It’s an unusual place to be in, but it isn’t uncommon in fighting games. I’m sure there are plenty who understand the problem, though. I am referring to the peculiar situation where you are too good at fighting games to have fun playing with your friends, yet you aren’t actually that good. As a result, online fights, even with a ranked system, can be alienating. In addition to being alienating, they’re still strangers, and online connections might not be all that good, depending on where you live and what the netcode is like. So what can you do?
Part of the problem might be that you do, indeed, enjoy playing with your friends but fighting games don’t usually have an equivalent to the blue shell from Mario Kart games, so they might feel like there’s no hope for them. There are actually a lot of options available for people to have more fun.
The most obvious approach is to help your friends get better. One of the biggest breakthroughs people can have in fighting games is understanding the basics, which are often overlooked. Extremely long combos can look impressive, but a lot of matches aren’t won by the ability to execute them. Perhaps that’s why the games have remained challenging, even as button inputs have become more user friendly. So help your friends understand that fighting games are partially about controlling space. It’s easy to understand, but not necessarily something that will occur to everybody. Knowing that dominating the horizontal space with projectiles while being ready to deal with people who jump over them with an uppercut can make a huge difference. If people find a character they love, they can practice it. But even before mastery, they can look at the moveset and figure out which moves will help them in controlling this space. Once they get really good with that character, they’ll also be able to narrow down their ideal options based on the space they have between their character and their opponent at any given moment. Having this knowledge gives a sense of purpose in training, and people can genuinely feel themselves improve.
Alternatively, you can refine this skill even more. In a lot of fighting games, there’s a concept called “footsies,” that comes into play. Essentially, this helps you know what options your opponent also has available to them which will help you in making predictions about what they’ll do next. Reading your opponent is a big part of high-level play. That is what I am told, anyway. I am not great.
You can also find different kinds of challenge in playing against your friends, but it involves an element of deception. Create new criteria for yourself. I like to see how low I can let my health get while securing a victory. There’s an element of performance here, where you don’t want to look like you’re taking it easy, but it gives people hope. And that makes the game more fun, which means they’re more inclined to play, which means they might get better. You can also try new characters, or decide not to use certain moves from your toolkit.
Many fighting games also have lobby systems. While the typical experience involves two people fighting each other, a lobby system means players can fight each other, or excitedly root one another on as they take turns trying to defeat the best player. Tag team games can further enhance this experience.
Worst case scenario, you might have to bite the bullet and just jump into the world of online matches, assuming it’s possible for you. To enhance this experience, you can join one of the various fighting game communities online. You can find people of approximately equal skills, or vastly superior players, to hang out with. Then you can spar against one another, learn, and improve. The key is to not get intimidated. But this social factor could be preferred to a gauntlet of losses against anonymous people in matchmaking.
I think it’s worth a try, and it involves people meeting one another halfway. The alternative is that you just let your fight stick collect dust or you feel a tinge of sadness whenever a fighting game releases that you really want to play because you won’t get to fully enjoy it. Many of them have good stories nowadays, so single player does have value. But that’s not really at the core of this decades-long tradition, is it?