Analyzing a Terminally Ill Meta

Wood - February 12, 2018

With the recent events of Frostbite 2018 over and ZeRo retiring, it seems what was once thought to be the "Year of Smash 4" (especially with the surprising involvement of Nintendo of America) seems to be tolling the bell for smash's demise. 

Now I am not saying Smash 4 will be dead by next month, and this drama could be gone within a few weeks as drama tends to do. However, the more I analyze the statistics of viewership, character usage, results, and anecdotal evidence, the more I see the big picture. 2018 is in fact a turning point for Smash 4, but whether or not it is a turn for the better has yet to be seen.

Metas progress constantly, or at least they should. Once a meta starts to stagnate chances are high that the game starts to die. A game like smash needs a community to support it. It needs attendance at tourneys, it needs viewers of streams, and it needs people talking and interacting and supporting and growing. If the smash 4 meta continues down that path I do not forsee this being the case for much longer.

First and foremost, it seems a generation shift is happening in the player base. Brawl vets and older 3DS era mid to top level players are leaving due to switching games, growing older, or growing weary of where the meta has progressed, and are being replaced by younger and or less seasoned players. Unlike the former, these latter players are coming into a reasonably mature meta, where the keys to success have been layed out in front of them. The likelyhood of a newcomer to smash 4 maining a low-mid tier sersiously is growing less and less likely. This causes bracket stagnation. Bracket stagnation is bad for other, perhaps more seasoned, low-mid tier mains, who grow tired of slamming their heads into bracket walls of extremely difficult matchups and do 1 of 2 things:

1: drop the game and find something else to do
2: drop their character and pick up a higher tier one

this further reinforces bracket stagnation and also enhances the overcentralization of the meta. The bad thing about that, as we have seen with brawl and to an extent, prepatch diddy and customs, is that a meta that is overcentalized will cave in on itself, push a lot of players away, and die. A game like Melee has a very developed meta, with not a lot of character diversity, but the frantic gameplay, the style of the matches, and the legacy and story lines of the top players carry it through tournament after tournament. I do not think Smash 4 has the mechanics nor wherewithal to replicate this. Characters and gameplay are much more streamlined for better worse.

 

This has a drastic effect on viewership and spectator interest as well. Smash is a business at the top level, and without any actual outside support (as has been the case for a long time now) Smash needs to be able to sustain itself if it wants to survive. the only way to do that is to keep the playerbase high for venue fees, word of mouth, and merch sales, but more importantly, viewership. Streams is where big tournaments get most of their revenue from, sponsors aside. Viewership is very important and viewers like variety. Viewers like explosiveness, they like stories, upsets, and diversity.

Unfortuantely the way the meta is going we have legacy players that garner big viewership either leaving or switching to characters that viewers seem to dislike, we have character diversity (at the top level) being washed away by character switches and newer players who already main said characters, we have excitement sucked away by a meta bent on slow methodical camping or controversial rage-exploiting combos, and we have stories ending with the careers of some very well-loved players.

 

There are a few different outcomes or solutions to this. Like a government bailout of an economy, sometimes one way to fix a broken or dying system is with outside intervention. This would entail the character ban that a lot of the community has been "crying" over as some put it. One could take this as a sign of weakness or laziness, or as a plea for salvation of the game they love. Both sides have an argument. This "ban" does not seem like a likely possibility, however, as the community is so split between people yelling for ban and people condemning others for even parroting such a proposed "fix". It certainly makes business sense to employ the bans the community asks for, especially since a lot of the community contribute to the hedgemony of Smash 4. Despite many players' pleas for others to "adapt" it seems, based on results of certain recent Bayo main switchers, that the best way to "adapt" is to simply join. Unfortunately this centralizes the meta even further, further contributes to stagnation, further drops viewership, and further kills Smash 4 as a whole.

So here I am, at 4:00 AM, feeling the need to write this overly-long think piece about a children's party game. Why? because I love Smash 4. it was the first competitive scene I really got into, and it pains me to see it in this state. yes some people will adapt just as brawl players adapted to Meta-Knight, and Smash 4 will probably survive, but will it thrive? Right now, I'm not so sure. 

 

Thank you and with all due civility and respect

-WOOD

 

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