Why Competitive Amiibo is Generalist-Focused

by Doc, Owner, Founder, Generally Focused on Amiibo

Amiibo is all about generalists.

A “generalist” is an option, loadout, choice or selection that is appropriate against many other potential options in a choice-based environment. It’s not stellar against everything, but it’s good enough against enough things that it’s usually a safe pick.

A “counter”, “counterpick” or “specialist” is the opposite – it doesn’t do well across the board, but it performs incredibly well against a small number of highly useful options.

For example, consider the use of Poison-type in the Pokemon series. The Poison type doesn’t perform very well across the board – it gets beaten by Psychic types, which are some of the most common offensive Pokemon. However, Poison is very useful in that it is one of two types to be super effective Fairy-type moves. It doesn’t do well across the board, but it excels at specifically beating Fairy-types.

Amiibo is in a similar boat. Prior to his ban, Bowser had an 80% win rate of every set of every tournament he was in (remember, this was pre-Incineroar). If you were going up against a Bowser in tournament bracket, the betting odds were 4:1 that Bowser would win. He was an incredible generalist, and maintained a significant advantage over every other amiibo in the game.

Little Mac, however, was close to a Bowser counter. Overall, sets between Little Mac and Bowser ended up with a 50/50 win rate between the two of them. This isn’t a counter by any means – I’d consider a 70/30 difference to be the requirement for a counter – but it is Bowser’s only chance at getting beaten, at least until Incineroar showed up.

As it stands now, the amiibo tier list is effectively a ranking of an amiibo’s matchup spread against all other opponents. It’s a pecking order, if you will. Here’s why, due to natural events, that became the case.

The Format

As of right now, the current format for competitive amiibo is as follows:

-Each trainer submits at least one amiibo to a tournament, be it through Powersaves or Arenas

– The amiibo fights for the trainer in a bracket system until it is defeated or wins the tournament

-If the amiibo is defeated, the trainer is out

It’s a very amiibo-centric format. It all rides on how well your specific amiibo does against every other possible opponent you can throw at it, without regards to any specific opponents or playstyles. This results in higher tier amiibo being generally better against most other opponents – in other words, a generalist.

This would be different if alternate options were allowed. Data indicates that Zelda counters several higher tier amiibo, despite losing to lower tier amiibo. If we were going to allow trainers to somehow, in real-time, decide to swap out their amiibo for a counterpick, Zelda would be considered one of the most important amiibo in any toolkit.

However, all amiibo have to be checked in ahead of time, so you’re limited on what you can submit. It’s not like human Smash tournaments, where you can start a match with Falco and counterpick to your secret pocket Jigglypuff, or something. It’s Falco, all the way through, so if the trainer wants to win he’s got to be as good against as many opponents as possible.

The Balance

Let’s face it – Smash Ultimate is pretty balanced. There’s better characters and there’s worse characters, but there’s nothing equivalent to Brawl Meta Knight or Smash 4 Bayonetta and Cloud that’s overwhelmingly broken. Almost everything has a shot at winning in human play (in fact, early in Ultimate’s lifespan, there were some tournaments that had very low tier winners like Sheik and Little Mac).

This character balance means that any amiibo with just an -nth better moveset than most other opponents means that they get to enjoy an easily higher placement. Joker and Sheik have similar playstyles in a lot of ways, and they both have built-in combos that could be very potent. However, Joker is drastically better than Sheik on the amiibo tier list. Joker’s moves are simply better – he can build damage, he can KO, and that makes his combos significantly more lethal.

But let’s be real – there’s not much in competitive amiibo that’s as bad as Sheik. Most characters have better tools than Sheik, so they have about the same overall level of strength as each other. That’s part of the reason why an official Smash Ultimate backroom tier list never materialized – the backroom itself never materialized because there was no way to accurately and reasonably rank so many relatively equal characters.

So if you have everyone roughly equal, then that extra -nth makes a tremendous difference over other opponents. One small -nth means someone is drastically better against everybody.

The AI Flaws

Exploitable AI flaws in amiibo often contribute to that extra -nth in a character, and there’s a lot of flaws. Amiibo have a hard time against projectiles, multihits, command grabs, moving hitboxes that also move the opponent (Falcon Kick, for example), getting juggled, items… do I have to continue?

The problem is that there’s so many of these AI flaws in so many movesets. How many characters have multihit moves alone? Thus, many characters have specific useful traits that can be exploited against all other amiibo, resulting in trainers teaching their amiibo how to use those specific traits so they have the best overall performance.

Competitive amiibo likely can never stop being a Generalist-focused meta unless format changes take place. Even then, it seems that Smash Ultimate amiibo will always be a bit Generalist, at least for the forseeable future.

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