The prestigious tournament series evolves with a new lineup of online events
This week, a new trailer debuted on Evo’s social media to promote the new Evo Online event, as alluded to in their press release on May 1st which announced the cancellation of the original Evo 2020 tournament. The trailer for Evo Online premiered on May 13th, 2020, and contained a bevy of information (which has not been elaborated on or updated on the official Evo website.)
Instead of taking place from July 31st to August 2nd, Evo Online has been split into several smaller events taking place on every weekend throughout the month of July (July 4th-5th, July 11th-12th, July 18th-19th, July 25th-26th, and concluding along the original July 31st-August 2nd weekend.) Eight of the nine titles in the original Evo 2020 lineup will have special online exhibition events: those titles being Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late(clr), Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Dragon Ball Fighterz, Tekken 7, Street Fighter V Champion Edition, Soulcalibur VI, Granblue Fantasy Versus, and Samurai Shodown, with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate being conspicuously absent. The main event has also been replaced with four open online brackets for games completely new to the Evo 2020 roster- for some, this is also the first time they have been at Evo proper. The four new games- Mortal Kombat 11 Aftermath, Killer Instinct, Them’s Fightin’ Herds, and Skullgirls 2nd Encore- are all titles well-renowned for featuring rollback-based netcode, which makes them better suited for large-scale online open brackets than the other Evo titles.
Much like how Evo 2020’s initial cancellation will have a lot of ramifications for the greater fighting game community, the structure and lineup of Evo Online also comes with its own set of implications. I mentioned before that of the original Evo roster, only two of the nine titles featured rollback netcode- those titles being Street Fighter V and the delisted Xbox Live release of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. The inclusion of open brackets for four rollback-based titles is a huge step in the right direction. For one thing, it shows that Evo’s team of event organizers are listening to community concerns regarding games with delay-based netcode. If big tournaments are going to run major online events, the priority should be that matches conducted over long, international distances should feel as stable as possible, ideally replicating the offline experience. These games are also all community favorites that have been vouched for by player and developer alike, meaning their reputation is worthy of being featured as a main event title.
Rollback-based netcode is often touted as being a solution for online matchmaking in fighting games that can closely simulate offline play, and anyone who has played these titles can attest to that. I myself have been playing Them’s Fightin’ Herds and Skullgirls with friends and random players across the country, and GGPO has assured that the experience is stable and feels seamless, with no input dropping or uncomfortable stuttering. Evo supporting indie developer titles like TFH and SG over rollback titles with name recognition or big developer support, like Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite is also a huge deal. Being an Evo title can be a selling point, and can also get more people back into the game if they already own it. Mike Z, the lead developer of Skullgirls, acknowledged that the concurrent player base for the Steam version of the game doubled after the Evo announcement. While the Skullgirls community’s relationship with Evo is an arduous one- its inclusion in Evo Online seeming like too little, too late for some- the platforming of the game at the biggest event of the year will ultimately bolster its growth.
On the other hand, the sudden exclusion of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from the Evo lineup, even as an exhibition title, has raised a few eyebrows, especially since there’s been no elaboration on the part of the event. This is not a net loss for the community or its events, and anybody in tune with the Smash scene can understand why Evo would drop the title from its roster. Being one of the biggest fighting games in the modern era, the detrimental effects of Smash’s delay-based netcode are felt on a wider scale, especially as other events move to online brackets. That being said, the netcode in Smash isn’t the absolute worst example of delay-based netcode on the original Evo 2020 lineup. That dubious honor likely goes to Samsho, whose PC releases consist of being either an exclusive Epic Games Store product or being played on the Google Stadia streaming service. Still, there are other likely reasons for Smash’s exclusion from Evo Online’s exhibition events, while Samsho gets to stay on the roster. Nintendo may not have allowed their game to be exhibited in an online event; SNK may have a greater partnership deal with Evo; the Evo staff may have heard the community’s negative perception of the Smash netcode after playing online exclusively for three months; or perhaps running online events for a whopping thirteen games was too ambitious, and Smash had to go to make room for the new open online brackets.
The drastic changes to the Evo Online lineup should also serve as a wakeup call to other fighting game developers that their titles require rollback-based netcode in order to function at events such as these. Capcom has already begun using its own proprietary rollback solution in titles like Street Fighter V; while SNK doesn’t use rollback in its modern titles, it has begun retrofitting old titles with netcode developed by Code Mystics as a testing ground; Arc System Works is developing its own rollback for the upcoming Guilty Gear Strive. This means that Bandai Namco is essentially the last holdout, as they are responsible for Tekken, Soulcalibur, and Smash in collaboration with Nintendo and Sora Ltd. The success of the Evo Online open brackets will hopefully demonstrate to Japanese fighting game developers that rollback-based netcode is essential for the online player experience.
More information about Evo Online has been promised, and the event itself will begin in about a month and a half. Ideally, players should expect details on what types of exhibition events will be run over the month of July, as well as how the online brackets will be managed. These same players are slowly adjusting to the premise of entering free weekly online events that service their local region but entering an event on the scale of Evo will be a different experience entirely. Also, games like Skullgirls don’t have large public lobbies for matchmaking, so it’s important to understand how players will be matched up together for the purposes of a large international bracket. Hopefully there will also be an official explanation regarding changes to the original lineup- although, personally, I would gladly trade any planned Smash event for the guarantee that there would be open brackets for games featuring rollback-based netcode. If Evo Online ends up being a successful event, it may even open up the possibility for more online events like it in the future, even after lockdown ends and offline events return.