Guest Editorial – “The High Value of Netplay” by TFA BananaKen

By on December 9, 2011 at 10:08 pm
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The High Value of Netplay

by TFA BananaKen

It’s no secret that the arcade scene in the US is lacking. People in some cities may be blessed with awesome arcades and active players, but nowadays it’s somewhat of a commodity, and you just have to happen to be in the right place. As existing arcades are struggling or still experimenting for more sustainable business models, players are left wondering how they should improve and prepare for a tournament. Sure, we can always go to someone else’s home, but how often can you do that? How often can THAT person do that? With people’s schedules and circumstances constantly changing, at least there’s one thing that’s almost always available to you: netplay.

Though the US is lackluster in terms of internet connection speeds compared to the rest of the world, the quality and speed of said internet services are improving at a steady pace. If you’re one of the unlucky few to be stuck with an unstable 1mbps cable connection for $60/month (or no broadband at all!), you’re probably SOL. For everyone else, netplay is an option, and it’s a powerful tool.

For one, when you connect to XBox Live, you can easily find players with a relatively good connection to play against. This means that any time you want to play, it’s just a matter of turning on your xbox and letting the matchmaking do its magic. It seems innocent enough, right? I’ll use KOFXIII as an example, but this is meant to address fighting games and netplay in general. For someone like me who picked up KOFXIII, my first KOF game ever, just getting experience in the game is extremely valuable. I realize there’s issues with the game’s netplay, but it just means you have to be a little more restrictive when searching for opponents to fight. Even if I have to be a little more selective on who I play due to connection quality, I’ve already played over 300 matches online, and if I watch my first few matches from those 300, I probably wouldn’t recognize that it was me playing. Although the quality of the matches can’t be compared to playing offline, you can easily make up for this setback by being exposed to a wide variety of skill levels and playstyles, and the sheer number of matches you can play.

To a certain degree, it really doesn’t matter if there’s delay or not. For most fighting games, even with the presence of said delay, you are able to learn a lot of things. In a game like KOFXIII where you use 3 characters and fight different characters, you have to learn many matchups. That is to say, with each of your characters you should learn how to fight each of your opponent’s characters, how to punish moves on block, how to defend yourself, etc. After having played numerous matches, you can go back to training mode and find solutions to the most common causes for your losses. Then you can go back and do it again at your own leisure.

Reaction speed is affected in netplay, that’s for sure. However, you can make use of this by simply reacting faster. When you learn how to anti-air a jump, or punish a blocked move online consistently, this all but guarantees that you will get it offline as well. Obviously you can’t apply this concept to everything, because there are scenarios where the reaction time required is very close to human limits, in which case you will just end up doing an educated guess instead. An example of this is in Tekken 6, where it’s very commonplace to make split-second decisions like throw breaks or detecting the starting animation of a low move and blocking it on time. Games like Tekken heavily emphasize these situations, which unfortunately makes the game unsuitable for netplay. At first, switching from online to offline and vice-versa took me a long time, but it steadily became easier to make the “switch”, to the point where it only took me a few minutes to get the timing down for the things I have learned while playing online.

Following that train of thought, it’s easy to get frustrated while playing online, simply because you will try to do things that you know would work offline, but fail online. Additionally, it’s easy to develop bad habits from playing online simply because you can get accustomed to playing under laggy conditions. You will do things you normally wouldn’t do because it’s easily punishable offline, for example. This is where offline play comes in!

When you play offline, you start to understand what works and what doesn’t work against other players. You have to keep this in perspective in order for online play to help you improve as a player. You have to be able to recognize what strategies work in what environment; you can’t just blindly repeat what you do online in a tournament. There really is no shortcut to this: you have to put time into it and practice. I can guarantee that the more you play online, the more you will learn new things and the more you will improve, but you must have the discipline to “filter” the things you learned online to work in an offline scenario.

I know firsthand that playing online can be frustrating at times, but thanks to online play being so convenient by nature, it allows you to take on a different strategy for improving as a player. Every time I play hundreds of matches online I’ll have many moments where I get frustrated because I know I can do better than what the conditions allow me to do, but if I swallow my pride and press on I never regret it a single time. It’s a very rewarding experience when you notice how much you’ve improved and how you can defeat opponents you couldn’t touch before, and it only makes me want to become even stronger.

“TFA Banana Ken is a member of The Fighters Alliance, whose team strives to represent the best fighting game players in the Midwest and compete at a national level. You can find out more about the team and what they have to say at The Fighters Alliance website.”

[The views expressed in this article belong to the author and may not represent the views of Shoryuken.com as a whole] [Image via SureYouCanFight]