Banned fighting game characters: Their history and present day controversy

Let’s talk about bans in professional gaming for a second. If you follow e-sports you have probably gotten used to bans in MOBAs, shooters like Overwatch, and even card games like Hearthstone. Bans are introduced as a sort of natural balancing mechanic. If a character or deck or whatever causes trouble for a team or player, they can just ban it. Of course, your best strategy can get banned as well. The idea is that this will keep the meta from getting stale as it forces all competitors to have a variety of strategies at their fingertips, lest one get banned.

But it’s different for fighting games. The FGC is very hesitant to ban any character in any game. Depending on which games you look at, there have only been three or four major bans in fighting game history.

Facing the boss

The very first was Akuma in various versions of Street Fighter II since he was explicitly built to be better than the rest of the cast. He was a “boss character” so to speak. Boss characters, for the most part, just got blanket banned in most games if they were designed in the same way Akuma was. Gill in Third Strike, anyone with “Evil” in their name in CVS2. EX, Gold, and Shadow characters in Guilty Gear #Reloaded, anyone who was explicitly designed to be overpowered gets an immediate ban.

These days, “boss characters” are usually designed to be as playable as any other member of the cast. Sometimes they will get certain buffs when actually faced as a boss, but otherwise they are meant to be balanced.

Some characters were meta defining and severely overpowered but still never got banned. Old Sagat (a version of Sagat with very quick fireballs based on his original Street Fighter II appearance) was one of the best characters in the Super Turbo meta, but in Japan there was an unspoken “soft ban” on the character. David Sirlin has a magnificent article where he goes deeper into both the Akuma and soft Old Sagat ban, but that kind of goes outside the scope of this article.

This is where the discussion of what constitutes a “ban” gets a little complicated. Tons of characters have been “banned” for being overpowered but they were designed to be overpowered. Many don’t even count this as a ban, because these characters were never meant for competitive play in the first place. Even Old Sagat could technically be called a boss character, as he was based on a boss character and requires a secret code to even play.

How OP is too OP?

What about characters that aren’t designed to be overpowered but end up that way nonetheless? Should these characters be banned?

Largely, FGC members look at these characters as part of the game. Instead of banning these characters, players are expected to find counter picks and strategies that make matchups against these power characters easier. Banning a core roster member is usually frowned upon and only used as a last resort. Usually this roster member has to break some fundamental part of the game.

A good example of this is Petshop from JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure: Heritage for the Future on the PS1. Petshop was an eagle who could basically just fly around the screen, pelt you with projectiles, and string together nearly infinite combos. While you were playing a fighting game, he was playing a shoot em up, way moreso than any other zoner. He would eventually become banned in tournament circles.

The Smash Bros. community is also notable for dabbling with bans. Metaknight was banned in certain limited tournament circles during the Brawl era. However, Bayonetta was rarely banned in the Smash 4 era, even though you could argue that she was a much better character. She was certainly problematic. Not only did the last Smash 4 EVO finals come down to a Bayo versus Bayo fight, the competitors didn’t even take the match seriously and eventually had to be talked to by an official or else risk a double disqualification.

Still, she was never banned.

Go ahead and Google any list of cheap and overpowered fighting game characters, and any character that isn’t a boss probably wasn’t banned. Sentinel in MVC2? Not banned. Phoenix in MVC3? Not banned. Fox in Melee? Not banned. Eddy Gordo in Tekken 3? Not banned, and also not even overpowered in the first place.

When the Hero becomes the villain

This is why it’s so significant that, following EVO this year, we have seen talk of a character ban in Dragon Ball Fighterz and a few instances of a banned character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. After years of a ban free fighting game space, people are honestly talking about completely removing certain characters from the competitive scene.

Let’s look at Smash Bros. first and it’s possibly banned character: The Hero. This DLC character has a lot of moves that are fundamentally random. His smash attacks can randomly crit, killing opponent’s earlier than usual. His Down+B special gives him a random selection of spells and attacks, some of which can insta-kill, blow up the whole screen, or even make you invincible.

Now, Hero isn’t anywhere near the best character in the game. Hero hasn’t rocketed to the top of any tournament scene and most competitors are still using their preferred characters. Yes, Hero can pull out a random Hocus Pocus, become giant, and suddenly win the game, but most of these situations have happened in random online matches, not tournaments.

So if he isn’t suddenly winning tournaments, why should we ban Hero? Well there are a couple reasons.

First of all, Smash is a bit different from other fighting games, as the game has to be hugely altered for a tournament setting. Stages are restricted, items are turned off, and all of this is done for the sake of reducing randomness. So when a character is created that introduces more randomness into the game, the player base will of course be resistant. If the point of professional Smash Bros. is to reduce randomness as much as possible then it would seem natural to ban a character that increases variance.

That being said, it’s not like other characters don’t introduce variance. Game and Watch’s hammer is a random attack. Peach’s turnips are random. Even Banjo and Kazooie’s exploding egg bounces at a random trajectory. Tons of characters have random moves in Smash and they are usually allowed because they aren’t seen as random enough to break a game. Stages are restricted and items are restricted because they constantly make players focus on them instead of each other. Random moves, like the Hero’s don’t do that.

Still talk had floated around about a few smaller tournaments knee-jerk banning the Hero, while simultaneously members of the pro community are saying that the Hero should just be allowed like any other character. If he starts winning tournaments, then the topic of a ban can be revisited, but if he never climbs the tier list, then his randomness isn’t doing anything bad to the game.

In fact, you could argue that the Hero is good for the game. Another reason a character could be banned is if their method of play isn’t interesting to watch. Pro scenes live and die on their spectators and anything that drives spectators away can be looked at as bad for the life of the game. This is the reason why more casual Smash fans have called for the banning of characters from Jigglypuff and Ice Climbers in Melee, to Bayonetta in Smash 4. They just weren’t fun to watch.

But the Hero randomly exploding and taking a stock? That is actually pretty entertaining. It would draw spectators in, not push them away. Sure, it might be frustrating for competitors but it will happen so rarely, that it won’t affect tournament standings in any major way, and if it doesn’t affect tournament standings why should he be banned from tournaments?

GT stands for God Tier

Let’s talk about the other character on the ban list: GT Goku in Dragon Ball FighterZ. GT Goku is by far one of the best characters in the game. First of all, his damage output is amazing. He has far more touch of death combos than any other character on the roster. Second of all, he is small, meaning many other character’s BNB combos won’t work on him. His assist is good, his ranged tools are good, his close game is good, and he has fantastic mix-ups off of his level 3. He’s also incredibly fun to play.

Unlike the Hero, GT Goku actually has dominated tournament standings. In fact, it’s become a meme that GT Goku, Bardock, and a third character make a tournament viable team. In fact, we saw exactly this composition on both sides in this year’s EVO finals between SonicFox and Go1. We saw it many times in the top 8 and throughout the rest of the tournament as well.

It’s nearly universally accepted that GT Goku needs nerfs by pros and casuals alike, but Bandai Namco has made it clear that we will only be receiving one patch per year for Dragon Ball FighterZ. That’s a problem because DBFZ has been criticized for having some of the most stale high level gameplay in the pro scene. Quite frankly, it’s not fun to watch the same characters go up against each other over and over again. We had a similar problem with Android 16 when the game was first launched.

But 16 was never banned, and that gives us our big conundrum here. GT Goku is not so OP that he can’t be beaten, but he is so OP that you’d be a fool not to play him. He hasn’t necessarily destroyed the meta, but he is the meta. So if GT Goku were to be banned it would be specifically to “freshen up” the meta, to bring more characters into the rotation and to make the game more fun to watch. The idea would be that he could re-enter the meta if and when he gets nerfed.

Many pro players have come out in support of a GT Goku ban. In fact, SonicFox, former champion and 2nd place finisher in this year’s EVO feels that GT Goku might warrant a nerf. They stated that the game might just be more fun without him and that more teams would be viable in the long run.

Still, is that enough to warrant a ban? Much of the community doesn’t think so. Tournaments are going on as usual and GT Goku still shows up, but it seems as if the old school attitude of “deal with it, it’s part of the game.”

What warrants a ban?

This is the big question. The FGC doesn’t really have a whole lot of precedent for bans other than “boss characters go first.” Everyone just kind of “feels” out when a character is ban worthy. While that speaks to the resilience of the FGC, it also speaks about a hole in organization that might come back to bite it.

Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that either the Hero or GT Goku deserve a ban, but what if I, as well as the rest of the FGC at large, is wrong? What if GT Goku really does make the gameplay so stale that the pro scene becomes unsustainable? What of the Hero does make Smash matched random, causing the scene to leak players. It’s hard to predict, but there probably are better options than hard bans.

There is an order of priority for these things. Adapt-> Nerf -> Ban. First try to adapt. The Hero has already been adapted to, while GT Goku seems to only be handelable by also picking GT Goku. Then nerf, and after the pro tour he likely will be. IF that still doesn’t work, maybe then the topic of a ban should come up. The only question is, will it be too late?

What do you think? Should the Hero be banned from Smash? Should GT Goku be banned from DBFZ? Let us know your opinion in the comments.