As we approach the end of Smash 4’s developmental life cycle and have had just over a year with the game, I think it is a good a time as any to have a look back over this year and just take stock of all the changes we’ve seen, as there has been a hell of a lot of them.
We’ve seen Smash 4’s change from a game that would go the way of Brawl, to a thriving tournament game which has displaced Melee in terms of numbers at quite a few notable tournaments. I mean, the start of Smash 4’s life did not inspire confidence as we had many claiming Little Mac to be god tier, the constant debates over customs and stock counts and having to deal with actually stupid characters like pre-patch Diddy but the game has muddled through. Compare a Grand Finals set from Apex back in January to one from Paragon or MLG and you’ll see how Sm4sh has come on leaps and bounds in terms of speed and general complexity. Of course, we’re not talking Melee level inputs or the sheer number of options that Smash 4’s older brother has but there is a very noticeable increase of match speed and player tech when compared to early January.
Watching tournaments, it’s been quite the dynamic year during Top 8s, even though the winner has been a forgone conclusion more often than not, at least until MLG World Finals came around. For the majority of the year, Smash 4 had a situation very similar to that of early Melee, with ZeRo acting as the king of the game, fighting off all comers and keeping his win streak alive. People were close, you had close sets with Mr ConCon, Vinnie and Nairo but nothing to ever shake ZeRo’s confidence really. While the rest of top 8 may have been very volatile, ZeRo was always coming out on top. Even now, after Nairo’s historic win against ZeRo, it’s still a safe bet to assume that ZeRo will win, or at least get 2nd. However, boiling down tournament results to being just about ZeRo’s reign of the game so far would be a disservice to the multitude of players who are putting in work and making top 8s great watches. Nairo is being the hero to challenge the reigning champ, Esam is continuing to push the Pikachu meta forward, ANTi always puts on a show whenever he decides to turn up and bop people while players like Trela are starting to become a real threat now that Ryu’s potential as a top tier character is finally being realised by capable players. Outside of North America, Leo is the Meta Knight god who will be a massive threat whenever his visa issues get sorted out while the Netherlands’ Mr R is vying for that top spot as the world’s best Sheik, competing with other players like Vinnie, ZeRo and Void. There are simply so many players to keep track of, just in the USA and Canada alone that any big regional tournament will have several names that could win or at least place in top 8. The general quality of Top 8s has improved as well, with general competition improving and upsets being very possible. As with Grand Finals, watching a top 8 from a big regional earlier this year and then looking at one from a month ago, the speed and quality of games has just leapt up and will continue to improve as players become even more proficient with movement and character-specific tech.
Just watch the finals of The Big House 5 and compare it to Apex 2015. There is such a world of difference.
Japan is always that wild card region that really keeps itself to itself until a tournament like Apex or EVO happens where they show up and take names. You had the unfortunate situation of EVO running customs so players from Japan like Nietono and Ranai had to deal with Wind Kongs and Trip Villagers but with Genesis 3 on the horizon, Japan looks to cause a massive upset if the USA is not ready. 9B, Japan’s best Ryu and Ranai, the Villager master are training every single day on Twitch, along with many of the Japanese players that are going to Genesis so expect there to be an East versus West clash in top 64. Locally, the UK has had a similar dominant player problem in the form of J Miller, whose mastery of Luigi meant that he was guaranteed to take any tournament he entered for the majority of the year. As such, the UK meta was primarily defensive, with there being swathes of patient Miller-esque Luigis for players to fight through before top 8, before meeting at least one of the UK’s dominant Rosalinas in either Wilksy15, DX-17 or Omega. However, as the year has worn on, Miller’s reign has started to fall away somewhat, as players like Ixis and PlasticPoptart have really giving Miller a run for his money and questioning his position as UK Number 1. You also have regions rising to finally challenge London itself, rather than it simply stomping anyone who tried to enter the lion’s den. The UK’s premier Sheik, Ho, is leading the charge for the Midlands, with the Welsh being headed up by Aera’s Greninja and the South West being championed by the likes of Devereux, Jchild and Phoenix. More regions are starting to travel across the UK but more travelling needs to be done abroad in order to raise the UK’s general standard of play. While many are making the journey overseas to BEAST 6, the UK needs to really get itself out there and playing amongst not only the rest of Europe, but with the North Americans as well, seeing as they are the region to beat for Smash 4. We do have Ixis travelling out to Genesis to hopefully show the world that the UK is pretty good at Smash 4, but we need more representation outside our little island.
As Smash 4 is growing, the community is starting to get some more cash to play around with, especially with big sponsors like TSM and CLG backing players like ZeRo and NAKAT. Hopefully, as sponsors and big name people in eSports organisation see the growth of both Smash games, we may see events like Dreamhack and the Summit picking up Smash 4 as well as Melee. It will take a while but the scene is only getting bigger and shows no real signs of stopping, unlike Brawl that seemed to atrophy very quickly. With EVO 2016 hopefully having Smash 4 on the card as well as Melee and without customs on to put potential spectators off, we will have better pool matches and have more viewers willing to give Smash 4 a decent go. This is another area that the UK needs to work on and that is having better streaming set ups and VODs for their events, as we are very far behind in terms of keeping up to date with matches and actively promoting streamed tournaments. Groups like Electronic Dojo, Matchup and DAT Team are now stepping into the breach and starting to make UK tournament streams much better and hopefully within a year or so, UK tournament streams will at least compete with US regionals for viewers. If players travel more, fans with tune into streams where they are competing, making the UK’s desire for more recognition really helping everyone in the long run. I hope Smash 4 does continue to be championed by many big tournaments like EVO and CEO, with possibly Nintendo of America stepping in to help promote and aid the competitive community in sustaining the popularity of both Melee and Smash 4 but that is probably just a pipe dream.
So, from what seemed a rocky start, Smash 4 is here to stay for sure, to the delight of many and the dismay of some. The community is really starting to take off, players are now diving head first into content creation and research surrounding Smash 4 and with the development cycle of the game finishing in February, we can really start diving into and solidifying the game’s meta for hopefully, a few years to come. We definitely livin’.