From Hero to Zero: Australian Smash Bros. Tourneys Ban Use of the Character Due to Whining

South Australia(n), to be exact.

As of August 14, 2019, South Australia Smash Central (SASC) decided to ban use of the character Hero (of Dragon Quest fame) during SASC-sponsored Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments. Their reasons for the ban are listed in a special SASC tweet, but really boil down to two major complaints:

  1. Hero has a number of moves that are “RNG-heavy” (random), and thus outcomes of matches with this character might potentially come down to chance rather than skill.
  2. Hero’s list of four randomized spells (his “Down+B” move) are displayed in the player’s native language, which may mean that an opponent who does not speak that language cannot defend against the spell because they weren’t able to read which spell the player picked.

SASC followed their initial press release with a message on social media stating that the ban may not be permanent, and lifting it will depend upon a number of factors, such as how the majority of the international competitive scene treats the character and whether the character becomes patched in the future to reduce randomness.

Several Smash Bros. jocks who made their names in the pro circuits have issued statements regarding the matter. Swedish pro-player Leffen, for instance, praised the ban. “Good on South Australia for banning Hero,” Leffen tweeted on August 16, 2019. I wish more would follow suit although I doubt it. I’d rather play with items and final smashes than vs Hero.” World class pro-players like ZeRo, however, have cited Southern Australia’s readiness to ban Hero at this point in time as “knee-jerk.”

Normally I don’t comment on the Super Smash Bros. competitive scene, but with this recent development, I feel the need to give my two cents as a casual player, somewhat objective observer, and e-sports (that term still makes me laugh) spectator.

If it weren’t for Smash Bros., Leffen would be collecting carts at his local IKEA.

The most practical problem that Hero poses is, indeed, the language barrier. It would be almost impossible for an opponent to mount a proper defense against a Down+B spell if they couldn’t read the list themselves, and that is certainly reasonable cause for concern in my view. This issue is easily fixed, however: The competitive Smash Bros. community, which has come together before to agree on the most boring and bland set of rules for a match imaginable (more on this in a bit), could and should pick a “standard” and “accepted” language for Hero. This could be Japanese. This could be English. This could be Spanish, German, or Italian.

It doesn’t really matter which language is picked. By picking one accepted language for playing as Hero competitively, folks have one set of words to learn (like vocabulary words from school) and won’t have to worry about not being able to read the spell that’s being picked. Other such solutions I’ve seen posted online include randomly picking a language before each match (which potentially might be unknown by both Hero’s player and the opponent) and adding icons next to the spells in the next patch update to the game that would indicate the type of spell that’s listed. Some solutions are more viable than others, but the point is that this legitimate concern isn’t necessarily insurmountable with a little ingenuity.

The other issue that I’d like to talk about is Hero’s randomness. Some have cited this as the primary reason that Hero is un-competitive (some even say anti-competitive), but I disagree.

The competitive Smash Bros. community, as I’ve alluded to, is seemingly filled with whiners who have come together to pick the most boring set of rules available. Three lives (or “stock”). Two and a half minutes. No items. Battlefield (a flat plane with three flat stationary platforms and zero envrionmental hazards, which I call “Boringfield”). The fastest or most powerful characters (like Fox McCloud or Bayonetta) would be chosen, because picking any other character against those would be sheer suicide.

In an attempt to cater to these people, Masahiro Sakurai (the game’s creator) added features to this entry in the series, such as allowing any of the over 100 stages to be converted to “Battlefield configuration.” Instead of making a character’s Final Smash (or super-move) attainable as an item, a meter that builds toward a finishing move with every hit landed or taken by the character has been added for those who wish to play this game like it’s Marvel vs. Capcom or something. Don’t like the way damage is incurred (climbing upward from 0% to upwards of 100% before being knocked off the screen)? There’s a stamina mode that behaves like a mathematical health bar, which depletes over time. And to help prevent the problem of one or two characters being the best to use in prior games, this entry features a pretty well-balanced roster of over 70 characters. Do any of these get used by the competitive community?

Nope. Three stock. Two and a half minutes. No items. Battlefield (or, like, three stages only that use Battlefield formation). While there are now about six to eight top tier characters, that’s a far cry from over 70.

Everyone is still here–they’re just not all playable. Because that’s what Masahiro Sakurai intended when he made this game.

The point, competitors will argue, is to pit one player’s skill against the other (showing one’s mastery of a given character, not of the game itself)–and so removing variables such as random item drops or deaths due to environmental hazards is paramount to the experience (as though no other fighting game which is geared toward this goal as a default setting exists, but I digress).

Look–I’m not here to dunk on the competitive community. I love this game, and though I enjoy watching Tekken 7 tournaments more (because any character can be used and no stage is banned), exhibition matches with items and all stages for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate have been fairly exciting. But outside of playing the game myself or watching pros play the game as arguably intended (a party-fighting game instead of a straight fighting game), I as a spectator just find the accepted rules of engagement to be very safe and, thus, very boring. I mean, not even physical sports are this free of chaos and chance; injuries, weather, even the psi of the ball in some cases must be taken into account. Not so, apparently, in the ivory tower that is Smash competition.

Because of how particular the competitive community is, then, it shouldn’t surprise me or anyone else that the randomness of Hero is looked upon with scorn and/or fear by many. Unfortunately for them, there is no actual data supporting their fears. No one really knows if, how, and to what degree Hero’s randomness might affect the outcome of a series of matches.

This is pretty much ZeRo’s point, and I agree with him. No one has run the data. No one has tried. Instead, SASC has unilaterally banned a character who is extremely fun to play and extremely fun to watch, and only because he might be “over-powered” half the time due to randomness–never mind that the other half of the time, Hero’s randomness may work against the person playing as him (especially the spell “Hocus Pocus,” which can do anything from make Hero invincible for several seconds to render him powerless by putting him to sleep, and thus I can’t imagine very many pro players would lead with this move anyway). When considering how overpowered Bayonetta was in the last iteration of the Smash Bros. series and yet was never banned from tournament play (even though there was no random chance element involved–if you played against Bayonetta and weren’t also Bayonetta, you might as well not even play and take the loss by default), this move by the SASC and supported by people like Leffen makes even less sense.

So to wrap this up, I’ll just say this: If the SASC, Leffen, or anyone else were able to produce empirical evidence indicating how Hero’s randomness could–and, more importantly, does–impact the outcome of tournaments, then I would be the first to agree with this ban. Unfair is unfair, and I’ll take boring as long as it’s fair any day of the week. But we don’t have enough information to make that determination yet, and so for now, it just looks like knee-jerk reactions and whiny pearl-clutchers win the day once again…at least in Southern Australia.

So what do you think of the ban? What do you think of my take on the ban? Am I missing something? Is this fully justified? Or is ZeRo correct and this action was a bit premature? Let us know in the comments section or on social media!

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