In this 6-part series we will be looking at the history of 2v2 teams play in the Super Smash Bros series and how this format has been the subject of numerous highs and lows throughout the game’s history. Last week we looked back on the legacy of 2v2 play in fighting games and how the Super Super Smash Bros series was the first to successfully bring simultaneous teams play into a competitive fighting game environment.
Following last weeks history of the doubles format we will now look towards the present as we examine why doubles has lagged behind singles in both viewership and entry.
Part 3: A Lack of Love – Viewership
Team tournaments are a regular inclusion at Smash events but despite their continued presence there is contention over the format’s worth. Much of this contention can be found in the post-Brawl community with many being vocal with their distaste for the format. The reasons are numerous so we will focus on the common complaints which arise when the topic arises.
- It’s boring to watch
This is a subjective argument but one we can examine through tournament viewership. Twitch statistics are difficult to track but thankfully it is easy to gather data for post-tournament uploads. If people find doubles a less interesting format than singles then it will likely be reflected in viewership.
For the sake of comparison we will focus on the VGBootCamp YouTube channel. Of their most popular videos, the 2017 and 2018 Smash 64 Combo Contests from Super Smash Con are the only ones to have been viewed over a million times. Scrolling down we see a distinct lack of doubles matches among VGBC’s most watched. Before we find a doubles set we have seen singles matches, clip shows, trailers, Squad Strikes, Crew Battles, and videos for non-smash games such as Brawlhalla.
The most viewed doubles match on VGBC is Mew2King & Hungrybox vs Flow & Nicaboy from Shuffle V. If you’re unfamiliar with the Melee Gods opponents then don’t worry, they aren’t the reason the video was popular. With their opponents offering little challenge the gods would vouch to play Mewtwo and Ness. Many watched for the novelty of seeing Gods win with low tier characters. This is the only doubles set featured in VGBC’s most viewed. This means that no serious doubles match has broken the 150k barrier in the 9 years since VGBC’s creation. A drop off in interest with doubles seeing little representation among the most popular smash sets.
Here is the total YouTube viewership for recent Top 8’s at smash majors as of June 5th 2019 (rounded):
|GOML 2019 Ultimate||570,000||80,000|
|GOML 2019 Melee||640,000||17,000*|
|Pound 2019 Ultimate||200,000||23,000**|
|Pound 2019 Melee||350,000||18,000*|
|Genesis 6 Ultimate||1,430,000||48,000**|
|Genesis 6 Melee||337,000||21,800***|
*One match from doubles top 8 was not broadcasted.
**Only 8 out of 10 matches of doubles top 8 were broadcasted.
*** Only half of doubles top 8 was broadcasted
Not only do singles matches garner higher interest from viewers but many tournaments choose not to broadcast the entirety of doubles altogether. For a fairer comparison here are the view counts using only the top 4.
|GOML 2019 Ultimate||366,000||60,000|
|GOML 2019 Melee||365,000||10,500|
|Pound 2019 Ultimate||100,000||35,500|
|Pound 2019 Melee||203,000||14,400|
|Genesis 6 Ultimate||697,000||28,000|
|Genesis 6 Melee||231,000||17,500|
Even on an equal number of matches the disparity remains. We can deduct that doubles is simply not popular among viewers. Why? Is the format simply inferior or are there other reasons at play?
- Smash 4 Cloud turned people off doubles
The article Cloud in Doubles – An Analysis displays numerical data of character representation and viewership in Smash 4 following the release of Cloud. From January 2016 to December 2017 Clouds representation in the top 16 of national and major doubles tournaments jumped from 19% to 34%. Cloud had an iron grip over doubles, becoming better represented in Smash 4 doubles than Meta Knight ever was in Brawl Singles. Clouds staggeringly high win rate would see the writer categorise him as triple-S tier, theorising that his kit made him ideal for the doubles metagame.
The article also accounted for viewership across 2016 and 2017; discovering a worrying difference between the Smash 4 singles and doubles formats.
Singles would see a significant drop in 2016 before recovering in 2017.
Doubles would follow a similar pattern until the second half of 2017, where viewership would tank far below that of the late 2016 dry period.
While there are several ways to interpret the overall decline such as Smash 4’s status as an aging game on an unpopular console, it doesn’t explain the sharp decline of the doubles format. This decline wouldn’t be exclusive to viewership either, with doubles entry also suffering.
While this cannot prove Cloud was at fault, we can say with certainty that doubles had become alarmingly unpopular. If you are interested in BarnardsLoop’s research findings then please read the original article.
Diversity can assist any metagame when it comes to keeping players invested. Competitive Melee gains a great deal from the character diversity in teams play. In a game where Hungrybox has dominated singles with Jigglypuff, teams offer an alternative where the pink balloon cannot dominate. With the lack of safe zones characters such as Jigglypuff and the Ice Climbers see their strengths neutralised, encouraging creative play.
These changes create a metagame rewarding diversity. PewFat’s combination of Fox/Marth and Team UGS’ Peach/Sheik have recently proved to be more successful than mirrored character combinations who serve the same function. Team specific strategy both in and out the game is often more rewarding than combining strong individuals together.
This may be where post-brawl smash has failed. Double Meta Knight is universally banned in Brawl for being too powerful. This would come to pass in Smash 4 as Double cloud teams were eventually banned, although this ban would be somewhat moot as many teams used cloud in combination with another characters. Nairo would learn Cloud specifically for doubles, such was the characters overwhelming dominance.
Smash 4’s issues didn’t begin with Cloud. Early tournaments were dominated by Diddy Kong as his down-throw, up-air combo (known as the Hoo-Ha) wiped out the competition. Apex 2015 would be won by the double Diddy team of ZeRo and Mew2King.
Balance patches would see the doubles meta stabilise until it was discovered that you could quick-fill Game & Watch’s bucket with moves such as Sheik’s vanish to create an easily accessible one-hit-kill move. This discovery would see Game & Watch became a common sight until a universal balance patch to team attacks killed the tactics viability.
Cloud wasn’t alone in filling doubles with DLC presence as Bayonetta and Corrin both became popular picks thanks to their generous hitboxes giving coverage in a format which favoured large hitboxes. Thankfully these issues are yet to arise in Ultimate with the character diversity mirroring the free-for-all seen in the results tables of singles tournaments.
The continued presence of the doubles at smash events suggests the playerbase is happy to continue playing the format for the foreseeable future. For spectators and those with a vested interest in media growth however the doubles format represents a problem for the game as an esport. It is a vicious cycle, viewer disinterest in doubles gives organisers less incentive to push and promote the format which in turn gives players less incentive to take it seriously, validating the initial viewer disinterest. We can only hope these issues rectify themselves in the future.
Part 4: Why we don’t play doubles
While the doubles format continues to be present at events the popularity and viewership is lacking in comparison to it’s 1v1 counterpart. It would be easy to put blame on the players, community and event organisers for not doing more to support its growth but this writer would argue that it may be a simple case of psychology and social circumstance preventing the format from reaching the same heights as singles.
- “It is easier to practice singles and I would rather play that“
It goes without saying, the majority of people play games alone and put most of their time into solo experiences. Notice I say solo experiences, not single-player experiences. A solo experience is one the player partakes in as an individual with or without the participation of others. Many rely on netplay to practice for tournaments. Even though netplay involves playing against others, it is still an experience one partakes as an individual.
For the competitive majority, smash is a solo experience devoid of social play. Many only know Smash in these terms, the concept of playing it as anything other than an individual endeavour is simply alien. Even at tournaments you can find people readily choose to play free-for-alls over doubles as they still compete as an individual.
In the book 21st Century Game Design writers Chris Bateman and Richard Boon discuss the common gaming personality clusters using the Myers-Briggs typology as a basis. The Myers-Briggs typology is a method of sorting people into sixteen personality types. These personalities are identified based on people’s preferences out of four sets of contrasting traits:
Bateman and Boon identified four primary play styles which could be used to categorise hardcore players based on their Thinking/Feeling and Judging/Perceiving preferences. They are the Conqueror, the Manager, the Wanderer, and the Participant.
|Conqueror||Thinking & Judging||Winning|
|Manager||Thinking & Perceiving||Mastery|
|Wander||Feeling & Perceiving||Enjoyment|
|Participant||Feeling & Judging||Participation|
The Conqueror seeks to win or “beat” the game. These players enjoy domination and being who their peers look to for advice. This style can be characterised as “hard fun”, play related to meaningful challenges, strategies and puzzles. Emotions such as anger, frustration and boredom are commonly associated as the player seeks to attain fiero (personal triumph over adversity). Greater challenge brings greater reward. It is a playstyle which attracts goal-oriented players and the one which best fits the majority of the competitive Smash Bros playerbase.
The Manager is focused on strategic or tactical challenge. They are more interested in mastery with wins being meaningless if unearned. Even after attaining mastery the Manager is likely to keep playing for the satisfaction of being a master. Managers will often return to a game with the goal of playing it better. The obvious parallel here can be found in speedrunning where players look to finish games faster and faster in pursuit of a record.
Multiplayer titles are generally less appealing to Managers but games which manage to attract both Conquers and Managers can produce new play dynamics. Conquers will seek to dominate (play to win) while Managers will look to devise strategies which overturn the Conquers advantage. The two take turns presenting the other with new challenges. Managers are not willing to endure high levels of anger and frustration. They can still experience fiero but may become disinterested if the reward they seek is out of reach and beyond the limits of their otherwise high patience.
Wander’s are in simple terms, players in search of a fun experience. They won’t play a game they aren’t enjoying and will likely stop the moment it ceases to be fun. Contrary to the Conquerors “hard fun”, the Wanderer connects with “easy fun”. Fiero is not a factor with such challenges being avoided. Wander’s are hardcore players but ones who don’t enjoy being pushed. In Smash these are the people whose enjoyment is not found in winning but in their interactions with the game and the random factors it throws at them. They can also be described as competitive casual, players who like to win but don’t care for the game on a deeper level. Encounters with Conquers and Managers are likely to turn them off playing.
For an example here is ZeRo (a Conqueror) fighting the streamer Mizkif (a Wanderer) while the speedrunner Trihex (a Manager) watches.
The last group, the participants, are the smallest among the player types. Intuitive preference people in this group prefer story-oriented experiences, while those with a sensing preference play primarily as a social experience. This group is more strongly associated with casual gamers, but they can also exist in the hardcore cluster. In Smash these are players who will not play alone, it has to be a group activity.
This is a basic overview of the Myers-Briggs preferences, but it helps explain why singles is dominant. The majority of players fit the Conqueror archetype as they dedicate their focus towards winning and fiero.
To find what would make a player favour doubles we would be best off examining the preferences outside the common play styles. Games are often categorised with introversion in mind as traits such as internal motivation are well suited to the feedback cycle of many video games.
Players who enjoy or favour doubles may have an extroversion preference, gaining motivation from the people around them. The intrinsically social nature of teamwork would make it natural to assume those with extrovert preferences would enjoy the format. If we accept these as a minority then it comes as no surprise to see the format fall behind in popularity.
There are many other reasons why people have a distaste for doubles. These issues tend to be straight forward so we will address them briefly.
- Regional scenes are too small to incentivise dedicated teams
In the UK at least the partnership of two strong players is often good enough to win. Lesser players could regularly team but with the format often being little more than a sideshow to keep players occupied the incentive to take doubles seriously is lacking. It is common for players to rotate partners as any competent player will do, hence why doubles are often branded by some as being nothing more than glorified hand-warmers.
- Spoilt for choice when it comes to alternative events
The number of alternative formats is the highest it has ever been with Singles, Doubles, Squad Strike, Crew Battles, Amateur Ladder and Amateur Bracket all being common.
Of these 5 events, 4 of them are played 1v1. Squad Strike and Crew Battles may be team-based events, but they operate under a tag format. At events we will normally see a combination of Singles, Doubles and either Amateur Ladder or Amateur Bracket. The fourth event will often be Squad Strike with other formats often being reserved for special events. With all but one of these alternatives to singles being 1v1 it is unsurprising to see players choose them over doubles.
- Easy networking means local partners are no longer a necessity.
Social media has done much to bring players together more easily. There is little in the way of direct contact as players can swiftly message each other through the likes of twitter and discord. Players no-longer need access to locally accessible partners as they once did.
Doubles no longer requires the investment it once did. Playing to win means taking the most efficient route to the top such as teaming with other strong players. Your partners ability serves as a crutch to compensate for any advantages gained from practised team synergy.
- Little short-term or long-term reward for investing in a partner.
The combination of two strong players will likely trump any gains a dedicated team can make in a short span of time. Dedicated teams are better suited to the long term as partners can grow alongside each other and learn their respective play habits, leading to what should be better synergy when performing combos and saves. Long-term team building is a legitimate strategy for success on the global stage, but one has to question just how worthwhile it is to pursue such a path in a smaller scene?
Many Europeans struggle to find good practice for singles. For the average player the reward from pursuing doubles as a primary focus simply isn’t good enough to warrant the long-term effort required to close the gap on players who are already strong in singles.
For those who want to win and continue to win the best way to do so is to become stronger overall and improve your placements in singles. While not ideal for those who love doubles it is the unfortunate reality of the scene as many regions continue to give the format the side-show status.
It’s not all doom and gloom. For those living in the East of England there is something of a bustling doubles scene with dedicated partnerships, it even helped work towards creating a doubles power ranking during Smash 4. If doubles are your cup of tea, then such regions are the way to go.
While many of these arguments come from the subjective opinions of players within the scene it has given us much food for thought in discussing why we still continue to play doubles despite the formats obvious shortcomings outside the game.
The Mayers-Briggs typology and circumstances surrounding many players in the scene has given us reasons behind why the doubles format continues to falter behind singles. While doubles will likely never accomplish the same heights as the singles format, we can at least begin taking steps towards a better future for the format overall.