Smash Ultimate roster balance shows promise for esports

Gaming is fun, but the best games can seem to make the experience a very love/hate thing. We’ve all noticed it, when playing our favourite titles, but why is it that that titles we truly love are the same ones that seem to make us say "I hate this game" more than any other? The answer might be in the very thing that makes them so compelling, and so deep, balance. It’s vital to any top title and without it competition isn’t possible, but what does it really mean?

We can illustrate the difference between a more and less balanced game fairly simply, with two characters from the Smash Bros series. In Melee, Fox is the best character, and his toolset is incredible, with speed, kill power and insane options for almost every scenario. Equally, virtually every character in the roster has a way to combo Fox, and a fair percentage can mess him up extremely quickly when they get close, far more than are considered tournament viable.

In contrast, the best character in the follow up to Melee, Super Smash Bros Brawl, was Meta Knight, who was so much better than the rest of the cast that he ended up being banned for a few tournaments. While Brawl was a fun multiplayer game, the competitive scene was always going to struggle with such an unbalanced title, and to be honest wouldn’t have existed at all were it not for the existence of the Melee community.


No obvious leader

With all of that in mind, the question remains for the latest title whether it is more like Melee, or Brawl. Early indications are that the tier list is far from decided yet, and there are more ‘mid-range’ characters in this game than others. That is not a massive surprise with the size of the roster and amount of balancing Nintendo attempt to do on the game, but it has led to a situation where there is no clear idea of who is currently "best".

Initially Peach’s insta-combos seemed to make her top-tier, and Pichu was considered a massive threat alongside Inkling and even Wario. All of that followed the early, Ike-dominated meta, where MKLeo used spacing to his advantage, but as the game has evolved, a new challenger for top spot has emerged in the shape of Olimar.

While this is confusing to top level players just wanting to tier-chase and win prize money, it’s a great sign for the development of the game, and the fact a Meta Knight-style dominant top pick hasn’t emerged suggests one will not be found. So far, every propose ‘best in the game’ has been deposed at some point, and that means Ultimate has the potential to be a far better esport than Brawl at least.