Meta Knight didn't just take top honors at January's APEX 2012 Super Smash Bros. Brawl tournament - he dominated. A look at the results page for the New Brunswick, New Jersey event reveals that half of the top eight players in the singles tourney used Meta Knight, and 21 of the top 64 singles players used him - exactly three times that of runner-up Captain Olimar. The doubles tournament tells a similar story, with Meta Knight occupying all four character spots in the grand finals match. Clearly, the character is a problem.
Character bans in fighting games are nothing new, but they don't happen often.
Fortunately, the problem's already been resolved .On September 30th of last year, a post by MLG Tournament Director Chris Brown (a.k.a. AlphaZealot) on Smashboards (the largest forum for competitive Smash players), stated that Meta Knight would be banned from both singles and doubles tournaments starting January 9th of the following year, making APEX 2012 - which took place the weekend before the ban - the last major tournament to allow Meta Knight. Other tournaments before then had the option to ban Meta Knight, but it was not required by the Unity Ruleset, which are the guidelines most major tournaments in the United States and Canada use.
Character bans in fighting games are nothing new, but they don't happen often, and considering the impact a ban can have on a game's competitive scene, they're never taken lightly. As the Smash community's first major ban, it had to come down to consensus between both the players and tournament organizers. The official decision was made by the URC, or the Unity Ruleset Committee (a national group of tournament organizers), but to make the ban as agreeable as possible, members of both the Smashboards and AllisBrawl forums were polled on the issue time and again over the years. And while an ordinary forum-goer's take on banning a character can be knee-jerk, Brown says it took more than that to ban Meta Knight. "The top 100 players on the SWF [Smash World Forums, another name for Smashboards] rankings were also polled and came out roughly 60-40 in favor of banning the character." The Brawl Back Room, a secret forum for the "'best and brightest'" players of Smash, also voted in favor of the ban.
So if the ban had most of the Brawl community behind it, why did it take more than three years since Brawl's release to ban Meta Knight? "Part of the issue is that top players were using [him] and they wanted to see their money-source stay intact," Brown says. "People listen to top players, for better or for worse, and some take their opinions as worth more than they probably should be." And when the prize for first place in the singles tournament at APEX is $3,600, it stands to reason that a few players might not want their golden goose taken. Of course, there's also the issue of adoption. "Another issue was that it would simply be impossible in Smash to ban any character without a large group of [tournament organizers] unifying together. A [single] tournament is very weak in terms of influencing what others do and even the largest tournaments seldom see their ruleset mimicked."
The URC also had to contend with Brawl's international players, like those in Japan, whose league play is out of their jurisdiction. During the APEX 2012 live stream, commentators mentioned that a few Japanese players were discouraged from making the trip overseas for next year's event, since Meta Knight is not banned in Japanese tournament play, and having to abandon their main character for one event wasn't worth it. But the ban was already decided at that point, and Brown does not feel like hindering the potential of a few players merits abstaining from the ban. "The Japanese [Meta Knight] players I'm sure would be discouraged, but the allure of winning a large scale US tournament, [along with] the monetary opportunity that does not exist in Japan would still make attending US nationals an attractive offer," says Brown. "Personally, I do not think a [tournament organizer] should hold an entire ruleset for their own tournament hostage just to get a few international players to attend, much less hold the ruleset for the entire community hostage for these few international players."
What is it about Meta Knight that deserves to get him the boot, exactly? For the head honchos making the calls in such matters, it's not just about looking at videos of the incredible performances, tricks, and glitches the character is responsible for. A wealth of information regarding character performance is available, and looking over charts comparing "Monetary Success" and "Frequency of Successful Players By Character," you'll see that one line, one set of figures, always stands out among Brawl's 35-character roster. The combination of player complaints and consistent data was likely what made a ban possible, whether Meta Knight was too powerful or not. "It is important to note it is nearly impossible to know where the line is between 'best character' and 'broken character'," notes Brown. "I would suggest it is simply wherever the majority of the [community's] tolerance lies for dealing with a dominant character - and arbitrary line, certainly."