First Voyage: Japan's Top 3 Wii U Tournament Series
To understand the differences in tournament organization and rule sets in Japan, one must first understand Japan's regions. Since the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, the amount of tournaments inside Japan has exponentially increased along with their individual turnouts, much like in other parts of the world. There has been a significant increase in the number of tournaments in Hiroshima, Fukuoka, Tohoku and Hokkaido, but they get only a small fraction of the numbers that the Top 3 do.
Japan is made up of many islands and is one of the largest archipelago states next to Indonesia. There are four main islands: Kyushu, Shikoku, Hokkaido and Honshu, with Honshu being the largest and containing the vast majority of Japan's population. Due to the difficulties involved with traveling through mountains and/or over the ocean to attend tournaments, it is no surprise that the majority of major tournaments happen on Honshu and in its three major population centers: Kanto (Tokyo Area), Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto Area) and Chubu (Nagoya area).
Each of the three main regions have their own tournament series and their own tournament organizers with drastically different approaches to tournament rules, organization and philosophy. Those tournament organizers are Umeki (operator of Tokyo's largest tournament series, Umebura), 9B (operator of Osaka's largest tournament series, Sumabato) and Earth (operator of Nagoya's largest tournament series, Karisuma). Because all the following voyages will assume you understand these TO's names, their tournament names and their regions, here is a brief write up on each of them.
Kanto's TO: The Umeki Rainbow
Anyone even slightly familiar with the Japanese tournament scene has heard of Umeki and his tournament series Umebura. The Tokyo area has been given the most attention as it has had the most attendance by overseas players, and that is no mistake. Umeki's tournament philosophy can be summed up perfectly with this tweet. To paraphrase, he calls out the Japanese community for having the will and desire to travel the world to play Smash yet refuse to change their own tournament rules to match the rest of the world. Not just the players, but the TOs as well! "That makes no sense!!"
Umebura is the only tournament series in Japan that runs the same rules as those run in North American majors. This change is recent, most likely due to the huge influence Genesis 3 had on the twenty-five plus Smashers and Smash TOs who were in attendance. Many were enamored by its rule set and decided to change their own where possible. Umeki is the only one who has been able to change it entirely to match CEO's and EVO's rule set, and those changes took three months to occur! As of March 19th, 2016, Umebura's Official Tournament Blog has been edited to reflect these changes.
This summarizes the goals of Umeki's Umebura tournament series perfectly. Kanto is where you go to Smash if you want to be the best. Due to having the same rule set found in majors around the world, you have a chance of big names from overseas coming to play, which gives Japan's top players the best practice for North America's huge tournaments coming up this summer. Hundreds of people come from all over Japan and all over the world to try and be declared the best. Only one other tournament in Japan has comparable numbers, but their goals could not be any more opposite.
Kansai's TO: 9B (pronounced "Q-B")
9B's approach to tournament philosophy is unlike any other found inside Japan. In an interview I had with him, 9B stressed the fact that currently the most important objective of his tournaments is the enjoyment of new players: "Sumabato is the tournament I want players new to the tournament scene as well as the most experienced and highest level players to be able to enjoy equally." To accomplish these goals, 9B has the strangest rule set I have ever come across with reasons behind each decision.
Sumabato's current stage list is Final Destination, Battlefield, Smashville and Omega Gaur Plain as starters, with Town and City and every remaining Omega Stage as counter picks. Players first RPS, and the winner chooses from one of the four starter stages. The loser may then pick any stage they desire from the starters or counter picks with no stage bans. You may customize your Miis in any way you wish, including size, weight and moves! Well, except for Mii Brawler - Mii Brawler was restricted due to Komorikiri's pure dominance with the fully unlocked potential of Mii Brawler. Mii Brawler is limited to changing only one of its three B moves and the rest must be set to default (set to 1). However, items are still set to off and none, and it is 2 stock 6 minutes.
The philosophy behind these decisions is simple: "When you have too many rules, it becomes very difficult for new players." Things such as stage striking, stage bans and "difficult and/or unpopular frustrating stages" can be overwhelming and make the experience much less enjoyable for new players. The concept of stage bans is also very unpopular among Japanese Smashers. "What's the point of a 'counter pick stage' if your opponent can just ban the stage you want to go to?" is something seen on Twitter from various Japanese Smashers regularly.
Omega Gaur Plain as a starter is only because the stage is extremely popular, so 9B wanted to give players ample opportunities to pick their favorite stage. Custom moves are set to OFF, but Mii Fighters are 100% customizable because Mii Fighters are fully usable out of the box. Players do not have the time to amply prepare for custom fighters due to the extreme amount of time they require to fully unlock: "They do not seem catered for tournament play." If Mii Fighter's customization options were not available with custom fighters set to off, they would be banned like the rest of the cast.
This unique tournament philosophy has given Osaka's most dominant tournament series equal numbers to its polar opposite style of tournament in Tokyo. This is quite fitting as Tokyo and Osaka have always had a rivalry throughout Japanese history that extends to all walks of life. They speak differently, they value things differently, and they have different lifestyles. Tokyo vs Osaka crew battles are also commonplace at tournaments. Whether it be baseball or Smash Bros., everyone wants to prove that their region is the best.
Chubu's TO: The Middle Man Earth
Much like Nagoya itself, Earth's approach is right down the middle between Tokyo's and Osaka's, leaning more towards the Tokyo side of things. Every single area that Umeki and 9B have drawn a hard line on, Earth has decided to make a grey area. Earth's rules change regularly as he tries to find the most optimal balance between a casual and competitive rule set. Earth's stage list includes Final Destination, Battlefield and Smashville as starters but adds Lylat Cruise to the counter pick stages with Town and City and all the Omega stages.
The reason Dreamland is not commonplace in Japanese tournaments is because they do not want to force players into purchasing DLC for Sumabato and Karisuma, so that remains off the list. However, DLC characters are all required, so Omega variations of DLC stages that came with characters are legal to select. Like Sumabato, Karisuma does not allow the banning of stages due to the reasoning listed previously, but Earth does prefer the stage striking method for selecting the first stage.
In my interview with Earth, he stressed that he loved the Genesis 3 rule set and would love to do it at his own tournaments. He even tweeted out that message publicly. This Tweet drew a lot of controversy from his tournament regulars, even going so far as saying "What's so good about that rule set?" It seems that changes in Chubu will take some time to let players adjust, but Earth says he cannot imagine a world where his players accept Duck Hunt. The dislike of Duck Hunt seems to be consistent throughout all of Japan.
This was a very long introduction to the Japanese tournament scene, and I thank you, dear reader, for making it this far. There is definitely a lot to learn from these different tournament organizers and their unique definition of what exactly Smash Tournaments mean for their regions. Which camp are you a member of? Are you all for the super-competitive rule sets, practicing for majors and trying to be the best? Are you someone who likes to take the game a little less seriously and just enjoys playing the game and meeting new people with common interests? Are you somewhere in between?
I will be attending each of these tournaments along with a few locals in the coming weeks, so stay tuned to Smashboards for more direct tournament reports and other interesting short stories from the Japanese Smash Community. Please give Umeki, 9B and Earth a follow on Twitter, and sound off in the comments or at me on Twitter and let me know what you think! If there are any topics you want covered, that feedback is also welcome!
Sayonara until next week.
Vayseth's Voyage is an article series written by The Big House 5's Wii U Head TO Vayseth straight from Japan. Every week, he will be bringing you articles on various topics regarding the Japanese Smash Community. Bringing Smash Communities around the world closer and closer together with every article!