Power rankings at the heart of local Super Smash Bros. scenes

by Aron Garst

The drive to be the best -- in anything from show business to Super Smash Bros. -- is partly about seeing your name in lights. There are few feelings that rival the pride that flows through a competitor’s body when they see or hear their name on a video board or at the top of a leaderboard.

Power rankings help codify that feeling. For Smash, it’s not just about Panda Global’s rankings, the latest of which were released last week. Local Super Smash Bros. scenes also lean on power rankings to highlight the top competitors.

Local scene organizers from St. Louis to Los Angeles to Georgia have made a habit of ranking their local competitors based on a number of factors, including local and national performance. Those graphic designers and tournament organizers have tried to make their rankings stand out in whatever way possible in order to make their scene shine.

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"We do it, in part, to showcase new talent," said graphic designer Nicholas "Wonder" Duncan, who created the movie poster-themed power rankings for Georgia's Super Smash Bros. Ultimate rankings. "People grind for a season to get their name out there, to get their name on a graphic."

Wonder took an informal poll on his Smash scene's local Facebook group, resulting in the idea for an wonderfully elaborate rankings that features a different movie poster for each player. Every poster is designed with a player's character and a movie of their choice, resulting in a unique take on the local leaderboard.


Captain Falcon as Shrek, Diddy Kong as Buzz Lightyer and Cloud Strife and Fire Emblem's Roy as Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke from the movie “Training Day” highlight a set of fifteen custom-made posters, all designed by Wonder.

While Georga's players have been grinding with their GameCube controller sticks, Wonder has been grinding away at this specific ranking design. He spent hours asking each player for their favorite movie and coming up with ways to integrate their characters into those poster designs.

"I think power rankings are a great opportunity to advertise your scene," said Wonder, who has been working on Georgia's rankings for four years. "Depending on the quality and how much love is put into it, you can get a lot of attention."

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Attention is exactly what Wonder's rankings got. Superstar players like Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma were sharing his rankings and applauding him for such a creative design. It was extra special for players like Owen "Sakana" Herring who didn't initially realize they were going to make the ranking.

Hungrybox, left, and Jmook, right, compete at Wavedash in California. Photo credit: Jeffrey Gray Jr.

"Honestly, it kinda happened out of nowhere. I had a really good last month of the power ranking season [and] that was the main reason I got on," he said. "It's always been a long-time goal in my three years playing, so finding out I made it was a really big moment for me."

Sakan picked Pixar's “Cars” -- one of his favorite childhood movies that still holds a place in his heart today -- as his featured poster. He and Wonder came up with an intriguing solution to fitting Sakana's character, Bowser, into the mold of Lighting McQueen.

"The ‘Cars’ one was a weird one because it was such a clash to get Bowser in there," Wonder said.

The poster features Bowser in a souped up purple car he drives in Super Mario 3D World

The local approach to power rankings gives everyone who has the urge to compete in Ultimate, Melee and even Project+ the chance to get their name out in the community. It would be difficult for anyone to go from playing with their friends to getting featured in Panda Global's rankings, which are regarded as one of the most balanced and widely adopted rankings systems in all of the Smash community.

"Local rankings, I think, are a way for players who are looking to improve and maybe scratch the global top 50 to set much more realistic goals for themselves to start out," said Team Liquid's Ryan “L4st" Krichbaum. "Once you get there you can then start thinking about something like the PGR."

Local power rankings, as accessible as they are compared to regional and national rankings, are still a privilege for a select few who put the time and effort into training regularly. It's an honor that designers like Wonder take seriously. He's already looking for ways to make the next set of rankings just as creative.

"The movie one was a themed one that the community decided on," he said. "I've always had the idea of doing another one with album covers. We'll see if that works out."

Lead photo credit: Jeffrey Gray Jr.

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