How do you like Byleth now?
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On January 16, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate director Masahiro Sakurai revealed the final DLC character in Fighters Pass 1, Byleth, during a Nintendo Direct stream. Being the 8th character from the Fire Emblem franchise in the game, fans were far from pleased.
Another Fire Emblem character was the last thing the fighting game community expected. They weren't expecting a Nintendo character at all. Byleth is a multi-weapon user, one of which is a sword which led to statements like "not another sword-user again."
Coming in both a male and female variants, Sakurai showed off the character's moveset, calling their movement sluggish but with powerful attacks. Many pro players weren't impressed with the design, complaining mostly about the speed but also the absence of aerial mobility, the lag on their moves, etc. Before Byleth's release, Alliance's Adam "Armada" Lindgren had this to say about the character, "Overall, I can't say the character looks too promising." Following Byleth's release, he's shared a Super Smash Bros. Ultimaee version 7.0.0 tier list in which Byleth sits in E-tier on a list that runs from S to F-tier.
MGPR #2 player, William "Leffen" Hjelte also weighted in on Byleth after the reveal, stating, "This character is going to get hard juggled," due to a particular vulnerability to faster characters in the hands of pro players. After Byleth's release with version 7.0.0, he also released a tier list of his own. Unlike most other tier lists, Leffen's used unique names for each level, but his opinion mirrored Armada's with Byleth sitting near the bottom tier.
Byleth is the main protagonist from the latest game in the franchise, Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Although the strategy RPG was well received and the character was well-loved in that game, it would seem that Byleth's transition to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate didn't win them any love. A few pros like Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, PGR100's best Super Smash Bros. for Wii U player of all-time, rated Byleth "average at most," but his voice and others were drowned out by those that preferred to call the characters mediocre.
The Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competitive scene for 2019 was dominated by Mexican player, Leonardo "MKLeo" Lopez. Ranked the 3rd best Super Smash Bros. for Wii U player in the PGR100, he went on to take first place in both the PGRU Spring and Fall rankings for Smash Ultimate.
MkLeo's main at the time was Joker, the DLC character from Persona 5. His use of the character brought the Persona-wielder into the spotlight, taking him to the top of many Smash Ultimate tier lists. However, in his first main event of 2020, the T1 player finished second to Panda Global's Tyler "Marss" Martins after suffering a 3-0 defeat.
Following the event, MkLeo revealed his desire to go back to being a counterpicker. This meant that he would no longer focus on using just one character (Joker), but would instead have two additional ones that have better results against fighters with a record of success in matchups against his main. This was his strategy as a Smash for Wii U player, so it made sense that he would fall back on what worked for him in the past. What was surprising about his announcement, though, was his consideration of Byleth as one of his counter picks. Another character under review at the time was Mr. Game & Watch, who has risen to the top tier of many Smash Ultimate 7.0.0 tier lists. Having Byleth in the running alongside what the community considered a more viable character gave fans a little insight into what the former Echo Fox player thought of the character.
MkLeo is no stranger to sword-users, as he's had a lot of success with Cloud and Marth in his Smash for Wii U days. He also played other Fire Emblem characters like Lucina, Ike, Marth, and Chrom before he made the switch to Joker. Even in 2019, during his monster run, MkLeo did occasionally use Marth and Lucina at tournaments.
It's all about results
About two weeks after Byleth's release, MkLeo won a weekly tournament in Mexico using the character all through the competition. In the MKSunday 26 Grand Finals he defeated his cousin and frequent duos partner, Javier "Javi" Balderas Perez. Around the same time, PGR100 rank 60 player, Marcus "Pink Fresh" Wilson performed a similar feat at The Grind in Maryland, USA. One hundred players participated in the event with a couple of notable names present like Zack "ZD" Darby and Joseph "Seagull Joe" Raucher. Pink Fresh only dropped a single set in the tournament during the Top 8, where he defeated Seagull Joe and ZD to win the event.
Since these were smaller events, it's easy to wave away these Byleth wins because the tournament lineup wasn't stacked with top tier players. However, MkLeo was able to prove his confidence in the Fire Emblem characters worth at a much bigger and prestigious event, Frostbite 2020. His performance at the S-tier tournament saw him knocked into the Losers Bracket early on by Pedro "Prodigy" Alonso's Mario. What followed was a 10-round run to meet Enrique "Maister" Hernández Solís in the Grand Finals. Yet, with so much on the line, the PGR #1 player decided to use Byleth in his final game. Granted, he reset the bracket with a clean sweep, and was already two games ahead, but there was really no need to take the risk of breaking his momentum with Joker. Yet, he made his choice, won the match, and got many thinking that maybe, just maybe, Byleth could be tournament viable.
Mkleo went "hold on gimr ima give you something nice" and went byleth for one game so GIMR can put byleth on the grand finals thumbnail huh— TSM FTX Leffen (@TSM_Leffen) February 24, 2020
VGBootCamp founder and manager, Calvin "GimR" Lofton is probably Byleth's biggest supporter, which has made him something of an advocate in the eyes of the community. So much so that players like Leffen expected him to attribute MkLeo's win to Byleth entirely.
We're most likely a long way from Byleth topping every pro player's Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tier list. Still, MkLeo's win in that last game means that he's gradually building the confidence to use the character more often at S-tier events.
With the postponement and cancellation of many events, including Smash World Tour tournaments and the PGR freeze, we won't be seeing any S-tier events for a few months. But when we do, who knows, MkLeo or some other player could show us a Byleth performance that could silence all naysayers for good.