DABUZ: Steve Is Too Good Not To Play

Published On: 2/16/2024

Another year, another appearance for Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby on an official Super Smash Bros. ranking.

Another year, another appearance for Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby on an official Super Smash Bros. ranking. Dabuz's 14th place on Ultimate's LumiRank now makes him the only player to be ranked for a full decade, going all the way back to the franchise's Wii entry, Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Ultimate is now in its fifth year. As with other games in the post-Melee era of Smash, the late meta has centered around one particularly broken character. Today it's Minecraft Steve, following in the footsteps of Bayonetta in Smash for Wii U and Meta Knight in Brawl.

Nobody has more experience competing at a high level across all three of these eras than Dabuz. He's known for playing highly defensive characters that require intense resource and space management to control at their best: Olimar with his Pikmin and Rosalina with her Luma.

For the most part, Dabuz has stuck to his mains when presented with the centralizing characters of past metas. He drifted away from Brawl at the end of its life, tired of playing against not just Meta Knight, but also Ice Climbers, the clear 2nd best option in Brawl. The Ice Climbers were even more prevalent in his home region and arguably just as frustrating to face as Meta Knight. He did play a bit of Bayonetta towards the end of Smash 4, but with the goal of learning how to beat her higher on his priority list than actually playing her in bracket matches.

But the Dabuz Steve? According to Dabuz, it's real.

"I've been playing it a lot still," Dabuz said in an interview held in late January. “I've actually been using Matchbox [Smash Ultimate’s informal ranked ladder] to practice my Steve. Yesterday, I played about three hours of Steve on my Stream, just grinding ladder. I went Steve at a local recently. Whenever there's going to be a Steve-legal Coinbox, I'm using Steve there… which, I did bad.”

"Bad" by Dabuz's standards, for the record, is still Top 96 at a 1,024-entrant tournament, putting him in the top 1% of competitors. But of course, as somebody who has been doing all this professionally for over a decade, he wants more.

The results may not be there yet for Dabuz's Steve, but he's not expecting it to be a quick and easy process. "It's going to take a while," Dabuz said, “But the character is too good to not know how to play them.”

For Dabuz to make this call says a lot about the state of Ultimate's meta in 2024. In Smash 4, Dabuz remained a top 5 player to the bitter end with Rosalina & Luma, a character that tumbled from top-tier heights after the introduction of DLC.

Smash Ultimate was announced not long after the DLC horde's takeover of the Smash 4 metagame, and that was a big part of Dabuz's decision not to put more time into Bayonetta.

"I took a game off of Leo, actually, at Genesis with my Bayo," Dabuz said. "And then Ultimate got announced and I was like, oh… but if Ultimate wasn't announced, I would have 100% transitioned into a Bayo-Rosa dual main." That set happened just a few months before Ultimate's announcement, and it shows that there was some real potential to the Dabuz Bayonetta.

With no such sequel on the horizon for Ultimate, Dabuz is ready to commit in a way he didn't last time. The true arrival of the Dabuz Steve is still to be decided. He's not expecting it to be ready for the upcoming Genesis X or anything. But sometime in 2024? He's hopeful.

The biggest obstacle in its way might not be something you expect, though.

"The biggest difficulty I'm having playing Steve is not getting bored," Dabuz said. “I have to tell myself as I'm playing him: 'Make walls, camp behind them, get resources, win.' because it's the most effective strategy. Even as someone who plays very defensive characters, I've always at least played in a way where there's some sort of interaction. You know my characters want to camp people out. But they aren't able to just say, 'You can't do anything about me for five seconds.'”

That is, though, what Steve gets to say to you every time he builds a three-high block wall and starts farming resources behind it. There is more to Steve's kit, of course. It seems like every week we see another highlight video on Twitter featuring some never-before-seen Creative Mode setup. The problem isn't that Steve can't get creative. It's that it's almost never better than the safer, simpler play.

"I find anytime I'm playing that the most effective strategy is: make a three-block wall and make the opponent play the RPS," Dabuz said, and that's a game that's heavily weighted in Steve's favor. “There's some interesting setups and positions you can go for, but then every time I do that, it's like, this is not as effective as three-block wall.”

Part of what has kept Dabuz going strong with a character like Rosalina despite her mid-tier status in Ultimate is that she rewards his creativity and the time spent finding new setups or approaches to the gameplan. Dabuz isn't having the same experience with Steve.

"The only time I think it does is when you're ledge trapping with the character," Dabuz said. "I think there's a lot of creative setups with that. And I haven't gotten too good at that yet, because, I will say this, making block configurations the way I want quickly without messing them up can be difficult. That's been my, I don't want to say issue with creativity, but the difficulty with being creative is that there's actually quite an execution requirement with some of this stuff."

That's part of why the Dabuz Steve will be limited to locals and online play for a bit. “The Steve is going to take a while to cook because there's a lot of technical things you have to get good at with him, and everyone knows the matchup. But also a large part of it is that I want to be good enough with Steve that I understand how he wants to play, the nuances. Not just, oh, he wants to minecart and back-air because they are strong.”

Dabuz is making this commitment in an uncertain time for Steve's future. The January major Luminosity Makes Big Moves banned Steve and generated the most hype around a Top 8 of any tournament in a long time. The Make Moves series is one of the biggest in the United States and doesn't appear to be moving towards unbanning Steve anytime soon. Other majors, seeing that success, may well follow suit.

Dabuz isn't worried about that at all. "If the Steve ever gets to the point where I'm comfortable saying, ‘yeah, I'm maining him at majors.’ I think I'm still going to be playing multiple characters." Dabuz said. "I'll probably still be playing Rosa. I've [also] been heavily grinding the Min Min lately."

All this raises the question: would Dabuz, who is aiming to main Steve, support banning him? "I think it's healthier for the game," he said. "Especially for a five-year-old game [where] you don't get patches."

"Obviously you're not just going to pick up Steve and be the best player without being good," Dabuz added, but his issues go beyond the top player experience. “I went to my local recently, and I was playing people in friendlies with my Steve and I can tell they just don't want to be there any more. I go on Matchbox and I play people with my Steve and I can tell they aren't even having fun.”

The stats for Steve at top-level aren't as eye-popping as they were for past monsters of Smash titles like Bayonetta, Meta Knight, or even Melee Fox. The character isn't dominating at the top level like that. But the deeper you dig into tournament brackets, the more Steves you see.

"There's a good argument that at the top level, he isn't over-centralizing necessarily," Dabuz said. "Which sucks, because I think a big issue with the character is that he's particularly effective as a low, mid and even lower-high level killer. And I think that's a really compelling argument for a ban: If you go to an event and you're a mid-level player, there's a very good chance that you run into Steve and you just lose to him."

For Dabuz, though, it's a pretty simple calculation: if you can't ban them, join them. A big influence for Dabuz was seeing the data from the most recent LumiRank, which featured seven

Steve mains, but nine other players who used Steve as a co-main or secondary. "More than 10% of the Top 150 play Steve," Dabuz said, “But I thought it was interesting that literally more than half of them use him as a secondary. I think this is an Ultimate issue exacerbated by Steve, where he's such a strong counterpick character. Most of the cast, they just can't beat a good Steve.”

"That makes him such a strong secondary," Dabuz added, “Anybody who really wants to win should be picking him up. Not even as a main. Just to be like, oh, you're playing some floaty, light character? I just go Steve. GGs.”

You don't get to be a top player in three different Smash games without wanting to win. Steve may not spark joy for Dabuz like Rosalina or Olimar have in the past. But after a decade of playing to win, he's not about to stop now. Dabuz is playing to get back into the top 10 for the first time since 2019 this year, and if Steve is a tool that can help him get there, Dabuz is going to make the best use out of it that he can.