Fighting game tournaments move online with staggering prize pools due to erasure of organized offline tournaments in wake of COVID-19 social restrictions

Tekken 7 is one of the games facing the online tournament dilemma where the netcode for stable connectivity is questionable, yet it’s all fans have to rely on during the pandemic. (Dylan Robinson/Lariat)

The fighting game community moves towards online-fronted tournaments through each game’s inherent online infrastructure to offset the no large gatherings orders many states in North America have enforced in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since tournaments in person usually consist of a good 30 to 150 attendees on just a local scale for a weekly tournament, these are no longer possible under not only California’s restrictions, but many other states in the nation as a whole, not even counting other countries. Players now are making use of a given game’s online functionalities to host these same tournaments online.

As coronavirus restrictions continue looming over the larger world inhibiting basic amenities and events, gamers everywhere continue to prosper as they play on as normal without ever having to step foot beyond the threshold of their front door. Online gaming in particular helps with connecting in a way not afforded by current state restrictions for social interaction.

Many huge annual offline tournaments this year have already been cancelled such as Capcom’s Pro Tour series’ Brussels Challenge tournament, Combo Breaker 2020 in Illinois and NorCal Regionals 2020. Alex Jebailey, host of the Florida-based CEO tournament series has rescheduled CEO 2020 to later this year on Dec. 11-13th from the initial June 26-28th plans in hopes the pandemic would subside by then.

Fighting games have always thrived in offline tournament environments where local and international competitors alike attend to test their skills against the other competitors. Offline play is best suited for fighting games as strict inputs and reactionary skill are valued above all else in these games making responsiveness paramount.

When resulting to playing these games online response times are slashed and many factors players are accustomed to offline are now subject to interference. Even when speed tests are conducted and your sparring partner assures you that they “have” a wired connection through ethernet connectivity, online infrastructures present new hiccups not often encountered online due to having to deal with netcode and peer-to-peer connections in some games.

In a video detailing how messy wi-fi is for gaming, Skullgirls developer Mike Zaimont showcases how GGPO (a rollback network “designed specifically to hide network latency in fast paced, twitch style games which require very precise inputs” as taken from still displays lost packets between two players otherwise good connections thanks to packets lost when actions are performed causing the system to kick-in making the precise frames match on each other’s display of the same game on their computer.

This is all to say: wi-fi is toiling on a mere fighting game’s fickle back when trying to show you the cool stuff in an online match.

Despite all the negativity surrounding online fighting games and to the dismay of many dedicated players, tournaments have completely moved online for better or for worse and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate leads the charge as the title with the most backing support behind it. Community player numbers of 8,700 and prize pools of $20 thousand and $10 thousand speak for themselves.

Hosted by content creators Alpharad and Critikal and livestreamed on Twitch, the Quarantine Series of tournaments targets letting usual offline competitors still attempt double elimination brackets now in an online format to comply with the current events. 

Each minor tournament in the series offers five thousand dollars up for grabs while each major puts $10 thousand on the line. The grand finale tournament capping the series off may offer up to $50 thousand alone.

These prize pools are brought together thanks to contribution collaborations between Critikal, Alpharad and volunteering companies adding to the collective pot. $10 thousand alone in the Smash Ultimate community is usually unheard of as prize pools remain small with the largest pots ever consisting of $51,995 for an invitational tournament of select top players and $35,340 for a general attendance tournament. Most prize pools at smaller tournaments like MomoCon 2019 and Thunder Smash 3 only ever reach $10 thousand alone, having to split among the top eight placing competitors.

In the first major of the Quarantine Series with 32 select attendees, a player named Kola based out of Georgia took home first place and a cut of the $10 thousand on the line in addition to his previous victory in the pre-Quarantine Series tournament held by Critikal tilted the Soaked Series Invitational where he secured his initial winnings of $10 thousand.

In the following minor tournament BestNess won first place and a cut of the five thousand dollar prize pool and the next week Cosmos won the Pound 2020 Online tournament in the series fighting for a pot of five thousand dollars as well.

Massive prize pools do not mean much for some players as the frustration of playing online outweighs the potential income. Samsora, the second highest ranked player in the world on the public Panda Gaming Rankings scale sat out Pound 2020 Online for his previous experiences in the past online tournaments were not enjoyable citing unenjoyment whenever approaching the game’s online mode.

Twitter saw the trending hashtag of “FixUltimateOnline” surging on April 23rd with many noting their disapproval of the game’s online modes and poor connectivity due to lacking modern features such as the previously mentioned GGPO. It reached many players on Twitter for the past week with Smash personality accounts reaching thousands of likes and retweets in the name of shouting into the void that is otherwise known to them as developer Nintendo’s willingness to comment and further address.

During the Pound 2020 Online tournament Cosmos even experienced latency during his bracket run in a match against a competitor Grayson where it was ruled that Grayson must be disqualified out of the winner’s bracket after a tough decision of staff member Cagt. This afforded Cosmos the win who both him and Grayson had to submit an internet speedtest over when Cosmos said he had experienced lag interfering with his ability in the match resulting in losses.

Cagt admits it was a difficult ruling that was pressed for time offering Grayson a compensated trip to any offline event of his choosing once tournaments resume usual functioning post-pandemic. 

Other games beyond Smash Ultimate have moved online as well such as Mortal Kombat 11 and Street Fighter 5 focusing on recreating the weekly offerings of tournaments held by Wednesday Night Fights in Santa Ana. Episode 7 for Wednesday Night Fights Online begins April 29th offering Street Fighter 5, Samurai Shodown, Granblue Fantasy: Versus, Tekken 7 and Soul Calibur VI to name a few, with many more episodes planned for Wednesdays to come.

The Fighting Game Community continues to adapt to the times for assuring their games fostered communities aren’t halted in the wake of the coronavirus. While offline may be compromised and events are canceled or postponed, the community as a whole remains adamant in keeping their fights regularly scheduled as possible, even despite a few hadouken mis-inputs.