Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in competitive play
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's competitive scene is still rather young.
2018: Rapid Growth
Similar to Super Smash Bros. 4, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's competitive scene started before the game was released with the Super Smash Bros. Invitational 2018, an invitational tournament hosted by Nintendo at E3 2018 on June 12th, 2018. Similar to the last invitational, professional Smashers were invited to compete against each other; however, only eight players were invited this time, four of them being top SSB4 players while the other four were top Melee players. The only invitee who participated in the previous tournament was ZeRo, who managed to defend his previous title and defeated MkLeo, winning his first Ultimate tournament.
When Ultimate was released on December 7th, 2018, many tournaments started hosting the game, with a lot of them having over 100 attendees. By the end of the year, Ultimate's largest tournament, Umebura SP, had hosted 746 players, over 7 times more entrants than Smash 4's largest tournament in the same period of time.
The introduction of the Final Smash Meter and the general standardization of Final Smashes and their strength brought up the topic of legalizing them. However, including them in tournament play quickly fell out of favor due to many of the same problems that led to their ban in the past still being present. The most prominent of these is the disparity in effectiveness, with attacks like Triforce of Wisdom being considerably more effective than attacks like Puff Up, while several characteristics of Final Smashes themselves, such as the fact that they cannot be blocked, mean that they continue to supplant many mechanics in the game.
Despite the term "Echo Fighter" being heavily marketed as a new method of branding clone characters, players quickly noticed that the term was somewhat inconsistent. While the term was used on all clones with little to no differences, a few other Echo Fighters had noticeable differences. Ken, Chrom and Lucina have all been seen as different enough from Ryu, Roy and Marth respectively to warrant being ranked separately from each other. Conversely, Daisy, Richter, and Dark Samus are commonly merged with their base fighters when ranking them, as they have minimal gameplay differences - or nonexistent in Daisy's case - from their parent characters. Dark Pit has been argued to fit in both categories, since while his only differences lie in his side special, neutral special, and Final Smash (the latter of which is not used in competitive play), his differences in those moves are fairly notable.
2019: A Growing Meta
2019 started off with a bang, with over 2,000 players participating in GENESIS 6, the first tournament since EVO 2016 to surpass the milestone. This tournament saw the first international appearance of Zackray, a 15-year-old from Japan who was a top player in SSB4. Despite being his first time in a tournament outside of Japan, Zackray made an impressive run by placing 5th and defeating top players such as K9sbruce and Light. MkLeo, a young Smash 4 prodigy, was also able to prove that he was still a top player by winning the whole tournament and double eliminating VoiD.
Nintendo also began hosting their own Ultimate tournaments, starting with the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate North American Open 2019. Their ruleset, however, was criticized by many competitive players for being too casual, as items were allowed and certain stages banned in competitive play were used. Nintendo would slowly fix this problem, first by getting rid of Smash Balls and Assist Trophies at the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Online Open June 2019, and later adopting the competitive ruleset for the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Online Open August 2019.
The Panda Global Rankings Ultimate, or PGRU, made a return for Ultimate, starting its first season with GENESIS 6 and Sumabato SP 2 on February 1st, 2019, and ending with Albion 4, The Pinnacle 2019, and BigWinChampionship 2 on July 7th, 2019. Although the PGRU has almost the same mechanics as the previous iteration, there were some notable changes. The biggest change was the international multiplier, which counts entrants from tournaments outside of the continental US as 1.25 entrants, allowing more international tournaments to have representation on the PGR.
The first iteration of the PGRU was met with some controversy. Many players were confused on how players who have only attended a few PGRU tournaments, such as Frozen and LeoN, were present on the list while more consistent players, such as ZD and Gen, were relegated to PGRU's "Area 51" or were not present on the list at all. On PGStat's SmashCenter podcast, Panda Global director suar stated that, since there were no PGRU players for reference, outplacements were also counted for the list. This meant that large tournaments where top 10 players were upset early, such as Tweek at Smash 'N' Splash 5, allowed players who have ranked higher to have a better chance to make it onto the list.
Unlike Smash 4, where ZeRo dominated competitive play, during the first few months of the first season, many people were unsure about who would take the top spot; MkLeo was commonly viewed as the best player after his victory at GENESIS 6 until Tweek defeated him twice at Frostbite 2019 and took the tournament. This renewed the debate for the best player, which saw some new contenders as well, such as Zackray, Marss, and Shuton. Most potential candidates have several top placements but a few mediocre ones as well; for example, MkLeo had won GENESIS 6 but also placed 33rd at the Umebura Japan Major 2019, and Zackray has had weaker performances abroad. However, as the metagame progressed, MkLeo - after switching mains from Ike, Lucina, and Wolf to the DLC character Joker - started to gain more wins than the other contenders, placings 1st at MomoCon 2019, Smash 'N' Splash 5, and CEO 2019. While some complaints arose of Joker being potentially broken, few outside of MkLeo have achieved as much success with the character, in contrast to characters such as Bayonetta and Diddy Kong in previous installments. As it stands, MkLeo is currently widely viewed as the best player in the world, though nowhere near as dominant as ZeRo's presence in Smash 4.
The record for the largest Smash tournament in history, previously held by Smash 4 at EVO 2016, was shattered at EVO 2019, when Ultimate became the first game to surpass 3,000 entrants, totaling at 3,534. A week later, Super Smash Con 2019 would also surpass EVO 2016's record with 2,708 entrants. With these numbers, Ultimate is currently the only Smash title where more than one tournament has surpassed 2,000 entrants.
During this period of time, many characters ranked lower in past iterations rose in popularity, including Palutena, Pichu, Wario, Shulk, R.O.B., Roy, and most infamously Wolf, whose potent neutral game and incredibly versatile moveset gave him a huge playerbase including players such as Zackray and MkLeo. Some characters, while being less viable than the aforementioned, have been noted as significant improvements over past iterations, such as Bowser, Pac-Man, Falco, and Ike. Olimar became a controversial character due to his high damage output and kill power and players such as Shuton, Myran, and Dabuz gathering great results with said character. Lucina, who was deemed a downgrade from Marth in SSB4, is now considered much better than her counterpart, as Marth's smaller tipper hitboxes and the removal of Perfect Pivoting make him harder to use to his full potential. Ivysaur, thought to be the worst of Pokémon Trainer's party in Brawl, has been significantly buffed to the point of widely being considered the best and a top tier character on its own. Other perceived top-tier characters included Fox, Pikachu, Inkling, Greninja, Snake, Peach, and Daisy.
Conversely, many characters who were top- or high-tier in their previous iterations have been heavily nerfed to the point where they have had limited or even nonexistent results in the early metagame. This includes Diddy Kong, Sheik, Ice Climbers, Rosalina & Luma, Sonic, Ryu, Corrin, and most notably Bayonetta, who had been drastically nerfed as a result of her controversial dominance in SSB4. Other perceived low- or bottom-tier characters included Kirby, King K. Rool, Piranha Plant, Isabelle, Bowser Jr., and Little Mac; Little Mac especially has been considered by many as the worst character in the game, as the game's engine changes have severely harmed his SSB4 advantages.
Updates have changed certain characters for the better or worse. Notably, Captain Falcon, Lucario, Rosalina & Luma, Diddy Kong, Ryu and Ken were considered mediocre to terrible at launch, but were given significant buffs in updates that allowed them to become more viable in the eyes of many people. At the same time, Peach, Daisy Pichu, Olimar, and to a lesser extent Pokémon Trainer's Ivysaur, Lucina and Wolf have received nerfs from game updates due to their notorious effectiveness; Pichu and Olimar have been affected the most by these nerfs so far. With the former top tiers nerfed, characters such as Pikachu, Snake and Joker rose to take the top spots on many tier lists.
Ultimate has shown to be the best game in the series in terms of character balance. It is fairly common to see an entirely unique character pool in top 8s for many major tournaments. Additionally, there are few low tiers that are seen as completely unviable, and there are no top tier characters that over-centralize the metagame in the same vein that Meta Knight and Bayonetta did. So-called low-tier characters have received decent results as well; Mr. L notably won Australia's largest major with King K. Rool, a character that was notably viewed as a low tier. While there may be clear high tier and low tier characters in Ultimate, the gap between the two is nowhere near as significant as it was in previous games.
Effects on other competitive scenes
Similarly to Brawl's competitive community when SSB4 was released, most SSB4 players transitioned to Ultimate when the game was released, causing the SSB4 scene to significantly decrease, if not completely disappear.
Unlike SSB4, Melee players have mostly praised Ultimate's engine, liking how some Melee techniques such as directional airdodges have made a return, as well as an increase in speed compared to the previous game. However, a few players noted that Ultimate's wavedashing is far less useful than it was in Melee, and the speed was still slightly below that of Melee. Although Melee tournaments still exist, many top Melee players such as Leffen and Mango have stated their interests in participating in Ultimate tournaments. Leffen, Plup, Armada, and Wizzrobe have also all achieved notable placements in Ultimate.
Ultimate was the only Smash Bros. game in EVO's lineup at EVO 2019, while Melee was relegated to a side event. Some players were worried that this, combined with the absence of Armada, PPMD, and Mew2King, signaled the decline of Melee. However, Melee has continued strong regardless of this absence and has been notably less dominated by the Five Gods; players such as Wizzrobe and Axe would go on to majors with unconventional characters. The decline of the Five Gods and rise of new players and characters to fill the void has kept interest in Melee growing, or at worst, steady.