Smash Ultimate Stage Control Guide
Sun 3rd Jan 2021 - 8:35pm
Anybody who has played Smash semi-seriously has heard of the term stage control. However, what does it actually mean, and why is it so important. This guide will run through the basics of stage control as well as its purpose followed by how to obtain, maintain, and utilize it. Learning its purpose is important for getting you into the right way of thinking. Most battles over stage control are very situational. Being in the right mindset and identifying what exactly you are looking for is essential for making the right choices. As a result, this guide will also discuss the reasoning behind general decision making in more commonly occurring scenarios.
What is Stage Control?
In its most basic form, stage control is just your position on the map in comparison to the rest of the stage. The closer you are to the center, the better position you are in. It is a spectrum, and the idea is that you want to be as close to the center as possible. Of course, there are many factors that affect this such as what specific stage you are playing on and your opponent's position. On stages with platforms, like Battlefield, it is still better to be in the center. However, being on the ground is usually superior to being on platforms. This is because it is never advantageous to be above your opponent in Smash since most downward-facing attacks are much more difficult to land, tend to have high amounts of end lag, and are difficult to convert off of.
Meanwhile, upward-facing attacks are usually quicker and easily converted into a combo or juggle. Downward facing attacks have gravity working against you. At best, landing one on stage allows you to land safely and reset neutral. Upward facing attacks have gravity working with you. After you land the first hit, the opponent will fall back down into you while in hit stun allowing you to land a few more consecutive hits depending on their percent. If your opponent is knocked off stage, then they have no stage control. This doesn’t mean you should run back to center stage and allow them to recover though. In this situation, the best position is that of the ledge in order to prepare an edgeguard.
Purpose of Stage Control
Stage control is useful both offensively and defensively. Defensively, stage control is useful for giving you room to fail. It is a safety net. If you get hit with stage control the only real consequences will be losing it. However, if you have bad stage control, getting hit most likely means that you will be launched off stage. Even at high percentages, the likelihood that you die is much lower with good stage control because the distance between you and the blast zone is greater. Offensively, stage control is useful for making winning situations much more favorable. Navigating neutral when you have good stage control is much easier, and makes your punishes more impactful. With good stage control, landing a hit means that the opposing player will most likely be knocked off stage and forced into a recovery situation.
Obtaining Stage Control
There are multiple ways of obtaining stage control, but the most common is landing an attack on your opponent. Every match starts out in a neutral state where neither player has stage control. In this delicate state, obtaining stage control can happen as quickly and simply as landing any attack or simply rolling behind the opponent. Like I stated previously, stage control is a spectrum. When both players are fighting close to the center of the stage at low percentages, stage control can switch very frequently. Obviously, once you obtain stage control the idea is to maintain this advantage state for as long as possible. And as the percentages of both players rise, each hit results in a better position on the stage control spectrum. This will eventually lead to one player finally being knocked off stage for the first time and having absolutely no stage control. In this state, the player who has no stage control should focus on two things. The first is obviously recovering, losing the stock is worse than losing any amount of stage control.
The second is simply landing a hit. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially from a disadvantaged state, but focusing on that one goal can make understanding the situation easier. Smash is a complicated game, and constantly thinking about factors like stage control can be overwhelming in the heat of battle. Boiling it down to this one simple goal makes this common game state much more manageable. However, simply landing an attack is reliant on many factors. What character are you playing? Which moves have good frame data? Is your opponent prepared for this option? etc. Factors like your opponent's playstyle also affect this as well. If your opponent likes to shield at the ledge going for a get-up attack isn’t going to be a good idea, but against other players, it will work just fine. It’s all very situational, so use all the information you have available to choose the best option.
Utilizing Stage Control
Once you have obtained stage control the objective becomes maintaining this advantage state for as long as possible. Like I said previously, stage control makes navigating the game safer and easier while also making punishes much more impactful. Now, the best way to maintain this advantage state varies from character to character. Zoning characters or characters with largely disjointed hitboxes, like Simon or Marth, can allow players to play more passively. Because of their long-range and projectiles, these characters thrive due to their long reach.
The strength of this archetype is balanced out by their weakness in close range combat. As a result, when zoning characters get stage control they are able to heavily exercise this advantage. They are the ones in the ideal position, and it is on their opponent to obtain stage control by approaching them. As the zoning character with stage control, the pressure is on your opponent to make a good play. They have to do all the work, so it is generally good to throw out projectiles and other safe hitboxes with your superior range. Once they get closer the zoning character can usually react to their approach. No matter what the approach is, it will require the opponent to commit to an option meaning that they can be punished if you are able to predict it.
These predictions are not as difficult to make as it may initially seem. Most players have patterns and utilize specific options more often than others without realizing it. If you can notice this pattern, making the prediction becomes much easier. Of course, there is the possibility that they adapt. Good players intentionally mix things up in order to make their pattern more difficult to discover, and nobody is going to go for the same option if it has consistently failed to show results. For example, let's say somebody always approaches with dash attack and you have already punished this approach twice. Odds are they have accepted that dash attack is not viable and are trying to think of a new way to approach it. This means that of the limited viable approach options your opponent may have, you are able to safely eliminate one. This makes the odds that you predict the next one greater since there are fewer overall options to consider. While playing passively can work for all players when they are in advantage state, sometimes it is better to play aggressively.
For most other characters zoning isn't as easy of an option. Characters like Captain Falcon don’t have the long and disjointed hitboxes and projectiles to make the playstyle reliable. As a result, giving up a bit of stage control in order to corner pressure can be very beneficial. On the stage control spectrum, if your opponent is in the corner then they are in the worst position possible. You have control of the entire stage and have a sort of “safety net” behind you since the blast zone will be much further away for you than for your opponent. When you run up to corner pressure you obviously run the risk of losing your stage control advantage. A well-timed roll or air dodge can reverse your positions, leading to an unfavorable situation. However, I believe the potential benefits heavily outweigh the potential consequences. Of course when you play a typical game of Smash you want to mix it up. It’s not good to always play passive or corner pressure. It is easiest to utilize and maintain stage control by switching between both playstyles. As we discussed earlier, habits result in patterns that are easy to take advantage of. If you always corner pressure when you have stage control, your opponent will adapt. This can lead to them play more passively, and they will most likely look to take advantage of your approach in order to steal stage control away from you.