There's been a lot of talk the past couple of weeks about trying to get Nintendo to support the Super Smash Bros. esports scene. And while the intentions are good from a lot of people in the community, the unfortunate pill that players, organizers, and fans have to swallow is that Nintendo has no intention of getting involved. Many can't seem to understand why they wouldn't want to take part in a thriving esports scene. But just because they're not around doesn't mean it's all darkness until they show up. There's hope to make it better even without their help.
In case you missed it, Juan "Hungrybox" DeBiedma recently won the Smash Summit 9 a couple of weeks ago. As part of the spotlight the winners are given at the end of the tournament, the pro-player made a passionate plea to Nintendo's Corporate heads to get behind the esports community for Smash Bros. He loaded the video to his own YouTube channel and you can watch that plea here starting at about 1:50.
Whether or not you're a fan of the community, or Hungrybox, or even esports in general, you have to agree that was a well-thought-out request from a player that's been doing this for years. Not just an angry gamer screaming into the void. That is about as diplomatic of a request that you'll ever hear on the subject. And to be quite honest, yes, they do deserve to have the same kind of support that League Of Legends, Fortnite, Overwatch, Street Fighter, and more receive from their parent companies. They have proven it is a viable commodity in esports, it's got an audience to support it on major stages like EVO, it has a roster of players who are devoted and will go above and beyond for the game, and an online presence that rivals titles bigger than it. I'm a big proponent of "Never Say Never", but in this case, it's not going to happen. There's a number of reasons why, but there's also some hope.
Nintendo's Viewpoint On Fun Vs. Competition
One of the biggest talking points that seems to get ignored all the time is that Nintendo has a very specific philosophy about video games and their products in general. While regional fixtures like Nintendo Of America are in charge of marketing, promotion, distribution, and other strategies in their part of the world, it's Nintendo's primary board members and officers in Japan who dictate how the company runs all of its major aspects. Keep that in mind about this particular topic. The mindset of Nintendo is that games are meant to be fun and challenging for everyone, no matter your age, gender, ethnicity, or experience level. Because of this, their games were never designed to be esports titles. The company chose the direction of making their games fun as opposed to being competitive. (Which doesn't explain why I and all of my friends want to kill each other at the end of a Mario Party game.)
That philosophy was echoed recently when Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa was asked about Smash Bros. tournaments having low prize money. In short, Nintendo doesn't view their games as being esports titles, even if fans have turned them into that. To them, it ceases to be a game and becomes more of a chore, where you the player have electively chosen to garbage the original intentions and replace them with a competition that does not reflect the game's intended design. At least, their intended design. Nintendo has thrown their own tournaments for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, ARMS, and Splatoon 2 over the past few years, but all of those competitions were for fun with no prize money on the line. (Which, it should be pointed out, a lot of well-known and top-tier players didn't sign up for those events or showed support for them on social media. Don't think for a moment that Nintendo reps didn't notice that those demanding they get involved with esports didn't support their cashless esports events.)
Melee Will Never Be Supported
One of the biggest thorns in the side of Smash Bros. players from 2019 (and 2020 by proxy) is when Super Smash Bros. Melee was dropped from EVO. The community was every level of distraught over the news, as demonstrated by this video showing Melee players seeing the news and their reactions. Whether or not the game is popular is a moot point. It will always have its fans and it will continually be played and supported in tournaments until the day every last GameCube is broken or burned out. Even when it's in decline, it will still have a fanbase. The popularity is not in question. The root of the matter, which is one of the biggest reasons why Nintendo will never support it, is that the game is nearly 20 years old.
It doesn't matter whether you're playing the original on a GC disc or playing a ported version that plays amazingly in whatever you've loaded the ROM to. The simple fact is you are playing a game that was technically conceived two decades ago, has no updates, no patches, no fixes, and no way to change any of its aspects shy of using a hacked version. The only way to create a version that Nintendo would ever support in an esports environment is if they took the ROM and changed it themselves. And even then, keep in mind they'd probably make changes you won't agree with. Remember when people were giving grief to Ultimate because it was slower than Melee, and people hacked the game to improve the speed times (ala Project Ultimate)? If you don't think Nintendo wouldn't break their own game and slow it down to the current standard to make things fair, you're crazy.
There are forums out there that argue that Melee is so broken and exploitable, it shouldn't even be considered an esport by today's standards. Even the game's director, Masahiro Sakurai, said Melee is "too technical" and cites that as a reason why many players either couldn't get into it or why its hard for new players today to get into it. And because of all those challenges that a nearly 20-year-old game has in a modern esports era, there are dozens of rules and regulations in place to govern it and make it playable as time goes on. Speaking of which, this may be a good time to ask you…
Have You Read All Of The Rules Lately?
Games that are challenging and fun come with rules that make it challenging and fun. Every esport out there has it's own list of rules and regulations that keep things fair and the spirit of competition on an even playing field. Melee and Ultimate are no different. However, what sets them apart from other games is that there are so many different rulesets, so many variations, and so many corrections and changes over the years, getting anyone who is an average viewer interested in it can be a convoluted mess. While we're sure this is a sore subject, it's one that needs to be addressed because it's one of the things that separate an esport from being simply viewable to being understandable. And it also serves as a measuring stick as to how relatable the game is to average viewers, which is a major concept those playing Smash Bros. competitively need to accept.
When you watch any major sport, let's just pick the NFL for example, they have a singular governing body of rules. There are a lot of them, and they get adapted from year to year depending on how the league operates, but there's only ONE set. It's done that way so that anyone, whether they be players, coaches, judges/referees, broadcasting staff, broadcasters, streamers, commentators, knowledgable fans, or totally new fans who don't have a single clue what's going on can pick up on the game pretty easily. And while the concept behind Smash Bros. is sound, the esports ruleset changes all the time depending on what you're viewing. For example: Smash.gg currently has SIX different versions of how to play Ultimate Online competitions. (Which as of when we wrote this, were updated just over a week ago.) Some of them include downloadable docs, which can vary from one page of rules to eight. The average viewer tuning in on a livestream has no clue what the subtle differences are between VGBC and Naifu War rules. And throwing the explanation of how they work onto the shoutcasters' shoulders is unfair to them. Especially when they could view a different tournament the following week with a new set of rules that don't match what they saw last week. Rules and regulations should be uniform and easy for anyone to understand without a guide in front of them.
And that's just Ultimate Online, that doesn't even account for the in-person rules, which also differ from those. Plus, we don't even have the time to go over the multiple variations Melee has had over the years, which includes banning and unbanning characters depending on who is in charge and who is on top of the leaderboards at any given time. Not to mention the idea there is no firm decision on Wobbling as a tactic, and it is left simply as "discretion of tournament organizer" in the rules. Meaning you could get away with it one place to qualify and then have it banned at the next event. Plus, how many controversies have come up over the years over people not following or understanding the rules? Which ended up costing them tournaments or placement for simple mistakes.
There needs to be a singular governing body of rules that everyone can agree upon. Not a dozen variations depending on the situation, venue, turnout, people in charge, version of the game, what the weather's like and what snacks are being sold. Once you have that, new and average fans who have no clue what's going on will be able to understand everything beyond the basic game mechanics we all know.
The Community Has Issues It Needs To Resolve
Another major sticking point is the fact that the Smash Bros. community has got some issues that need to be fixed or people who just need to go away. When I sat down to write this opinion piece, I basically had a buffet of topics to choose from. Because in researching this, if there's anything the Smash community loves to complain about beyond tournament results and people who "don't get it", it's their own community. And even when they don't complain about each other, there are plenty of hot-button topics that leak into the public eye beyond message boards and in-person discussions that make everything about it unsavory.
Just to list off a few examples… There's the time the community wanted to enforce anti-harassment rules, which got backlash and resistance from the community they wanted to enforce it on. Which they apparently needed because of that one time a player was accused of sexual harassment. Or that other time a player was accused of sexual harassment. Or that time a coach was accused of sexual harassment. Or that time an organizer was accused of sexual harassment. Don't want to talk about sexual harassment? How about the time a 15-year-old girl was bullied into retirement by the Smash community just for beating a pro-player? That pro-player, by the way, quit after it came out he was dating a minor. If you don't want to read any of those, how about the fact that hygiene is still a problem at tournaments? Or the fact that the community has admitted it has a toxicity problem that it's still trying to clean up. (We look forward to reading our own comments section this week where half of you tell us how wrong we are while the other half sling insults and prove them wrong.)
Now, all that being said… Do you really think Nintendo is going to drop $10m on an esports organization with all of this happening in what is just a five-year period? Do other games have issues with players and their fans? ABSOLUTELY THEY DO! There's no question that there are problems in other leagues that could use a long, hard look in the mirror. But we're not talking about other leagues here. And anyone who comes around to say "yeah, but, these guys are worse" is deflecting and refusing to acknowledge the problem. We're talking about the Smash Bros. community, who is asking a multi-million dollar company traded on the stock market, who has marketed themselves as family-friendly for years, to support what the community currently is today.
That's not happening. The community needs some love, some enforcement, and some people to be kicked out before a company like Nintendo would EVER risk highlighting players on a public level. Because the last thing Nintendo wants to read is a story on any major website or publication tying them to sexual harassment at any level.
You Need Sponsors For Bigger Payouts
One of the last big issues we'll touch on is the prize money and payouts from tournaments. Every tournament is different, but the vast majority determine their payouts based on signups, fan attendance, and money garnered from sponsorships. And while the first two usually get some kind of a decent pot depending on who is being charged how much, the third seems to be lacking. Sure, a gaming chair company or an energy drink or a retro company might pop in once in a while. But think about this… Have you ever wondered why a company like Pepsi has never sponsored a series of events for Smash Bros. throughout a given year? Only once in a blue moon when it suited them. Part of it has to deal with the community issues addressed above, but the other half has to deal with exposure.
Right now, major companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Nike, Toyota, Anheuser-Busch, Razer, Intel… they're dropping money and product on tournaments left and right. For Smash Bros., unless a player is sponsored or on a team with sponsors built-in, tournaments are only getting a handful of sponsors that are mostly giving them products or prizes. Very few actively have people seeking cash deals so that the payout at the end is at least five figures. What's more, there are few people around who can give estimated attendance or viewership numbers for those companies to take a risk on. At a financial level, someone needs to actively seek deals all the time. Even if it is an independent tournament held at a gaming store on a Sunday morning. If those involved with the growth of the tournaments are not actively seeking out ways to make them financially sound on the prize payouts, then you can't complain about a $1k payout based on Twitch subs and paid-tournament participation.
There Is Hope! Just… Not From Nintendo
So you've made it this far, and you're about ready to post in our comments section how much you dislike the piece. Here's the thing… There's still hope for Smash Bros. esports to become highly successful with major cash prizes for tournaments and to be on a level that could rival a lot of the A-tier esports organizations. Hungrybox himself said in the video that everything they do is grassroots. They have come as far as they have without the support of the company who made the game. Holding out hope that the staff in Japan will wake up one morning and change their fundamental beliefs about their own games is a fool's errand.
What the Smash Bros. community should be doing is looking to do what they want Nintendo to do on their own. Stop wishing for the company to come along and make a singular governing body with a catchy name. Make it yourselves! Choose the right people to be in leadership roles, choose the right people to organize what you need to run a full year of events with an off-season. Get a list of rules that are easy to follow for even the dumbest of viewers. Organize a proper regional system that builds bigger events at major tournament stops, and eventually to a world championship. Don't wait for major events to invite you back, create your own! Build a festival around it as they do. Hire sales reps and marketing reps to go after big-name companies for sponsorships and prize money on a regular long-term basis. Find the right broadcast team and broadcasting crew to push it out to the public the right way. When problems arise with people, don't sweep it under the carpet until news organizations find out about it, address it immediately and kick them out if needed!
The Smash Bros. community has literally done all this work on their own to become relevant and maintain their notoriety. The only thing they haven't done is unified and created their own major organization bringing multiple smaller ones under one umbrella. Stop asking Big N for a handout and just do what you've already done for years on a higher and more organized level.
…Or don't. Because even if you disagree with everything already written in this article, the one thing you can't argue with is that it's still in the community's hands. You currently can dictate where it goes, which is more than any other esports organization and its players can lay claim to. Run with it, aim high, and never look back.