Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect Shoryuken as a whole.
The Smash community and FGC at large have been going back and forth on an ugly issue for some time, and that discussion has picked up a lot of steam lately. It’s unfortunate, but it was a discussion that had to happen. With Evo this year playing host to an enormous amount of Street Fighter V competitors and becoming the largest Smash Bros. tournament in history, it’s safe to say that we’re doing a lot of growing, and every new release only works to bolster that growth. It was only a matter of time until, in thinking of ways to manage the tournament process more efficiently, someone suggested, “Hey, why don’t we just let the guys on top skip the first round?”
This is known as “floating,” and is essentially the practice of letting players pre-qualify for later stages of a tournament, allowing big names to skip the first round of competition. It makes sense, to an extent. People love the top players, especially in a game like Super Smash Bros. Melee where their showings are so strong and consistent. If Cloud 9’s Mango or Alliance’s Armada are eliminated before top 8 (as impossible as it sounds), both of their stories in the whole Melee narrative that’s become so huge with the game’s revival instantly become less significant and the tournament is suddenly very likely to see an underwhelming finish for the audience. But what if–and this is a big if–that narrative had room for even more players?
The first thing to note when considering implementing floating is that upsets do indeed happen. In Ultra Street Fighter IV, we saw Alex Valle take a decisive victory at Evolution 2015 against 2014 runner-up Bonchan. Or what about a wildcard player like Marn? The idea of him being eliminated early on in most games doesn’t sound too ridiculous, but he’s come out of nowhere to take a set from ChrisG in his prime at Evo 2014 and just recently showed up to this year’s NCR and managed to put down the likes of Mago, Alucard, Poongko, K-Brad, 801 Strider, Ricki Ortiz, and NuckleDu in a single run. As far as Smash goes, Melee big names like HugS, MacD, and Westballz didn’t even make it to bracket at Pound this year, while Infinite Numbers from New Hampshire came out of nowhere to get 9th place, defeating several highly ranked players. There’s no reason to discredit the players who’ve lost matches where they’ve been favored, but to suggest that they should be able to skip a series of early matches just because, “Eh, they’ll probably win,” is absurd.
While these upsets are admittedly pretty rare in most games, they do happen. Former Marvel LIVE! host Kinderparty has been a figure in the Marvel community for some time now, but his initial claim to fame came from eliminating Justin Wong in pools at Final Round 2012, despite coming from a region as barren as Eastern Kentucky and playing a character like Arthur.
“The reason I beat Justin was definitely my character choice. Arthur is a rare pick and hadn’t been seen much early in MVC3 and that gave me a great edge,” Kinderparty said. “It launched everything for me. I didn’t make as much of it competitively as most, but I found my spot in the community and I loved that. If I hadn’t had the chance to prove myself like that, and then build with more victories on other top players in pools, I never would have had the same presence.”
Another ugly facet of floating is that putting it into place and managing it sounds like a mess. First of all, just saying something like, “Let the 5 Gods of Melee skip pools” sounds simple, but for the sake of the bracket and everyone running it, it’s hardly feasible to just give five players a place later on in the bracket and to let everyone else fill it in. Genesis 3 was one of the first big tournaments to play with this idea, and proposed allowing 32 Smash 4 players and 64 Melee players (determined by the Melee It On Me rankings) to skip pools. While these numbers are more clean, it’s pretty absurd to suggest that the 64th ranked player on MIOM is strong enough to be given the privilege to pre-qualify past pools (no offense to our buddy homemadewaffles). Again, a number of players in the top 20 were eliminated very early on at this year’s Pound, while the same tournament served as a breakout performance for some unranked players, so treating the MIOM rankings as law and allowing so many players to skip the first step of the tournament process would be a little more than unfair. There’s also the matter of, hey, there are other games at most of these majors and their communities are largely much less supportive of this idea. Games like Street Fighter have numbers that often eclipse the Smash games when they’re at the same tournaments. Are we going to be expected to enforce floating on Street Fighter V as well, even though most of their community is firmly against it? If not, why would we allow it for a smaller tournament? FGC names like James Chen, TheHadou, and Chris Ceg have all brought strong points to the table, and none of them are too fond of this idea.
A lot of people may be wondering why top players are so consistent in so many games, and in Melee especially. One of the biggest factors is very simple: most of their time playing is spent playing against other top players. At any given major, it’s never difficult to find top players practicing against each other in hotel rooms before finals the next day. That’s not to say they never play with fans or newer players, but no one has as many opportunities to play with the best players as the other folks on top. And it becomes much, much more difficult to get that opportunity when you’re hardly given a chance to stand out as a serious player.
A good number of people have the privilege of making it to events like Wednesday Night Fights, Mashfest NYC, or Xanadu multiple times per month, and those people are given an opportunity to face off against top players regularly. In other words, they are competing with some of the top competitors in the country more often than people in some regions get to come together for a monthly local tournament with little or no top player representation. It’s not hard to see how this can give a player an advantage. If a player comes from a scene that’s not doing much for them and can only afford to attend a single tournament per year, that tournament becomes a chance for them to do something big and become something more! To deny that player the possibility of being able to say, “I knocked a top player into losers!” before top 64 is an insult.
The primary reason this discussion is even happening is because of a Tweet from TSM|Leffen last week, where he cites his main concern as “burnout” for top players.
I wonder how long it’s gonna be until tournaments let us qualify to skip pools. It’s gonna be necessary to prevent burnout imo.
— William Hjelte (@TSM_Leffen) June 2, 2016
It’s true that increasing popularity comes with increasing responsibility, and that the time spent playing in pools is time that could be spent relaxing and enjoying your weekend, but we’re talking about Leffen here, a player who made his name by slaying the “five Gods.” His rise in the Melee scene can be attributed to his victories over the community’s most notable players, and the work he put in to achieve that is incredibly impressive and worthy of admiration. And now, the person who pulled off so many upsets and put so much time into his game wants the right to bypass a gigantic chunk of the process that comes with becoming a stronger player. We’ve already seen with tournaments like Genesis that the people should not–and will not–stand for it. As far as I’m concerned, a top player that doesn’t have the stamina or self-respect to play through pools (where they’re often seeded to make their losing as difficult as possible anyways) is hardly a top player at all. I’d like to close with a fantastic point from Avyd’s Alex Jebailey.
I wanna hear all sides from the Smash World. Why is 3/5 so important to top players yet the same ones complain they have to play too much?
— Alex Jebailey (@CEOJebailey) June 3, 2016