Super Smash Bros. 4 in competitive play
Super Smash Bros. 4's competitive scene began before either version was publicly released at the Super Smash Bros. Invitational on June 10, 2014, hosted by Nintendo of America at E3 2014, where they presented a demo of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. ZeRo had emerged victorious, beginning his infamous winning streak of many Smash 4 majors to come.
Smash 4 is the first Smash game to have balance patches via online download, which had a significant impact on tournament play. These updates forcefully shifted almost every characters' metagame (by varying degrees) multiple times through 2014 into 2016.
2014: Release and Beginnings
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS had a small amount of time in the limelight from September 12th until around the end of December. The vast majority of the competitive scene now utilizes the Wii U game, as it allows for superior viewing quality and far better control capabilities. Besides online play, the 3DS version of the game has fallen into obscurity.
Since the 3DS game started with version 1.0.0, it initially had a plethora of bugs, (primarily carried over from Super Smash Bros. Brawl), some of which was either an enhancement or was a deterrence to the competitive scene. Gameplay imbalance was also far more prominent. For instance, DACUS was still in from Brawl, and was discovered through using hacks to make the GameCube controller usable. However, it was completely removed in the Wii U version.
The Umebura tournament series was among the only national level tournaments ever held for Smash 3DS.
2015: First year and ZeRo's Dominance
2015 marks the first year of the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U's competitive timeline. This Smash game had a rather unique start compared to previous ones, considering the fact that the 3DS version was essentially the same game. Players were able to "hit the ground running" going into the new year. The 3DS version saw a dramatically reduced tournament presence, as its Wii U counterpart shares the same gameplay while benefiting from more control options and clear, high-definition graphics. Thus, every major from here was played on the Wii U version.
Infamously, Diddy Kong's powerful neutral game and throw combos, most notably the "Hoo-Hah" (down/up throw to up air), dominated competitive play, and Diddy dittos were common, much to the disapproval of spectators. However, Diddy would get nerfed in coming patches. The many balance patches and five new DLC characters all released throughout the year resulted in an extremely unstable metagame. There was also debate over the legality of custom moves, which were allowed at the biggest tournament to date, EVO 2015, but banned in most tournaments soon afterwards.
At Smash Factor 4, the largest Mexican Smash 4 tournament at the time, young competitor Leo caused a massive upset by defeating Brawl veteran Mr. R, one of Europe's best players, by using Meta Knight, improving perception of the character and setting up for a dominant Smash career.
These various changes did not stop ZeRo from achieving a record streak of 56 tournament wins, taking majors such as Apex 2015, EVO 2015, and The Big House 5, becoming the undisputed best player in the game at the time. The streak ended at MLG World Finals 2015, where Nairo defeated him in Grand Finals to become the only player to eliminate ZeRo in a Smash 4 tournament in 2015.
2016: The Meta Changes and ZeRo's Temporary Hiatus
This year saw the release of the last two DLC characters, Corrin and Bayonetta. Bayonetta was seen as a highly controversial character, due to her powerful combo game, allowing her to zero-death most foes, and Witch Time giving her one of the strongest punish games in Smash 4. Bayonetta was notably banned from tournament play in Spain, Russia, and certain areas in the United States. However, significant nerfs, most notably in May's patch 1.1.6, brought her on more even ground with other characters, and the bans were lifted. The lack of any other patches for the rest of the year finally gave the metagame time to develop without interruptions.
With ZeRo taking a brief absence from the competitive scene due to medical issues and Nairo unable to maintain the consistency he had the previous year, the meta gave way for players ranked below both of them on the Panda Global Rankings to rise. Upon ZeRo's return to the scene in May, he was no longer the dominant force he was previously, with a wider array of players defeating him compared to before the hiatus. Ally notably holds a positive record over him since the onset of patch 1.1.6 as a result, defeating him at events like Get On My Level 2016, Smash 'N' Splash 2 and Super Smash Con 2016. The 2016 summer season was defined as the rise of Mario in the metagame as ANTi and Ally won CEO 2016 and EVO 2016 respectively using mostly Mario. September marked the rise of Apex 2013 champion Salem in the game as he double-eliminated ZeRo at Collision XIV. Despite the losses he took since his return, ZeRo has slowly regained his dominance over the game, albeit not as strong as before, with him winning 2GGT: Abadango Saga, The Big House 6 and UGC Smash Open
MKLeo, who was well known for defeating Mr. R at Smash Factor 4 over a year prior, secured a US visa in October 2016, allowing him to enter tournaments in the United States. This led to him winning his first ever US major by the end of the year: 2GGT: ZeRo Saga, defeating a wide array of players such as ANTi, Ally, ZeRo, VoiD and Larry Lurr using Marth, which led to his rise in the metagame.
2017: The 2GG Championship
The year began with 2GGC: GENESIS Saga, the first qualifier of the 2GG Championship Series, a circuit of tournaments announced at 2GGT: ZeRo Saga. ZeRo, who had established his return to dominance at the end of 2016, won the tournament. The first premier of the year, GENESIS 4, was won by MKLeo, being his second major win after ZeRo Saga. The first half of the year would be described as the introduction of more Japanese players to the United States, players who have never been to a tournament in the US starting with Frostbite 2017, being the US debut of players such as Shuton, T, Some and Tsu-, who notably defeated ZeRo at the tournament (going on to place 2nd to him). The third qualifier of the 2GG Championship Series circuit, 2GGC: Civil War, became the largest tournament in the game's history, with 47 of the 50 players on the Panda Global Rankings v2 attending. The tournament was ultimately won by Dabuz, ranked #4 on the PGRv2.
The early months of 2017 marked the rise of players such as Locus and CaptainZack. Locus placed 9th at ZeRo Saga, defeating players such as Mr. R and Tweek and 7th at Civil War, notably defeating Nairo. CaptainZack placed 4th at both GENESIS 4 and Civil War. Along with Salem's relative fall from grace as he was unable to make top 8 at a notable tournament, CaptainZack was considered the best Bayonetta at the time. At around the same time, Trela's retirement from the scene caused Locus to be considered the best active Ryu in the world.
The first premier tournament after Civil War was 2GGC: Nairo Saga, which was won by ZeRo, though Salem rose back to being the best Bayonetta player as CaptainZack's recent placings became inconsistent while Salem made top 8 at four major tournaments, placing 2nd at Nairo Saga, 7th at CEO 2017 and 1st at both EVO 2017 (notably defeating ZeRo) and DreamHack Atlanta 2017. Patch 1.1.7 was released the week after EVO ended, though it did not change any characters.
The second half of the year was characterized by Bayonetta's rise in the meta, as Bayonetta's results improved with players such as Salem, Mistake and CaptainZack placing top 8 at several major tournaments. The 2GG Championship was held in December and it was won by MkLeo.
2018: Final Year before Ultimate
With ZeRo's retirement from the scene in January, the #1 spot on the Panda Global Rankings was up for grabs. Players such as MkLeo, Nairo, Dabuz and Tweek all set their sights on becoming the new #1 ranked player in the world. MkLeo led the charge by taking GENESIS 5, followed by Dabuz taking Frostbite 2018. Nairo would challenge MkLeo by taking Niconico Tokaigi 2018 and Smash Masters League: Battle for Vegas over him and winning Collision XV, though MkLeo would defeat him at SwitchFest and Get On My Level 2018 to challenge him back. Around this time, Tweek rose by winning MomoCon 2018 and 2GG: Hyrule Saga, putting him in contention with MkLeo for #1 in the world. Smash 'N' Splash 4 was won by VoiD, marking the first time Sheik won a major tournament since 2016. MkLeo and Tweek would face off at the final tournament of the PGRv5 season, CEO 2018 where MkLeo won, solidifying himself as the new #1 player in the world.
With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate being revealed at E3 2018, interest in Smash 4 has waned as most of the community is looking to move on to the that game.
Effect on the Melee and Brawl communities
Smash 4 has had little impact on Melee's tournament scene, as it is not uncommon for both games to be featured at tournaments simultaneously. Most already established Melee players have chosen to stay with the Melee community over Smash 4 due to several factors; they include the physics of Smash 4 being more similar to the controversial Brawl game engine, their main being more tournament viable in Melee than in SSB4 (such as with Falco and formerly Marth), or Smash 4 having a lower reliance on technical skill. Overall, both games attract large numbers of players and spectators.
Brawl's competitive scene has largely tapered off and moved onto Smash 4 since it was released. Almost all of its high level players primarily played it because it was simply the latest installment in the series after Melee and was therefore their personal preference.
While the Smash 4 engine was viewed as more tournament-friendly than that of Brawl ever since its earliest days, character balance has helped greatly in the game's perception relative to others. In contrast to the infamously unbalanced Brawl, SSB4 balance patches have allowed unbalanced character matchups and attributes to be corrected throughout the game's lifetime, resulting in a very large range of viable characters (including historically poor characters such as Bowser and Mewtwo), top-tier characters that are relatively easier to defeat, and bottom-tier characters that can hold up better against the higher tiers (to the point that the "Bottom" tier ranking was completely abolished in the third tier list). Some SSB4 supporters cite this as an advantage over even Melee, due to the fact that its top-tier characters are more dominating and ubiquitous than those of SSB4 (particularly its single best character in Fox), resulting in near-universal use of the top tiers and fewer appearances and results from lower-tier characters.
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