Evolving discussion on any sporting topic demands capturing controversial attention that marks a shift in the future dynamics. The most common way to capture a sporting shift is by being part of a riveting championship matchup, and subsequently conquer the competition with conviction. EVO 2017, the fighting game community’s notorious championship event, was witness to several meta changing events. From Salem winning Super Smash Bros Wii U, Armada’s second Smash Bros. Melee EVO championship, or Capcom’s aggressive pandering of Street Fighter V, EVO 2017 was a major year for takeaways. Over the next couple of weeks, LWOS.Life will be covering these takeaways, and applying them to strategy and the compelling narratives of competitive gaming. Starting off: Salem’s ludicrous comeback victory, featuring the first time a fighter has used Bayonetta to win a major Smash Bros. Wii U championship, forcing a meta narrative shift.
Salem Leads Thrilling Comeback for EVO 2017 Smash Bros. Wii U Championship
A Path to Victory
Winning a competition where hundreds of players are working through three days of brackets takes a consistent focus. Akin to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, EVO 2017 is an event that demands unbridled commitment to strategy. Although Salem won the EVO 2017 Championship for Smash Bros. Wii U, the process came down to one final second. Salem lost early and had to fight through the loser’s bracket to arrive at the Grand Finale, but did so with a focus to set up a thrilling grand finals.
At EVO, brackets are set where early round losers get moved to the loser’s bracket. However, being in the loser’s bracket does not necessitate that a competitor is out of the championship. They can still fight through and win –simply have no room for error.
The other stipulation of the loser’s bracket hosting the winner is that in the Grand Finals, if the loser’s bracket participant pushes the set to five matches, and wins the fifth match, then the bracket resets for a final five match set. Hence, there is a chance that ten full matches, with six victories, need to be had for a loser’s bracket champion to be made.
Finally, Smash Bros for the Wii U is played with two stocks in each match. Thus, if someone dies once, they can come back and KO their opponent twice to win. The game can be forgiving in essence, but overall, the fighter must coerce the game to forgive them.
Salem did exactly the above with unparalleled focus as he took on ZeRo in the Grand Finals – a top ranked player in the Smash Bros. competitive scene. ZeRo’s play style is highly methodical, using Diddy Kong to distract the competition and find weak holes in their defense. He will dance around the stage, patiently wait for other players, and then strike with heart. The fundamental plan that makes ZeRo’s strategy so powerful is his focus on recovering from falls.
In fact, falling is a part of the plan for ZeRo. He uses the lighter-compact fighter, Diddy Kong, to lure opponents to the edge, resulting in heavier rookies falling to their death. Thus, Salem, as the taller fighter in Bayonetta, needed to avoid edge fighting as much as possible. To win in the end, Salem would have to drag ZeRo to the middle of stages and dance by landing tactically placed flexibly hits.
Salem’s strategy through the first matches of EVO 2017 was to use flexible range to lure opponents away from their strategy and distract opponents from their main game plan. Bayonetta’s unique power and range combination takes practice to master. The Grand Finals demanded that Salem play two full sets of a mental chess battle. Consistently pulling ZeRo into the middle, Salem stood a chance to win the upset.
The Grand Finale
The first four matches went back and forth, coming down to a game-five rubber match. Game-five came down to both Bayonetta and Diddy Kong having one-life. Salem chose to take the fight to ZeRo, becoming unusually aggressive. Working as intended, Salem caught ZeRo off guard, and forced a bracket reset.
Salem would be unable to return to an overt aggressive trick again, and instead needed to play the entire reset round as a chess match. Thus, to win the final round, and EVO 2017, Salem would have to possess control of Bayonetta’s agility and not let himself slip out of his strategy owning the middle of the stage.
Again, the two best players took proved their worth and took the game to a full five-set match, down to one stock each. ZeRo had full advantage of the final fight, and pushed 100% damage onto Salem. However, Salem still had focus written on his face. With one move he had the chance to win. After carefully tangoing with Diddy Kong in the middle of the stage, he let ZeRo obtain a false confidence.
False confidence with lighter characters is intrinsically dangerous in Smash Bros. Lighter characters have a higher launch radius, implicative of the rookie mistake of running straight into a heavier character’s powerful launch with low damage percentage. Salem knew this technique, and had a launch combination in mind if he could trap ZeRo.
ZeRo lost his focus for one moment, and marched directly into the middle of the stage. Throwing a banana (Diddy Kong is the younger Donkey Kong, an ape, whom loves bananas), ZeRo attempted to set Salem up to slip in the middle of the stage. However, this was a critical error as ZeRo let his game fall into the hands of Salem’s reaction, not into his hands. Salem knew this, threw the banana off the stage at the same moment a forward attack was set. Catching ZeRo in the middle of the stage, Salem went all in on one move set and lead an up-combo attack to clinch EVO 2017.
The last moment can be appreciated in this Twitch clip.
Evolving the Smash Bros. Wii U Scene
Salem winning EVO 2017 with Bayonetta was a resounding wake-up call to many in the Smash Bros. Wii U community, and a controversial one at that. First, Bayonetta is a DLC character, meaning Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai added her in as a pay-to-play character. Combine the controversy of pay-to-play with the fact many see Bayonetta as an overpowered character, and the merits of a championship as Bayonetta were up for debate.
However, make no mistake that Salem, not Bayonetta, won EVO 2017. Without the control he possessed for ten matches, Salem would not have won. This was not a case where anyone could play as Bayonetta and win. In fact, this was the first time that a Bayonetta fighter has won a major championship in the Smash Bros. competitive scene.
While the merits of Salem’s victory are not up for debate, future championship runs may be up for debate. A neat factor about competitive gaming is the fact many players can still find exploits and different ways to play as a certain character. (Example: The meta conversation of Fox’s technique coming full circle in Super Smash Bros. Melee.) Younger and upcoming players will attempt to copy the latest victors style, thus turning that player’s style into the meta.
In NBA circles, there is a current offseason dialogue around if Steph Curry’s three-point shot is ruining younger player’s shooting arch. In the developmental and high school sectors of basketball have seen a boost in player’s copying Curry’s style. The problem is, Curry’s style is unique to him; not everyone can play like Steph.
Carry this over to competitive gaming, and a plethora of new players fighting as Bayonetta could lead to a short-term lull as new players exploit a truly over-powered character. Smash Bros. has evolved due to creative strategy evolving meta conversation. An entire season where players sole focus is on defeating an over-powered player might lead to staleness in the conversation, and a scene where the onus is on analyzing developer decisions.
And when the onus of a community is on analyzing the decision of developer’s decision, the community turns bitter and misses out on the fun hand. Example: Street Fighter V.
That is foreshadowing for next week.