Top five Super Smash Bros. Ultimate sets of 2021
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After more than a year of dealing with laggy connections and input delay in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s online mode, the Smash community got to return to high-level offline Ultimate in the latter half of 2021. In the process, viewers relearned something that could have been easily forgotten over quarantine: Smash Ultimate is a pretty fun game to watch.

Top players returned to the stage at numerous major tournaments this year to show off the high quality of gameplay that’s possible when the obstacles of online play are removed. Here are Upcomer’s picks for the top five Smash Ultimate sets of 2021.

5. Peli vs. Leon – VCA 2021

Vienna Challengers Arena 2021 was an enjoyable spectator experience for a number of reasons. From its high production quality to the lively Austrian crowd, VCA 2021 showed off some of the best that the European Smash Ultimate scene has to offer. This was perhaps best personified through the winners finals set between James “Peli” Hunt and Nassim “Leon” Laib.

The crowd applauded at the outset of the match due to Peli’s character choice. He locked in his low-tier secondary, King Dedede, as opposed to his high-tier main, Sonic. Despite the tier differential, Peli managed to take the first two games over Leon’s Lucina thanks to his strong punish game and masterful offstage plays.

With his back against the wall, Leon switched to his own secondary, Chrom. He won the next two games as a result. In the final game, Peli recovered from a percent deficit and edgeguarded Leon with a forward-air to win the set. Thus, he made it to grand finals with one of the highest-level displays of what Ultimate Dedede can do. Peli went on to beat William “Glutonny” Belaid with Sonic in the grand finals, making history as the first European to win a major Ultimate tournament over Glutonny.

4. Ned vs. Kobe – InfinityCON Tally 2021

InfinityCON Tally 2021 was in many ways a tournament of firsts. It was the United States’ first large in-person tournament since CEO Dreamland 2020, 15 months earlier. It also marked the offline debut for multiple DLC characters in the States. This included Sephiroth, who Nicholas “Ned” Dovel used to take second place.

Ned used the Final Fantasy villain to triumph over many strong opponents, including Young Link main Kobe “Kobe” Murray. They had faced each other in top 32, where Ned defeated Kobe 3-0. While Kobe’s strong punishes helped him to maintain a lead throughout much of Game 1 in their losers semis rematch, Ned still won the game with an offstage suicide Octaslash.

Ned made another comeback to win Game 2, marking five consecutive game wins against Kobe. As a result, Kobe opted to try out his secondary Lucina. His solid fundamentals carried him to two game victories, eventually forcing a last-stock situation in Game 5. The commentary duo of Melee gods Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma and Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman screamed as Ned and Kobe attempted back-and-forth edgeguard sequences offstage for eight seconds. Ultimately, Ned blocked Kobe’s recovery with a Scintilla counter. This gave him the win in one of the first classic Smash Ultimate sets of 2021.

3. Light vs. Kola – Super Smash Con: Fall Fest

At a glance, Kolawole “Kola” Aideyan was merely one of several victims of Paris “Light” Ramirez’s run to first place at Super Smash Con: Fall Fest. Light’s slog through the losers bracket also included Game 5 wins over Tyler “Marss” Martins, Jestise “MVD” Negron, Enrique “Maister” Hernández Solís and Edgar “Sparg0” Valdez. And yet, there was something special about the losers quarters face-off between Light and Kola.

Light largely refused to deal with Smash Ultimate’s poor netcode, entering only three online tournaments over quarantine. After a few underperformances as he readjusted to competition, Light came into Smash Con hoping for a performance befitting a top-10 player. Meanwhile, Kola rose to prominence over quarantine and has had many of his best offline performances to date this year. Though never ranked in the top-10, Kola’s high placements at Smash Ultimate tournaments throughout 2021 suggest he might not be far off.

Super Smash Con: Fall Fest marked the first-ever set between two of Ultimate’s most notoriously aggressive players and two of the top representatives of Moist Esports. The set didn’t disappoint, as Light’s Fox challenged Kola’s Roy in five non-stop, high-octane games. Though both players are experts at making the most of every hit, Light’s consistent parries earned him the few extra openings he needed to barely outmatch Kola and keep his losers run alive.

2. Skyjay vs. Fatality – SWT Championships LCQ

Compared to the rest of this list, the stakes were fairly low for Juan “Skyjay” Pablo versus Griffin “Fatality” Miller. It took place on the losers side of top-16 in the Smash World Tour Championships Last Chance Qualifier, where the top-eight earned spots in the proper finale. Neither player ultimately qualified, making this set relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of the SWT Championships.

And yet, it featured some of the most explosive, fast-paced gameplay that Smash Ultimate has to offer. Both players took two stocks within the first minute of Game 1. Skyjay’s Incineroar had finished off Fatality’s Captain Falcon before the end of the second minute. Fatality retaliated with two consecutive zero-to-deaths and ultimately a three-stock to win Game 2, which also lasted little more than a minute.

While the pace of the set slowed down from there, both Skyjay and Fatality continued to impress with hard-hitting combos. It came down to Game 5, where Skyjay gimped Fatality with his own up-special to recover from a stock deficit. Skyjay eventually landed a creative reverse neutral-air to back-air combo to secure the upset over Fatality in what was perhaps the most electrifying Smash Ultimate set of 2021.

1. MkLeo vs. Sparg0 – Mainstage 2021

Is it any surprise that the best Smash Ultimate set of 2021 featured the two best players in the world? The grand finals of Mainstage 2021 pitted established Ultimate legend Leonardo “MkLeo” Lopez Perez against the game’s fastest-rising star, Sparg0, in a showcase of the best that Mexico has to offer.

When the two titans clashed in grand finals, it featured perhaps the highest-level gameplay that Smash Ultimate has ever seen. Sparg0 maintained excellent control of the Aegis duo, switching to Mythra for aggressive rushdowns, then to Pyra for heavy hits and ledgetrapping pressure. Meanwhile, MkLeo masterfully found kills and edgeguards with Byleth, a character nobody uses at a high level except for him.

Sparg0 managed to reset the bracket with a 3-1 victory, marking his first ever win over MkLeo. He seemed poised to get his second ever win in the next set, as he had a commanding percentage lead going into the final stock of Game 5. Of course, MkLeo has a certain clutch factor that has allowed him to remain the best player in the world.

After missing an early down-air edgeguard attempt off the right side of the stage, MkLeo simply pushed Sparg0 to the left side. There, he managed to connect his down-air to end Sparg0’s stock early and win the tournament. MkLeo jumped out of his seat in a rare display of excitement from an otherwise stoic competitor. Though he may have grown accustomed to winning by now, even MkLeo couldn’t help popping off after beating a player who pushed him as far as Sparg0 did. For this reason, the Mainstage grand finals sets clock in as the best Smash Ultimate sets of 2021 and are among the best sets in the game’s history.

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.