The competitive Super Smash Bros. Ultimate community is undergoing its longest drought of in-person tournaments in its brief history. The coronavirus pandemic has made any large gatherings of players impossible but has ushered in a new era of widespread online tournaments.
This quarantine-induced circuit of wifi tournaments has flipped the script on which of Smash Ultimate’s 76 fighters are seen as the best. That’s because Nintendo's notoriously spotty online gameplay makes it more difficult for players to react to their opponent's movements and chain together the same combos they're capable of in offline play.
This has spawned a new breed of "online tier lists" that look nothing like their offline counterparts.
What could be the most scientific and data-driven wifi tier list ever was published by Twitter user @SADRaiko on Monday, and the rankings might shock players who have kept a close eye on offline tier lists since Smash Ultimate's release.
Computer science student and Smasher KingKrib64 analyzed more than 625,000 online tournament matches to determine which characters are picked the most often and which perform the best. A Smash content creator PracticalTAS then overlaid that data on a coordinate grid, which SADRaiko used to populate a traditional tier list.
A shocking number of characters that are considered to be the best-of-the-best offline — like Joker, Pikachu, Mario, Wolf, and Lucina — are barely in mid-tier when it comes to online play. While fighters that have been seen as subpar in offline tourneys — like Donkey Kong, Zelda, Luigi, and Robin — are at the top of the food chain.
Why the big shift?
Offline, characters with quick moves that have a lot of combo potential — like Fox and Inkling — thrive because the best Smash Ultimate players can expertly string their moves together when there's no online latency involved.
Lag and latency in online play effectively slows players down, making it more difficult or even impossible to hit the same combos and use the same strategies they would offline. That greatly benefits heavy characters — like Ganondorf and King K. Rool — that would otherwise be completely overwhelmed by quick, combo-reliant characters.
Projectile spammers like R.O.B., Snake, and Samus are also boosted in online play because it's more difficult to react to incoming fire. Characters like this can opt for a "zoning" or "campy" playstyle, where they constantly poke their enemies with projectiles from afar and only approach when they want to seal out a stock by executing a quick elimination
This completely distinct online meta has kept many of Smash Ultimate's top players from taking wifi tournaments as seriously as online events. As it stands, the Spring 2020 season of competitive Smash Ultimate will remain frozen as none of these remote events will count towards players' global ranking.
Instead, wifi tournaments have let players that might have flown under the radar before or simply couldn't travel to in-person events make a name of themselves in the competitive Smash community. Smashers like Carlos “Sonix” Pérez who has steamrolled through recent online tournaments and almost single-handedly made Sonic one of the most hated and feared characters in the game due to his elusive play style.
With no clear schedule as to when large-scale, in-person events could start up again the Smash Ultimate online meta could run Nintendo's platform fighter for months and maybe even years to come.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is out now for the Nintendo Switch.