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Picture this: You’re heading to your local. It’s the first time they’re running the latest version of [your favorite fighting game], and you are ready. You’ve been watching the streams and labbing your heart out since you picked it up (a couple days early, from the local spot), and you started grinding ranked netplay as soon you could. When you get to the venue, you sit down and sandbag a few casuals on your secondary, because you’re saving your primo shit for the tournament.
It’s not until your first real match that you realize that everything feels wrong. Your pokes are getting punished, your setups are getting stuffed, and everything you’re doing is just a little short and a little late. You hadn’t anticipated how much the game changes when you take it offline, and now you’re second-guessing every button you press. Congratulations, you netplayed yourself. (If this story sounds familiar, you owe me a retweet.)
Fighting games came relatively late to the Internet multiplayer scene, and with pretty good reason — they’re a lot worse when they’re laggy. But most folks can’t get in offline games every day, nor do they have access to a local scene with as many unique opponents as they can find on the Internet. So while netplay can be a real powerful tool for your training toolbox, you’ll need to prepare to change some stuff up when you take it offline. But what do you have to change?
When you’re trying to solve a fighting game problem, one of the first things you need to figure out is whether you’re in a situation that requires you to make a read or pass a reaction test. When you get hit by an overhead, for example, it’s important to know if you got hit because you guessed wrong, or because you failed to react in time, because the next time it comes you’ll need to be ready to do one or the other. But the difference between a read and reaction can often just be a couple of frames.
Netplay adds a delay that eats into the time you get to see something, decide on a response, and execute it, and that changes the nature of a lot of fighting game interactions from reactions to reads. In Street Fighter, footsies feels more like an exchange of educated guesses, and anti-airs and throw techs are far harder to do consistently. In Guilty Gear, neutral loses a lot of its nuance and subtlety, because high-percentage buttons and high-reward aggressive plays are harder to punish with patience and precision.
In any given situation, a couple frames turning a reaction into a read might not seem like a big deal, but when these frames affect every situation in the game, it starts to have profound effects on how people play it. Setplay gets a lot stronger, defense a lot weaker, and that means matches will often feel like rounds just go to whoever gets an early advantage. You’ll learn to swing more and swing bigger because it’ll pay off, and if you’re not careful, you’ll take those bad habits offline.
Personally, I get a lot more netplay in than I do offline play, so I’ve been trying to make a couple conscious adaptations in both modes. My recommendations:
- Make sure to consistently put in training mode time just hammering down your core combos and mixups so you can feel confident in your offline execution. This is particularly important for combos that require you to use visual cues to time your inputs, because the cue will be earlier or later depending on lag.
- Pay attention to which of your tools are more effective online, and get used to using them less. Expect that your overheads will be blocked on reaction, your jump-ins will be anti-aired, your throws teched, and so on.
- Likewise, know which moves are less effective online and get used to using them more. If you can anti-air them online, it’ll feel even easier offline — which is where it matters. Tactics which bait reactions out of your opponent, like whiffing buttons to get your opponent to jump or counterpoke, will often go unnoticed in online play because they don’t have enough time to see your fake, so you’ll need to practice them offline against local players.
- Movement and spacing are both easier to keep track of in local play, so if you use a lot of high-commitment movement in neutral — jumps, dashes, that kind of stuff — they will all be a lot riskier offline.
- Players handle risks differently when the stakes get higher. Doing a wakeup DP is easy when you’re making the same decision over hundreds of games in matchmaking, and you’ll get another game whether the DP lands or not. When you’re in losers at a tournament you had to drive two hours for, that wakeup DP will be a lot heavier a decision to make.
- If you don’t play long sets, online or off, your game is going to feel shallow. When you’re optimizing for best 2 of 3, you only need a couple variations of any given mixup or pattern to take the game, and when you’re just churning through dozens of different opponents it can be hard to remember each player’s quirks and habits. But if you go to your locals consistently, you’ll play a lot of the same people, and if you don’t go deeper you’ll get downloaded.
- This might be obvious, but: Play as many offline games as you can. Try to get in lots of casuals when you go to locals, invite people over for offline sessions, get your roommate to play, whatever. Everyone who plays online has to make adjustments just like you have to, and once you get good at making those adjustments, you can go between the two seamlessly, using online games to test stuff out for your next offline session, see how it works, and generate new stuff to test. The more you play offline, the faster you’ll get to iterate and learn.
It would be real convenient if fighting game netplay didn’t suck! Then we could play these games whenever we had a spare moment without having to go to a place and interact with people. But it turns out that having to go to a place and interact with people is actually a critical part of what makes fighting games cool, because it gets us to hang out with people we probably wouldn’t be hanging out with otherwise. So focus your netplay grind on stuff that’ll help you play offline, and go to your locals with your head held high. (That way they’ll never see your netplay overhead coming.)
Thanks for reading!