Would a ban phase be good for competitive fighting games?

Nov 18 2020 6 min read

Would a ban phase be good for competitive fighting games? Would it add a layer of depth or an unnecessary barrier?

Fighting games are a wonderful experience. Nothing quite brings me back to my childhood than playing Mortal Kombat: Armageddon with my friend on his PS2 back in Junior High. We were allowed to play under the agreement that we wouldn't "do those nasty moves" (our parents were talking about fatalities, of course). Want to guess as to if we did them or not? It's an easy guess, really.

Now, my childhood fun has come full circle back into my career. If you haven't heard, WePlay is jumping into the FGC with a Mortal Kombat 11 tournament, WePlay Dragon Temple. Excited doesn't fully express my feelings about this; no words do. I have kept up with the FGC and competitive fighting games for a long time, and it's enthralling to now be a part of it.

MK: Armageddon Intro

But, all that stuff isn't the reason you're here. You're here because of my super interesting title, right? Would a ban phase be good for competitive fighting games? 

Before we dive into this point, let me say that the things I am speaking on here are not a hint at a wacky format for Dragon Temple. This is just an idea I had while laying in bed at midnight, trying to go to sleep, but my brain wouldn't turn off. Now that that disclaimer is there (Hi, legal department), let's further explore this idea.

MK11 character select screen

The premise

So, the general approach to a ban phase is pretty simple and is done by many esports titles. Of course, this phase would have to be pretty unique to fighting games, given there is generally one player, one character. Even in cases like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or The King of Fighters XIV, you can use this system that I am about to present and just scale it for character count.

So, the ban phase would begin with a look at seeding. The higher seeded player would choose left side/second ban or right side/first ban. If there is no seeding, or seeding is simply random with no performance metric tied to it, it would be a coin toss or a 50/50 decider of some sort.

I know reading all that is probably confusing, so let me break it down in stages:

  • Coin flip or seeding
  • Winner or higher rated player chooses left side/second ban or right side/first ban
  • Right side/ first ban
  • Left side/ second ban
  • Character select
  • Match begins

I think it is pretty safe to say that the left side is the favored side by most fighting game players, so they would get a second ban instead of first. But, this process could be much like choosing to kick or receive in American football. In times past, receiving was the favored option, but this has slowly transitioned to where some teams now favor kicking. The same would apply here. In the early days, I suspect that players would prefer the left side/second ban option, but as the phase became more common, some would transition to right side to get first ban. I could be completely wrong on that, but that's just my point-of-view.

First ban is an extremely potent tool. If you do your homework on your opponent, you will at least know who they main, and if you do a really good job, you'll know their second choice too. This allows a player to almost pick the matchup they want, but it also offers an element of "jebait" for the player that bans second. The second ban player can have a pocket pick that their opponent is unaware of and use the first ban against them by baiting an obvious ban; then the tables turn to where they are now picking the matchup.

SFV character select screen

The good

Fighting games consist of some intense and often hidden mind games throughout every stage of the battle. A ban phase furthers these mind games and also rewards players who spend more time assessing their opponents.

It also requires players to have a deeper character pool as opposed to one-tricking. There's nothing wrong with one-tricking (until you run into a highly unfavorable matchup), but there is also nothing wrong with learning and getting good with more characters, either.

Another factor that bans could be used for is banning S++ characters that were recently released or have remained untouched despite community pleas to do something about them. A ban phase would offer a way to do away with these characters.

Joker in SSBU

The bad

Like any good pros and cons list, our pros also inherently have cons the deeper you dig into them. Our first pro point is the reward to players that do more homework, but what if your opponent is an up-and-comer with little to no history for you to review while you've made top 16 in your last few events. This unknown player now has somewhat of an upper hand and can target ban a more popular player, while the more popular player just bans a random character because they have no clue what the person next to them even plays. Of course, you can jump down this rabbit hole and analyze if this unknown player is a full-time player or has the experience that the veteran does, which outweighs the target ban, but on the surface, this is an issue players will encounter.

A con to our second point about one-tricking or deeper character pools is in titles like the mentioned UMVC3 or KOFXIV, where teams are made up of three characters. If you scale this to offer more bans due to a higher character pool, you are also taking a very deep cut into a player's picks. Imagine if you're starting three characters in UMVC3 were banned. Do players have six, seven, or eight characters they can play at the highest level? Is that asinine to even try to implement? I guess you could keep the ban down to one character, but it won't hold the same weight as it would in one character count games.

And our third point, banning S++ characters. I think the biggest issue with this point is with publisher or developer ran leagues, like Capcom Pro Tour. Capcom wants and needs to sell those character packs, and now imagine that their newest character basically gets permabanned at the next Pro Tour event. Remember, something similar to this has already happened when it comes to stages played at these tournaments. Gone are the days where everyone picks the training stage.

This also hurts the first ban player since they may want to ban an OP character and lose their target ban. They could still target ban and put the OP ban weight on the second ban player, but what if they don't ban it either. I guess, for the most part, the picks would go as they would have originally anyway, but it leaves the door open for that busted character to be picked by one or both competitors. But, to be fair, this is still a possibility without the ban phase anyway.

UMVC3 gameplay

All things considered, I would at least like to see this tried in a one-character game to see how it would shake out. Street Fighter League does this in its 3v3 team matchups, but I wonder what it would be like in 1v1 situations.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think this is something that could be implemented and provide more depth to competitive fighting games?


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