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EVO Online's decision to limit open tournaments to titles with great netcode is a bold message to fighting game developers

Hopefully it pays off

Posted by Dakota 'DarkHorse' Hills • May 17, 2020 at 12:10 p.m. PDT • Comments: 35

When news first dropped that EVO 2020 was cancelled and EVO Online would be taking its place, the FGC's immediate concern jumped to how the mainstage games would hold up considering none of them are known for their strong netplay capabilities.

The organizers behind EVO essentially side-stepped that issue completely, however, this week when they announced that none of those titles would be part of the open tournaments for EVO Online with those honors going instead to four fighting games championed by the community for their netcode prowess.

Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath, Killer Instinct, Skullgirls 2nd Encore and Them's Fightin' Herds will seemingly be the only widespread events for players to join for EVO Online, and all of them have one thing in common: well-implemented rollback netcode.

Without reading the minds of people like the Cannons and Mr. Wizard, we probably won't know the exact decision process about why this move was made, but the community at large saw it as a message that their needs were being heard. It probably helps though that Tony Cannon made GGPO in the first place.

Longtime EVO staples like Street Fighter 5 and Tekken 7 will still be present, but the majority of players will be taking part in a game that came out back in 2013, one that came out in 2012 (which was essentially snubbed for an EVO mainstage title during its release), an indie fighting game that's only available on PC, and / or a game that was surprisingly left off of the original 2020 lineup.

There's no way to know for sure at this point, but it's probably safe to assume that open online brackets for those mainstage games would have bigger draws for both player and viewer numbers. Instead of that, however, the organizers appear to have prioritized quality for all parties involved over pure number metrics which is pretty bold when they already technically had a lineup set and ready.

EVO is the largest stage for fighting games as a whole every year which typically brings in thousands of players and hundreds of thousands of viewers, many of which aren't usually that invested in the genre outside of these world-class events.

EVO Online will be a different beast split up across five weeks, but the lack of offline eSports events as a whole this year will still point a spotlight on the FGC during that time.

The "boldest" move is of course the removal of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from the EVO lineup after the game was the most-entered game in 2019 and was shaping up to repeat the feat for 2020.

No info is available as to whether that decision came down to Nintendo, EVO or a combination of the two, but you know things are bad when the players are fine or even happy that their game won't be at EVO.

Smash Ultimate is considered to have the worst netplay out of all of the mainstage titles which is compounded by the extra hoops players need to jump through to play over a wired connection on the Nintendo Switch.

This isn't a slap to the face or anything for the likes of Capcom, SNK and Bandai Namco considering their games are still present, but the hope for many right now is that it'll open the eyes to the importance of great netplay in modern fighters — especially during a time when offline events are not possible.

Delay-based netcode can be fine over shorter distances and in the perfect circumstances, but the problem is it often times falls apart once players are too far from each other or have a less-than-optimal connections which applies to most of the world outside of southeast Asia.

Western developers have already embraced the ways of rollback when even small titles like Fight of Animals have GGPO, but it is fair to point out that Japan is not asleep at the wheel here anymore.

Arc System Works, for example, is implementing rollback for Guilty Gear Strive following a long, internal debate within the studio while many of SNK's classic roster of fighters are being updated with hybrid netcode thanks to the magic of Code Mystics.

These teams do seem to be more aware of the player benefits of having great netplay though we have yet to see that put into action with a flagship fighter yet.

Games like Skullgirls and Killer Instinct have lasted longer with a steady playerbase years and years after release largely because their online matches hold up much better than the competition.

It's also important to nail good rollback as well, as one of the most consistent complaints about Street Fighter 5 the past four years has been its issues with one-sided rollbacks leading to jumpy, unenjoyable matches. Again we don't know and can't really know, but that may have been the determining factor to why the game doesn't have an open bracket for EVO Online.

The better the netcode is the wider the available player pool will be with more people having playable matches over longer distances and a variety of connections.

Rollback itself isn't without its flaws considering the tech powering the netcode is almost 14 years old at this point from a time when features like cross-platform play were likely not even a thought in pretty much any developers' minds.

"It's 2020 and about time more resources go into making a strong and sustainable online feature set than we've seen in the previous two generations where not much has changed overall for the biggest names in fighting games like Tekken and Super Smash Bros."

We're soon to move over into the next generation of video games with consoles like PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X on the horizon, so fighting game developers are going to need direction as to where they want to take the genre in the coming years and which features to focus on.

It's 2020 and about time more resources go into making a strong and sustainable online feature set than we've seen in the previous two generations where not much has changed overall for the biggest names in fighting games like Tekken and Super Smash Bros.

EVO Online is scheduled to run every weekend from July 4–5 to the originally planned dates of July 31 through August 2.

Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Samurai Shodown, Granblue Fantasy: Versus, Soul Calibur 6, Tekken 7 and Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r] will be featured for exhibitions and special events.

More information about registration for the event and how those games will be handled will be detailed in the coming weeks.

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