Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios’ dominant Smash 4 tournament streak was unbelievable. He was able to achieve a 56 tournament win streak, something surreal for a fighting game. The level of hype this streak alone gathered was off the charts. Before any event, the question in everyone’s mind was, “Will ZeRo finally lose?”. In MLG 2015, Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada finally ended ZeRo’s reign over Smash 4. This marked a new era where fresh talent would flood the scene with players like Elliot Bastien “Ally” Carroza-Oyarce and Jason “ANTi” Bates gathering some steam. However, ZeRo still managed to maintain his consistency, keeping his place as the best player in the world.
In Smash Ultimate, the story has developed nowhere near the same route. This is because in Smash Ultimate, nobody is the undisputed best player in the world. A case can be made for several players, but none of them has the traction to solidify their stay on the top.
In Smash Ultimate, the competitive landscape has shifted due to a larger and more competitive pool of top-level players in addition Ultimate’s different direction in its metagame.
“How do I play against that character?”
Many people find themselves lost in tournaments. Sparring doesn’t prepare players for what a big competition brings to the table. In Smash Ultimate, there are 71 different characters as of writing, and players all around the world experiment with varying playstyles around them. This leads to confusion when going against unknown opponents during a tournament. All due to the vast pool of characters that show up in play, making acquiring matchup knowledge a necessity.
Compared to Smash 4, Ultimate is relatively balanced. The mechanics favored most of the cast, and the changes from game to game upped the overall quality of life. This means that more characters make an appearance at tournaments. For the viewer, this is a blessing, but for the player, it’s a curse. This diversity means that a player is never really prepared for everything that may be coming.
Just recently, Australia had “Mr. L” win its most significant major yet with Battle Arena Melbourne 11. The kicker is that Mr. L won the tournament without dropping a single set while using King K. Rool, a character considered low tier by most players – something that no one could have predicted before the tournament. Mr. L used Cloud in Smash 4 and wasn’t a threat, but now the story has changed as he just destroyed his region while using a low tier character. You can (and should) watch the exciting grand finals of Battle Arena Melbourne here.
It’s tough to prepare for the unexpected, and this diversity broadens the game’s competitive scene as a whole, as viewers and players alike will often see matchups that they are inexperienced with playing and/or watching.
Meeting in the Middle
With the release of Smash Ultimate, both Smash 4 and Melee’s communities met at a middle ground, sparking a substantial influx of players that hit the Smash Ultimate community. Players that worked on their fundamentals on the previous games transitioned their play to Ultimate and thrived. Great examples of this are the players Zack “ZD” Darby, and “Zackray.” Neither really made solid placings in Smash 4, but in Ultimate, they are making headlines. Zackray, in particular, has found solid ground in Japan, winning a substantial number of tournaments.
Many players found comfort in Ultimate’s additions, pushing their skill bit by bit. This is definitively making a difference in the scene. Melee players are giving this game a chance, and bringing their toolkits to the table, something that seldom happened with Smash 4.
This means that the number of competitors in tournaments has skyrocketed. Tournaments like “Genesis 6” gathered over 2,000 competitors. Achieving consistency in a packed venue is insanely hard. After battling through waves of opponents, it’s tough to stay with a positive mindset and fend off fatigue.
Achieving consistency in Smash Ultimate is a challenge – one that most people won’t conquer. It is unlikely that Ultimate will ever have a player as dominant as ZeRo, but in due time the scene might have itself a definite master of the game.
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