Dragon Ball FighterZ has remained surprisingly popular within the fighting game community since its release back in January 2018, bolstered by a slow but steady stream of content updates and balance patches.
Considering it's four years old as of this year, DBFZ has managed to hold its own alongside heavy-hitters like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, and it's even managed to outlive sequels to popular franchises like Samurai Shodown (2019) and Soulcalibur VI which debuted long after DBFZ launched.
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However, for the first time since Dragon Ball FighterZ was released, casual fans and seasoned pro-players appear to feel ambivalent about the future of the game - due in large part to the release of its newest DLC character, Android 21 (Lab Coat).
Although lengthy content support windows are nothing out of the ordinary for fighting games, the extended, drip-fed nature of Dragon Ball FighterZ's season passes and system mechanic updates have managed to keep the community alive for four years, long past what many have assumed would be the game's natural lifespan. Even Nintendo's flagship fighting game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, only had three years of support in the form of content updates.
Yet, this slow, heavily spaced-out approach to content updates may have finally proven to be Dragon Ball FighterZ's undoing – especially where Lab Coat is concerned. Since her release in February, DBFZ's average player count on Steam Charts has seen a noticeable dip – dropping by just over 30% from 1,560 concurrent players in the month prior to her release, down to 1,083 in March. A drop in player numbers immediately following a DLC character's release is to be expected, but when compared to figures from the month prior they are a cause for concern.
Android 21 (Lab Coat) is the obvious culprit for this drop in player retention, and with good reason - the player base, both casual and pro, unanimously agrees she’s too strong. So strong in fact, that many pros believe playing her in serious tournaments feels less like a choice and more like their only option. You either play her and win, or you play against her and lose. But what makes her especially different? Overpowered DLC characters are nothing new for Dragon Ball FighterZ. Bardock, GT Goku, and Ultra Instinct Goku were all characters that at one point in time were considered so strong that playing them felt like a necessity, both online and in the pro scene. I got the chance to sit down with seasoned DBFZ pro Mamba Lamba, one of only four pros hand-selected by Bandai Namco to represent USA East in the official 2022 DBFZ Draft Tournament, and ask him exactly why he thinks Lab Coat is universally despised.
“Personally, Lab Coat 21 has changed the way this game has become, for the worst. The debuff mechanic she has almost invalidates characters in the game while also being a 21 frame command grab with invulnerability so it is not even difficult to land, not to mention it costing just 1 bar.”
Dragon Ball FighterZ Goku in Guilty Gear Strive - Insane Strive Mods Vol 2
This “21 frame command grab” Mamba Lamba refers to is arguably the number one reason many pros find Lab Coat so obnoxious to play against. Not only is the move incredibly fast and difficult to counter, but it also has a unique debuff that permanently nerfs the damage her opponents can do for the entirety of the match. This mechanic is so strong that pro players believe the only way to counter it is by using a Lab Coat of your own - which many in turn argue makes watching the game in tournament play boring, as everyone is forced to use the same character.
“She also has tools most of the cast have but better,” Mamba continued, “with less effort at that. Banning her seems like a stretch but she is definitely a must-pick character for tournaments.”
Those tools include, but are in no way limited to, six low attacks, a command normal overhead, an autocombo that catches backdashes, the fastest beam attack in the game, a barrier that acts as a 4-frame reversal, and an unscaled, frame 1 invulnerable lariat. Her toolkit is so overpowered that the go-to Arc System Works community resource Dustloop specifically states that “there are currently no known weaknesses exclusive to Labcoat.”
Banning a character from use in official tournaments is an extremely rare and always hotly debated topic among fighting game players, especially when tournament winnings are on the line, but Lab Coat's removal from competitive play has been frequently discussed since her release. Former 1# DBFZ champ and all-around fighting game community legend SonicFox even tweeted a poll asking if the community should ban her, and the community marginally voted in favor of the ban with 51.6% calling for her removal from competitive play.
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