Since his move set reveal in a livestream last month, Dragon Quest's Hero has seemed like a pretty strong addition to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. His kit appears to be so viable that one Smash tournament scene has already banned competitors from picking him, and it's brought up a larger discussion of randomness in structured competition.
The Hero, who can be skinned as the protagonist of various Dragon Quest games, falls under the sword-wielding archetype in Smash Ultimate. But while he has an excellent arsenal of moves, the real kicker is his Down-B special. Hitting that special brings up an RPG menu, with four random spells pulled from a larger pool for the Hero player to cast. Some are fairly basic power-ups or attacks, while others—like Hocus Pocus or Thwack—can mean an instant knockout.
The South Australia Smash Central tournament scene, or SASC, posted a Twitlonger saying it had decided to ban Hero from all of its tournaments. In its reasoning, the group highlighted the nature of Hero's randomness, and its ability to instantly turn a fight in his favor.
"RNG permeates every element of Hero's design, from spell selection to random critical hits and hocus pocus effects. While randomness has to varying degrees always been present in competitive games and other Smash games, Hero is so dependent on randomness that it cannot be 'played around' or accounted for in competitive play. The argument is similar to the reason why items are banned in competitive play."
SASC emphasized that the ban was not because Hero was too strong, but because he is "anti-competitive." And while other players have brought up some more conventional reasons for Hero's competitive issues (localization and players being unable to read menu options while competing internationally), the discussion has centered mostly around RNG, or random number generation; a catch-all for random rolls in video games.
Many games, even Smash Ultimate, have elements of randomness while still maintaining a competitive scene. Guilty Gear's Faust pulls random items, Smash's Mr. Game & Watch has random values assigned to his Hammer attack, and card games like Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering are all about dealing with random card draw.
It's important to note how Hero's randomness is different. Mainly, that his options are already stellar and his ability to critically strike alongside the random spell pulls create a fighter that can "luck out." Pro Smash player William Peter "Leffen" Hjelte has already praised SASC for banning Hero, saying, "the crits + down b RNG + hocus pocus + language barrier = pls ban."
Others have said you should learn to deal with Hero, making memes about simply blocking. Learning to adapt is a hallmark of fighting games in particular, especially since competitive titles like Super Smash Bros. Melee have gone years without balance patches, forcing players to adapt rather than rely on publishers to tip the scales.
The best discussion I've seen on this topic revolves around what's good or bad randomness. And honestly, there isn't a solid answer for that. Randomness can be a factor in any every day competition, but it's understandable that when competitors already deal with so many out-of-game variables, they'd like to keep the in-game variables consistent. Here's a thread from Twitter user Perepereden that breaks the difference between an RNG and non-RNG character down:
re: hero- pereden@dqbuilders2 (@perepereden) August 15, 2019
A: Hero's not even good, why ban him?
B: It's not about him being good or bad, it's that RNG is anti-competitive
A: Here are examples of RNG in other competitive fighting games
B: But that's not Smash/That's less RNG than Hero
[rinse and repeat]
So, what is it?
As they note further down in the thread, "With an RNG character, imagine that your biggest and best tools get switched out every time you open your bag. Your skill then comes from learning how to adapt to the changes in your own character's tool kit."
While it's possible to "luck out," it's also possible to have to adapt to whatever you're given, and possibly roll several sub-optimal or straight-up bad setups while your opponent can stick to a consistent game plan. It's an interesting risk-reward dynamic, but it's also clear to see how when the stars align, those focused on a consistent outcome rather than a gamble would feel unrewarded.
As of this writing, no other tournaments have opted to ban the Hero. He's still been making appearances at tournaments, even in the hands of high-level pros. It remains to be seen whether the Hero is Smash Ultimate's Bayonetta or just another face in the cast, but he's certainly been the most eventful addition to Ultimate yet.