A tournament, or tourney for short, is a competition involving a group of players designed to produce an overall skill ranking of the involved players, typically by arranging them into a structured bracket where players engage in individual matches to raise or lower their ranking.
The Super Smash Bros. series has seen a large devoted competitive community since Matt Deezie established the fundamentals of competitive Smash with the Tournament Go series in April 2002 with Super Smash Bros. Melee. The game had an active tournament scene in the years following its release, being featured at both grassroots tournaments and events run by Major League Gaming and other large e-sports groups. After entering a recession following the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the Melee scene eventually rebounded, and began an explosive growth in popularity in 2013, fueled by the success of EVO 2013 and the documentary, The Smash Brothers. Although it was released on the retired GameCube platform, Melee remains extremely popular among competitive players, with a large and thriving tournament presence far exceeding that of the pre-Brawl days; these players prefer the older iteration due to its faster and more combo-oriented gameplay compared to newer Smash titles.
Brawl also had a large tournament scene for its first five years, though most former Melee players disliked its slower gameplay, and even following its release, a sizeable number of players continued to stick with the faster-paced and combo-oriented gameplay of Melee. Although Brawl developed its own vibrant tournament scene after its release, beginning in 2013, the Brawl scene began a steady decline, following the explosion in popularity of Melee attributed to EVO 2013, the imminent release of Smash 4, and the rise of Project M; since the release of Super Smash Bros. 4, Brawl currently maintains a small tournament presence. While few players play the game at a serious level, several large Smash tournaments, such as Super Smash Con, have featured the game and attracted a sizeable amount of entrants, who generally enter the event in addition to or Melee or Ultimate (and formerly Smash 4).
When it was the newest Smash game, Smash 4 was overall more successful than Brawl was in competitive play, due in part to the game removing many of Brawl's criticized and unpopular gameplay mechanics such as the relative lack of hitstun, and having faster and more competitively-suited gameplay. Smash 4's tournament scene took off immediately upon its release, due to availability of well-developed streaming technology, social networking, and other tournament infrastructure, in addition to an already-existing Brawl fanbase that eagerly moved onto the newer game. Like Melee, the title has been featured prominently in large fighting game tournaments such as EVO; it has also attracted casual players into the competitive Smash scene to a much greater extent than any of the previous Smash games. However, the competitive scene for the game has all but disappeared as players moved onto Ultimate.
In a similar vein to Smash 4, Ultimate's competitive scene exploded in popularity, with many people, including Melee players, praising the game's mechanics, both returning and new. The speed and pacing has also been substantially increased, and changes to mechanics such as air dodging and perfect shielding allow Ultimate to be better-suited for competitive play in the eyes of many smashers. The growth in the scene was also unprecedented, and by the end of the first month, there were many tournaments that had a higher attendance than the highest-attended Smash 4 tournament in the same time period. Currently, the scene is still young and growing; however, its popularity has not decreased in the slightest.
Competitive Smash 64 has maintained a small following since the release of Melee. Despite being the oldest Smash game with the least character diversity, it still has an active and dedicated playerbase, with many players having played the game for many years. In addition to the traditional in-person tournaments, more recent play has also taken place over the Internet through services like Kaillera.
Project M, a Brawl mod featuring design and gameplay like that of Melee's, has also seen a number of tournaments dedicated to it. Beginning in 2013, the game saw a rapid rise in popularity and was increasingly featured at Smash tournaments, including supermajors such as Apex 2014. Initially restricted to a side-event at many tournaments, Project M later developed its own unique tournament scene, with some tournaments being devoted almost solely to the game. However, since Project M is not endorsed by Nintendo, many major e-sports organizations and large grassroots tournaments have refused to include the game in their lineups, and many streaming groups also refuse to stream PM tournaments altogether, due to fears of legal issues over the mod. Although these blows have caused the game to lose some ground to Melee, Ultimate, and formerly Smash 4, it is still supported by a vibrant and active community of players and tournaments, and it is still commonly featured at smaller majors and at side events at larger majors. Ultimate does not have a tier list yet, and the competition is still evolving.
Locations and sizes
Tournaments are held regularly in many regions all over the world, with the largest community centered in the United States, which has not only the largest and generally most talented playerbase, but also the largest tournaments, such as GENESIS and EVO, which attract competition from all over the world (a feat other regions have yet to achieve). Canada, northern and western Europe (in particular the Scandinavian countries), Australia and Japan have large Smash communities as well. Smaller communities exist in Latin America and elsewhere. Major areas of tournament activity in the United States are centered around Northern California, Southern California, the Maryland/Virginia area, the Tristate Area, and Florida, though most states enjoy an active tournament calendar year round.
Various terms exist for describing the size, frequency, and intent of a tournament. They include:
Prices and fees
Most tournaments require an entry fee from participants to play. These prices vary by region and tournament size, and differ for each type of event being entered; a typical entry fee amount for smaller tournaments is $5, while larger tournaments run $10, with it being uncommon even for the largest supermajors to have an entry fee over $10. Entry fees go into a "pot" for an event and are awarded to the winners of that event in pre-announced amounts, usually a percentage of the pot (for example a common payout split at small tournaments is 60% for first, 30% for second, and 10% for third, though the exact splits and how deep the payouts go vary greatly across tournaments). Tournament directors will usually charge an extra amount, commonly referred to as a venue fee, to help pay for the costs to use the venue, equipment, paying others for various tourney-related services, and for their own time. Venue fees usually cost between $5 to $10, though larger tournaments will frequently charge more, especially for nationals that last multiple days, where venue fees can run potentially up to the $100+ range. Often TOs will offer discounts on the venue fee for doing things that help run the tourney, such as supplying a setup and volunteering to help the TO, and larger tournaments will often charge a lower venue fee to players that pre-register early, while charging a higher venue fee to those who register late.
Legal issues involving the exchange of money
Some public venues like schools and places of worship consider gaming tournaments a form of gambling and ban it as such. All tournament directors are encouraged to check with potential venues to make sure they are tolerant of players paying to enter. Several well-known tournaments have had to cancel events when a public official discovered that money was changing hands between players at the event.
Smash Bros. tournaments are often thought to be illegal in Iowa under §725.7 of the Iowa Code, which states that it is unlawful for any one to "participate in a game for any sum of money or other property of any value" other than those outlined in subsection 2. However, nobody is known to have been arrested due to participating in an esports tournament. There have been several attempts to pass legislation to explicitly legalize fantasy sports in the state, which may have implications for esports as well. House Bill 165, introduced to the Iowa House of Representatives in January 2015 attempts to create a definition for "Bona Fide Contests", that among other additions, would legalize paying tournaments for games “by player-directed movement with a video or electronic gaming device”. The current law allows for video machine golf tournament games, but not necessarily any other type of video game.
There are four bracket formats commonly used by modern Smash tournaments today: Double elimination, Round Robin, Pools, and Single Elimination. The exact details may vary between tournaments, and some may use a different format entirely, but these tournaments are few and far between.
Double elimination bracket
The double elimination format is by far the most common bracket type at tournaments. A double elimination bracket is derived from the single elimination format but is split into two sections, the winners' and losers' brackets (W and L for short). The W bracket is almost identical to a single elimination bracket; however, losing in the W bracket does not eliminate a player from the tournament. They instead drop into the L bracket at a position that reflects how far they advanced into the W bracket. Anyone who loses in the L bracket (their second loss of the event) is eliminated.
The first round of the L bracket pairs two players who just lost in the first round of the W bracket. The winner of this set then plays a player who drops from the second round of W bracket due to a loss there; the player is placed in the bracket at the letter/number corresponding to the set in W bracket where they lost. (In the images at right, Champ lost at W-A and dropped into L-A.) Further L bracket rounds alternate between these two set setups: two players who survived earlier L bracket rounds play, and the winner of that faces someone dropping from W bracket.
There are three sets in a double-elimination bracket that are of special importance to participants:
These three sets usually require a greater number of individual games to be played before determining a winner. Standard tournament rules have most sets being a set of "best two of three", while the three sets above are often sets of "best three of five".
Every player is guaranteed at least two sets in a double elimination bracket, making it a popular alternative to the single elimination format. The format also affords a player the chance to make a comeback after losing once in W bracket, as well as provide a greater difference in placing, to aid with ranking players' tournament performance.
The size of a double elimination bracket is determined in the same fashion as a single elimination bracket. Half the remaining players are eliminated every two rounds of the L bracket. The total number of sets for an n-size bracket is equal to 2(n−1); thus, a double elimination bracket takes exactly twice as long to complete as a single elimination bracket (assuming the bracket is not reset).
The following is the list of placements and which stage and round the player was eliminated. # refers to the maximum number of players who may share the placement. EVO uses a similar model for their events. This list is accurate for tournaments using double-elimination throughout, and lower placements would be inaccurate for tournaments using round robin pools or divisions, for example.
Round Robin is a tournament format where every player in the tournament plays every single other player. There are no brackets and no eliminations; everyone keeps playing until every matchup has been played.
Pools contain a subset of an entrant field, also informally known as "groups". Using this mechanism, players are split into appropriately-sized pools and do a "mini-tournament" with other participants in their pool using the pre-announced pool format, with the most common format pre-2013 being round-robin to yield perfectly accurate results and to give less skilled players more tournament matches, while post-2013 bracket pools have become predominant, as the explosion in the size of Smash tournaments necessitated a format that was more practical for the much larger tournaments. In round-robin pools, after all matches have finished, players are either seeded or eliminated in their pool based on their performance. Pools are usually used to narrow a large entrant field into a smaller subset for double elimination bracket play or for another round of pools, though they are occasionally just used to seed players in bracket without elimination. Examples of this method are:
In sufficiently large tournaments, 2 or more rounds of pools would be adequate to useful. Examples are:
Pools are usually only employed at large tournaments. N number of entrants are split into P number of pools, and the top Y finishers in each pool are either placed into a second round of pools or seeded into a double elimination bracket, which proceeds normally. The number of entrants for the subsequent round or bracket is P × Y. Placing well in a pool gives a player a better position in a bracket or the next round of pools, giving extra incentive to strive for the top pool positions. Tournaments using round-robin pools will result in a significantly larger amount of games being played than without them. There are a total of B(B−1)/2 sets per pool, with B players per pool. Thus a round of round-robin pools with N participants total requires a grand total of N(B−1)/2 sets.
Bracket pools differ by employing the usual double-elimination format in pools, where pools essentially become mini-brackets where a certain amount of top placing players (typically between the top 2 to top 4) feed into a final bracket or farther bracket pools. Usually a player that enters the loser bracket in bracket pools will remain in losers for the rest of their tourney run, with advancing to the final bracket or next round of pools not resetting their position to the winner side, so everyone can still only lose twice before being eliminated at most tournies that run bracket pools, though occasionally tournies running bracket pools may have a players reset back onto the winner's side upon advancing, such as at Apex 2013. Compared to round-robin pools, bracket pools lose the advantage of guaranteeing weaker players more than two sets, but they take considerably less time and effort to run, making them considerably more practical for large tournaments. Additionally, while a tournament with bracket pools may not seem to differ functionally from a normal double-elimination bracket, employing bracket pools makes large tournaments far easier to organize and run than just running a large normal double-elimination bracket would be.
The Swiss System, as used heavily in the professional chess world, guarantees each player the same number of matches and attempts to match players against others of similar skill throughout the tournament. Swiss system tournaments are rare in the Smash community due to their complexity and the large number of matches they create.
Players are assigned matches in the first round either randomly or based on some method of seeding (an attempt to rank players in order of skill before the tournament starts). Winning this set gives a player 1 "point", and losing does not give any points. Each successive round involves pairing two players with the same number of points (attempting to avoid repeat matchups), playing out those matches, assigning points, and repeating for the next round. Swiss systems generally run until only a single person has no losses; this will occur after R rounds, where R is the base-2 logarithm of the total number of entrants, rounded upwards. Swiss brackets are sometimes run for a pre-determined number of rounds, with the winner being the person with the most points overall.
The Swiss format can also be run in pools instead of the traditional bracket and round-robin formats, such as was done at Smash 'N' Splash 5. Though like with running Swiss format tournaments, this format is rarely used in pools due to its complexity and large amount of matches created.
Single elimination bracket
Single elimination tournaments are the least common of the four formats for Super Smash Bros. and video games in general. Despite this, tournaments sometimes use them for side events like crew battles to save time. Despite single elimination's flaws, Japanese Smash 64 tournaments often use the single elimination format, even in large, national tournaments. Some early Melee tournaments used single elimination.
In a single elimination bracket, players are arranged into an hierarchical structure where matches are played between two entrants; the winner advances to play another player the next round, and the loser is eliminated from the tournament. The player who wins the very last match of the bracket, after all other entrants have been eliminated, is the winner of the event, and the person who loses the final match finishes in second place. Most sports tournaments (like the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship) use a single elimination format.
Single elimination brackets are often described in terms of the number of entrants playing in the bracket. Because half the remaining players are eliminated during each round of the bracket, the total number of rounds is based on the base-2 logarithm of the entrant count (rounded upwards). A three-round bracket is used for 8 players, four rounds for 9 to 16 players, five rounds for 17 to 32 players, and so on. A bracket's size is usually defined as the smallest power of two that is greater than or equal to the number of entrants. Thus, a bracket with 47 entrants is referred to as a 64-man bracket, because 64 is the smallest power of two which is greater than 47. The size of the bracket also reflects the total number of matches throughout the entire bracket: for an n-size bracket, n-1 matches must be played in total.
Byes are used to fill positions in the bracket when the number of entrants is not a power of two. Any player facing a bye automatically advances to the next round. Byes are usually given to the top seeds in the bracket.
Single elimination brackets are rarely used at Smash tournaments for multiple reasons. One such reason players dislike single elimination is that half the players are eliminated having only played a single match (and every player overall gets to play significantly fewer matches). Another reason is that just having one bad match or encountering one bad matchup can result in a premature elimination for a player that would have placed better otherwise, thus giving less room for error, and overall less accuracy in the results. Single elimination also offers much less difference in placing, making them less useful for ranking players' performance.
An Arcadian is a tournament format where all the ranked players from a specific region are banned from participating, therefore only allowing the unranked players to participate, giving the unranked players a chance at winning money and the glory of winning a tournament that they would typically have no realistic chance at. Arcadians still feature the same rulesets as other tournaments, however. Most Arcadians also disallow players from outside the tourney's region from participating, however TOs may screen out-of-region players to determine if they're eligible instead of banning OoR players wholesale. Arcadians may additionally have a clause to allow TOs to bar entry to any technically unranked player that would be deemed too good to enter, such as a player who was only unranked for failing to reach a PR's attendance requirement rather than from a lack of ability. Arcadians are most common at local and regional tournaments, and most regions periodically run Arcadians, typically once per a ranking season. Notably, 2GG: Breakthrough 2019 holds the record for the largest Arcadian tournament within the Smash series.
Side events are events played on the side of the primary singles/doubles tournament. They are usually done for "fun", as well as to play under conditions that couldn't be done as its own standalone event, and to potentially attract players who wouldn't attend for just the primary singles/doubles tournament. Side events, being less serious in nature, usually have a lower entry fee to enter. Common examples of side events include:
A friendly, slang for exhibition match, is a match that takes place before or during a tournament and at a tournament but is used for practice or just for fun in general. This means that the outcome will not be used in a tournament. A friendly match can also be an online match, usually only two people, that are friends on Wi-Fi. Friendlies tend to also be used as showcases people of different coasts and to settle matchups. Friendlies come in one of 2 variants:
Low and mid tier tournaments
A low tier tournament is a tournament that runs under standard rules, with the stipulation being players can only play low and bottom tier characters. What characters are considered "low tier" is at TO discretion. The main purpose of a low tier tournament is to play as characters under tournament conditions that would otherwise be rare in standard tournaments, as comparatively few players use such characters in tournaments, and even fewer players, such as Gimpyfish and Mekos, have been able to place decently at major tournaments with low tier characters. Sopo, or a single lead Ice Climber, is sometimes eligible for low-tier tournaments, as well as "Nolimar", Olimar without using any of his Pikmin.
A mid tier tournament is similar to a low tier tournament, except characters in the middle tiers can be played, with those in the top and high tiers being banned. What characters are considered "mid tier" is at TO discretion. The main purpose of mid tier tournaments is to have greater character variety than what a low tier tournament would allow, without having to see the abundance of top and high tier characters that dominate standard tournaments.
Occasionally crew battles are run as an official side event, where they can either be two large crews competing, or an entire tournament of many crews. Crews are usually composed of members of preexisting crews, players from the same region, and recruited by a draft, where a team captain drafts other players for their crew. In the past, crew battle tournaments had entry fees and payed out the top placing crews. However, this practice largely ended around 2007.
Game mod tournaments
A common side event is a tournament played with one of the various game mods of Brawl or Melee, primarily done to see how the mod plays under tournament conditions. Project M remains by and far away the most common game mod to be played at tournaments, to the point of developing its own tournament scene; Brawl- and Brawl+, however, also saw appearances at side events.
Modding Melee is significantly less convenient for the end-user because the Smash Stack exploit isn't available, thus fewer Melee mods have been developed. However, SD Remix is a balance mod that is somewhat popular and has side tournaments run for it.
Ultimate has also seen a steady increase of mod usage in tournaments, primarily through file replacement on the Yuzu emulator. However, there is comparatively little gameplay altering mods seeing regular use. Instead, the changes are mostly cosmetic, including new costumes, textures, and voice clips. A particularly popular type of mod is replacing the floor and wall textures of a stage with the logo of the tournament and/or a featured team.
Free for all
For a more casual-focused side event, sometimes tourneys may run a bracket that runs FFA matches instead of the standard singles and doubles. Exact rules beyond matches having four players vary, though typically a larger stage selection and items will be allowed too.
All Brawl is a FFA ruleset that was a semi-popular side event back in the Brawl era, where players competed in 4-player FFA, with items on and every stage legal. The ruleset used for Apex 2012's All Brawl event was:
When pools are used, players that fail to advance can be placed into an Amateur Bracket, to play additional matches without additional cost. Given that pools are usually seeded to spread the high level players out amongst them (so that they can all advanced), an Amateur Bracket will give low level players the opportunity to play against other low level players that they would not get in their pools. Amateur brackets are typically just ran as another double-elimination bracket, but sometimes a round-robin or Swiss format may be used instead. And though it isn't always the case, there will frequently be some sort of prize for the winner of an Amateur Bracket, which will typically be some sort of merchandise, free entry to another tourney, or a simple small cash prize.
A Salty Suite is a streamed exhibition set between two people, typically with the purpose of settling some feud between them. Notable streaming groups, such as VGBootCamp, have hosted these types of side events at tournaments such as Apex 2014 and Apex 2015.
Some Smash 4 and Ultimate tournaments have side events centered around amiibo. Players can enter their trained amiibo into brackets against other amiibo, with no human players actually taking part in the matches. As amiibo can be fed equipment to alter the properties of their attacks or otherwise gain passive bonuses, some rulesets for amiibo tournaments allow for their use on amiibo.
Frequently Ultimate tourneys feature a Squad Strike bracket, sometimes even in the place of a Doubles bracket. These brackets are typically played in Tag Team mode, with players having three characters, and other rules mirroring what the tourney's normal Singles bracket uses. Often tournaments will have a rule that bans Echo Fighters from being used on the same team with their counterparts due to being too similar functionally to their parent character, though which Echoes fall under this ban varies from tourney to tourney; some tournaments may apply the ban to all Echoes, but will frequently exempt Ken, Chrom, and sometimes Lucina due to the more significant differences they have from their respective parent characters.
While crew battles can be run through Squad Strike, crew battles in Ultimate are typically ran outside the mode through the usual procedure that smashers have used in all other Smash games.
Some side tourneys, mainly for Brawl onward, utilize the Special Smash mode to create custom games and rulesets. The official tournament ruleset is usually partially or entirely thrown out for these events, as they are not meant to be taken seriously and are more of a fun, low-stakes contest. There may be a prize pot for these events, but usually not.
Some Ultimate tourneys use the Smashdown mode, where everyone is forced to pick a new character every game until none are left. While picking a character for a game is usually done on the spot, some require players to reserve fighters ahead of time to avoid disputes where multiple players want the same fighter. Due to the way Smashdown works, only a maximum of eight players can be in a single tourney, and they all have to play every game. The player that takes the most KOs during the tourney is declared the winner. The tourney can also end early if the mercy rule is on.
Non-Smash Bros games
Some tournaments have either official or side events in other games outside of the Smash series. Usually such tournaments would play fighting games such as Street Fighter or Marvel vs. Capcom or occasionally Smash Bros. fan games. Smash tournaments are increasingly becoming fixtures at "traditional" fighting game events including prominent ones like EVO or CEO. Some events that are primarily focused on "esports" games like League of Legends or Counter-Strike may include Smash tournaments. Such events have included Major League Gaming, Press Start, and DreamHack.