Super Smash Bros

How Should We Rank Players?

TLDR: Tell us how you made your ranking!


With the approaching return of (regional) PGR and release of OrionRank 2021, there has been a number of recent threads asking people for their "rankings" after the first months of post-lockdown tournaments. To some degree, I'm surprised by how much consensus these rankings seem to share. I do notice that the way people talk about what they value has a lot of differences. I thought it would be useful to open a topic and let people discuss explicitly what they think the purpose (or goal or priorities) of a ranking should be. What do you look for when putting your list together? What are you trying to say with your placements?

Here are some broad examples:

  • Who has had the best season?

  • Who has the highest skill level?

  • Who has the best chance of winning a major tournament?

Within each of these broad categories, you can further specify how you want to make comparisons. How much do placements matter relative to wins/losses? How much do placements matter relative to each other (1st vs. 2nd? 5th vs. 7th? 7th vs. 9th?)? How do you consider highs/lows against consistency (whether in placings or wins/losses)? In the second case ("best player"), how much do you incorporate your subjective impression of their playstyle and/or pre-COVID (or even online) results?


My preferred stance on the second category is to say that wins/losses are far more important than placements. We're interested in the question "Are you better than player X?" but can't actually observe the answer. We can see "Can you beat player X?" which is close but not quite enough (maybe you just have a good MU against X's main). So we go further and ask: "Can you beat the same players X can beat? Can you beat players that can beat X? Do you lose to players that X outclasses?" This style of question is the closest to skill assessment available to us from tournament results imo. (Placements matter mostly in terms of winner's/loser's bracket; I talk about this more at the end.)

The first category is more complicated. PGR and OrionRank are in the business of answering this question, and I think they are absolutely right to consider both placements and wins/losses. I want to share my intuition for how these should be valued, and stress where I think that differs from most approaches. This is namely tournament weighting. Most people believe that supermajor performance is more important than how you do at smaller tournaments. I generally agree, of course, but have some qualifications:

  • Locals/weeklies don't matter at all. It's good for players to have opportunities to experiment in bracket with new characters or different playstyles etc. and not to have to worry about tryharding every single time they plug in their controller. Everyone agrees on this – although users here are undervaluing/ignoring B-tier equivalent regionals and overemphasizing major results imo.

  • Wins and losses should be examined with almost no consideration of tournament size/quality or place in bracket. (The main exception is Bo3 vs. Bo5 sets.)

  • Placement value depends on tournament size. Marss taking 7/769 at SSC is more impressive than taking 7/421 at Glitch. Light's 7/830 at Mainstage is a great showing, while his 7/177 at Hold the Line is borderline bad (for him). A good start to disciplining yourself on this question is to think about placements in terms of percentiles.

Two further remarks on this:

  • The idea is to disentangle who you beat vs. how many you had to beat in order to reach a placement. Specific wins get assessed on their own – this is why tournament quality shouldn't matter for valuing placements. Progressing in tournament is hard no matter who you face, and should be rewarded independently – and to a greater degree the more opponents you had to beat.

  • Both placements and serious consideration of loss quality are necessary to reward players for making long runs through winner's. Someone who goes to lower bracket receives an opportunity to rack up wins by playing more sets, but they typically have to take a "bad" loss in order to get there in the first place. The goal is to win tournaments, and the best way to do so is to stay in winner's as long as possible.

I don't care that much about the third category because I get the feeling I value 1st place less than pretty much everyone.


Take note future PGR panelists! 🙂

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