- Applicable Games
- Smash 64, Melee, Brawl, Project M, Smash 3DS, Smash Wii U
Thank you, and all those who nominate this guide in the linked thread will get a special "thank you" listed here in the guide!
And right now I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read my guide, please discuss the ideas presented here with your local Tournament Organizer(s).
Enjoy the philosophy!
Table of Contents
- Who am I?
- Is Super Smash Bros. a Competitive Game?
- Competitive Philosophy
- Competitive Principles
- Competitive Values
- Fairness, Neutrality, and Polarization
- In-game Ruling
- Reward to Skill
- Application to Rules
- Determining Characters
- Determining Stage Selection
- Standard Ruleset
- Stage Selection
- Tournament Stage List
- Banned Stages
- Method Descriptions
- Stage Striking Procedure
There exists a void stretching across the Smash Bros. community regarding rules and competition.
It is my hopeful attempt to try to fill this void with as much knowledge that I have gathered in my years of experience to help Tournament Organizers and those who have a hand in developing rules to be employed in Smash Bros. tournaments both locally and on larger scales.
Although I hope that the entirety of this work is valuable to you, the reader, if you are mostly interested in the finer points I would suggest you take a look at Competitive Philosophy, Competitive Principles, and Standard.
In the future I may compose an abridged version of this that omits the formalities and focuses on a more digestible form for Tournament Organizers (TO's) and others who wish to get at the core message rather than take a journey through the logical lands I've blazed.
Who am I?
I am t0mmy, currently going by the Smash Tag: t0mMii
Part of the Super Smash Twins (t1mmy is the yang to my yin).
I have both competed in and hosted Super Smash Bros. tournaments nationally over many years now, having been the best player in Oregon for Brawl in 2008 to the decline of our state's scene in 2012 and have had the pleasure discussing the rules used with many TO's across the nation during my travels.
For the Smash Community I have modded on sites such as AllisBrawl (now NintendoDojo), wrote front page articles on how to improve one's mindset during competition and other topics, contributed to guides that have been "stickied" on Smashboards, discussed rulecrafting matters with my twin brother when he was working in the Brawl Backroom, and contributed to Smashwiki articles regarding rulesets, community, history, and competitive philosophy (I created that topic).
Outside Smash I am currently double-majoring in Physical Science and Philosophy after having done some varying degrees in both Fine Arts, Business, and Ethnic Studies and have minored in Music, English (composition?), and multimedia.
Although academically focused to science, my current personal studies are on Logic and Alchemy (yeah, you heard that right, oldskool alchemy).
This background is meant to help the reader understand where I am coming from with my rationalizing. Which is where I can now get started.
The English word comes from Latin (philosophia) which in turn comes from Greek: φιλοσοφία (1) and is composed of two root words: Philo + Sophia (2)
Sophia = Wisdom
It has a meaning of systematic investigation. (3)
When one applies philosophy to a subject of study, a field of study opens up; as an example when one applies philosophy to the natural world one would get natural philosophy (later to be known as natural science or more commonly referred to today as physics).
When applying philosophy to video games, a number of different fields open up, depending on where applied - design, marketing, or... the art of playing video games, for example.
For the interest of this guide philosophy will be applied to competition.
The act of competition is to strive against another or others to attain a goal, such as an advantage or a victory. (4)
It is now time to get very serious about what exactly one should mean when referring to "competitive".
Many may speak the word as though they have delved into the depths of the philosophical wilderness of Smash Bros. competition theory, but I would advise to be weary of anyone using the word in such a vague and general sense as it could be a powerful tool to trick unsuspecting players into accepting that which is actually contrary to what I am writing about here (in an attempt to gather forces to wage a "might makes right" assault, a strategy that reveals a person's true nature).
But before I can get into anything more about competition I must first establish that the game I am writing about is in fact a competitive game (ignoring that it is played competitively for justification, as that should be well known to you, the reader).
So, is it?
Is Super Smash Bros. a Competitive Game?
In the terms of Smash Bros. the game is designed in such a way that multiple people may each control a character (utilizing game controller hardware) wherein a winner is shown at the results screen (end of the round of play).
Smash Bros. appears to be fundamentally designed with competition in mind (or is an outrageously immense coincidence that it plays out as such).
But to put all debate of whether or not the Smash Bros. series was built around competition by the game designer's intentions, the director and lead designer, Masahiro Sakurai, had this to say:
Single player modes aside, it is the goal of the players to strive against each other to attain the result of "Winner" at the ending results screen in the game. This is mechanically demonstrated with the physics of the game where the players "fight" over stage control and ultimately the last-man-standing is proclaimed the winner. Clearly this game is of a competitive nature and thus why I am writing this right now; if I were to say anything to the contrary I believe I would have a difficult time making a stronger argument.
Due to the game's engaging mechanics, players all over the world desire to seek out greater and greater competition to drive themselves to be better. Because of this tournaments were organized to help bring players together. Soon larger and larger tournaments were orchestrated to accommodate for the meeting and competing of many of these players. A new competition arose out of the fundamental game goals (being "winner" on screen) to that of attaining the goal of "1st place" or the title "Champion" and any prizes that come along with such ranks/titles in a Super Smash Bros. tournament.
But with a greater audience coming together there comes an interesting social element wherein Smash Bros. Cultures meet up. These cultures I speak of are the pooling of local players who come to compete, but are distinctly different from any main source of a Smash Bros. Community. The entire Smash Bros. Community is generally thought of divided globally first by continent (Asian, Australian, North/South American, European, etc.) and then by regions (In the United States these are generally Atlantic North, Atlantic South, Midwest, South, Pacific Northwest, and Pacific Southwest with some smaller regions additionally sometimes thought of as sub-regions or different regions of their own depending like Alaska and Hawaii).
To put it more plainly, there is no single Smash Community without the many differing cultures of Smash Regions. Even locally (within a single region) thoughts on how the game should be played competitively can be radically different from another local community of the same region.
Because of this immense diversity the Smash Community as a whole has a difficult time deciding on a Standard by which to compete. And it is the Standard on which the Community ultimately has to come to a decision for national/global competition.
What exactly is a Standard and why is it so important? That is a question that will be answered at the end of this guide. The next step is understanding a few more fundamental concepts of competition.
Right now it is important to release any preconceived notions one may have stored away in their mental memory banks. This is a foundational guide, so the definition of competition and its implications to the game I am analyzing goes no further than the basic definitions being laid for it.
Competition is simply trying to best others at a certain feat (in our case, a certain game).
We now have some clear definitions (i.e. boundaries to an area of language from which to remain inside) for the foundations of two important words: Compete and Philosophy. Let's see now what child happens to form when the two concepts combine in their alchemical wedding.
Now my philosophical journey transitions into an understanding of systematic investigation of the act of playing a game of Super Smash Bros. with the goal to "win".
This is directly parallel to David Sirlin's philosophy described in his book "Playing to Win" regarding competition with video games:
His reasoning for why winning is the most important concept in competition may be self evident, but why does he open with how it is also widely misunderstood?
The reasoning for misunderstanding "winning" is due to mental/psychological obstructions some people may create when competing. In the chapter "Introducing the Scrub" he compiles this concept of a competitively-handicapped player as the label "scrub". (7)
These psychological hurdles can be seen as a sickness that one must recover from if they are going to improve competitively just like one would have to overcome a sickness affecting their vitality if they are going to improve their health. And just like many other diseases a person suffering from this sickness may also be contagious - that is the "scrub" will try to make others sick with the same mental handicaps that infects them.
Well, maybe you have heard some stories or have witnessed the manifestation yourself when a scrub will demand that the opponent(s) stop using some kind of strategy, demand a move/attack not be "spammed", demand a tactic be "banned", or more generic demands to stop the opponent from being "cheap" (or similar slang).
All of these demands, complaints, and similar actions are outwardly projected mental diseases that affect the scrub in question.
They are attempts to win without the game's mechanics - these "scrub tactics" are utilizing out-of-game attacks upon their opponent and can be used on a personal level or on a grand level that attacks the entire community and "bans" things that are "cheap" for all competitors in a dictatorship type of tyrannical fashion.
Is this proper in competition?
With definitions set this is where the progression of reason leads us to practical theory, but an exploration must be conducted in order to survey the fringe boundaries of this wilderness of the Competitive Smash World.
Are you ready to put on your explorer's cap and get on with finding some ancient cities, secret temples, and hidden pyramids of competitive principles and values?
Principle, meaning "first" or a beginning (9)
No, not your school principal (which is a form of the word "prince" meaning they are your eminent ruler who subjects you to slavery), this kind of principle means it is our beginning point. After all, how are we going to get to our goal of a Standard if we don't take the first step forward?
When referring to Competitive principles I am referring to elements (rules) that must exist in order to have the desirable consequences for competition (10).
Only until recently have I discussed the definitions of the word "compete", but there is more to meaning than merely definition; here I step into the beautiful land of semantics where rarely a Smasher has ever dared to set foot.
I am seeking the ever elusive Competitive Principles.
One would find it helpful to understand Competitive Principles as basic constituents, or ingredients, parts that make up a whole. The principles of water are hydrogen and oxygen. The ingredients to bread are flour and water. We started with a void and whatever material we add to it will produce something dependent on these ingredients. If we use good ingredients we will have good bread, but if we use materials that conflict with each other we will create chaos. The analogical good bread is much more useful to us who hunger for reason, so that is the goal to us reasonable types.
But which ingredients do we use? And how can we find them in the first place?
Well, this is where this guide comes in.
A guide's purpose is to direct a path to those who have not tread the area before. In the About Me section I have disclosed my background and so you have a very short summary of just where I have explored. Due to such explorations I feel I am ready to show the paths and trails I have blazed to those who are interested in seeing where they go. Some have been frightened off, even intimidated to the point of personally attacking me, but many others who hunger for knowledge have gone very far down my paths and even blazed areas of their own.
This is a dark area indeed, and I implore you, the reader, to question every iota of reasoning behind this section and come to your own conclusions. But while you read I simply ask that you keep an open mind before I get to the principles of competition. And the opening to this section is a real kicker. I am going to open with a fallacy!
As much as it is deplorable to defer to a fallacy, I am going to do so with the fallacy ad populum.
Why would I do such a despicable thing, especially since this fallacy is one of my most disliked of all categorized fallacies? Because there's something to be said about rhetoric in argument, and I believe if I need the Competitive Community to agree with me as a whole as to what the very principles of the matter are then I will need an agreement with the populace of Competitive Smashers.
Having a fallacious-free argument that is perfectly formed and a shining example of the divine will do no good to the community that rejects it for any trite matter.
So with that said I will present the principles that I believe the majority of the Competitive Populace will be in agreement with, and if this appeal is strong enough it will be able to support the foundations I have already set, thus strengthening my arguments rather than weakening them.
Seriously, can this actually be done? Using a fallacy to strengthen an argument? Let's see if I can pull it off.
The majority of the Competitive Community accepts (or respectfully should accept) the following principles of competition:
- Fairness - neutrality for the competitors
- In-game rulings - native design of the software
- Reward to skill - promoting the better skilled player
And there you have it, my appeal to populace.
Without the competitive players coming together to accept any proposed elements (such as above) then there are no real rulings that can be made and we are left to a willy-nilly fracas of rulesets that spatter the Competitive Spectrum (the range by which a TO will allow for questionable elements in rules).
I am not saying these principles must be accepted, nor am I saying they are the only ones (there may be more yet to be cautiously discovered), but I am saying that beginning elements must be courageously declared when discovered to substantiate the beginnings of anything (including a competitive standard) even when one does not (or cannot?) know where these elements come from - ex nihilio nihil fit ("nothing comes from nothing").
To say "competitive" comes from "competitive principles" is to realize that there is a direct relation between the predicate and the subject. To say that "the fat cat is fat", corresponds to a direct relation between the subject and the predicate. When understood as "the being is the being", we realize the principle of identity that the being possesses.
But why would we agree to use these principles over others? Because that is what we agree to. As bizarrely circular as that reasoning is, it is still valid (inferring a true conclusion) and ultimately no matter which principles we end up choosing I see no other end (or beginning?) to the reasoning. At which point we have come to an axiom and can start from there.
A good way to judge if our ingredients are right is to put it to a test. The test, ironically, being a competition. If other philosophers can reasonably construct a better set of standards then it will be "stronger" and a stronger argument defeats a weaker one.
So we'll know if we chose the right principles with how strong this holds up to other arguments and how much the free market chooses it.
Another test is a somewhat fallacious appeal to populace again, or an appeal to authority. Again, this won't be used as an argument in itself, but can be used to support certain results. If we make a good standard then the populace will want to use it or heads of some kind of Smash rule organization will accept it and promote it.
These elements are the metrics of our rule sets; the inches and meters to which we have to compare things (if someone calls a situation into question it must be weighed and measured in order for a fair judgement to be made).
We now have the tools to build a structure, and that structure is going to be a Standard. But before we start building with our tools, we have to take our measurements - that is evaluate our material.
My analogy of exploring the boundaries of a wild new land now leads us into the darkest corners imaginable. This is the gray area of ethics (or more specifically Deontology, the normative ethical judgements based on rules).(11)
To what degree of importance do we limit ourselves with our competitive principles? What action is best to do? When describing the significance of different actions, putting value to them, we will learn when (if ever) something should be banned or limited.
In short, we have to determine what is "good" and "bad" when regarding specific (and usually special case) rulings.
concepts like "just how far does 'fairness' go" and "to what extent must we adhere to in-game design" or "just where the line is drawn when it comes to allowing for luck when promoting skill".
This may seem like a frightening place, but realize that fear is the fuel of fools and for the good of the community this task must be taken up by someone if a Standard is to be created. So steel your nerves, muster your will, empower your triforce of courage, and let's jump into this.
Fairness, neutrality, and polarization
As easy it is to recognize fairness, there's an insidious trap that scrubs will lay. This is an attack on the principle of fairness when they say "that's not fair!", "that's cheap!", "that's over-powered"/"That's OP", "That's too good", or "That's broken!"/"busted!".
But, philosophically speaking, where does the boundaries really lie when something is broken enough to warrant an action to be taken?
Once again, referring to Sirlin's "Playing to Win", the criteria to a ban is three fold:
As much as I agree with the content of the writing I believe the labels (not the content) could be better worded:
"A ban must be warranted, discernible, and enforceable."
The reason I changed "discrete" to "discernible" is because it flows better and seems to be more readily understood to the general audience - the context says it must be "well defined" which is to say it must be able to be identified.
The reason I changed the order fore this guide is due to a system of hierarchy: If a claim to ban is not warranted first and foremost than there is no reason to continue with analysis because there would be no warranted reason to do so. Sirlin says this himself: "If it isn’t warranted to ban something, we don’t need to even consider whether it’s enforceable or discrete." (8)
Anyone making claim that something must be banned, limited, changed, or "fixed" has the burden of proof on them/their claim. There is no reason why anyone needs to defend why something should not be banned. Keep that in mind.
Likewise, any additional rulings that change tournament results regardless of in-game results must have proof as well (ledge grab limits, suicide, ties/stalemates/time-outs, etc.). If there is no reasonable proof for these imposed rules then violation of competitive principles are suspect.
Speaking of in-game rules...
Tournament Organizers/Tournament Directors (TO's) today have come to overstep their authority.
What do I mean by this?
The Tournament Organizer has a simple job in theory (though difficult in practice), and that is to organize events for players to participate in. These events can be of any nature the TO wants in any flavor or style and then allow the free market to decide how successful they are.
Very simple, theoretically.
Well, there's one catch. The TO also has to decide the rules by which the game is played.
These rules extend to the entirety of the events, everything from when events are scheduled to the settings of the game. This isn't the catch, the problem is that some TO's believe they have authority to make changes to the game itself in a way that is not designed by the creators of the game nor functional to the software at all.
With the exception of certain critical glitches (see criteria for ban) the TO has no authority to override the game's functioning unless it directly impacts the TO's events they are organizing (for instance banning certain large Stages due to time constraints would be within reason due to the impact on event scheduling).
This philosophy now disables scrubs from bringing out-of-game politics of "might makes right" to pressure TO's into giving them an advantage which has no bearing to the game designer's intentions nor to the very game's programming itself. There is no way better tactics, strategies, moves, characters, etc. can be limited unless meeting the very specifics of the ban criteria.
I cannot stress this enough:
The TO's authority extends only to their real life event; the software has the greater authority on in-game matters.
The outcry to ban all things that someone just doesn't "like" now cannot reasonably matter. No matter how much whining/complaining is done, might does not make right in a reasonable Smash Community; reason does. There are casual events where these things can be allowed for, but they are very much separate from "competitive" events.
Reward to Skill
This principle is almost an extension of the "fairness" principle in that we are striving for a fair fight, but it emphasizes skill more than equality.
To shine more light on this: The entire goal of a competition is really getting to be the "winner" of the game. This could be randomly spawned items, giant fish, or lucky bombs determining a winner, but competitively speaking this takes the win out of the players' hands and moves it into the realm of "luck".
Just a note on some words I am using:
Random: an element which cannot be accounted for by the human competitor's abilities.
Luck: The random coincidence of circumstances that competitors are unable to respond to in order to change the outcome of the (fortunate or unfortunate) action.
This principle is why Items are turned off in competitive play. Because item-spawning is random (cannot be accounted where the items will spawn, the random circumstances of spawned item, and the ability to react to the spawning item all in a time frame too strict for the given options at hand) and can create a situation of luck.
If the goal is to reward the better skilled player a title of "winner", yet given that a randomly spawned item or stage hazard which is outside the competitor's control is the determining factor of the win then the "winner" is rewarded not due to their own skill but by a fortunate circumstance.
Application to Rules
What exactly are the details of the competition, and more importantly for many TO's and competitive players: What are the rules by which to agree? What are the standards?
The core of a standard will be easily understood by everyone both veteran and new player alike. The very basics that need to be addressed are:
How players determine Character Choice.
How players determine Stage Choice.
How players Play the Game.
The very essence of competition comes down to all competitors agreeing to the terms by which the competition will be set. The TO must be explicitly clear as to what the agreements will be in the ruleset. Anything outside the TO's decision (such as which characters/stages will be used) must be explicitly defined.
The TO must:
- Make a list of available Stages for Striking/Agreement/Random.
- Make note of any characters which are banned, if any.
- Make a list of any Stages which are banned, if any (these Stages cannot be agreed to and will not be recognized as a tournament match).
Competitors must follow the competitive principles when selecting Characters:
Fair: All competitors must have equal ground when selecting characters - characters are available to all competitors equally, handicap function is not used, and no limitation of characters may be imposed (e.g. limiting custom moves for some, or mandating certain selections of characters like costumes, height/weight, name, name tag, control settings, etc.)
In-game: Players are free to choose any character available on the Character Select Screen as this is in-game functioning. Unless a character meets the criteria for a ban then it should be recognized as a tournament viable character available for use in a round of competition.
If there is a disagreement that leads to opponents coming to an impasse then a double-blind method is advised (having the competitors choose their character without knowing which other characters are being selected by the their opponents).
Determining Stage Selection
Competitors must follow the competitive principles when selecting Stage:
Fair: No one player may decide the choice of a stage without fair chance of the other also being able to do so. This calls into questions of "counter pick" rules which unfairly allow the loser of the previous game to force a stage upon their opponent giving them an unfair advantage.
In-game Rulings: Stage selection must be done within the function of the game itself. No outside program or electronic application should be used to determine this. This allows for the in-game Random selection to be used if agreed upon by all competitors.
Reward to Skill: This stresses that stages which have environmental hazards not be included on the list of stages to be allowed for competitors to Strike or Random. Agreeing to these stages are still applicable if all competitors make it explicitly clear they agree to play on such a stage.
Finally we come to the goal of this guide. That is how to create a Standard by which any competitive Smash Bros. player should be able to come to an agreement.
We have the Competitive Principles: Fairness, In-game Rulings, and Reward to Skill. We can quantify these within boundaries (game settings, ban criteria, etc). And we are left with the core rules that may make up a backbone for any competitive rule set:
Standard Rule Set
Competitive Standard Rule Set:
- Agree to Characters*
- Agree to Stage*
- Play the game
Standard Stage Selection Procedure:
(Competitors must go through these in a procedural manner starting with 1. and proceeding through to 3.)
- Agreement Method
- Option for Random
- Ultimatum: Striking Method*
Tournament Stage List
(List of Stages as chosen by TO go here)*
(List of Stages not allowed to be used go here)
1) Agreement Method:
Stage Striking procedure:
Set X to the number of potential rounds of play in the match (i.e. X = 3 in a best of 3 set or X = 5 in a best of 5 set).
A coin is flipped to determine which player/team strikes first (named "S1")
Players alternate turns striking out one stage per turn from Tournament Stage List until X stages remain.
S1 determines the stage to be used first round of play.
S2 determines the stage to be used for second round of play.
The third stage is the final stage to be used for third round of play in a Bo3 match. Otherwise S2 determines the 3rd round to be used in a Bo5 match.
S1 determines the 4th round of play in a Bo5 match.
The remaining Stage is used for the final round of play in a Bo5 match.
Note: In other sets, such as a Bo7 set or beyond, the determining of Stage order played should be determined in a likewise fashion: 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 1
This guide is not complete, I'd love to write more about disagreements and the reasoning behind not using games of skill to determine a disagreement and other such details.
Most importantly though I would like to talk more about the difference between the Competitive Arena and the Casual Scene. That is to describe the schism of players without saying either side is better than the other, but to guide a TO in providing for both: Offering more Stages, Customization, Items, and any slew of additional out-of-game rules (C. Falcon only anyone?) in its own separate event parallel to the more strict competitive event so that this crowd may enjoy the frantic action that Smash Bros. can provide.
This way the competitive players can have a "no johns" event and the more casual players can make up any kind of self-imposing rules they wish to play by for whatever reasons they have.
Ultimately I want a fair competitive fight and I want to have fun, those are the two strongest forces I see in our community and as a TO of nearly a decade now I feel like it is not only possible to provide all this to attendees but very easy so long as we adhere to a reasonable approach.