In gaming, a metagame refers to a set of commonly used strategies developed and employed by a competitive community. In competitive Smash, "the metagame" usually refers to the trends in strategy that appear in high-level competitive play under tournament conditions, as these tactics are often more influential than metagames of lower-level play. The metagame is not static; it evolves over time as players adapt to counter frequently used strategies, and new strategies are discovered or become popular.
For example, suppose tactic A is effective and popular within a gaming community and tactic B offers advantages over tactic A, but is considered a poor choice in most other circumstances. Some players may employ tactic B in response to tactic A, creating a shift in strategy. Tactic C, while usually effective, may be avoided because of its vulnerabilities to tactic A. Eventually, tactic A may become less common, as more players begin to use tactic B to counter it. As a result, tactic C may then return as a common strategy, or an entirely new effective tactic may be discovered, creating another shift in strategy. These shifts are examples of the way in which the metagame progresses and develops over time.
At the top level of play, "the metagame" can specifically refer to the the habits and skills of the highest performing players. These players focus on employing strategies to win against the small number of other top players who compete with them, as opposed to the trends among players who do not perform as well as they do.
Routine analysis of the metagame has allowed the community to draw conclusions about the relative performances of playable characters in Smash Bros games, and publish them in the form of character tier lists. Each tier list changes over time, alongside the development of the metagame it references, and is updated as significant changes occur.
 Examples of changing metagames in the Smash series
- For a long time, Ness was considered one of the best characters in the original Smash Bros., being ranked 3rd in the final spot of top tier in the first universally-recognised tier list. Ness dominated, with his double jump cancel allowing for very fast combo starters, while also possessing some of best hitbox placement in his attacks, and great power in his moveset (with his throws being especially strong). As the metagame progressed however, Ness' terrible recovery became more prominent and exploitable, which led to him dropping from 3rd all the way to 9th just above the lowest tier. This is also currently the proportionally largest tier list drop of any character in any Smash game.
- Marth was initially seen as relying too heavily on C-stick spamming and roll dodging, traits that led to a negative low-level image to him despite a high tier placing. Ken Hoang, however, is often credited with single-handedly bringing him to the top of the tier list, particularly with the introduction of tactics such as dash dancing and utilising wave dashing, as well as a greater focus on aerial combat in matches (including innovating the infamous Ken combo).
- Captain Falcon was initially a middle tier character, being ranked 15th on the first tier list tied with Young Link. With the discovery and innovation of Falcon's potent aerial and combo potential, as well as how deadly and effective his knee smash was as a combo finisher, Falcon jumped up the tier list to high tier, where he has since perpetually hovered around the 6th/7th spot in high tier.
- Jigglypuff was initially a lower middle tier character, being ranked 17th on the first tier list tied with Ness, who then jumped up to middle tier, and hovered around the 8th-11th spot in middle/high tier from the 2nd tier list to the 8th. With the advent of Mango, who has shown how dominant Jigglypuff was in the air, and how powerful its pressure game and combo abilities were, saw Jigglypuff jump to high tier at 6th tied with Captain Falcon. Then with the continued dominance of Melee tournaments with Jigglypuff from Mango and the rise of another nationally dominant Jigglypuff player in Hungrybox, Jigglypuff jumped up to top tier in the recent tier list, being ranked 3rd under Fox and Falco.
- Mario was initially a high tier character, being ranked as high as 5th in the first tier list, which can be attributed to his relatively low learning curve and simple yet effective combos. As the metagame advanced, the discovered abilities of other characters surpassed the rather standard abilities of Mario, and Mario's rather low KO power became more problematic. This led to Mario gradually dropping with each tier list, reaching a low of 14th at the bottom of middle tier in the ninth tier list, and his clone Dr. Mario being recognised as the superior character (who on the most recent tier list is four spots higher than Mario at the top of middle tier), primarily in part due to his much superior KO power.
- For the first five years of Melee's existence, Sheik was considered well and beyond the best character (with her chain throw being especially powerful in the early metagame), and at some points, she was considered so good that players contemplated banning her. With the incredible potential of Fox and Falco being recognised, as well as the aforementioned surges of Marth and Jigglypuff, Sheik would be dethroned as the best character of Melee. Despite her fall, she's still seen as one of the best characters, and is currently ranked 4th in the final spot of top tier in the most recent tier list.
- Among the most well-known changes of the metagame for Brawl came with the growing dominance of Meta Knight. While Meta Knight was always recognized as the best character since the first tier list, the gap between Meta Knight and the rest of the characters has continued to grow. Amid his unmatched speed, transcendent priority and disproportionally long reaching hitboxes, surprisingly high KO power for a character of his speed and weight, possessing a recovery that is widely seen as broken, and unrivaled edge guarding and gimping abilities, no other character has arose that can reliably go even with Meta Knight. The metagame for Brawl has been criticized for becoming too centralized on Meta Knight, which became the driving point behind those pushing to ban Meta Knight from tournaments. Characters such as Pit and R.O.B. fell because of their inability to deal with him, and other professionals had to adopt strategies in order to prevent their characters from becoming nonviable; a notable example is Marth's grab release to down aerial combo on Meta Knight. The use of Meta Knight himself also came under scrutiny, particularly after KTAR 6, where 5 players out of the final 8 used Meta Knight, and when John12346 began documenting the amount of money each character won from tournaments, which shown Meta Knight wins around half the money won from tournaments.
- ADHD is often credited with bringing Diddy Kong from a high tier character into the top tiers, eventually usurping the long time number two character Snake by the sixth tier list and now ranks 4th on the current tier list; ADHD had used Banana Peels to an extent never seen before, causing Diddy Kong to quickly dominate the ground game in matches, which some observers claimed led to Diddy Kong having an even stronger control of the ground than Snake.
- Ike was initially a middle tier character, being ranked 25th in middle tier on the first tier list. As the game advanced however, Ike gradually kept declining, with many deriding him as a "noob character" that was far too slow to do anything worthwhile. Ike would fall to low tier in the fourth tier list at 29th, and many speculated that he would fall farther and get stuck in the bottom tiers. San however, caused an immediate reversal for the character by innovating use of his incredible jab and jab cancelling abilities, as well as utilisation of his surprisingly potent aerials and incredible reach to space. San shocked the community when he got 9th at Apex 2010, which was then the most prestigious Brawl national tournament, defeating several top players such as UltimateRazer and Gnes, using the then low tier Ike. Ike would see a jump back into the middle tiers, an increase in general respect towards the character, and he would even surpass his original tier placement (currently ranked 23rd on the most recent tier list). Today Ike is a stable middle tier character, that despite some still seeing in a negative light due to his past perception, still manages to do damage in tournaments (such as Ryo getting 5th at WHOBO 4, a recent national tournament).
- Sonic was initially a low tier character that was the butt of many derogatory jokes, being ranked as low as 33rd in the first tier list. Sonic was ridiculed for his terrible KOing power, as well as his poor moveset, and his perceived "low priority" (as his attacks had small or poor hitboxes). Dedicated players of Sonic however, became deadset on proving that Sonic was criminally underrated, and with this saw the advent of extreme exploitation of Sonic's unmatched movement and unrealised combo potential. Sonics started placing well beyond that of low tier characters at tournaments, and Sonic's capabilities were recognised when he jumped up to 23rd of middle tier in the third tier list. Sonic was beginning to decline after this jump, but then the Sonic players Espy and X made another major splash with Sonic, when they took 6th and 7th respectively at the final MLG Brawl event, MLG Dallas 2010. Like Ike, Sonic still gets seen in a negative light by some players, but he's a stable middle tier character that's currently ranked 22nd in middle tier.
- Olimar was initially a middle tier character ranked 18th on the first tier list, that many did not thought much of. But as the metagame advanced, Olimar players began overcoming his extreme learning curve, and shown Olimar's incredibly strong camping and damage racking capabilities, as well as his very favorable hitboxes and disproportionally high KOing power. Olimar hovered around high tier in the 8th to 10th spot for the next few years, but after years of Olimars doing very well at nationals (including Japanese Olimars Brood and Nietono taking second at Apex 2010 and Apex 2012 respectively), Olimar was finally placed in top tier, in the number two position. While most players see Olimar as being ranked a bit too high, he's seen as a top tier character with one of the most infamous reputations for being a highly frustrating character to fight for many players.
- Wolf was initially a high tier character ranked 16th on the first tier list, who then saw a large drop and hovered around the 22nd spot in middle tier for the next few years. Wolf was derided for his extreme vulnerability to chain throws (some of which were infinites and zero deaths), as well as possessing what many seen to be a poor recovery, and some even seen him as a low tier character. Around 2010, Wolf players started doing really well in tournaments, making full utilization of Wolf's strong movement, aerial capabilities, and general strong all around abilities (Kain in particular started being noticed for doing incredibly well with Wolf, dominating the entire midwest). Wolf was also discovered to have one of the best matchups against the overly dominant Meta Knight (as well as near-even to even matchups against all the other top tier characters), and to have strong matchups overall outside the few who could severely exploit his chain throw vulnerability. Wolf's abilities were finally recognized in the sixth tier list, where he jumped up to 16th near the top of middle tier, and after a banner year in 2011 where he was the 10th most successful character in tournaments (in total tournament earnings), Wolf was bumped up even farther in the most recent tier list to 14th right below high tier and at the top of the newly created "borderline" tier.
- R.O.B. was initially considered a top tier character, being ranked 6th in top tier on the first tier list. R.O.B. was dominant in the very early metagame, as his fast attacks with great hitboxes were difficult for the then inexperienced players to get by. As players became more experienced, they learned how to get through the blind spots of these attacks, as well as discover the greater potential of other characters. Meta Knight was also becoming more and more dominant, the character which countered R.O.B. the most. As the metagame progressed, R.O.B. continued to grow less effective in tournament play, resulting in a large drop through the tier list, and is currently ranked 18th at the top of middle tier.
- Zelda was initially seen as a solid middle tier character, being ranked 20th in middle tier on the first tier list. As the metagame advanced, the severe flaws in Zelda's character design began to emerge (such as her poorly balanced moveset, her poor damage racking capabilities, and her near inability to approach). Zelda began gradually dropping with each tier list, and with the fourth tier list, Zelda took a dive and fell all the way to bottom tier at 35th. Zelda's standing in competitive play has gotten even worse since then, as she has been ranked the second worst character in each successive tier list just above Ganondorf, and some players even believe Zelda is the worst character instead of Ganondorf.
 See also
- Tier list - The current state of the metagame can be observed by the placement of characters in the most recent tier lists.
- List of NTSC tier lists - Changes in the metagame can be observed by how much characters have shifted their position in the tier lists released over the years.
- Super Smash Bros. Metagame