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Published January 18, 2021

Nobody won more last weekend than SFAT. Following up his Rollback Rumble victory, SFAT won Frame Perfect Series 4 over Hax$ without dropping a set. The win followed up an already strong second place showing from SFAT at Galint Open the week prior, which he won over Albert also without dropping a set. If you want to learn more about SFAT, check out my previous column covering his career here.

On Saturday, the Rollback Rumble series also announced the Black Empowerment Invitational: a Smash Summit-style event exclusively featuring Black smashers in the community. While there’s no finalized date for the tournament, so far it’s been announced for February. According to the series’ Twitter account, all donations made toward the event will be sent toward Black-centered charities.

In other news, Evil Geniuses and PPMD announced that they were parting ways. Moving forward, PPMD is a free agent, with him now fully committed to streaming and uploading daily content to his YouTube channel.

1. Random Thoughts on Region-Locking

I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to region-lock events, and I haven’t run into anyone that has said otherwise. It seems like everyone understands that games played on 100 ping are not equal to games on 40 ping. I asked people within my social circle about what they thought about cross-country Netplay, and pretty much all of us agreed that, broadly speaking, there are three different types of rollback matches: cross-continental games on three-frames-buffer (3f), cross-country games on two-frames-buffer, and anyone within your half of the United States. I don’t have any frame of reference to what connections are and aren’t playable in Europe or continents outside of North America, so I won’t be writing about those. 

However, don’t think you have to view all three as equal to see more than one as competitively valid “enough” to be legitimate. In other words, I don’t have a problem with region-locking tournaments, but I find it bizarre that some of the biggest proponents of region-locking – even someone like Hax who region locks his own Netplay series out of concerns for competitive integrity – will still enter tournaments that feature cross-country play and complain about the format. You can’t have it both ways.

I tried thinking about the best version of the case for region-locking as a strict standard for TOs to follow rather than as something within a player’s agency. When the norm for most big events is to allow cross-country play, those who choose to not participate are deliberately restricting themselves from the rest of the scene. But honestly, if the rest of the scene is fine with it, and only a small minority of players weren’t entering, what incentive do TOs have to take region-locking as something within their agency, rather than a decision most of their attendees don’t seem to care about?

A few people I talked to cited two specific concerns that I have to admit I rolled my eyes at, but that I think is fair for aspirational players to worry about: potential rollback rankings and professional opportunities. I can’t speak with regards to the latter, but as far as rankings are concerned, a common fear I noticed was that panelists wouldn’t have the resources or the capabilities to disaggregate different online results from each other.

I don’t think this is true. People who vote on annual rankings already have experience dealing with inconsistencies within inconsistent competitive standards across so many events, whether its measuring how players deal with wobbling bans or not, or being able to tell the difference between local set wins and major set wins. It’s also important to note that I don’t think we’ll ever have international rollback rankings the way we do with the MPGR. It’s far more likely that  we get region-specific rankings for rollback events.

On another note, one interesting argument I heard in favor of region locking is that the average player might be much more willing to enter a tournament if it’s region-locked. The heavily popular relaunch of Hax’s Nightclub (which had over 500 registered attendees) was something I saw cited as an example of a boost that region-locking could add to the likelihood of inactive players entering a tournament. I don’t buy this specific argument – mostly because HNC is such a well-known tournament brand that its launch was likely going to inspire hundreds of people to register regardless – but I wonder how many people take region-locking as the threshold upon which they’d enter a tournament or not.

This was kind of all over the place and I’m not really sure how to define my stance, if there’s any. I guess region-locking sounds like a good idea, but if you really hate lag and believe in region-locking, don’t enter cross-country events. I still see this as something well under most players’ control and something TOs would have done earlier as a strict standard if it were such a big deal.

2. The Potential Case for Best of 3

For a long time, smashers took best-of-five for granted as the preferable competitive format to best-of-three. The logic underlying this belief was simple: why would you not want to play more Melee? The Evo series used to receive quite a bit of flak for not using best-of-five until late in bracket, and best-of-three was often seen as more random and less competitively legitimate.

This is something that Wheat has actually talked about with me, and I think I’m starting to wonder if we haven’t considered potential benefits of best-of-three. First off, if I were to guess, this would only really make a difference at a Top 100 level of play. If this is true, then these players’ experiences and idea of competitive integrity still certainly matters for running tournaments, but not as much as the vast majority of players whose set outcomes wouldn’t fundamentally depend on a best-of-three or best-of-five. I wasn’t sure if the majority of players feel strongly about their chances being different in either format and, more pertinently, I wasn’t sure if their chances are actually significantly different. So I looked up if anyone else had done some kind of detailed study on this. This post was the closest I came to finding something:

In best of 3 sets the player who takes the 1st game is good enough to take the set 82% of the time. In a best of five set, that number increases. In a Bo5, whoever takes a 2nd game first takes the set around 89% of the time. This increase in win rate can be attributed to many things like the stage ban rules, character pick rules, time to “download”, and just being the better player in general.

There are a couple caveats to this post that warrant mention, which the writer admits. This analyzed multiple Smash games, meaning that this was already difficult to hold as relevant for Melee. Moreover, the “confidence interval”the author cites was anywhere between 1% to 13%. So the 7% difference doesn’t really tell us anything useful on its own. Maybe someone else could take a more deliberate look that compares results from 2020 onward.

On another note, I’ve thought about the “more Melee” benefit that best-of-five offers, and honestly, I don’t buy it as an exclusive benefit, at least for rollback events. The current version of Melee that we play is one where getting constant practice and games takes just a few seconds. And the worst case scenario, where you feel robbed of tournament matches? Just enter another Netplay event. We certainly aren’t lacking in those; and best-of-three could help multi-tourney-goers not hold up as many brackets. I could only imagine this being a problem if they then entered an absurd amount of events to make up for it, but I mean, come on. Who is going to enter more than three tournaments at the same time? Worst case, you could just “tourney” lock players or check their profiles to deny entry if it were a real concern.

There’s two other things I want to mention here before moving on. The first thing is that best-of-three is undeniably pretty exciting. Because there’s less wiggle room in a set, each game matters that much more. If best-of-three were so bad, then there are so many moments in Melee history that we cherish, from Prince Abu vs. Plup to Hanky Panky vs. Westballz, which we would hold in less regard. If we’re being honest with ourselves, I think we’d be huge dorks to act like these weren’t valid sets.

The last thing – it’s just easier for tournament organizers to manage best-of-three than it is to manage best-of-five. I know this against so many Melee players’  ingrained cultural beliefs that more games for competitive sets are better across so many levels, but from a TO standpoint, the majority of sets are going to happen in phases of the bracket where an outcome of a set is not going to depend on if it’s best-of-three or best-of-five. In rollback, where it’s easier to run a tournament than in-person, I guess time isn’t too rare of a resource, but when LAN events return, it would really be so much easier to coordinate with the physical limitations that come with managing CRTs, setups, etc.

What do you think? Is best-of-five truly the gold standard for Melee? Should we actually make top eights all best-of-three also? Should we bring back MLG-style formats, where winners bracket set scores carry over into grands? Let me know and I’ll share some of the best takes I read for next week.

3. Monday Morning Mailbag

What are your thoughts on LSD? Why have they gone from borderline unknown to a Top 20 player? – self-flagellate

LSD has been trapped in the “strong regional player” plateau for a really long time. Before they broke out on rollback last year, they had been the best or near the best of South Carolina. They just lacked a standout win to bring them to the big stage. I distinctly remember SmashBob Squarepants qualifying for Smash Summit and running a surreal campaign for it that came absurdly close to getting him in – while LSD was beating everyone else in the state.

For full disclosure, that I recently paid LSD $15 for a Melee lesson, and I asked them something along these lines. LSD talked about how it was really funny seeing people from both South Carolina and North Carolina get big wins while they were beating everyone else in secret; and for some time, it was something that really bothered them – especially because they were young and couldn’t travel much. But with rollback, where they can enter tournaments at will, get experience against all kinds of play styles, and have additional practice that went beyond just grinding punish game, LSD finally had the resources to level up.

As far as my opinion on LSD’s play goes, LSD reminds me of Mew2King. They are really exceptional in the situations they know, have a really reliable combo game, and read their opponents movement patterns uncannily well. I would go as far as to say that they’re actually pretty terrifying to play against in a way that is quite distinct from someone like Zain. I asked LSD about how they’d compare their Marth to Zain’s, and LSD had a funny comparison: “Zain’s Marth is like a sonata; mine is like a pop song.” I asked them to clarify and they immediately went to a difference in the punish game: where Zain will often just hit his opponent until they die and nail every reactive followup to their DI or defensive options, while LSD will try to gamble, keep their combos short and sweet, as well as force a situations that are favorable to them over their opponent.

I think they have a few holes in their game as far as specific situations against neutral-heavy players go and I know LSD struggles with maintaining discipline and not tilting against some of their opponents – but when they’re on, they’re as good as anyone. I’d say LSD is probably the second best Marth player right now and Top 25 at worst.

Speaking of content and YouTube, what’s your take on YouTube channels that take clips from popular twitch streams and upload the compilation, like Gloomshot, Pengboys, and Frudgey? Do they play a “valuable” role in the Smash content ecosystem by potentially bringing in new eyes and directing them to streams, or is it just content thievery? – that-one-dude

I don’t have any thoughts on Frudgey, but I know Pengboys has caused issues for streamers in the past, so I actively avoid his content. With regards to Gloomshot, I have to admit I watch the channel every now and then as a brief refresher on what I might have missed from the previous day. I don’t have any evidence to say definitively whether these content compilation channels bring in new eyes or not, but if I were to guess, I’d assume I’m probably a bit closer to the average audience for Gloomshot: people who already follow Melee just trying to catch up on clips they missed.

I think this kind of topic is really personal though. I tend to lean pretty liberally as far as copyrights and content are concerned, but that’s because I don’t really care about who shares content, even if it’s my own, just as long as I’m credited correctly, materially unharmed by the distribution of my content, and as long as there’s enough difference between what’s being used and the final product for a reasonable person to distinguish some level of difference from.

How do you think the players known for unreliable connection will fare when IRL events return? With Ping between players not being tracked / connection playability being largely a social media blame game, how much of the online variance do you think can be explained by McDonald’s wifi players? – Ambisinister

It’s funny that you ask this, Ambi, because on a serious note, I think the players known for unreliable connection just won’t show up at all when IRL events return. If I were to guess, the McDonalds WiFi players – or at least the ones who were not bare minimum power ranked in their region – will end up McDonalds WiFi players from the cradle to the grave. Not because they are or aren’t actually good at Melee, but because McDonalds WiFi is their only feasible way of playing against other people.

This is something that actually saddens me about some of the players we’ve seen come to prominence during the rollback era. My concern isn’t whether or not they’ll perform as well when LAN events return; it’s if they will completely disappear from the scene by virtue of not having any other feasible way of competing. But at the very least, I’ll be so relieved when we don’t have to talk about goddamn lag any more when it comes to watching and playing the game we all love.

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