2020 has been a tough year for esports, but while we have seen esports like League of Legends achieve record numbers, the same can’t be said for the Fighting Game Community. There have been far fewer official online tournaments this year following the fallout from the EVO Online, and big tournament organisers have struggled to fit competitive tournaments around the global pandemic.
That isn’t to say that these games don’t have a community though. Smaller tournaments are still able to run, as Jon ‘dekillsage’ Coello from Evil Geniuses tells The Loadout. Over the last year, the fighting game professional has turned his hand to Dragon Ball FighterZ, Skullgirls, and a few others.
We sat down with him and talked about the problems that professional fighting game players face, how the FGC has adapted, and how teams like Evil Geniuses have supported their players. We also discussed at length about why delay-based netcode and badly implemented netcode in general harms the competitive scene and how Good Game Peace Out implementation can be a massive step in the right direction.
The Loadout: Let’s begin with this year, because it’s been a very strange one for everyone. What would you say has been the biggest problem within the FGC outside of COVID-19?
Dekillsage: When it comes to finding tournaments, that’s not really that big of an issue. We have a tonne of organisers. So for example on the East Coast, you have Spooky who runs tournaments once a week for a bunch of different games, Bum163 has a Dragon Ball FighterZ tournament twice a week, and in Europe you have Damascus who runs exhibitions for the European players.
So running tournaments themselves isn’t the issue. It’s more the games themselves because they don’t have good netcode.
Yeah, there have been similar complaints actually about certain fighting games just not having the infrastructure in place for online play. Would you say that the games that you play specifically are like examples of that? Dragon Ball FighterZ has delay-based netcode. Could you give a brief summary of what that is?
When you connect to another player, you’re sending your inputs back and forth, and the internet, unless you have fibre-optic broadband or something similar, is never gonna be consistent.
So there are going to be times where it takes a little longer for you to reach the person you’re playing. Whenever that happens, the input delay increases, which means it takes longer for the button you push to come out in-game, which makes the game feel laggy.
I have not participated in as many tournaments as I would have liked to
What rollback does is it makes it so that you never have that issue where your inputs lag – your inputs will always come out when you push it consistently. If your inputs don’t match up with what your opponent was doing at the time, it’ll go backwards and replay what should have happened.
But the reason why matches don’t just like teleport back and forth every few seconds is because it guesses the last thing you did. So if I was walking forward, the game is going to assume that I’m still walking forward on the next frame. So if I’m doing that, and it rolls back, it is not gonna go backwards, because I thought I was gonna do it, if that makes sense.
It makes the game feel like you’re playing offline, adding a level of consistency that you can practice with. With delay-based netcode, there’s a constant change in the timing, so you can’t even practice consistently. That’s what makes it really difficult to play.
I have seen a couple of games attempting to simulate rollback netcode or like simulate delay-based netcode. Is that useful for practicing for this sort of tournament environment where it’s all online now or are other still issues with that?
So if a game has rollback netcode, in my opinion, it cannot emulate offline play. But it is the perfect way to get practice when you don’t have a scene in your area, or if you can’t travel, or if you want to compete in online tournaments and want to be semi-legitimate.
There are examples of this happening. Killer Instinct is a game that came out a long time ago, but the best players in that game all play online. They can practice with each other online because the game is consistent and it just feels good to play. For Mortal Kombat 11, Dominique ‘SonicFox’ McLean is the best in that game, but then the following best players are online warriors. Jarrad ‘Ninjakilla’ Gooden didn’t go to tournaments for who knows how long, he just played online. Because the online is good in those games, you can actually become a strong player without having to spend hundreds of dollars to go out and travel. It can be a legitimate way to practice, if you have the decent netcode to do it.
With this year, because of how things are, have you found yourself competing in tournaments less and less now everything’s online?
I have not participated in as many tournaments as I would have liked to. I participated in a couple of Dragon Ball FighterZ tournaments, but there is honestly no satisfaction in competing. The quality of play, no matter how good it looks on stream is absolutely awful, and it doesn’t even feel good to play. It’s not fun or rewarding.
So I don’t really play it that much. I know I’m in the Dragon Ball nationals, but that is more so for the community and for the love of the game to get back, not because I want to. I don’t get the satisfaction of putting competing into practice, to make it worth something, because I can’t really get into a game with delay-based netcode.
Would you say that being online is the main contributing factor to that? Do you feel like you lose something with a tournament not being offline?
Think of it this way: when offline exists, there are major tournaments and local tournaments. A lot of local tournaments are for practice. They don’t really mean anything – you win a small amount of money, and you can get a little bit of satisfaction winning against your local players, but the whole point is to get stronger as a player and as a region.
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Now, you can do that online, and when the netcode is good, it should be good enough to practice. But when it’s not good, it isn’t, so local tournaments are the best option.
There are a lot of benefits to playing online as well. So for example, there are players we don’t know about, and that’s the only way we’re gonna get to know them about them. So for example, there was a player from Florida who was pretty good. He won a lot of online tournaments, so a lot of people know who he is. Players from my region got invited to the Online Nationals, getting recognition from players around the world.
You’re now seeing local guys from my region that people would never have known about otherwise, so being online does have its benefits. It’s just that when it comes to practicing,, it’s a huge struggle.
There are programmes out there like Parsec, which I know that some streamers have used in order to play certain games together. But for certain games where the netcode is not up to scratch, would you say that programs like Parsec can help alleviate some of the concerns for online tournaments?
Parsec is nice for practice, but there are a lot of problems with it. In order to get parties to work, people have to host cloud servers so they can play the game together. That adds consistency, so you get rollback with a consistent input delay. But that costs money as you need multiple clouds. It is a nightmare for running tournaments.
It’s good for playing matches, but even then you can only play within your region, because the further away you are from the server or your friend who hosts on his computer, the more input delay you get.
Since the pandemic started, I've gotten all the help that I've needed [from Evil Geniuses], and my audience is growing
The problem was solved with GGPO a long time ago. It gets your inputs to people in a way that allows them to consistently practice, and it allows you to connect with more people. That’s the biggest thing that rollback gives you, that delay-based can never give you, and Parsec will never give you.
Why do you think that GGPO is not adopted as widely as delay-based netcode or a developer’s own take on rollback?
I don’t know how companies in Japan think when it comes to implementing something like GGPO. People have said many things, like that they don’t think it’s worth the investment. Pride is also a thing. There is no excuse for them to not use it, especially since it’s now free to use. You just have to learn how to implement it. Difficulty implementing rollback netcode is, to me, also a poor excuse. Like if it’s gonna be difficult, but it makes your game amazing, then just do it. I’m gonna buy the game. I want to play it. I don’t understand how a company will want to release the game when we can’t even play it.
How has Evil Geniuses supported its FGC players throughout the pandemic, and what support have you received from EG?
Oh, EG has been amazing. During these times, there’s no competition. So what are we gonna do?
Well people in EG are being asked to be better content creators, and asked how to make their Twitch bigger. Since the pandemic started, I’ve gotten all the help that I’ve needed, and my audience is growing.
It would be nice if we had everything, like a good online infrastructure. You could run leagues, you could run beginner tournaments. If I participate in an exhibition match with someone from Europe while playing from the East Coast, I don’t have to leave my house. I don’t have to fly to France, and be too tired to play against a European player.
When I play Skullgirls, which I’ve played since 2014. My training partners have come from Europe, Canada, Mexico, and also in parts of the US like the Midwest and California. In a game with delay-based netcode, I don’t even play with the players who live in my city!
Wow. Yeah, that’s a massive contrast. Skullgirls is a game that you have a long history with. What keeps you coming back?
Skullgirls is my favourite fighting game. I love the game, and competition or not, I would probably still play the game. I can legitimately say I play Skullgirls 100% for fun. Of course, I have that competitive feeling – I want to be really good, so I do get mad when I lose – but I love the game because I can play with anyone from Europe to Canada and beyond.
It’s nice to see that an indie game such as Skullgirls is one of the ones that has resonated with you as much as it has. It also seemed to resonate quite a lot with the organisers of EVO when it decided that this year’s tournament was going to be digital. Obviously, things happened and it didn’t go ahead. But do you reckon if it had gone ahead that many people would have watched Skullgirls at EVO, perhaps picking up the game as a result?
It probably would have been the break we needed to be honest. Things have been going pretty downhill, not just with everything that’s been going on. The announcement alone got interest super high. The amount of new players we got was insane. So I can only imagine what would have happened if they saw the top eight play.
Would you have competed?
Uhh, no. I have my own personal gripes with EVO that I will keep to myself.
But it sucked because I wanted to support the game so badly, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it with EVO, not even for that game, because of what it’s done to the game in the past.
That’s fair enough. Do you reckon that there is an appetite for older games such as Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Street Fighter III: Third Strike, perhaps even Capcom vs. SNK 2?
I think, for old fighting games, when it comes to esports themselves, it’s pretty difficult. I don’t think there’s any issue with having a thriving competitive scene for any of those games, In our city, Third Strike had weekly tournaments. You can have a scene for any game because the players who own the game will keep playing it.
When it comes to turning into an esport, I think the only old fighting game that did it is Super Smash Bros. Melee, and it’s hard to explain why. To be honest, this pisses me off,and I think about it all the time. I’m like, ‘how do I get Skullgirls to have 500 players in a major?’ The only thing I can think of is that we have to get new players who want to play because they like the game, not because they want to play esports.
If you want to do esports related things for fighting games, you’re kind of stuck with the modern games.
So going on to games that aren’t even out yet, have you have you kept up with any announcements for Guilty Gear Strive?
The only thing I want from that game is proof that a new game from Arc System Works can have good online, proof that they don’t have to use the delay-based netcode, or that their rollback is not like Street Fighter V. I want the game to be successful so more companies will say ‘oh, this is good.We need to improve this and just do it for all our games’. That’s all I want.
All I really want from fighting games is just to enjoy them and not have to tell my friend, who lives in my same state, that I can't play with them
Arc System Works makes some beautiful games, I’m not gonna lie. Other than that, I don’t know what they’re doing half the time. I don’t know how Dragon Ball came out in 2018 – if you compare the training mode back then and how it is now, it’s comedy! It didn’t even have a tutorial!
I also can’t believe Granblue came out and had delay-based netcode as well. I also don’t understand the training mode since it doesn’t tell you the frame data. I really don’t know what they’re doing.
Arc System Works just needs to give us the bare minimum that we have established is needed. All we want is a good online, a good training mode, and then the game will play out itself and then we’ll be fine. Skullgirls did it and that cost $15!
If you had a dream fighting game idea, and you could assign any developer to make it, what would it be and how would you make it essential viewing?
Oh my goodness! I don’t know if you’ve heard of Aquapazza, but the idea behind that game is you have one point character (Dekillsage later describes this as the ‘point character’, which is the one you control) and then a dedicated assist character. The point character would do their nonsense combos, and then you push the assist button and the assist character would come out and do one of a number of things.
I really like team games, but I really like point characters with assists and I would make the whole game revolve around that. But I’m not gonna lie dude, I would not trust any fighting game companies right now with it. I will wait a little bit longer.
All I really want from fighting games is just to enjoy them and not have to tell my friend, who lives in my same state, that I can’t play with them.