Competitive philosophy

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Competitive philosophy is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of contests. While the exact cornerstones of competition are subjective, most agree that competition is relentless and everyone wants an edge over their opponents within the set rules and boundaries of their environment. Common values include players giving their opponents everything they have, gaining every fair advantage possible, but not going too far into the realm of cheating, as well as being humble in victory and respectful in defeat. In the Smash Bros. community, this philosophy manifests as the discussion of competitive values, such as what game mode is used, which in-game options are used, and whether or not metarules are implemented. More generally, competitors refer to competitive philosophy as "playing to win".

Competitive values do not necessarily constitute tournament rules but the rules do usually reflect values. Because of this, the validity and importance of certain values has been and will continue to be subjects of intense debate. Some of these debates generally involve what game modes, rules, items and stages will improve or hinder the tournament experience and metagame.

History of competitive philosophy in the Smash community[edit]

The release of Super Smash Bros. in 1999 was a relative dark age for Smash discussion and information because a major place for Smash Bros. fans to congregate did not exist yet. Most communication between fans took place across fansites on a young internet, which had been steadily growing during the Dot-com bubble. Due to these restrictions, most regions were isolated from each other and developed different ideas of what was considered good competitive values that may have worked for them, but would inevitably clash with other regions should they ever cross over.

Later on, Smash player Gideon would create Smashboards, a forum website dedicated to discussing the series which would go on to serve as the medium for most competitive play discussion. Advertisements for Melee tournaments began on Smashboards in 2002. The rules for these tournaments were sometimes whimsical and left strictly up to players, usually valuing stage and item diversity, a byproduct of different cultures growing on their own with no external critics to keep each other in check. In April 2002, Tournament Go, the forerunner to the first major international tournament circuit for Smash, included elements that are now typically banned or not used such as items, stages like Mute City[1], and a Free-For-All format. As more players began talking to each other, opinions on how tournaments should work became more universal. Popular rulesets grew more constricting, limiting the influence of the game on the players by banning items and certain stages.

The evolution of values in Brawl, aside from the Meta Knight debate, followed a similar pattern. What this game did introduce was the concept of Online play, which immediately became a topic of debate. As many had issues with the problems online possessed at a foundational and executional level, the mode was disregarded as a competitive mode and most players stuck to offline tournaments as the only real form of competition.

The reveal of Smash 4 being released on both the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U posed a unique issue of which version should be prioritized in a competitive sense. Players quickly gravitated to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U due to being a home console that can be used on any screen and with more controller options than the 3DS. While the community in the earliest days considered using custom moves, this decision was quickly reversed due to some moves being unfairly strong, which unfortunately meant all three {Mii fighters had to be excluded from competitive play. While the metagame was relatively healthy afterwards, the introduction of Bayonetta as the final DLC fighter was so much stronger than the rest that she had to be banned from competitive play in many regions, where she still remains banned to this day due to active development ceasing.

The release of Ultimate brought a noticeable shift in the competitive philosophy of the community. The sheer amount of content within the game encouraged players to experiment with certain aspects of the game that would be immediately disregarded in previous entries. This ideology manifested in several ways. The legal stage list is larger than any previous entry as the stipulations over what makes a legal stage has been relaxed slightly. Mii Fighters have been restored as legal fighters with their custom moves due to being more fairly balanced this time. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in particular forced the community to reevaluate online play as a valid method of competition. Instead of just waving the idea off again, measures were created to make the experience more fair and compatible with current competitive ideals, which has led to online tournaments being taken more seriously in recent years. Some characters like Steve and Kazuya did end up getting banned in some regions due to being considered unfairly strong, though these bans did not stick everywhere and the topic of them being worthy of bans is still debated.

Values that make up a competitive philosophy[edit]

There are several values that some players consider important for playing Super Smash Bros. competitively. An incomplete list of these values is as follows, grouped by proponents:

  • Player-to-player interaction: Competitors value aspects of the match that only involve the players' characters and often shun interferences from stages and items or detracting play such as stalling.
  • Player-to-stage interaction: Competitors emphasize incorporating stages where the players must avoid stage obstacles or use stage elements to their advantage. How much and how randomly stages affect the outcome of matches is often heavily disputed.
  • Player-to-item interaction: These players value the ability for players to use items to win. Like stages, how much and how randomly the items affect the outcome is often heavily disputed despite the inherent randomness and volatility in items across the series. The most notable development for player-to-item interaction is Jack Kieser's Item Standard Play[2]. Those who value player-to-item interaction in tournament play are a small minority in competitive play, as few item-legal tournaments take place.
  • Stage diversity: This group is not to be confused with a preference for player-to-stage interaction; instead, they emphasize the game is more enjoyable with more of its stages available for competitive play.
  • Item diversity: Like those who prefer stage diversity, this group prefers a game with items on the grounds that they add interest and fun to the game.
  • Game mode diversity: Timed stock is currently the staple game mode and victory condition for competitive play. Proponents of game mode diversity are usually interested in an alternative mode or win condition for the game, such as Stamina.
  • Healthy metagame: This group of players prefers a diversity of viable options to approach competitive play instead of having a single style, character, or stage dominate. This point of view has most notably been discussed during debates over whether or not to ban Meta Knight in Brawl.

Note: There may be cases where some of these values may or may not be mutually exclusive.

Further Reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^  The Great Smash DDoS of 2013 Smash history trivia by AlphaZealot
  2. ^  Jack Kieser's Item Standard Play