As of this writing it seems that nearly every in-person FGC event scheduled within the next month is canceled or operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19 containment measures. For people who play fighting games, not playing in-person is a matter of global health, not just for us but for our friends and family.
Don’t mash on coronavirus. It’s hugely plus on block and will fuck you and those you care about on counter hit. Take the throw by practicing social distancing and ease back into small local sessions as the infection curve flattens.
Now, staying home doesn’t mean you can’t level up, of course. There are lots of strong players out there who came up on netplay (including the strongest NA Guilty Gear player, shoutouts to Lost Soul). If anything, training under adverse or suboptimal conditions is a chance to change up your practice routine so you can come back to your locals stronger than ever. Or at least, stronger than the folks who spent their downtime playing FFXIV.
Netplay doesn’t have to suck
My favorite fighting game sessions usually involve homies, snacks, and banter, and mashing on a netplay matchmaking queue will always feel bad by comparison — you may be able to play the game, but you don’t get any of the trappings that make it good. It’s like Thanksgiving with just the turkey. Netplay sucks, but it can suck less if you’re willing to put in a little bit more effort to make it more social.
Instead of grinding games in the queue against randos, set up a time to play with a group — your homies, people from FGC Discord and FB groups, etc. — and set up a space where you can easily talk on voice or text chat. Fighting games are a conversation, and netplay without chatter is like communicating in pantomime.
Once you’ve got that set up, you can add some music to the mix with a group music service like plug.dj to add a little extra ambiance to the hangout, and crack into some of your quarantine snack supplies. You’ve got yourself a legit netplay and chill session without having to leave your home setup, and all of you can complain about bullshit netplay tactics together. (Don’t forget to adjust for netplay so you don’t come out of the Hyperbolic Time Chamber with hella netplay habits though).
As a bonus, you can stream all this to help share the good vibes with others who can’t join you. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from streaming netplay over the past year and a half, it’s that the biggest draw of a stream is just being able to feel like you’re hanging out with someone, and a lot of people are going to need that in the coming weeks. Your netplay session might just make it easier for someone else to stay safe, too.
Level up your training mode routine
When I was early in my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu learning career I had the good luck to train with Steve Maxwell, a longtime strength and fitness instructor who is also one of the early BJJ black belts in the United States. He is somewhat notorious for being extraordinarily dedicated to maintaining his active routine while also being an inveterate wanderer, and as a result he’s developed an amazing eye for developing rigorous workouts using whatever he’s got available, whether it’s improvised DIY workout gear or using the landscape itself as a workout tool. If you think of your fighting game practice as an opportunity to set up tests for yourself to overcome, then staying at home is simply another chance to change up your training mode routine.
When you’re playing by yourself, your offense and defense will benefit the most from deliberate study. I highly recommend watching match videos and taking notes on situational combos, setups, hit confirms, and pressure strings, trying them yourself, and using the dummy recording feature to practice defending against them so you can see where the holes are. It takes a little more work than just beating up a training mode dummy, but once you get into the habit of practicing against a dummy it’ll feel good to be able to repeat the same situations over and over until you can get it right. Once you’ve got some new combos and strings in your arsenal, set the dummy to random block and practice your on-hit and on-block scenarios until you can seamlessly convert into your preferred paths for any given situation.
Neutral is a bit harder to practice by yourself because this aspect of fighting games is where the CPU is the most lacking, so I recommend breaking it down into smaller chunks: namely, button interactions and movement. You can study button interactions by taking note of pokes that give you trouble, setting the CPU to repeat the attack, and experimenting with different attacks at different timings and ranges to see which of your tools work best in any given situation. For movement, I like setting the dummy to max level CPU and practicing dodging and avoiding their attacks without attacking back. Without a human opponent, you won’t be able to practice moving and attacking at the same time too well, but if you practice them in isolation you’ll have an easier time putting them together in your next Vs. session.
Also: While you’re doing this, make sure you don’t limit yourself to just your main character — too many fighting game players are over-focused on learning to play their character that they don’t spend enough time learning to play the game. If you can learn another character enough to replicate their combos and setups in training mode, you’ll be better equipped to practice on your own and more familiar with that character’s tools the next time you play against them.
Play games with rollback netcode
Fighting game consumers are generally in a pretty shitty situation compared to other game genres because the companies that have the most popular IPs generally have not managed to build high-quality rollback netcode, and if someone has to choose between their favorite characters and a quality online experience, they’ll generally choose the characters and suffer through the lag.
Now is a fantastic time to try out new games with better netcode than the stuff you’re used to. Even if you don’t plan on sticking with a game long-term or playing competitively, getting into new fighting games will make you better at fighting games overall. It’s good practice teaching your hands to do new things, learn new systems and mechanics, and explore unfamiliar communities. Think of it like learning a language; you’ll find some that you want to go deep on and others where you’d just like to learn enough for basic conversation, and each time you try a new one it’ll be a bit easier than the one that came before it.
Some recommendations for games to try:
- Code Mystics has rollback netcode in their ports for Samurai Shodown V Special, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and King of Fighters ’97. All of these games are super rad and pretty easy to pick up and start playing.
- Pocket Rumble is a cool Neo Geo Pocket-inspired fighting game with fairly simple inputs and really interesting characters.
- If you don’t already have Skullgirls, go get it!
- Killer Instinct on PC / Xbox One not only has excellent netcode, it also has an amazing learning resource in the KI Guide by Infil.
- Anime players, respect your roots and pick up the Melty Blood community edition (preferably after you’ve supported French Bread by buying the official release on Steam). Out of all the games on this list, this is the one I’m planning on cracking into first.
- Get some shmup in your fighting game with Touhou 7.5: Suimusou — Immaterial and Missing Power. Don’t forget the rollback caster for this.
- Rising Thunder Community Edition is still alive and kicking! Check the Discord to get started.
- No fighting game player’s PC should ever be without a working Fightcade setup. Play the classics and get ready for the next mystery tournament!
If you’re already playing these games, do the rest of us a favor and teach us how to play! Get your stream on and spread the gospel of Jackie Chan in Fists of Fire or whatever.
Please for the love of god just down-back
Real talk: This shit is scary as hell and the only way to minimize the human cost is to be responsible and safe. It’s already bodying our locals and fucking up our grassroots event organizers, and we’re only just now getting into the peak tournament season. I really don’t want to see FGC friends and family obituaries over the next few months. Do what you gotta do to take care of yourself and those around you, and hopefully we’ll be stronger for it when we come out the other side.
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