Super Smash Bros. Brawl in competitive play
Super Smash Bros. Brawl's competitive scene started soon after its release, following the popularity of its predecessor. Before Brawl's North American release, Nintendo held promotional tournaments across the United States, although they were played on the default 2-minute timer with items on.
Players immediately noticed the many changes made in Brawl, with Melee veterans such as Mew2King initially being highly critical of the game. Nevertheless, Brawl would go on to have an eventful competitive scene.
Unlike its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Brawl became home to a large and active tournament scene shortly following its release in March 2008, and TOs and players were already familiar with the tournament process, thanks to previous experience with Melee. Tournament activity sprung up across the United States, particularly in the Tristate Area, Southern California, Texas, Maryland/Virginia, and Florida; these regions became the major centers of Brawl activity throughout its lifetime. The Brawl scene was famous for its frequent 100-man "locals" in the months after the game's release, as the post-release hype generated unprecedented tournament numbers. The more significantly developed Internet of 2008, with popular sites such as YouTube, Smashboards, and All is Brawl, helped spread the growth of the Smash community faster than ever before. Brawl's usage of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection also facilitated competitive play outside of the tournament venue.
Brawl's release resulted in a temporary drop-off of Melee tournament activity, as the Smash scene largely shifted its focus to Brawl for most of 2008. Many Melee players, including Mew2King, Azen, Ken, and Chillin, actively played Brawl during its early competitive life. The game, however, was heavily criticized for its radically different gameplay mechanics; many Melee players disliked the game's slower and floatier gameplay, the ability to act out of hitstun (largely removing potential true combos), and the introduction of random tripping. The removal of wavedashing and the diminished power of edgeguarding led many community members to perceive the game as lacking in competitive depth. Because of these criticisms, most Melee veterans dropped Brawl and returned to playing the older game once its tournament activity picked up again in 2009. The Brawl community consisted mostly of newer players who had just entered the competitive scene. Brawl's activity eventually died down a bit after the initial-release hype in 2008, but still maintained large entrants at its events in 2009.
Meta Knight and Snake were considered the best characters in the game, and dominated early competitive Brawl, placing high at many tournaments; it was not uncommon to see the top eight players of a tournament all using the two characters. Meta Knight in particular was seen as "broken" by many players, as his unrivaled attack speed and edgeguarding ability could overwhelm most foes. He was considered so powerful that the community debated whether or not to ban him, but since it was still too early in the metagame to make big decisions, the Smash Back Room decided by vote to leave him alone.
Mew2King was known as the strongest Brawl player in its early lifetime, placing 1st at almost every large tournament he attended with his Meta Knight. Ally rose to fame as one of his few potential challengers, as he defeated him at both Apex 2009 and GENESIS.
2010: Major League Gaming
Major League Gaming picked up Brawl for its 2010 Pro Circuit. Various MLG-hosted nationals were held throughout the eastern half of the United States, attracting attention from across the country. However, Nintendo prohibited MLG from livestreaming Brawl matches, further reinforcing Nintendo's lack of support for the competitive Smash community. Gnes ultimately won the circuit final, MLG Dallas 2010, winning $12,500, the largest prize check ever won by a single player at the time.
An infamous splitting incident occurred at MLG DC 2010 between Mew2King and ADHD, leading to the two being banned from MLG Dallas 2010. This is commonly cited as a reason why MLG dropped Brawl after the circuit ended.
Following the MLG era, Brawl activity largely centered on the scene's grassroots tournaments, particularly Apex. The advent of streaming groups such as CLASH Tournaments allowed for high-definition footage of Brawl sets, featuring high-quality, professional commentary for the first time in Smash tournaments. The Tristate Area, as the home of Apex and CLASH Tournaments, became the most active and publicized region in the United States, and the unofficial center of the Brawl community.
Mew2King lost his status as the undisputed best Brawl player, as he was unable to win a national throughout 2012 and 2013, and notably had more inconsistent placings throughout 2011 at regionals and nationals in comparison to Ally. He was notorious for frequently getting upset by perceived lower-skilled players, most notably by OCEAN at Apex 2012 and Salem at Apex 2013. Players such as Nairo, ESAM, Otori, and ZeRo, with their dominance at American events, began to compete in the race for the title of best Brawl player. Salem became particularly famous for his victory at Apex 2013, where he defeated players such as Otori and Mew2King using Zero Suit Samus, a character widely considered below the threshold for a top tier character; his grand finals set vs. Mew2King has become one of the most famous sets in Brawl's history.
While Snake eventually fell on the tier list and lost his former dominance, Meta Knight's presence in the metagame only continued to grow. as he continued to fill the top spots in tournaments. More debates on Meta Knight's legality waged, as players complained that he was over-centralizing the game. This culminated in the Unity Ruleset Committee banning Meta Knight by vote in September 2011, taking effect in January 2012; this was lifted in April as the Committee disbanded, and it was once again up to tournament directors to decide whether to ban the character. Meta Knight was commonly banned in regions such as the Midwest and Texas, but remained legal in the Tristate Area and Japan, the strongest, most active, and most prominent regions in the world. The dual Meta Knight ban in doubles, though, became widespread, as this was seen as less extreme, while still permitting Meta Knight players to participate in these events.
Besides Meta Knight's continued dominance, the Ice Climbers and Olimar also rose on the tier and list and became prominent in the Brawl metagame. These characters were criticized for creating a slow, campy, and defensive-based gameplay that was considered boring to watch. The Ice Climbers were particularly detested for their "cheap" and "overpowered" zero-to-death chain grabs on every other character, ruining the tournament environment for both opponents and spectators. Many players claimed that the Ice Climbers ruined competitive Brawl even more than Meta Knight did.
Following Melee's resounding success at EVO 2013, and Brawl's shift towards a more unpopular defensive and campy gameplay, tournament activity underwent a significant decline, as many newer players shifted to the more popular Melee or the Brawl mod Project M. Melee and PM's entrant numbers outclassed Brawl's at every large event, and nationals that were formerly centered on Brawl, such as Apex 2014 and SKTAR 3, became dominated by the other, faster-paced Smash games, while the Brawl events in comparison remained small, with turnouts being significantly lower than expected. With the expected release of the newer Super Smash Bros. 4 in late 2014, Brawl players realized that the game's competitive lifespan was nearing an end. Following Smash 4's release, the vast majority of the Brawl player base shifted to the latest title, which was more well-received for its increased hitstun, allowing for more combos, and the removal of random tripping.
Unlike its prequels, which maintain thriving communities well after their launches, Brawl's scene heavily declined after the release of SSB4 and its metagame came to a complete standstill. The game’s competitive playerbase is now very small, and the title is rarely featured in tournament outside of tournaments featuring every Smash game such as Super Smash Con. However, it is usually relegated to a side event and rarely taken seriously, with entrants consisting mostly of players who formerly played the game looking to make additional money or to simply relish in its now highly casual environment. A few attempts, such as the hosting of Revival of Brawl, have been made to bring the game back into the competitive spotlight, as with the Melee scene in 2009, but these endeavors have been unsuccessful due to the penury of any interest from both players and viewers.
Despite the decline, Brawl still has a few dedicated players. The post-Brawl metagame saw the rise of Cody, who started to dominate the metagame in 2017, placing in the top 2 at every tournament he attended since Return to Subspace. The game also remains popular in Norway, with the Norwegian regional tournament series Garelaf and Vivaldi hosting Brawl as a main event. The SSBBRank continues to remain active as well, although a new iteration is released every 2 years instead of annually.
On February 9th, 2016, former top Brawl player false announced that he would make a documentary on Brawl's competitive lifespan, titled Smash 3. However, due to the lack of communication on the project and controversies surrounding false himself, it is unlikely the documentary will ever be released.
Criticisms of competitive Brawl
Brawl's mixed competitive reputation is the result of reactions to the numerous key changes to the gameplay that were altered from Melee, as well as the introduction of various new mechanics that are seen to hurt its competitive viability overall.
One of the most common complaints regarding Brawl's competitive scene is the lack of any true combos in the game. This can be attributed to three main changes:
- Hitstun cancelling allows fighters to airdodge after just 13 frames (0.22 seconds) of hitstun, meaning that any followups that rely on hitstun lasting longer than this are never true combos.
- Significantly lower fall speeds make combos and juggling much harder to pull off.
- Moves generally have more ending lag in this game.
As a result of this, the vast majority of the competitive gameplay revolves around hitting the opponent with one single attack, while attempting to capitalize off of the resulting positional advantage, rather than landing numerous guaranteed hits in a row to rack up damage. Almost all characters can only land true combos at extremely low percents, and even so, a move with long enough ending lag can simply be punished by the opponent if it connects near 0%.
The lack of combos, along with lower falling speeds, the removal of dash dancing and wavedashing, and lower movement options in general, has promoted a more defensive gameplay; protective options have also become much stronger, as powershielding gained a larger timing window and the air dodge can now be used without the player becoming helpless. Since combos are not guaranteed, there is a higher risk and lower reward of approaching and initiating an attack than in Melee, and waiting and shielding is often a safer option than aggressively attacking. This has promoted a heavily camp-based gameplay and has caused the game to become much slower-paced than Melee. Both games traditionally operate under an 8-minute time limit, but it is extremely rare for a 4-stock Melee match to go to time, while this frequently occurred in 3-stock Brawl sets.
Such factors influenced players and spectators alike to consider the game boring, harming its competitive scene. In an attempt to improve the game's spectator appeal, some newer tournaments, such as Get On My Level 2014 and Glitch 2, have introduced 1-stock and 2-stock rulesets to speed up gameplay. While generally more positively regarded among spectators, competitive players generally feel that shorter matches hurt the game's competitive depth, making self-destructs and other mistakes more punishing and giving players less time to adapt to their opponent during the set.
The case could be made that all of the games in the Super Smash Bros. series have issues with roster balance, but Brawl is notorious for having a very poorly balanced cast. Newcomer Meta Knight is one of the few characters in the game with true combos, and his numerous jumps and nearly limitless recovery make him powerful both offensively and defensively. Adding to his oppressive advantages, his frame data is unrivaled among the game's roster outside of Sheik, allowing him to pressure and overwhelm slower characters while his disjointed range and transcendent priority make him extremely difficult to both approach and punish. Because of his strengths, Meta Knight became the most used character in competitive Brawl and is almost universally considered the best character in the game. Multiple Meta Knights finishing in the top places of Brawl tournaments is common, and some have complained that the omnipresence of Meta Knight and the lack of viable characters has made the game's scene less interesting to watch.
The Ice Climbers' zero-to-death chain grabs have also been criticized for being overpowered, uninteresting to watch, and requiring little skill to use effectively, and many players believe that they are cheap and "ruin" the game, in a similar manner to wobbling in Melee. Wobbling, however, is not seen as an overpowered tactic, as it is much more difficult for the Ice Climbers to land a grab in the faster-paced, more aggressive Melee, but due to Brawl's defensive nature, Ice Climbers players have been able to land grabs with ease. Because of their strength, the Ice Climbers are ranked second on the tier list below Meta Knight.
Due to his perceived brokenness, Meta Knight has been frequently banned from tournament play, especially in regions such as Texas, leading to a greater diversity of characters earning top placings in MK-banned tournaments. The Unity Ruleset even attempted to implement a Meta Knight ban across the entire United States in early 2012, but this was met with resistance in many areas of the country, most notoriously in the Tristate Area, home to both Apex, the largest Brawl tournament series, and several of the world's strongest Meta Knight players. As a result of Tristate's opposition to the ruling, the nationwide ban soon collapsed, and after the ban was lifted, tournament organizers were once again free to ban Meta Knight at their discretion; Meta Knight remained legal at Apex, SKTAR, and most other prominent Brawl tournaments for the rest of its popular competitive life.
Many players have also supported a ban of the Ice Climbers in tournaments as well. While this almost never occurred during Brawl's competitive lifetime, it became common following the release of Smash 4, with several of the few Brawl tournaments still hosted choosing to ban both Meta Knight and the Ice Climbers.
Conversely, characters such as Ganondorf, Jigglypuff and Captain Falcon are severely underpowered in competitive play; Ganondorf held disadvantageous matchups against every single character in the game (although his higher power is more debatable against other lower-tier characters around him), and high-tier staples of Melee such as Captain Falcon and Jigglypuff went from being some of the best characters in that game to being heavily nerfed in Brawl.
- The game is considered to be easier to master than Melee, requiring less technical skill to play the game at a high level.
- Random tripping is seen as a detriment to the game's competitive viability, frequently punishing the player when no mistake was made on their part.
- Many popular advanced techniques from Melee, such as L-cancelling, the ability to air dodge in a certain direction, and the aforementioned wavedashing and practical dash dancing, were removed, taking away from the game's perceived competitive depth.
- The ability to air dodge multiple times without becoming helpless, combined with lower falling speeds and generally improved recoveries, has made edgeguarding much less effective overall.