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The Banning of Meta Knight

Suriel Vazquez | 8 May 2012 09:35
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However, not all bans are decided through statistical analysis or pure consensus. Tom Cannon, one of the founders of Shoryuken.com and key member of the Evolution Championship Series, the largest tournament for fighting games in the U.S., can pin the reason Akuma was banned in both the Super Turbo and HD Remix editions of Street Fighter II down to the character's fireball. "In Super Turbo, the shallow flight path of Akuma's air fireball made the match literally un-winnable for some characters if Akuma was willing to rely solely on that move," says Cannon. "This wasn't about options. It was about shutting down the whole game by spamming one move. This move was re-balanced in HD Remix, but it was later discovered that the air fireball set up a new, different-but-overwhelming advantage for Akuma." While Meta Knight's dominance had to be evaluated over a series of overpowering tournament performances, watching videos like this gives you a good sense of just how powerful Akuma is (and, keep in mind, that's HD Remix footage, where Akuma's fireball was toned down).

If a character was too powerful, tournament organizers could hold out for a potential update instead of banning a character.

Even Street Fighter's last iteration, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, had its share of outcry over characters. Yun, Yang, and Fei Long players abounded for the duration of that edition's lifespan - Arcade Edition has since been patched into the generally agreeable 2012 edition - and any informal poll of Arcade Edition live stream chatters would've been heavily in favor of banning these "broken" characters.

For Cannon, however, none of those three characters merited banning. "For the purposes of character banning, 'broken' means the game is literally not worth playing with that character in the game. When Akuma can jump up and down throwing air fireballs for the whole match and there is literally nothing I can do to touch him, that is broken." This sort of impossible match simply did not exist in Arcade Edition. "We would never ban any of the characters in [Arcade Edition]." says Cannon. "In even the most lopsided AE matchups, the underdog character stands a fighting chance."

Of course, Arcade Edition has the benefit of patches, where problematic characters can be tamed once the development team sees them as a problem. Additionally, in the era of console videogames before patches, updates to game balance and rosters came in subsequent releases - think Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, or Street Fighter III: Third Strike. If a character was too powerful, tournament organizers could hold out for a potential update instead of banning a character. The lack of updated releases for Brawl, along with Nintendo's low tolerance for patching their games, means the game is staying as-is, and it's up to the community to decide what to do with the game they've been given.

This was the case for Super Smash Bros. Melee as well, but Brown argues even that game's best characters weren't that far ahead of the rest of the cast. "Fox and Falco have won their fair share of local or regional events, [but] nationally speaking they are more bark [than] bite." Many players regard these two characters as the two to beat in Melee, but statistically, the results simply don't show that. "Fox and Falco have supposedly been the 'best' in Melee since 2005 yet this has never translated to national tournament wins even semi-consistently. Fox's tournament wins at a national level are nearly nonexistent, [though] at least Falco has a couple."

So if Meta Knight's gone, who will pro players replace him with? "I don't believe [there] is another character with [him] out of the picture that can reach [his level] of dominance," says Brown. "The game is certainly more balanced, and there has been some research already on what the metagame will look like with Meta Knight banned." Tier lists are an outsider's best indicator of the relative strengths of each character within a game's competitive scene, and looking at Brawl's, Snake, Diddy Kong, and Falco all look poised for the top spot.

But Cannon, who as a veteran Street Fighter-player is intimately familiar with tier lists, posits that while tier lists are based on "the relative power of each character when in the hands of equally skilled, world-class players," it's ultimately the players who use these characters that determine the outcomes of any tournament. "I think tier lists are vastly overrated. For nearly every player, your own personal style and dedication to the game are bigger factors than the theoretical tiers. Look at what [veteran pro player] Justin Wong is doing with Iron Fist in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. He's winning tournaments and making excellent players look silly with a character that's generally agreed to be 'low-tier.' Justin identifies with the character and has fun with him, so he's able to overcome the disadvantages that exist on paper."

Watching footage of Wong's Iron Fist in action, it's hard to argue with Cannon.

Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer currently living in Omaha, Nebraska. He's written reviews and features for GamePro, Bitmob, and now, The Escapist. You can contact him at surielvazquez(at)gmail(dot)com.

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