Metagame

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The metagame refers to the collective decisions that are made outside of a game that affect tournament play. A metagame is said to have a "shape" or "state" which refers to the commonly employed practices and strategies in tournaments. In Smash Bros., the most basic decisions that give form to the metagame are the player's decisions on what characters to use and what stages to practice on. More complex decisions include deciding on what character and stage combinations will counter the most popular characters and styles.

Metagames typically continuously evolve and developing the metagame involves deciding what strategies to use or alter that can most effectively counter others in tournament play. If a metagame does not evolve or becomes overly centralized around few strategies, competitors may start to find the game boring and tournaments will suffer a lower turnout. Competitors tend to be vocally dissatisfied until the tournament rules are remedied. For example, one of the commonly cited reasons to ban Meta Knight from tournament play is the frustration he causes among competitors because of his overwhelming dominance in Brawl tournament results as well as his overuse as a main character.

Decisions that form the metagame generally do not include those on what should be tournament legal, although each usually influences the other. For example, what stages are legal may greatly influence character viability. Stage lists that do not include hazards that hinder less mobile characters, such as the panning camera and obstacles on Rainbow Cruise, may produce tournament results that include more characters that are less agile. If the stage list includes Onett, which greatly favors Fox and Falco in Melee, it may lead to greater use of those characters.

Different levels of skill may feature their own metagame state because the viability of different strategies and decisions depends on how deft and knowledgeable the opponents are. For example, Jigglypuff in Melee may be considered one of the worst characters in the game by less experienced players because of their inability to properly exploit its overpowering aerial game and successfully land Rest, as well as the fact it's KO'd extremely early, making it very difficult for inexperienced players that can't evade properly to survive for long with it. Conversely, Ike in Brawl is considered just a middle tier character by more experienced players because his very slow attacks and inability to handle opposing camping well makes it difficult for him to compete with high tier characters, while less experienced players tend to consider Ike extremely overpowered because their lack of knowledge on how to exploit Ike's slowness and own slower reflexes leads to them getting easily hit and KO'd very early by Ike's extremely powerful attacks.

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 evolves alongside the development of the metagame it references, and is updated as significant changes occur.

Examples of changing metagames in the Smash series[edit]

Super Smash Bros.[edit]

  • 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 cancelled aerials allowing very fast combo starters and deadly combos (able to rack up huge damage and finish with a down aerial meteor smash), while also possessing some of best hitbox placement in his attacks, and great power in his moveset (with his throws being especially powerful). As the metagame progressed however, Ness' terrible recovery became more prominent and exploitable, and his short range also caused his DJC combos to lose recognition. This led to him dropping from 3rd all the way to 8th in the second tier list, dropping again to 9th in the third list, and dropping once more to 10th the fourth (and current) tier list. This is also currently the proportionally largest tier list drop of any character in any Smash Bros. game.
  • Samus was considered one of the worst characters in the original Smash Bros. for many years. The main reasons were due to her poor tournament representation, poor match ups and being the only character in the game that couldn't pull off a zero-to-death combo. For these reasons, she has been in bottom tier for three tier lists straight, with the first list she is behind only Link and being last on the next two. This left Samus with a negative reputation as being a unplayable character. However, over the years, Samus metagame advanced and her placings in tournaments had steadily began to rise. On the current tier list, she is at the top of C tier, where she is no longer seen contesting for worst character in the game.

Super Smash Bros. Melee[edit]

  • Marth was initially seen as relying too heavily on C-stick spamming and roll dodging, traits that led to a negative low-level image of him despite a high tier placing. Ken, however, is often credited with single-handedly bringing him to a top tier level of the tier list, particularly with the introduction of tactics such as dash dancing and utilizing wavedashing, 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 8th place in top-high tiers.
  • 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 10th tier list, being ranked 3rd under Fox and Falco. Currently, Jigglypuff is ranked 5th in the tier list.
  • 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 15th in the low-mid tier in the most recent tier list, and his clone Dr. Mario being recognized 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 recognized, as well as the aforementioned surges of Marth and Jigglypuff, Sheik was later dethroned as the best character in Melee. Despite her fall, she's still seen as one of the best characters and is currently ranked 4th in the top tier in the most recent tier list.
  • Pikachu's all time low on the tier list was 18th on the eighth tier list, barely close to the bottom tier. However, Axe's dominance made opinions change more positively about Pikachu, as it has shown its effective KOing moves, edge-guarding game, and pressuring were powerful, even against some high tiers. Pikachu eventually rose in the tier list, now ranked ninth in the current tier list.
  • The Ice Climbers were initially considered mid-to-low-tier characters due to their sub-par aerial game and the crippling weaknesses acquired when playing Sopo. However, thanks to the contributions of ChuDat and Wobbles, as well as the discovery of desynching and wobbling, the Ice Climbers now sit around eighth place on more recent tier lists.
  • For a while, Yoshi was considered a low-tier character at best due to his mediocre movement, limited OoS options, and abysmal recovery. Now, thanks to the contributions and results of aMSa, Yoshi sits in the mid-tier at the twelfth place for his double-jump super armor, parry, great aerial and combo game, and potentially potent projectile in his Egg Throw.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl[edit]

  • Among the best-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 unstoppable, and unrivaled edge guarding and gimping abilities, Meta Knight is widely seen as a broken character in the metagame. Pikachu is the only other character that has a matchup considered even with Meta Knight but even this is debatable, with many believing that Meta Knight's matchup with Pikachu is also in the former's favor. 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. A significant part of a character's tier placement is based on their matchup against Meta Knight, and characters such as Pit and R.O.B. fell because of their inability to deal with him. 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 John Numbers began documenting the amount of money each character won from tournaments, which showed that 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 fell 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 utilization of his surprisingly potent aerials and incredible reach for good spacing. 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 saw a jump back into the middle tiers, an increase in general respect towards the character, and even surpassed his original tier placement, currently ranking 23rd. 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 a national tournament, WHOBO 4 (although it was MK-banned).
  • 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 poor range and perceived "low priority" (as his attacks had small or poor hitboxes). Dedicated players of Sonic however, became dead-set on proving that Sonic was criminally underrated, and with this saw the advent of extreme exploitation of Sonic's unmatched movement and unrealized combo potential. Sonic players started placing well beyond that of low tier characters at tournaments, and Sonic's capabilities were recognized 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 5th and 6th 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 think 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 Olimar players 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. Olimar is now 3rd in the current tier list.
  • 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 saw to be a poor recovery, and some even saw him as a low tier character. Around 2010, Wolf players started doing well in tournaments, making full utilization of Wolf's strong movement, aerial capabilities, and general strong all around abilities (Kain was noted for being one of the most dominant players in the American 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 in Upper-Mid tier.
  • R.O.B. was initially considered a top tier character, being ranked 6th in top tier on the first tier list. He 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 before the bottom of the upper-mid 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, rather than Ganondorf.

Super Smash Bros. 4[edit]

Being the first game in the series to be split between two consoles, routinely introduce balance patches, and add new characters via DLC, the metagame of Super Smash Bros. 4 has shifted greatly by external influence. Examples include general perceptions of characters' strengths and weaknesses after updates.

  • Diddy Kong was once widely considered to be the best character in the game mainly due to his Banana Peel, which granted him stage-control and set-ups, and his infamous "hoo-hah" combo, with his down throw linking into his fast and powerful up aerial for easy KOs. The 1.0.6 patch brought several severe downgrades to Diddy's ability to perform this combo and decreased his general damage output, thus effectively dethroning him from this position. He was still, however, considered a high tier character thanks to his amazing neutral game, placing at 9th on the tier list, being among the most dominant characters in play in spite of his nerfs, and as of update 1.1.5, Diddy Kong has regained his spot as one of the best characters in the game, being ranked 1st on the second official tier list (though he has dropped a little since then) with the significant nerfs to those believed to be better than him.
  • Bowser was considered by some to be one of the best characters in the game prior to the Wii U version, due to his superior strength, weight, and surprisingly quick attacks. This was due to players' inexperience as well as the 3DS controls being less apt in general for high-level play, thus favoring characters with better raw stats. It was not long after the Wii U release that Bowser's weaknesses really began to show through, notably his abysmal landing options and inconsistent KOing ability. His perception thus declined sharply, now placing roughly in the middle tier, which is likely because of version 1.1.3, where Bowser received a powerful combo tool by greatly reducing knockback dealt by his up throw, allowing him to rack up damage and KO opponents with greater safety and consistency, which made his play style overall more rewarding.
  • Meta Knight, obviously heavily nerfed from his dominance in Brawl, was initially considered to be a shadow of his former self, and was generally considered unviable, with commonly given reasons being his short range and weak KOing ability (the latter of which is considered moot now). However, due largely to new strategies developed with him, most famously the optimization of his devastating up aerial combos, and along with significant patch buffs, he rose back up to prominence, currently placing high in the tier list, and while not nearly as dominant as in Brawl, he eventually earned his status as one of the best characters in the game. After receiving nerfs to his infamous up aerial in update 1.1.5, opinions on Meta Knight have begun to fall again, with him no longer being among the best characters in the community's view, though he is still regarded more highly than he was in the early metagame.
  • Luigi was a very prominent character in low- and mid-level play, largely thanks to his effective projectile and his down throw, the latter of which led into highly damaging combos and guaranteed KO set-ups, and he was further aided by balance patches for a while. However, updates 1.1.0 and 1.1.1 nerfed him; the former patch increased the lag on his Fireballs, while the latter patch more importantly increased the knockback on his down throw, removing his KO set-ups, and the shield stun changes brought about by the same update hindered him due to his very poor traction. He went on to be ranked at 16th on the official tier list, in upper-mid tier, whereas he was considered a contender for top 10 prior to his nerfs. As of version 1.1.6 and the second official tier list, he is 29th.
  • Marth, for more than a year, was regarded rather poorly due to heavy nerfs coming from Brawl, which included his shorter reach relative to the cast, slower frame data (particular with his renowned forward aerial), worsened damage output, and much less effective grab combos. He eventually ranked at 41st on the tier list in low-tier, a huge drop from his placings in previous games. However, as of patch 1.1.4, Marth has been significantly buffed in frame data, damage output, and range, and is still not quite as good as he was in Brawl. In 1.1.6, Marth is considered a very potent top tier, especially with notable results from Leo, Pugwest and Mr.E. He is now 10th on the official tier list.
  • Roy was a high tier and best sword-fighter in the eyes of many players (including ZeRo) at his release. This was largely because players would often draw comparisons between Roy and Marth, who was surrounded by a negative stigma at the time, along with the notable buffs Roy received to his mobility, damage output, and power in the transition from Melee. However, Roy has so far failed to attain notable results, and opinions on him have steadily dropped. With stronger performances from other sword-fighters like Meta Knight, Ike, and Marth himself, and with the inclusion of Cloud and Corrin, Roy is perceived as a low-tier character, as is evident with his rank at 32nd on the tier list (which is generally considered too high), and to some, he is among the worst characters in the game, with the most commonly mentioned reasons being his unsafe attacks, limited combos, difficulty KOing, lackluster recovery, and vulnerability to combos. He has fallen to 50th place in the second tier list. He currently sits at 44th on the third tier list.
  • Though initially viewed as a mid-tier, opinions on Mewtwo plummeted not long after its release, with many eventually regarding it as one of the worst characters in the game. Such negative opinions were generated mainly by its unusual combination of very low weight and large hurtbox, which made it highly susceptible to both combos and early KO's, its lack of a reliable combo throw, and its generally worsened frame data coming from Melee, along with Mewtwo being adversely affected by the loss of advanced techniques like wavedashing and L-cancelling. However, in updates 1.1.3 and 1.1.5, Mewtwo received a plethora of buffs to its mobility, frame data, range, and damage output, as well as a slight increase to its weight. Furthermore, it would gain strong results from its mains, with Abadango going as far as to win Pound 2016 using mostly Mewtwo. Mewtwo's placement at 37th in the low tier of the tier list was partly a result of its previously poor status, and this is widely thought to be outdated in light of recent results. As of now, many players view Mewtwo as a high-tier character, with some believing it to be a top-tier, and with a few considering it as one of the best characters in the game. In retrospective, some players say Mewtwo's once poorly regarded status was too harsh, and that it was underrated as a whole. These players were eventually successful in their argument, as it is now 9th on the tier list.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

David Sirlin's Advanced Player's Guide

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