This is a series of posts that I would like to write to share my thoughts on fighting games in general, with a focus on how I look at things and just some random observations that I may have throughout my time fighting. While I cannot say that I am an accomplished fighter, it can't hurt to get your ideas out there and spark up a conversation. It could very well end up leading to either you or me learning something in the process, so let's go ahead and get started!!!
The very first topic I'd like to discuss is one that is hotly debated amongst the up-and-comers of FGs, and that's online play. With the current generation of consoles, online play has become a pillar of fighting games, allowing people to get those casual matches with strangers in for free, rather than popping a few quarters in a machine at your local arcade. Plus, you were able to play anyone in the world, vastly improving the player base you have available to you at any moment. The result is more people playing a wider variety of characters and styles outside of the larger majors such as EVO. It's a practically a no-risk way for you to get beaten up, recover from the lumps, and go back and hopefully run it back the next time you come across your opponent.
But does it lead to improvement in your play? Are online matches a viable way to improve and should they count the same way as offline matches do? Those are rather tricky questions to answer, and I feel that some of you will be a little bit upset about what I have to say on the subject. Let's get one thing out of the way right away. Lag is always an issue. That's the bottom line. No matter how good or bad the connection is at least on your end, it's rather difficult to say that the other person is experiencing the same thing as you. That 1 or 2 frame delay in inputs could be the difference between a reaction gone right or wrong. No matter how you slice it, it's an inconsistent experience for both users. If you play offline and the monitor is laggy for instance, both players experience the same thing. And if it's a matter of controllers and such, that's all on you to bring the proper equipment to the tournament.
Now I have a rather funny way of looking at online matches, and this is what may throw you off a bit. I don't play to win. Some of that does come from the fact that I realize lag is always an issue, and that either I or my opponent may be experiencing difficulties. The other part comes from the fact that playing to win every fight I ever play ends up becoming a rather tiring process. At some point, you just have to relax and not drive yourself too crazy about winning, or else the losses cut deeper than they should. And when it all matters at a tournament, you've put so much pressure on yourself that you can easily crack over the simplest mistake and be too much in your head and not in the match. Rather, online matches are a way to relax and share laughs with friends, or maybe even getting that win against someone who spams you with hate mail.
That doesn't mean that there isn't any value in online matches. It's quite the contrary. Not being too serious about your matches online allows you to goof around and stumble across something rather interesting in a match, something you wouldn't if you were too focused on winning. This leads to some rather odd tech being discovered that you could use to really throw an opponent off. The other thing that I do is actually get a feel for various ways people play characters. For instance, a projectile-heavy Ryu will tend to throw hadoukens at x, y, and z. So I take note of these ranges for later and experiment ways around that. But then there could be a Ryu who actually doesn't use them very often, preferring to wiggle around and use pokes, trying to catch whiffs and such. Well then, I'll take note of the range they like to remain in so I know where to position myself and potentially drive them nuts because they can't play their game. That isn't to say you can't do this while trying to win, but for me, I like to focus on one thing at a time, even if it costs me BP or whatever ranking system the game goes by. I could care less about it. What I care about more is if I make top 8 in a game or not, and that's something that doesn't affect your BP.
Online matches do provide a way for you to improve your game. Any and all matches do, regardless. However, I think there are certain limitations that come from them, on a technical level and at least in my case, on a mental level. Being able to focus on something outside of the result itself allows me to observe both my own game, and my opponent's. This may not be the way you like to grow in a fighting game, but for me it surely has helped thus far. Give it a try some time and see if it works for you too!