Super Smash Bros. Ultimate fans received a surprise 8.1.0 update Tuesday night that added Small Battlefield as a new stage and claimed to improve the game's infamously spotty online Quickplay mode. Competitive Smashers have long hoped for a patch to make online play less laggy since the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made in-person tournaments impossible. Unfortunately, the version 8.1.0 update to Smash Ultimate landed with a thud.
Nintendo's patch notes vaguely state that "the online users experience has been adjusted," but didn't explain exactly what was tweaked under the hood. Even Game Director Masahiro Sakurai sounded like he wasn't sure if Nintendo's changes to Quickplay would amount to any noticeable improvements in connectivity.
"By the way, the connectivity when playing 1-on-1 online may be slightly improved with this update," he wrote in a Twitter thread about the update. "Please give it a try!"
Thousands of gamers booted up their Switches to try out the update right away, but the vast majority of them couldn't feel a difference.
Top Smash Bros. Melee player, William “Leffen” Hjelte, published a Twitter poll Tuesday night to see if anyone felt a major difference in Quickplay's connectivity. More than half of the 16,000 respondents said "Feels the same." More players thought it felt worse than it did significantly better. Many of Smash Ultimate's best players echoed those sentiments.
Kolawole "Kola" Aideyan, who's ranked as the best player in Georgia, tweeted that Smash Ultimate online was "the exact fucking same" as it has always been. While Rasheen "Dark Wizzy" Rose — who's considered to be the best Mario main in the world — stated that he didn't feel any difference in Quickplay and that until Nintendo or the community runs tests on the improvements, it would be nearly impossible to tell.
Competitive Smash veteran Larry "Larry Lurr" Holland was one of the few pros who said they noticed an improvement in Quickplay's connection. However, he admitted that it might just be a placebo effect.
"It feels like there's slightly less input delay," he tweeted. "Reacting to certain things felt a bit more consistent. Not a drastic improvement, but to me it feels noticeably better. Again, could be my imagination though."
What does this mean for online tournaments?
Online Smash Ultimate tournaments, like the Quarantine Series, will continue as long as the pandemic keeps players attending in-person tourneys, however, Smash Ultimate's top players will continue to refrain from taking them as seriously as offline events.
The Spring 2020 season of competitive Smash will remain frozen as long as players cannot attend the major, in-person tournaments that count towards their global ranking. That means there won't be an update to the Fall 2019 global ranking any time soon, but there's a sliver of hope that Quickplay could get better with time.
The Version 8.1.0 patch notes state that "further investigations and adjustments to Online mode are expected." That suggests incremental improvements to Smash's online matchmaking that might add up to noticeable improvements further down the line, but it's uncertain how Nintendo is handling the repercussions of having to work remotely because of the pandemic.
Sakurai has previously warned fans that shifting all of its developers to a work-from-home system has led to unexpected bumps in the road and a slow-down of the workflow. The effects of Covid-19 have impacted companies and supply chains across the gaming industry. Nintendo is no different, but the games giant seems particularly affected by the pandemic.
There have been reports suggesting that the company won't be producing any large-scale Nintendo Direct presentations in the near future. Instead, Nintendo has opted for announcing new games, like Paper Mario: The Origami King, with surprise one-off trailers. This strategy is typical for most gaming franchises but unusual for Nintendo's properties.
Smash Ultimate's Quickplay mode was spotty well before the pandemic, so it's tough to imagine Nintendo has the resources and manpower to overhaul its entire online-play system given the current circumstances. There is a silver lining, though: Version 8.1.0 served as more of a statement that the company is paying attention to the years' worth of complaints about Smash's netplay. This could be the beginning of some major improvements, but for now, it feels like little more than a Baby (Mario) step forward.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's version 8.1.0 update is now available.