We need to talk about the berimbolo metagame, and we can look at how other competitions handle balance and metagame for some ideas of how to introduce more variety of grappling styles into competition.
Street fighter II debuted 26 years ago. I have memories from the early 90’sof asking my mom for change so my sister and I could go down the street and play at this little arcade next to the corner store. It only had 4 or 5 machines, but the only one that mattered was Street Fighter. I got many blisters trying to master the hadouken, and this was before strategy guides or widespread internet access for that matter. When you discovered a special move, it was your duty to master it and teach all your friends.
My love for Street Fighter lives on. I’ve played the many iterations of the game on console and in the arcade. I bonded with my sister over the game, and 20 years later, I still get a rush of fear when she selects Ken, her favorite character.
Part of what makes Street Fighter a great franchise—and why my sister can still plan Ken after all these years—is that Capcom has taken great care to balance the game. As new characters were introduced with their own moves, the design was thoughtful enough to prevent one character from dominating or warping the metagame (what characters people play and the strategy they use).
The idea of metagaming can be a bit strange if it’s your first time hearing about it. In most contexts, it means using knowledge that your character wouldn’t have—for example your elf rogue in a strange dungeon wouldn’t know that you happened to see your Dungeon Master looking at the stats for Mimics earlier that afternoon (Mimics pretend to be furniture and eat people). If you act on that knowledge, you are using information that is beyond that immediate universe.
Today, metagaming is often used to describe a deeper analysis of the variables and factors that influence strategy and tactics. You look at the rules and the trends and make strategic choices based on that information.
If we look at the current metagame in IBJJF tournaments across all belt levels, you can easily make the argument that the most popular strategy is to pull guard and work for berimbolo and leg drag variations. It’s very hard to be a takedown specialist when your entire game can be negated by your opponent getting a grip and sitting on his butt. This choice can be partially motivated by the person in front of you (you saw wrestling shoes in his bag earlier), but it’s largely an exploitation of the ruleset.
In my opinion, this is a potential balance issue that needs to be corrected.
A -1 penalty for pulling guard would fix many of these problems. It’s simple, easy to enforce, and it gives the guard puller a sense of urgency. If he doesn't score from the bottom, he will lose the match. If players refuse to pull guard, we can start seeing more takedowns and less stalemates when the bottom player is happy to remain on the bottom for as long as possible until he tries to score a sweep at the end of time.
The other metagame-inspired change to make would be eliminating the grip inside the back of pants. If we agree that grabbing inside of the sleeves or pant legs is unfair, so why are we allowing the back of the pants and all of the accidental mooning that follows?
After talking with berimbolo aficionados, they all seem to agree that the berimbolo strategy would be less appealing if the grip in the pants was not allowed as it offers such a huge advantage for the bottom grappler.
I think these two changes could help balance the current IBJJF metagame. It will make for more variety. I can only watch so many berimbolo battles before I start nodding off while streaming an event, or leaving my seat at the event to get some Acai.