The L4st Meta: acola, Canada, and Steve (again)
Welcome once again to The L4st Meta. This article is the second of our monthly column where we’ll get L4st’s thoughts on Ultimate’s ever-developing metagame and the various discussion points of the day. A lot has happened in the Smash community within the past month, and L4st has been either watching intently or directly involved in a lot of these developments.
For this edition, we addressed some of the issues most pressing to the community: Steve’s place in the Ultimate meta, the strength of the Japanese scene, whether or not we’re sleeping on Canada, and if the game he has pursued a career in is actually difficult.
Since Japanese Steve main acola’s win at The Gimvitational, a firestorm has lit across all of social media (something that - right on his brand - L4st provided ample kindling for). Many people are wanting Steve out of the game faster than Notch wanted out of his game when Microsoft offered him $2 billion. His win has also led to many discussions around the Japanese region as a whole — can they compete on a regular basis with the United States and Mexico? Could they be the best region in the world? And now, with Riddles getting closer and closer to a major win, where does Canada sit in all this?
Finally, many have still not determined if Ultimate is actually hard. Or if it is simply a baby game for mashers and zoners, never to be mentioned in the same breath as a serious game for serious adults like Melee or Tekken or Elden Ring or whatever.
Get comfortable, and enjoy the show.
To start off, let's address the elephant in the room: Steve.
In the last interview I did, I talked a lot about how I think that Steve is very good, but he's not ridiculously unbeatable. And then acola won the invitational...
No, I'm joking. I still don't think Steve is unbeatable. He might be the best character in the game, but I don't think he's ridiculously overpowered and ban-worthy. The memes about it were just memes. So yes, Steve is very good. No, Steve should not be banned. And also, acola is very, very, very good.
At what point do you think Steve should be banned? What would have to happen?
We need at least a couple more months of people figuring out counterplay, because the character is still relatively new in the grand scheme of things. If we give it a couple more months and still nobody can figure out how to fight Steve the correct way (which I don't think will happen), or if we get to the point where it was with Smash 4 Bayonetta where you a super major top eight would have five Bayos.
If we get to that point, that's probably when Steve should be banned. But, for example, this past weekend at CEO, there were zero Steves in top eight, and in top thirty-two there were more R.O.B. players than there were Steves. Is R.O.B. also ban-worthy? No, definitely not. But there was more of him than there was of Steve, so there's that conversation to be had as well.
It needs to be given more time, and if we get to that point where nobody can figure out the matchup, there are seven billion Steves running amok in every single bracket and everybody's dead inside because they're getting camped out every second of every day — then we should probably ban Steve. But we're definitely not there yet.
What's your prediction of what will happen? Are we going to see a lot of people switch over to Steve?
We're already past that point — it's just going to keep going as is. In Smash 4, a lot of the top players the moment Bayo came out were like, "Oh, this is kind of ridiculous." We saw players like Tweek pickup Bayonetta and start farming people with them. But we haven't seen anything like that, and I think it's been like six months since Steve came out. So I don't think we'll see any top players (at least a large volume of them) picking up Steve in the near future.
Of all the number-one characters throughout the Smash franchise, where does Ultimate Steve rank?
He's worse than both Smash 4 Bayo and Brawl Meta Knight. That's really hard, because Melee Fox is a completely different animal. But I would say if he's the best in Ultimate, he is definitely the least polarizing best character. If we look at 64 Pikachu, Melee Fox, Brawl Meta Knight, and Smash 4 Bayo, — all of those top-one characters are way better than the rest of their cast than Steve is to his.
Was acola's win at The Gimvitational a suprise for you? What were your impressions?
Yes. I watch a lot of Japanese tournaments — I'm a big fan of them. I thought that acola was really, really good, but like pretty much every other Japanese player — he would get vibe checked against the American playstyle. Because it happens a lot: Japan's meta is very, very slow.
And a lot of the time when they come to America, they fight against players like Light or Kola, who don't know the meaning of the word slow, and they kind of get run over. It's happened in every Smash game for a good chunk of the Japanese players who come to North America (at least for their very first time).
Acola, though, came over to North America for the very first time and beat both Light and Kola, who a lot of people (myself included) were anticipating were going to be big problems for him over here. Seeing that, a lot of people just kind of went, "Wait, what?!?" And in doing so, we started to take more of a look at what makes acola a lot different than the other Steves.
He plays completely different. If you look at like Jake or yonni — two of the top North American Steves — they play faster than acola. He is more than willing to slow the game down and force you into his tempo. And the way that Steve plays, he's more than capable of just completely dominating the tempo of a match. So if you're a player like Light, who likes to play really fast, you can't do that against acola. And throws a huge wrench into your plans. That's why I think acola shocked a lot of people in North America, and also proved that maybe Japan isn't just getting farmed by some random 15-year-old. Maybe this random 15-year-old is actually really good.
And Light went ballistic on Twitter about that.
Oh, no, that was a meme. I was in the room with him when that happened. We were in a hotel room eating Domino's Pizza, and either Light or Marss said, "Yo, wouldn't it be really funny if we all tweeted 'Ban Steve' at the same time?" There's no deeper meaning to it.
You created quite the storm! You don't know the power you have.
We knew. We knew it was coming.
Will we see more Steve's borrow from acola's playstyle and get top placements, or is it more likely people will come up with effective counterplays?
I think it's going to be a bit of both. A lot of the North American Steves and those around the world are definitely going to be paying very close attention to acola and learn from him. But I also think that, again, it was the first time that a lot of the North American players had experienced fighting against acola. And the first time you come up against a playstyle like that, you're probably going to get rolled because you're not expecting it.
For example, Light literally destroyed two of the best Steves in North America, and then looked lost against acola. But I feel like if they were to fight again, he would look a lot less lost. Even if he didn't win, it would be a much closer match. It's a matter of learning the counterplay.
Let's focus a bit more on acola's win, and how that relates to Japan as a region. What promise do you see him in? You believe it's more he's a fantastic player than just having mastered Steve before others?
I think in order to master Steve before anybody else, you have to be really good at the game. I don't think that those two things are mutually exclusive. You can't master a character to the level acola has, while not being good at the game, right?
But I also think that it's a matter of time until other people catch up. And it's going to be really interesting to see if acola can continuously stay ahead of the curve. Because especially with Zackray returning to competition in Japan, I'm interested to see how Zackray measures up to acola — he's already started to get figured out by Yoshidora, who is the only person in recent memory other than Shuton to take sets off of acola.
So I think it's gonna be like a tug-of-war — both over there and here in North America — of, "You figured me out, but I figured you figuring me out. But now you figured me figuring you figuring me out." And it's just gonna be like the back and forth until eventually, somebody stops adapting.
Sounds like anime writing. How does acola rank for you now that he has some more wins under his belt?
I would say in Japan, he's probably top three. In the world at large, I would say top ten, just because he literally only has one international result. And it wasn't an open bracket. Yes, the Gimvitational was incredibly impressive, but it was one bracket and it wasn't open. So before we start ranking him top three to five globally, I just want to see him at least in one open bracket with international competition. Just to see how it turns out. But he's already definitely a contender for that spot.
Who would you put above him specifically in Japan?
I wouldn't put anybody above him, but the people who I definitely wouldn't put below him are both Zackray and ProtoBanham. Yoshidora is also in that conversation, but I don't think he's above him, specifically because acola managed to beat him with his Kazuya (which he had played for about a week). And one of them is pretty up in the air, because he's only recently back from being retired. But he's already starting to kill it. And we'll have to see how the season develops between those three and see which one manages to come out on top.
You don't think Tea is in the conversation?
I don't think Tea is top three, but I think he is obviously top five, top ten on a bad day. But I don't think he's in that conversation with the big three.
Is that results-wise, or just the eye test?
It's mostly an eye test, but definitely results-wise too. Tea has not won a set over acola or Proto as far as I'm aware. Zackray obviously has been retired, so couldn't say there.
With acola's win, and now that we're seeing more representation from Japanese players, do you see potential in them overtaking Mexico as the best region in Smash?
I still think Mexico is probably the strongest region in the world, but Japan is definitely in the conversation. Again, I don't think we can base a lot of these thoughts off of a single non-open bracket, because that was the first time acola had ever competed in North America. And historically, Japan usually loses to the top North American talent, at least in a head-to-head space — Light beating ProtoBanham, Kola beating ProtoBanham, MkLeo beating Zackray, etc. We just haven't gotten to see that yet with either acola or even Asimo, who is another big standout star at the Gimvitational. So again, I just think we can't really make a lot of these judgments yet, without having seen actual open bracket competition with the international talent between those players.
From what you've observed just from watching their tournaments, where would you say they rank worldwide?
I would say they're definitely a top three region, but I don't think that they're coming for Mexico's crown quite yet.
How would you described their region's playstyle as a whole?
They're very, very slow in terms of how they play neutral. They won't commit to a punish until they're absolutely certain that they will win. So they'll play the slow game, they'll play the slow game, they'll play the slow game, you show an opening, but they won't really bite because it might be bait. You show another opening, and they still don't really bite. And then they find that one little starter hit when they're playing footsies with you, and then they just blow you up. Their advantage state is really good, and their neutral is really slow.
What were you impressions of acola's personality and spirit as a competitor?
I got to talk to him a little bit at the Gimvitational. Obviously, there's the language barrier, so I'm not really going to speak for him because I think that would both be misleading and disrespectful. But when we talked, he told the translator that he had been playing Smash for quite a while, but he had only really started thinking competitively during the quarantine period. And during that period, he just grinded.
Japan has a website called Smashmate — they basically have an online leaderboard where you can do matchmaking online instead of using the in-game matchmaking (which kind of sucks). And they have an elo system, and stuff like that. After grinding for months, acola became the top-rated player on Smashmate without ever attending an offline tournament.
And so there were a lot of people talking about him over there, where they were like, "Oh, there's this guy who's never played offline who's bodying everybody online. I wonder what he's going to do." And then he came to his first offline tournament and bodied everybody except for Shuton — who's been a top-five player for five or six years at this point. There were a lot of people going, "Oh, sh*t, he's the real deal." And he just kept getting better from there once he got that offline experience.
It sounds like there's a lot of parallels between him and Sparg0.
Oh, absolutely. Sparg0 was the same way in Smash 4: in For Glory, there was this completely unknown person by the name of Sparg0 who was bodying people. Everyone was in big anticipation of this person who nobody knew going to his first offline event, and nobody knew that he was like 12 or 13. They just knew that he was this godlike player named Sparg0. Then, this little 12-year-old shows up and is like, "Hi guys, I'm Sparg0." And everyone was like, "Oh my god, he's a child."
Battle of BC was a while back — what are you general impressions of Canada as a region?
They've got some good players, but I just don't think they're on the level of any of the other big boys yet. They've obviously got players like Riddles who is definitely currently top ten in the world. Big D, Ouch!?, Lemon — so many more. But they're just not quite at that level yet. And Battle of BC, kind of showed that, where it was a Canadian event but more than half of the top eight were Japanese.
Who has the most potential outside of Riddles?
Ouch!? for sure.
What do you like about his gameplay?
He's just really, really good. He's also another super young player, so he struggles a little bit with travel and stuff. But he's still in like his sophomore year of high school. So traveling to like international majors is definitely always a problem for him at that age. But he's just so fast-paced and explosive in his punish game — it just feels like anytime he gets a hit on somebody, they're in danger of getting styled on.
Obviously COVID is the main reason for this occurring, but in Smash 4 we saw a lot of tournament organizers having Japanese representation be a priority. Do you think that enough is being done in this regard in Ultimate, and should TOs do more?
I don't know about that, because I feel like that's trying to put out the idea that American competition is the only true competition. So if you're a good Japanese player, you don't really count until you've competed in America. And while I think that for global rankings you have to have global competition — which is why I'm a little bit hesitant to count both acola and Yoshidora, because neither of them have much experience against people from outside of their own country — I'd do the same thing for players like Ouch!?.
He doesn't really have a ton of experience outside of his own country, so he's a little bit harder to consider for global rankings. But I don't think it necessarily has to focus on bringing Japanese players to America. I think bringing American players to Japan, or Japanese and American players to France, or just something. You just have to have international competition. It doesn't really matter where it is.
Final question, one suggested from our gracious editor: is Ultimate difficult?
*sigh* Yes! It's a hard game. I don't know what he wants from me — he tried this last time too! It's hard in a different way than games like Tekken or Melee are, where those are very physically and technically demanding. Ultimate is more demanding on the knowledge side — you have to prep for eighty billion matchups. And you also have to prep for a lot larger of a player base. I think, yes, Ultimate is very hard. Is Ultimate hard on your hands? Sometimes — it depends on the character you play. Is Ultimate hard on the brain? Absolutely.