Making a tier list of characters is one of the bravest things you can do in the current climate of the FGC. Putting your opinions about a video game out into the wilderness to be judged and, more specifically, contested – if you are one of the many who can do that and still sleep at night, I salute you. “Wait, you’re telling me you think X character is bottom tier? Their results aren’t even that bad!” “I can’t believe you’ve put Y character in the high tier – they’re trash!” “Your opinions are STUPID AND YOU ARE STUPID STOP PLAYING THE GAME”

Unfortunately, you can’t please everyone, but it’s safe to say that there are some opinions that the community will generally reach a consensus on. Y character is definitely high tier, even if that one person has some strange thoughts on their back air frame data. X character is still quite average, even if the low-tier hero made a great loser’s run that one time. My opinions are absolutely stupid and maybe I should stop playing this game.

Inkling, as a character, feels like a textbook example of the aforementioned. Possessing some of the best frame data and disjoints in the game, alongside fantastic defensive options and ledge trapping abilities, it’s no wonder people rate the Splatoon representative as one of the best characters of the game. However, boiling down where they are in regards to the other top/high tiers is where the real discussion takes place.

Discussing Inkling being in the top tier of the current meta is like talking about that weird relative at your younger brother’s party. They have to be there, but everyone tries to argue your reasons for them being around. It feels like they’ve justifiably earnt a place, but people just can’t seem to agree. Were they around enough, and did they do enough to warrant the invite? Was mixing vodka and red bull into the Ribena bowl that one time a harmless prank or a step too far?

A poll was ran recently asking where a voter would rank Inkling in the current meta. A staggering 96% of voters put Inkling in the top 10 characters of the meta, with 46% thinking the character is top 5, and 50% believing they rest between 6th and 10th. Only 4% of users would put Inkling below the top 10, so in a game with over 70 characters in its roster, it’s fair to say that people generally perceive Inkling as one of the best. It’s hard to say why each voter voted the way they did (we didn’t ask for qualitative responses in the poll), however a combination of results and character ability will have been taken into consideration. Let’s study the placements Inkling has attained in recent events.

The PGR has defined a tier list of tournaments based on the number of players that have attended. We’ll be focusing on the 5 S-tier events that have taken place as of writing this article; Genesis 6, Frostbite 2019, Umebura Major 2019, Momocon 2019 and Smash ‘n’ Splash 5. The data for Inkling’s results are below.

(Quick Note #1: players with asterisks next to their names were noted as playing this character as a secondary – this will be consistent across all data.) 

(Quick Note #2: only placings within top 64 have been considered. If there aren’t enough placements in top 64, the placing is given a value of 65).

Looking at the data above, we can make a few assessments. Firstly, we haven’t had an Inkling place in the top 3 of an S-tier event. Cosmos, who has had the lion’s share of the top placings for Inklings at these events, has not placed outside of top 16 at any of these events, with a 4th place at the Umebura Major being his highest ranking. Secondly, there is a total of 7 uniquely ranked Inklings at these events – 2 of which play the character as a secondary. Finally, none of the average total placings are below 16, meaning there is a harsh disparity between placements at these events.

Let’s compare this to Wolf – another character that is considered in the top echelon of fighters. There has been a strong narrative around Wolf’s representation in the highest level of play, especially when compared to a character like Inkling. How does the data compare?

Wolf players have a generally higher first, second and third placing value at all S-tier events than Inkling, with all of the top placements finishing within the top 8. Wolf also has a staggering average placement of 5.3 at Genesis 6, with VoiD, zackray and Tweek all playing the Starfox representative during top 64. However, whilst there are 10 unique players on this list, only 5 used Wolf as their primary fighter. This combined with a stark lack of placements after Frostbite does not make for good reading; there were no Wolf mains in the top 64 of Momocon and Smash ‘n’ Splash 5 was an underperformance for the character to say the least.

Finally, let’s compare Peach & Daisy to Inkling. The crowns are generally regarded as the strongest character in the game but, much like Inkling, is generally seen as quite an under-represented character at the top tier of competitive play. See the data below:

Interestingly enough, Peach & Daisy have the highest average second and third placing value than Wolf, but Wolf still edges the top placing average and Inkling comes last in all departments. Peach also has the joint lowest amount of unique player count, with a total of 7; all of which use the crowns as their primary fighter and had at least 3 representatives in the top 64 of all events. Much like Inkling, there hasn’t been a winner of an S-tier event that mains Peach – Samsora came the closest with a 2nd place finish at Smash ‘n’ Splash 5.

Looking at the above data, we can make a number of conclusions. Inkling could be considered the worst of the 3 based on the average results and lack of representation. Similarly, Wolf could be considered the worst due to the highest placing solo-main finishing 5th, the lowest of the 3. Peach could be considered the worst due to the lack of top placements outside of Samsora.

Data is one aspect of assessment, but understanding the nuances of a character’s toolkit is another perspective to consider. I recently spoke to aperture, one of the best Inklings players in the UK and winner of Reflect 2019. With a dominant 3-0 win in Grand Finals, aperture was able to win the tournament with solo Inkling through Winners Side, overcoming some of the best in England on the way. Here are his thoughts in a short interview we did.

Where do you see Inkling in the current 3.1.0 meta?

My personal opinion for Inkling is that they’re a top 5 character, and I don’t think that’s a stretch to believe given the varying opinions out there. They have incredible tools available to them that allow them to attack matchups in differing and unique ways. On that note too, I believe that there’s only a handful of matchups that they find difficult, but I feel optimistic about how Inklings tackle these matchups in the future; whilst they are difficult, they’re not impossible – similar to how Sonic’s developed counter-play vs Cloud in Smash 4. That was initially perceived awful matchup that became very doable (with some even claiming Sonic beat Cloud) as the meta progressed.

What do you think Inkling has in their toolset to justify your placement? And what do you think they lack?

If I had to put a finger on what it is that puts Inkling in top 5, it would be their neutral and their mixups. Inkling has one of the strongest neutrals in the game, due to have safe buttons, excellent movement with the added bonus of a low profile, a projectile that cannot be interacted with (say, picked up like Diddy Kong’s peel can), and an excellent dash grab with throw follow-ups. They can use their movement to bait and overwhelm their opponent, back air allows them to poke with a disjoint (even safe on parry!) which can condition a shield in which Inkling can just grab; to put a long story short, Inkling has the capability to keep the opponent continually guessing and can put them in a lot of uncomfortable positions. I feel like Splatbomb is often an overlooked part of their neutral too; as it cannot be interacted with, it’s a good way of establishing stage presence and stage control whilst also limiting your opponents option in the short time that it’s active. I could go on and on, but I think the thing to take away from this is that with their tools in neutral and the plethora of mixups they have at their disposal, for me it’s difficult to see Inkling in any other position than top 5. 

As for what I think they lack, admittedly they can struggle to kill sometimes so Inkling players need to get creative in how they can close out stocks, but it’s a very similar case to Sheik from Smash 4 (great neutral, killing issues) and I certainly don’t think it holds them back from the top. Having an exploitable recovery sometimes isn’t the best, but because of mixups she has available off stage (Splatbomb, Roller) this is rarely an issue against most of the cast.

People used to talk about Inkling as the best character in the game – it’s safe to say that opinion has generally changed. Why do you think this is the case?

I think representation plays a key role in this. At the top level, you only have Cosmos repping them, and while he does make top 8 at 99% of the majors he attends, just the sheer fact that no one else (or at the very least, an incredibly small amount) of PGR level skill players use Inkling. I think it’s similar to how Pikachu is perceived, ESAM constantly claiming that Pikachu is busted, while only him (and Captain L to an extent) continue to pick up results with the character. I’d also like to think that people have developed enough counter play around Inkling to warrant this perception, but the smash community always seems to slating on a character at any particular point, maybe Inkling has done their time early!

Looking at the general results of Inkling players, what do you think the roadblock to that one big win is?

I remember in the beginning of Smash Ultimate’s meta, Inkling was seen as a really easy character because of their dash and their up throw up air combo, however I think many players have fallen into this trap of thinking that they are easy, when in actuality the character is pretty difficult to play well. I’d like to see those mid level Inkling players enhance their neutral and work on their mixups, as well as staying patient. Inkling players need to stay disciplined when they play, as although Inkling has a great play-maker in Roller, many Inklings rely on it as a crutch, and will try and use it in dire attempt of securing a stock (I’m guilty of this myself!).

Moving swiftly into the future, how do you expect the Inkling-specific meta to develop, and how will that affect the overall competitive meta of Ultimate?

I’m really keen to see if Inklings find any good use for Splattershot – I’m not a big believer in the move myself as I think there are better ways of putting ink on the opponent than that, but having said that I do think that it has maybe been a little bit under-explored. If we do see this then maybe we could see Inkling add a new level of trickiness to their arsenal, as Splattershot already allows for b-reversing and wavebouncing. Possibly it could be used as an alternative to baiting approaches over using Splatbomb. As for influencing Ultimate’s meta, it would certainly make Inkling more annoying to fight against, that’s for sure! Maybe it’d help other Inkling’s to reach that top level more, in which case we’ll see more representation. Only time will tell!