It felt like it was over before it started. With explosions going off left and right, Jestise "MVD" Negron's Snake, a character many players thought couldn't win at a high level, was all over the map sending Eric "ESAM" Lew's Pikachu flying offstage again and again. After gaining a two game, two stock lead on his Panda Global teammate, MVD was playing aggressively -- he even used Snake's rocket launcher to meet Pikachu's recover mid-air for an incredible KO. Finally, as ESAM managed to bring Snake down to one stock, MVD landed a decisive finishing blow and claimed his crown.
Even though Snake hasn't been in Super Smash Bros. since Brawl, MVD felt right at home using his favorite character. "It was like riding a bike, most of my play was Brawl instincts taking over," MVD said. "I love Snake so much and I really connect with the character. It's an absolute joy being able to play him at such a high level."
That was the scene at Don't park on the Grass in Seattle, the first Smash major since Super Smash Bros. Ultimate's release on December 7. While other events happened on launch weekend, this is the first time we've gotten a taste of what Ultimate's meta might look like down the road.
"Everyone's attacks and movement speed increased since the last game, things happen in the blink of an eye," said Sam 'Dabuz' Buzby, who ranked fourth in the PGR rankings for Smash 4. "It's not unreasonable to get hit once and die a few seconds later without knowing exactly what happened. Some characters move so fast it's impossible to react to what they are doing making the game very hectic and fun."
Outside Snake, Don't Park on the Grass's top sixteen had a variety of characters who don't usually show up that late in a tournament. One of the most notable matchups was Calib "Konga" Byers' Donkey Kong and Dawson "Big D" Perron's King Dedede. It's unheard of to see two heavy characters in top eight of a major, and these two had a close showdown.
The variety of fighters was refreshing -- Super Smash Bros. Wii U tournaments had started to feature only a select number of characters. While some believe this variety will stick throughout the life of Ultimate due to its huge roster size, others believe it'll still get whittled down over time.
"I'm of the thinking that players will need a minimum of two to three characters to have success, so I definitely think the diversity like at Don't Park in the Grass will always be around," MVD said. "More characters in a more balanced game makes it very possible that we see a much wider breadth of character picks for Ultimates meta. I don't see that changing at all."
It's early, though. Ultimate has only been out for a few weeks and balance patches, DLC additions and more time with the game could lead players to select a more conservative amount of fighters."I expect a diverse meta early," Dabuz said. "But as we establish the top tiers, it will lose that diversity."
Inkling Kid, Chrom, Olimar, Palutena, Mewtwo, Lucina, Marth, and Yoshi (among many others) are characters that have stood out in online tier lists -- but they only scratch the surface of what we might see during the first few months of Ultimate.
Outside the short preview of what the meta might look like, Don't Park on the Grass also showcased a return to three stock matches. Due to Super Smash Bros. Wii U's slower pace and tournament time limitations competitive play only had two stocks, which was somewhat controversial in the community.
"It's really nice that Ultimate is faster and can play three stock, I think it eliminates a lot of the inconsistency people saw in Smash 4 results. I think Ultimate will be a lot more rewarding game for the better player in the set," said Don't Park on the Grass organizer Aiden "Calvin" McCaig. "I think with two stock, rage, and the characters of Smash 4, the 'worse' player could end up taking sets a lot of the time, and I'm glad the rules and game have changed to a point where I don't think that'll be the case."
Shielding being extremely weak, the ability to do anything out of a dash, and parrying are three big changes from Super Smash Bros. Wii U that players like Dabuz and MVD highlighted. Even still, Ultimate's meta, players various approaches to the game, and mechanical changes will ebb and flow throughout the next few months. It's safe to say that what we see at Genesis in the beginning of February will be very different than what we experienced this past weekend.
"It's the first Ultimate major, there is a lot of time for the game to grow and for players to learn," said Te Tuhi "Spud" Kelly, an Australian Melee player who placed fifth at Don't Park on the Grass. "I have no idea how long it'll take for things to settle, since it depends on balance patches. But I've seen a lot of things that are busted that people won't be able to enjoy for long."