In both Melee and Smash 4 we’ve been seeing a ton of argument, discussion, rage, and lengthy Twitter threads regarding rules changes. Should characters or aspects of characters be banned, how to handle stalling tactics, what to do about new controllers, and so much more. Naturally there are strong emotions on both sides of every single argument. There isn’t really a “right” answer to any of these problems, but we’re desperately searching for some way to create changes that will give us the best, most sustainable game for the long term.
We Have Been Changed For Good
Last night, in the midst of a sudden flurry of “Smash 4 should have 3 stocks” debate, I sort of had a thought I want to explore. It feels to me like our rules committees, players, and most passionate debaters are all looking for permanent answers to the “problems” of Smash. Essentially, we’re trying to find ways to solve the game. However, there are two fundamental flaws with that logic.
First, Smash is not a solvable equation. We can’t get into the code and fix the bugs with Lylat or Melee Battlefield, we can’t freeze Pokemon Stadium. There’s no way to nerf Witch Time or change Nana’s AI to remove wobbling. We already tried the only way Smash can be “solved” and it basically just produced yet another segment of the community in Project: M. While PM is an amazing feat in the history of gaming, it’s never going to be a sustainable solution in the modern esports age. For the versions of the game that get played on ESPN, that get streamed at major tournaments, and that have any hope of even the smallest support from Nintendo, there is no way to actually solve the inherent problems of these games.
Second, that’s not how any esport works. Every competitive title has constant balance patches, character updates, and new features. Even other fighting games will constantly tweak things. No game has a goal of becoming “solved”, that’s not the way games work today. Even ignoring mechanical changes to game code, rules in sports change constantly. The NFL regularly adjusts rules for kickoffs, tackling, overtime, etc. League of Legends added more bans in their draft phase. Heroes of the Storm is exploring new rules for region restrictions. Games develop new league structures, bylaws, and rulesets constantly. At the end of every season you expect to see changes to the competitive structure of a sport, and potentially changes to how you play the game. Nothing is permanent in sports.
What I’m suggesting is a shift in the way we approach rule changes. Instead of thinking about things in terms of permanent bans, lifelong changes, and slow methodical change, let’s think like modern gamers. Let’s become less scared of changes and stop trying to find the “right” answer. Do what game designers do–test, collect data, make conclusions, and adapt. The designers of our games abandoned them. They have made it abundantly clear that we won’t see an official competitive structure or any sort of balance patches. Melee HD is not coming, Smash Switch is still probably at least a year away. Since they won’t do it, let’s shift our thinking from solving the game long-term to patching the game for today.
Open Your Mind
Now, before this devolves, let me clarify. I am not suggesting that we try to add arbitrary rules to actually balance the characters in each game, that would be insane. You can’t impose such specific restrictions, it would drastically increase the barrier to entry for newcomers. What I’m talking about is changing the way we think about our ruleset. Whenever a change is made, see it as a test. See it as an opportunity to gather data. Look at it as something to reevaluate with the next patch.
Smash 4 already has the year divided into two seasons, I think this is a perfect structure for what I propose. Near the end of each PGR season, have the rules committee get together and examine the state of the game. Collect feedback from players at every skill level, look at PGstats data on tournament wins, set counts, number of timeouts, stage useage/winrates, etc. Then, make some changes. Set down the PGRvWhatever Official Rules List. For a tournament to be PGR eligible, it must adhere to that ruleset. Then, we know we have 6 months to collect data on this new ruleset. We also have the promise that changes will be made in just 6 short months. Hate that Lylat was banned? Experience the game for 6 months without it and form your argument for why the game is better with it using data from that season. Want wobbling back? Use those 6 months to explore how the meta has changed as a result of that ban and propose changes for the next season.
To me, this is the only healthy way to work with what we have. The only way to know if a change is good or not is to test it. There is no good time in the year to test rule changes. Asking locals or weeklies to be the guinea pigs is unrealistic when people are using their locals to prepare for bigger events. We have to test out changes in a real competitive environment–on the big tournament stages.
Why It Won’t Work
I’ve done this enough times to know a number of the static responses to anything like this, so I’ve prepared my defense in advance rather than having to do so on the Reddit thread.
Melee doesn’t have a six month season
They should. Every MOBA uses a two-season structure and still has a World Championship at the end of the full calendar year. It is a superior system for rewarding recent accomplishments, providing a reset for building storylines, and allows for natural change/break points.
You can’t make arbitrary changes, it would change the game balance
First off, no one is suggesting making changes just for the sake of changes (though there’s a case for that in a different article). Second, yes, obviously. However, that’s just a true thing. When the NFL changes the rules to reward offence, teams with better offence get stronger. When League of Legends changes the game to reward late-game strategies, teams with better macro play win more. If Dhalsim gets buffed, Fchamp will place higher more frequently. That’s how games work. It isn’t a bad thing, because the next change will likely reward a different style, or everyone will adapt to the changes and the meta will settle again.
Who’s going to enforce these rules?
I’ve already written about the need for a stronger governing body in each game. We’re way past time the community started pushing for that. Regardless, there are already groups in both games putting together the “recommended ruleset”. All I’m proposing is that these committees make their changes at very specific times each year, only make major changes at those season breaks, and revisit every rule each season to explore adjustments.
What if they make a rule that breaks the game? We can’t wait 6 months to change something that’s ruined the game
Every game has hotfixes. If something is genuinely broken, just hotfix it.
This was really poorly written. Aren’t you that guy that just hates Melee?
I beat you to it this time, move along.
What if a tournament refuses to use the new rules?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to enforce this with any real authority because every tournament operates independently. My suggestion for this is to make the rules mandatory for the game’s ranking system. A tournament could still use their own rules, but it wouldn’t count for the official rankings at the end of the season. Since both games are so saturated with tournaments, this would encourage players to choose tournaments who follow the rules. Sure, a big tournament like Genesis or Big House could strong-arm the committee by refusing to adhere to a change, and most people would still go to the event, you would also have a real tough time not including Genesis in your rankings. However, ideally the rules committee would work with these major events so that there’s some give and take there.
Ultimately, everyone has to be willing to meet in the middle. The game can’t grow if both sides dig in their heels, we have to work together. In this system every rule is temporary. If Genesis hates a rule, it may only be around for this year, and be gone by the next Genesis, so there’s no real reason to fight super hard unless something is genuinely problematic, in which case see my answer for hotfixes.
So in short, let’s just be more excited about change. Change the stage list for a season, adjust the timer, add the ledge grab limit, let the new controllers in, whatever! Yes, it will influence who wins what. Yes, some changes will suck and get adjusted. However, at least we’re exploring things. We’ll have evolved our structure, there will be real, genuine season arcs (which is one of the biggest issues in Smash right now), and the game stays fresh. To me this is the only route that makes sense, and really all I’m proposing is a shift in the mentality of the community. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?