The L4st Meta: Slingshots and DLC Privilege
So the news is out. Team Liquid L4st.
For the hardcore Ultimate fans - this is a pretty big deal! L4st might be the best coach in the game - working with MKLeo for much of the Byleth era. For Liquid fans, it’s also pretty historic because L4st will be the team’s first-ever Ultimate coach. (And at a time when we have two players right on the cusp of winning big.)
But for me and the rest of the staff, it really just looks like Liquid’s very own tournament organizing, Twitter shitposting, discord gremlin* got an athletics contract.
Believe it or not, L4st has been at Liquid longer than he’s been coaching and for the majority of his formal esports career! A lot of us in the staff still know him as the guy that runs the various Box tournaments, the one that protects the blessed Ethernet Champions from the dirty WiFi Scoundrels. He’s been working with us for nearly 2 years now - which sounds like a short time, but when you factor in that L4st is only 12 years old, it’s a remarkable percentage of his total time on this earth.
Over the course of his time in TL, L4st gathered a wealth of Smash knowledge through TOing and commentating. The knowledge became apparent enough that the professionals started coming to him for counsel and then, one year, he was coaching MKLeo. And then, another year, he’s coaching for Team Liquid and - all jokes aside - become one of the biggest brains in the game. It’s a pretty cool circle to see complete itself.
It’s also something that, in my eyes, is a bit more meaningful than a normal roster move even if it’s not gonna get the same shine as an additional star player. Something that warrants a bit more than article. Instead, how about a column?
* "Gremlin" is how he describes himself. But it's also how we describe him.
**L4st might not actually be 12. Maybe.
The L4st Meta
Welcome to The L4st Meta. This article is the first of a monthly column where we’ll get L4st’s thoughts on Ultimate’s ever-developing metagame and the various discussion points of the day. That way, you don’t need to go to his Twitter account (literally cringe.gg) to see them. We might also throw some talk about recent results in there too.
This time around, we didn’t have time to talk recent tournaments because the meta is BUSTLING. Thanks to GIMR - a Smash TO, content creator, and laboratory scientist - Ultimate’s got a new technique called the Slingshot. Already generating a lot of buzz, there’s talk that it could be game-changing or just another niche option that’s already been around.
At the same time, we’re also hearing the classic rumblings about Smash’s DLC characters - particularly Minecraft Steve and Kazuya Shoto. Some parts of the community hail these characters as the future of Ultimate - for better or worse. Given we just added Riddles, the most legendary of Shoto players, to our roster, we have to get L4st’s thoughts on the true strength and meta position of the new DLC threats.
Let’s get into it.
Given the short time that the Slingshot has been around, how much do you feel we can say about the tech? How many grains of salt should we take with the opinions and takes around the Slingshot?
So far competitively, it hasn’t seen a ton of use just because it’s new, people are still adapting it to their gameplans. They haven’t really had a chance to say, “Here’s where I should slingshot” and lock that into their autopilot.
But I’ve been practicing. Leo’s been practicing. Dabuz has been practicing. I’ve seen so many streams and from things that I’ve seen from people’s streams that they’re close to being able to implement, I’m terrified. Because it basically makes most things that used to be high-risk/high-reward - like certain pressure tactics on shield - it turns those things safe.
Leo specifically, him and I have been talking about implementations of slingshot alongside some other people. He’s already slingshotting like it’s mapped to a button - which is terrifying. He took a week of non-stop grinding and now it’s second nature to him.
Given that, would you rate Slingshot highly? Do you see this as being pretty relevant to the meta?
I think it’s incredibly important because it shifts how neutral is played. A lot of the time in current Ultimate there’s this rock-paper-scissors where it’s pressure vs. shielding vs. rolling. Shielding has usually been the one that comes out on top in terms of that because you can mitigate a lot of risk-reward by holding shield. If they grab you, great they’re not gonna get a lot off grab. If they don’t grab you, you win neutral.
Now that slingshotting is a thing, shield pressure is no longer as binary as either I get shield grabbed or I space it correctly and don’t get grabbed. It’s now that I can apply constant pressure outside of their grab range and there’s nothing they can do about it. So characters without strong out of shield options - for example, Joker - became even worse and characters with strong out of shield options also became worse.
Look at Bowser. One of Bowser’s biggest redeeming factors is that Whirling Fortress is a fast up-b out of shield that can get you out of pressure quickly despite being a big body character. Now that Whirling Fortress is no longer your get-out-of-jail-free card, what does Bowser do?
You talked about how you can kind of mitigate shield pressure and make moves safer. Ult gets a lot of criticism as a game for how safe every move is and as a result, how spammy and non-committal the game can sometimes get -
Oh, it’s much worse now.
I know where you’re going with this question. It’s so much worse now. It’s very much, if this becomes very prominent in the meta it’s going to be people slingshotting back and forth until somebody gets a hit and they get to play the game.
I hope that doesn’t happen and I don’t think that’ll happen because it’s not that universally applicable. It’s mostly if you catch somebody holding shield and there’s some characters like Lucas who can use it very heavily in their combo game. But it’s not helping that problem, you know?
Combining those things, run up, shield just gets worse, right?
Yes. That was a thing that fast characters like Roy would do a lot. I’ve talked to Kola quite a bit about it, where a lot of times he’ll just run up and shield and wait for the other person to whiff. You’re a big fast scary character sprinting at them full-tilt, they’re gonna panic and try and punish you. Then you’re just in shield. As soon as they panic and whiff, it’s your turn. Now that doesn’t work anymore.
That’s tragic for my [inner] Chrom main. I love shield camping. [...] But this is the other side of it, right? Ult has also long struggled with a lack of micro-spacing options and movement that can feel pretty clunky. Do you feel like slingshot will help with [movement] at all?
Oh for that it’s so much better. Leo - day one of Slingshot - was having such a good time in the lab with Marth because he felt like he could actually micro-space his tippers now. A lot of the time moving around between jumping and landing - it’s like you said, it feels clunky sometimes. It’s hard to hit those sweet spots. But if you know how to properly use Slingshot you have a lot more minute control over how and where your character is landing and, as a result, really good players can now practically guarantee they’re hitting those tippers, those sweet spots.
Thinking about both of these factors, what do you feel [the Slingshot] does for Ultimate as an esport? Do you think this makes Ultimate more hype, less hype, no way to say… What do you think?
If I were to take a stab in the dark I think it’s more hype now but I do think there’s pretty much no way to really say. I do think that this will create more of a skill ceiling, a gap between the top level and the high level. You know?
In Melee, you’ve got a good player and a really good player, the really good player is going to shit on the good player. Like it won’t be close. In Ultimate, if you’ve got a really good player and a good player, the really good player is gonna still win 90-95% of the time but every once in a while they’ll get cheesed. That’s just how Ultimate and all the other games that aren’t Melee work.
With Slingshotting, I feel that it’ll widen that skill gap a little bit and take that 95% to maybe a 99%.
One thing I am a bit curious about [with the skill gap] is I’ve heard a lot of people say slingshotting makes comboing [and] pressure sequences easier and more reliable. [...] My curiosity is does this make the game more accessible in a sense?
Let’s look at your beloved Chrom and Roy real quick. One of the most bread and butter punishes this character has is jab-back air. The thing that used to separate a good Roy from an okay Roy was their ability to jair consistently. Now with slingshotting jairing is much, much easier.
It’s no longer [that] you have to spend 5 hours in the training mode grinding out a jair so that you can do it every time in tournament. It’s now, do you know how to slingshot? [Snaps fingers] Awesome! You can jair.
But do you feel like that would have an effect of closing the skill gap?
It lowers the cost of entry. It adds like three layers at the top and removes one layer at the bottom, essentially. [...]
Talking about the skill gap in Smash Ultimate, it wasn’t really tech skill that held anyone back or propelled anyone forward. I think if you look at anyone who’s even vaguely in the top 100, pretty much all of them have around the same level of technical execution. [...] The thing that makes a Dabuz better than your average 65th at a major is that Dabuz is much more cerebral, he’s much better at adapting.
If Dabuz stopped thinking and tried to win purely off of tech skill he would not do nearly as well and nobody would. Leo, Tweek, Sparg0, Dabuz, Kola, all of them would probably start losing in pools just as much as those 65th placers do because they’re not adapting. But now that Slingshotting’s a thing I think there’s extra layers that separate the chaff from the wheat. So now, maybe Dabuz can turn his brain off during pools and out-tech-skill somebody.
GIMR talks about Mewtwo and his tail hurtbox, Fatality is stoked about this because Falcon’s turnaround animation sucks, and I hear a lot of buzz from the [Shoto] mains. Do you think slingshot will be more advantageous for certain characters?
Yes, I think that certain characters just got a huge boon while other characters - they’re hurt by the fact that their shield pressure is worse, but they’re not hurt that much. Other characters get worse by virtue of other characters getting better but I don’t think it directly makes any character worse. But if you look at a Shoto like Ken and Ryu [and Terry and Kazuya], they have bairs now! It’s crazy! [...]
But the general tier list is still pretty similar - like the top tiers are still the top tiers, the bottom tiers are still the bottom tiers. It at most shifts a couple characters within their tiers and maybe one or two of them get to move up a tier. Because, yes, Slingshotting is really important in terms of advantage state or in terms of neutral for certain characters but like, look at Palutena. She doesn’t need a slingshot, she’s just better than you.
In general, how big or small do you think the hurtbox shifting element is to slingshotting?
Oh god. Oh god. Think about how hard it is to hit a Pyra while she’s fairing or a Joker while he’s jumping in place and nairing. Now imagine that tiny target is moving at the speed of sound. It makes them much harder to hit if they’re doing it.
It doesn’t really help them with a lot of their combos - it helps just because better movement always helps. But in terms of them running away from you and making it frustrating to hit them, oh lordy is it much worse.
As a part of this, do you feel like this tech is something that could make Ultimate’s punish game more consistent and easier to optimize?
Oh, easily. Just look at Lucas. There were so many things that Lucas had, like snake-dashing, snake-dash combos. Those used to be frame-perfect, unbufferable combos. Now with Slingshotting there’s an easier version of them that Lucas mains are actually hitting in bracket now! [...]
The twitter combos might start coming to life…
The meme of, “Okay, do it on a midweight” or “Okay, do it in a bracket” will no longer exist.
Now, there are two characters that do hit those twitter combos in bracket all the time [without the Slingshot]:
Steve and Kazuya.
DLC Privilege (AKA Steve and Kazuya)
Both Kazuya and Steve have gotten some time in the sun as this turbo-busted, Bayonetta part 2, game-killer, Youtube thumbnail social media interaction farm time characters. Do you feel that either character has the potential to be meta-dominant?
If any character does it, it’ll be Kazuya because I think people are just bad at the Steve matchup. I’ve talked about this, and gotten ratioed about this on Twitter, but I think Steve is great. I don’t think he’s that great. He’s not top 1, he’s not Bayonetta part 2.
I think people just need to - as time progresses - get better at the matchup and I do think that is one facet [of] why Acola is doing so well over in Japan. I didn’t say it’s the only facet - mind you! Before I get ratioed on Twitter again. He is a very good and promising young player but I also think Japan is very bad at the Steve matchup.
You’ve kind of already said it but between the two which do you think is more dangerous?
Kazuya, by far. TAS Kazuya, you can’t hit him - is the big thing - and he can hit you whenever he wants and for however much damage he wants. TAS Steve, sure if you lose neutral against him you’ll probably fucking die but at least you can hit him and win neutral every once in a while. TAS Kazuya is just invincible all of the time.
Interesting. Is that just because of the way the crouch dash and such works?
Exactly. If you can reliably and infinitely back dash and do the crouch dashes no matter what, you just can’t be hit.
In a theoretical world, Kazuya has better neutral than Steve?
In a, “I’m playing on a Hitbox world, yes.” I’ve seen box Kazuyas already doing the infinite crouch dashing stuff and not being vulnerable. Not being mortal.
Are you telling me there’s a potential for Box discourse in Ultimate?
Yeah, Probably. I’ve already seen people say, “Ban it!” So…
That’s fucked up. That’s so fucked up. Well, you know what? Ultimate has been a little bit Discourse-light recently.
One of the interesting things about you putting Kazuya [higher] is he’s really feast-famine. Great advantage, rough disadvantage. How do you feel his strengths and weaknesses balance out?
When a normal human is playing, who can’t crouch dash everything and isn’t just perfect on everything, you can just juggle Kazuya and there’s not a ton he can do. So like, swordies. Swordies body Kazuya. ROB bodies Kazuya. It’s not a thing where there’s no solution. The solution is to keep him in disadvantage and just don’t get hit.
At the human level, do you feel there is a real threat of Kazuya being meta-dominant?
I think he’s high tier not top tier at the human level. He’s not broken, but he’s not gonna dominate the meta, he’s not gonna centralize anything. He’s just going to be a good character you have to know the matchup for because if not you’ll get matchup-checked in bracket.
Do you think that at the human level Steve is better than Kazuya? At that same human level, where do you put Steve?
In terms of where he is on the tier list, human level, I would put Kazuya top 30-40. I would put Steve at top 15-20.
You’ve gone on that bird-app and you’ve said on that bird-app record that Steve is the hardest matchup check in the game.
This is something we see with fighting game characters where there are these characters that perpetually feast off of not knowing what they do. But then there are also characters that have a moment in the Sun and then they fall. In your eyes, where does Steve fit into that?
Steve is never going to be a bad character. He’s not going to fall off the face of the Earth once people learn the matchup, but I think Steve is going to be figured out more in the future. People are going to get better at the matchup and Steve will no longer be as like, “We should ban this character!”
I think he’ll probably drop to about the same level as Kazuya is right now. So like the top 30 range. Which is really good, mind you! It’s just not top 1.
We can apply this question to Kazuya too because he’s a very unique [Shoto]. [...] Is there a chance he falls, is it a bit different?
I think Kazuya is probably going to stay about the same because the matchup is not actually that difficult. It’s just learning how to mix DI. Which, I’m not saying that it’s easy, I’m just saying there’s not as many things to learn how to combat. Once people get better at one, mixing DI, and two, knowing how and where to juggle Kazuya, it’ll be much better for them. So I think Kazuya will probably stay about the same.
I am a little curious, do you know the blue line thing? Is that real?
Yep. It’s hard but I know players that do play off of it. Tarik, over in Germany, is a big example of somebody who will watch that blue line and follow it.
So the blue line for people who don’t know, it does not tell you where somebody is DI-ing. It tells you where somebody is going to be sent after the hit. It can be a very helpful indicator, especially for characters like Kazuya, of where they’re DI-ing because different DI will change where they get sent.
So with Kazuya, when he hits you with Electric Wind Godfist and he sees that your little blue DI line is going to the left that means he can do the follow-up as if you’re going to the left because he sees that and knows you’re DI-ing to the left.
A lot of hitstun? That’s exactly why it’s so helpful because you actually have time. Most of the time, the funny little blue line, you need to be superhuman to see it. With Kazuya, there’s enough hitstun after the Electric Wind Godfist that you can follow it.
Looping back [to Steve] to close this out, you talked about Acola’s recent win in Japan. You talked about how at least some of this is Japan not knowing the character. Do you think the win is at all indicative of Steve’s strength? And in the right hands, do you think Steve could solo-win international majors?
Yes. I think both the character and Acola are very very good. [...]
We’ve seen Byleth who I think is much worse than Steve (and I think most people would agree) win multiple supermajors. I don’t think character tier has as much to do with anything in this game. Moreso, does your character have the correct tools and are you good enough to use them?
I think anybody at the top end of mid-tier and upward is good enough to at least Top 8 a major. They just need a good enough player playing them. And I think that anyone high tier and up can win a major so Steve definitely qualifies for that and Acola definitely qualifies as somebody who is good enough and knows what they’re doing.
But if you look at the difference between North America and Japan, NA has 19 billion Steves. For example, if you look at [the May 18th] Coinbox, there were 9 Steves in top 64.
Damn, that’s a lot. Jesus.
That’s a lot. That’s a lot of Steves. 9. There are no other high or top or mid level Steves in Japan at least that I know of or that I’ve seen in these tournaments. So where else in Japan are you going to learn the Steve matchup, right?
Now, am I saying that Acola cheesed a win at his first major? No, he’s very very good. And the players in Japan are good enough that they can learn the Steve matchup over the course of that tournament to be able to deal with Acola. But, they need to learn it better. They need more time.
Do I think that Acola is going to immediately fall of one Japan learns the Steve matchup? No, not at all. He’s still probably a top 5, top 10 level player in that country but he's not going to undisputedly win 3 majors in a row without dropping a set.
Now, more important question: Between the two characters, which do you think is better at engagement farming?
It’s absolutely Steve. Steve gets the people in the Twitter replies both going, “This was really cool!” and, “I’m going to die because of this. This did physical damage to me.”
Also, every time a wifi bracket happens, obviously there’s a lot of Steve’s in Top 8, [and] a lot of Steve’s doing work offline too. There’s a lot more Steves so there’s a lot more interactions. Kazuyas will post a cool clip and people will be like, “Wow this is a cool clip… Wait maybe we should ban Kazuya.” But it’s mostly, “This was a cool clip.”
Let me add a bit of a wrinkle. What about if you called Kazuya a Shoto?
That would be a lot of interactions.
Does that make him rival Steve?
[Unprompted] I think he’s a Shoto because he’s not wearing shoes. They’re showing toes!
Do you think we should call Kazuya a Shoto throughout this article to irritate people?
I think you should put it in the title and also put this part of the article in so that people know what we’re doing if they make it this far.
It’s like a punishment for if they don’t read.
Exactly. They’ll be mad.