Image: Nintendo

While Leffen was busy spiking his controller in the Super Smash Bros. Melee finals, last weekend’s The Big House 8 tournament also hosted a high-level Super Smash Bros. for Wii U competition. A former Evo champion competed alongside 280 other players in Detroit, but even with the supposed strongest character, he found himself on the losing end of a 3-0 sweep against an unexpected challenger.

Ask the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U community which character rules the roost, and most everyone will tell you Bayonetta is the character to beat. Her huge attacks and high damage have made the Umbra Witch a perennial contender ever since she joined the game in February 2016. Early on, she got banned at a handful of regional tournaments and soon ascended to the top of a widely-accepted tier list. The community’s animosity for the character and those who use her has even led to ugly displays like crowds booing competitors and walking out during the Evo 2018 finals when two Bayonetta players faced off in the championship match.

It wasn’t much of a surprise when Saleem “Salem” Young qualified for the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U finals at The Big House 8, both because of his pedigree and the character he uses. As the Evo 2017 champion, Salem has the distinction of being one of the best Smash players of all time, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that he has mastered such a strong character. When it came time for him to fight Yatiyaña “Yeti” Schaper, victory seemed certain on paper. Yeti has found little success outside of his home state of Minnesota and plays a pair of characters, Mega Man and Toon Link, that sit far below Bayonetta in the current power rankings.

Although Bayonetta has an incredible ability to recover once knocked off the stage, her movement options are generally lacking for a character of her strength. This means Toon Link, with his fantastic array of ranged attacks, is smart to play the keepaway game with Bayonetta as much as possible. Yeti, as one of the best Toon Link players in the world, appeared to understand this going into his losers bracket match against Salem. He quickly established control of the match with smart usage of his character’s bombs and boomerangs. Yeti also had the backing of the crowd, who cheered whenever he gained the advantage.

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Meanwhile, Salem failed to find much ground. Bayonetta’s damage helped to keep him in the game longer, but Yeti’s ability to land risky grabs on the former Evo champion showed that he could get in Salem’s head. After winning two straight games, the young challenger entered the third with a ton of confidence, and then seemed to make the simple act of landing on the stage a risky proposition for his opponent. By the time he won the last game, Yeti had proven he was the better player that day, and his friends stormed the stage chanting his name in celebration.

Although tier lists can provide a great foundation on top of which to discuss game theory, they have become inherently flawed and incomplete as the fighting game community has continued to expand. It’s impossible for even the most educated group of Smash players to nail down a decisive and final character ranking, given the diversity of play styles and tactics emerging all over the world, making any tier list an amorphous project that must be willing to shift and change as more information is gathered.

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Is Bayonetta the best character in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U? Sure, that seems clear based on years of major tournament results. One match, even at a high-profile Smash event, doesn’t necessarily prove that Toon Link deserves a higher ranking on all Smash tier lists. But Yeti’s victory over Salem does indicate that competitors can do incredible things when they invest time in any character, even middling cast members like The Wind Waker’s protagonist. Yeti caught Salem slipping last weekend and perhaps gave some hope to aspiring Toon Link players in the community to keep on grinding.

Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.