I should've picked rock-paper-scissors over Super Smash Bros. Ultimate online
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Original Reporting
Subject Specialist

It’s not everyday that you ruin someone’s morning at 3 p.m. and get shutout by someone else in online Super Smash Bros. Ultimate before the hour has ended. But, Saturday, Sept. 4 was not your everyday.

I almost always play my Nintendo Switch in its undocked mode since I don’t have a monitor to hook it up to. The Switch can’t connect to a wired LAN adapter in this mode, leaving me with online connections that range from subpar to egregious. As a result, the majority of online Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments bar me from entering.

Saturday’s tournament was an exception. The lack of a LAN adapter actually made me the ideal competitor for this event.

A bright idea for a bad time in online Smash Ultimate

The tournament, named Bad Things Happening to Good People, rested on a basic principle about online Smash Ultimate that the community universally shares: it’s not good.

Online Ultimate features a high amount of input delay, making reaction-based gameplay excessively difficult. In addition, poor connections frequently lead to lag, further adding to the inconsistency of the online tournament scene.

Bad Things Happening to Good People didn’t try to mitigate any of these problems. Instead, it embraced and exacerbated them. Unlike most Smash Ultimate tournaments, which feature double-elimination brackets and best-of-three or best-of-five sets, this event was single-elimination with best-of-one sets. Losing just one game meant you were out of the tournament completely.

The tournament wasn’t region-locked, leaving players to deal with potentially unplayable connections against opponents on the opposite side of the globe. At most other tournaments, players could ask for a lag test to get an opponent with an awful connection disqualified. But, at Bad Things Happening to Good People, anyone who requested one was disqualified themselves because, as the rules stated, “lag tests are for cowards.”

This event was the brainchild of Zack “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” Toner, also known as “WhyDo.” Even though in-person locals are already up and running again in my region, I decided to enter WhyDo’s online event. I jumped into the void, hoping I might uncover the difference between the good people and the bad-thing-doers.

I’m not proud of my Round 1 performance

My first opponent of the day was Luke “NORTH” Northcott, who I already knew of thanks to a fellow member of my college’s esports club. Through our distant association, I knew that my opponent mained Captain Falcon. Unbeknownst to me, we were engaged in a complicated counterpick war before our set even began.

After our set, NORTH told me that he looked me up on smashdata.gg, which listed me as a Pichu player. I had used Pichu at a few online tournaments toward the beginning of quarantine as I wrestled with the fact that my offline main, Fox, sucks online. But, I later settled on Cloud as my online main.

Nevertheless, NORTH thought he was playing against Pichu and selected Terry. As a result, we both locked in characters the other was totally unprepared to fight.

The next twist came through the Smash.gg chat, where NORTH revealed to me that he lives in Guam, about as far away as he could possibly be from my parents’ home in North Carolina. A wireless match between opponents on opposite sides of the planet; it seemed like exactly the kind of set WhyDo had envisioned.

Cloud Smash Ultimate
I learned a lot about myself during that first match | Provided by Nintendo

NORTH spammed Terry’s forward smash at every plausible (and implausible) opportunity. I mashed Cloud’s Up-B anytime I thought he might be even a little close to my shield. In short, the gameplay was not good.

Ultimately, I finished the game with a Limit Neutral-B, two-stocking NORTH en route to my commanding 1-0 victory. I found his Twitch channel afterward and decided to listen to his thoughts about our match, hoping he might have noticed some genius in the midst of my otherwise braindead mashing. Instead, I learned that it was very, very early in the morning in Guam.

“That f***ing sucked,” NORTH told his chat. “I got up at 5 a.m. for that s***. What the f***?”

And, with the caffeine from a cup of coffee already coursing through his brain, there was little hope he could merely go back to bed. As I observed how NORTH’s morning had so quickly gone awry, my perception of myself began to change.

For so long, I had viewed myself as a victim of online Ultimate, forced to give up on my favorite character in favor of a guy with a big sword. And yet, there I was, abusing those same wi-fi tactics I despised to someone else’s detriment.

There wasn’t much time to wallow in my self-loathing. My next opponent had a bye past Round 1 and he was ready for his first match of the day.

Round 2 was worse in other ways

My second match was against Elam “Pokelam” Rosario. Pokelam is one of Smash Ultimate’s best online players, ranked 36th on the Wi-Fi Warrior Rank v7. In retrospect, I probably should have challenged him to rock paper scissors, or some other game where my odds might have been better (i.e. anything other than Ultimate). But, I figured if I could ever make such an upset, this would be the ruleset that could make it happen.

Before our set, Pokelam typed “glhf” — or “good luck, have fun” — in the Smash.gg chat. That didn’t feel right to me given the circumstances of our set.

“In the spirit of the event: bad luck, do not have fun,” I said.

“Fair enough LOL,” Pokelam responded.

I did not seem to be all that lucky, nor did I have a particularly good time, considering I struggled to take a single stock. At one point, Pokelam Pocketed my Limit Neutral-B as Villager, launched it back at my shield and broke my shield with a down smash. He even had the audacity to share my demise publicly on Twitter. As some consolation, he didn’t reveal my identity, saving me some embarrassment at the time.

Pokelam won our set 1-0, ending my run and landing me in 513th place. I found some solace in my loss at the hands of another wi-fi character, as though it absolved my guilt from the prior set.

“No adapting, no losers runs, just chaos”

In early August, WhyDo tweeted his desire to host an online Ultimate tournament with “No adapting, no losers runs, just chaos.” WhyDo partnered with a team of tournament organizers, designers and commentators to make Bad Things Happening to Good People a reality one month later.

One of the tournament’s major agents of chaos was its seeding. Players were seeded based on their overall win rates, with no further context taken into account. As a result, Zack “hbprinter” B. became the first seed on account of his 100% (1-0) win rate according to smashdata.gg.

Despite all this, the TOs granted players one option for avoiding the problems with online Ultimate. That is, they could opt to play a different game altogether. Or not play a game at all. Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma won the tournament and its $500 prize by offering Noah “naitosharp” McCulley $300 and a spot on his Hot Juans show.

Grand finals of Bad Things Happening to Good People.
The grand final of Bad Things Happening to Good People consisted entirely of negotiations between Hungrybox and naitosharp rather than an actual match | Provided by WhyDo

Entrants were given the sole stipulation that their best-of-one set couldn’t last more than 15 minutes.

“As long as both players agree, meet in the parking lot and box it [out] for all I care,” tournament organizer Ryan “L4st” Krichbaum announced in the tournament’s Discord server.

Bad Things Happening to Good People in online Smash Ultimate

As I came to the end of the tournament, it seemed too simple to peg Pokelam as the one responsible for the bad things. How often had he been screwed over by online Smash in some way? After all, what Ultimate player hasn’t? As I pondered this, it became clear to me what WhyDo’s tournament was really about.

By and large, the Smash community is full of good people who were dealt a bad hand at the beginning of the pandemic. For a year and a half, players put up with the game’s frustrating netcode as their sole source of competition and, in some ways, community.

But now, it seems they’ve made it to the other side. Many offline locals are back in full swing. In-person majors are becoming more and more prevalent. At least for the time being, it seems that Smash Ultimate’s exclusively online era is over.

Bad Things Happening to Good People was an homage to the Smash community’s persistence in surviving with all the odds stacked against it. After all, online Smash Ultimate can be chaotic even with the most mundane of rulesets. And, for many, the tournament was one final farewell to the online scene and a symbol of their hope that they won’t be forced to go back anytime soon.

Dylan Tate is an alumnus of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a gaming journalist with a love for Nintendo esports, particularly Super Smash Bros. and Pokémon.