealing the results via social media
I would like to clarify the Cosmos vs Grayson situation:— Cagt (@Cagt3000) April 26, 2020
GAME 1: Grayson hosted the room, both players played out Game 1, but then brought up the lag. I then came in and did the following:
- Ask for LAN proof
- Ask for speedtest results
Left is Cosmos results, right is Grayson pic.twitter.com/5Nxo8x71cl
Despite replaying the set with Grayson once again coming out on top, Cosmos whining continued. Eventually, with no proper basis as to why, the T.Os decided to kick Grayson from the tournament entirely
When you pass a lag test, send your speed test and get approved, play tournament sets the day before with no lag, only to get dq'd because you were laggy 🙃— Grayson (@GraysonTCD) April 26, 2020
Looking at Melee side of things, a 2001 game with non-native online play functionalities that somehow is significantly better at it than its 2018 sequel, you can see an online bracket aching to what an offline one would - Zain Naghmi taking the whole thing with Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma coming in second. Household names like Justin "Plup" McGrath, Edgard "n0ne" Sheleby, or Zachary "Sfat" Cordoni managed Top 8 placements too.
The underlying problem with Melee's Pound event wasn't the online nature of the event, but rather that there was no region lock rules in place.
Plup gearing up for a tournament match (Credit: Panda Global)
During the match between Plup and SFAT, the Panda Global rep was constantly complaining about having "11 buffer", which in a game like Melee - especially playing Fox - can cause huge issues while trying to execute the incredibly precise inputs to effectively get the best out of the character.
These concerns escalate immensely when you add Ultimates already terribly designed online, with German pro Tarik being flamed by entering Pound while living in the EU, to the point he admitted to breaking down in tears from all the pressure he felt during his run.
I'm crying because of the fucking pressure i had.— CGN | Tarik (@TarikGekkouga) April 27, 2020
Idc if it's an excuse or anything, I just didnt want to play from the beginning i played losers semis.
I'm the reason online events get region locked
I'm being called a masher
I'm called a nobody
I'm getting fucking shitted on
So how do T.Os fix this? Nintendo's priorities certainly won't be solidifying online play anytime soon, and while The Quarantine Series is a community-driven effort with Twitch streamer Moistcr1tikal leading the charge, there's room for improvement and constructive criticism to be had.
The simplest immediate solution would be to region lock the next tournaments. Of course, there's an argument for them needing the visibility of the ZeRo's, Nairo's, or Hungrybox's regardless of location, so preventing any certain top player from participating will rub many the wrong way, and immediately cause a lot of disinterest.
Then again, you also have to consider the vast majority of players signing up for these tourneys, the ones looking to make a name for themselves during the quarantine, playing tryhard in every set they're in, and what kind of experience you're delivering to them as organizers.
Is it worth it to continuously ignore the fact that, potentially, a tournament with players from Mexico, Europe, and the USA will inevitably lead to anger and constant unnecessary drama over unfixable internet struggles?
Whatever the organizers decide to add to the mix, the concerns need to be addressed before issues keep escalating to a point where the goodwill of everyone involved gets devoured by the constant toxicity online competitions exude.