top tier

Prevalent use of top tier characters in Smash 4: Helping or hurting watchability?

An inevitability of any competitive game is that certain characters will get used more than others. For fighting games, this is true in regards to the top tier characters used in tournaments. It isn’t uncommon to hear something along the lines of, “this character is good if you actually want to win a tournament” at a local or even regional or national tournament. I’ve heard this uttered while attending local Smash tournaments. People also say similar things online, and even top competitive players mirror this sentiment.

There is no problem with competitive players using top tier characters at high-level play. There isn’t a problem with anyone using top-tier characters, for that matter. If people feel confident using a character in tournament, then it’s fine for them to want to use that character in competitive play. But more and more I see arguments that people can’t watch tournaments anymore because they have “started to feel the same.” These arguments use the rationale of constantly seeing the same select few characters being used at the top of tournaments. This makes these people less willing to watch events. Is this a fair argument? Let’s discuss it.

“Too much use of Top Tier characters makes sets less interesting to watch”

top tier

Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios has consistently used Diddy Kong throughout his entire Smash 4 career. Does this make him less fun to watch? Image: SSB Wiki

Naturally, seeing a wider variety of characters used in tournament would be more interesting for viewers. But players ultimately decide what characters they find themselves the most comfortable with. Especially when players’ primary or even secondary source of income is from their winnings from tournaments, they’re naturally going to choose characters that they feel can get them meaningful results.

At the same time, this argument is understandable though. Whenever we see a player using a character that isn’t top tier make it to the top of a bracket, it’s only natural to cheer for them. It’s exciting to see more diversity in higher level play. Realistically, we can’t expect top-level players to shy away from using characters that reliably yield positive results in tournaments. Does this hurt watchability for Smash 4 as a whole, though? This is entirely subjective, based on how much you value seeing different characters used in competitive play. Another component is how much you value seeing the same character used in competitive play, but played significantly differently between players. Both of these values come from different types of viewers of Smash 4; to some extent, it’s impossible to completely satisfy both all the time.

We can see a variety of ways to play Cloud, Bayonetta or Rosalina. This could be satisfying to watch for many viewers. But for many other viewers, it’s more satisfying to see characters that aren’t nearly as common in competitive play. Both are valid things to want to see when watching tournaments. Some would argue that there’s only so many different ways that a character such as Bayonetta can actually be played, which makes watching players use her not be very interesting. This is a fair critique that doesn’t necessarily have a simple solution to it, other than suggesting that viewers pay closer to attention to the nuances of each player’s individual playstyle of a certain character.

However, this isn’t to say that players, regardless of skill level, shouldn’t use lower tier characters in tournament. In fact, it’s detrimental to competitive Smash 4 that they do.

The curious case of Civil war

top tier

Griffin “Fatality” Miller impressed with his Captain Falcon, a character often considered to be mid tier or high tier. Certain viewers may find seeing such characters more entertaining. Image: SSB Wiki

I’m convinced that 2GGC Civil War in March of this year was one of, if not the best tournaments in Smash 4 history. It was full of upsets, exciting matches and unexpected character matchups. This tournament saw players that used rather underrepresented characters in competitive play get really far in brackets. Moreover, two of the top three players played as characters that aren’t considered to be top-tier. Griffin “Fatality” Miller’s Captain Falcon helped popularize the character among many players after his performance at the tournament. Isami “T” Ikeda’s Link did the same thing, though to a lesser extent.

Seeing skilled players use underrepresented characters helps encourage players of all skill levels to want to learn underrepresented characters themselves. Watchability of esports, as stated earlier, depends on what the viewer values seeing when they watch a tournament. But most viewers, regardless of what they value seeing in a tournament, all want to see gameplay that is exciting and new. Seeing different playstyles, whether they’re of top tier, well-represented characters or lower tier, underrepresented characters, is what makes watching competitive Smash Bros. fun.

This is what causes people to perhaps not enjoy seeing top tier characters used in competitive play so much. It’s naturally more difficult to see nuances of a player’s individual playstyle when they use a top tier character that viewers see more often than it is to see an entirely different, underrepresented character.

Does OVER-REPRESENTATION of top tier characters hurt watchability?

In my opinion, no. Seeing top tier characters used often in high-level play doesn’t make it less watchable. But the criticisms placed towards the over-reliance of such characters by many viewers are valid, and should be seriously considered by the competitive Smash community.

As usual, we’ll turn the talking point to you. Do you feel that over-representation of top tier characters hurts or helps the watchability of Smash Bros., specifically with Smash 4? Join the conversation and let us know what you think!

 

Featured image courtesy of Nintendo via YouTube.

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