Super Smash Bros. competitors have very specific ideas as to how they believe their games should be played. You’ve probably heard some of them before: no items, specific time limits and stages, and so on. Then there’s “wobbling,” which is a high-level Super Smash Bros. Melee technique used by Ice Climbers players; it’s been controversial since its discovery years ago. The conversation surrounding its legitimacy got even more harried with the recent reveal that wobbling will be banned at yet another major tournament.
After the rule was spotted on the event’s registration page, Pound tournament series organizer Michael “Nintendude” Brancato confirmed on Twitter last week that the competition will institute a new wobbling ban at the upcoming 2020 installment, which is scheduled for April. This change comes despite Brancato being a longtime Ice Climbers player himself, as well as one who happens to disagree with the community’s common arguments for banning the technique.
“It was a collective group decision among the Pound staff,” Brancato told Kotaku via private message. “I’m supportive of the group’s decision even if it isn’t necessarily aligned with my personal view on the matter. I don’t think there’s a clearly right or wrong stance as both sides have strong arguments. What’s most important is being thorough and transparent. That’s why we made sure the rules were available when registration opened and the definition of wobbling was as clear and precise as possible.”
Wobbling, which was named for veteran competitor Robert “Wobbles” Wright around 2006 after he popularized its use, is an Ice Climbers technique that allows the frigid duo to trap opponents in an infinite series of grabs, guaranteeing the elimination of any fighter who finds themselves caught on the other end of the loop. Infinites, or combos that extend indefinitely, are a common sight in traditional fighting games and, in the case of games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, often seen as an integral part of competition. The Smash community doesn’t see infinites in the same way, though, and has grappled with the decision to ban wobbling for as long as I can remember.
Both sides of the wobbling debate have made good points. Proponents of the technique believe it should remain legal due to how it elevates the Ice Climbers in a game where just a handful of characters are considered viable in high-level play, while detractors think wobbling’s ability to slow the normally fast-paced game to a crawl is a detriment to both competitors and spectators. There’s also the question of fairness. While fighting games are largely about reducing your opponent’s ability to fight back, some players are of the opinion that wobbling is just a step too far due to its inescapable nature.
There’s no official body involved in deciding the best way to play Super Smash Bros. Melee, but in 2017, Brancato and a group of prominent fellow community organizers came together to produce the Recommended Ruleset. This series of guidelines lays out basic rules for Melee competition and includes the closest thing to a solution for the ongoing wobbling controversy. By a vote of 4-1, the Recommended Ruleset committee agreed to make wobbling legal, and while no one has any incentive to use these protocols—it isn’t like anyone is going to punish event organizers for experimenting with match times or anything—they were an important first step to unifying a scene that’s always been more like a group of independent city-states rather than a collective nation. Wobbling continues to be banned at another large tournament series known as Genesis, for instance, as it’s still generally up to each individual tournament organizer as to how they format competition at their events.
Although protocols are in place that allow amendments to the Recommended Ruleset in the future, Brancato doesn’t see himself changing his vote on wobbling when and if the time comes, even if the tournament for which he’s most known continues to ban it. Just another wacky day in the world of fighting game competition.