Competitive Leadership: The War for Smash 4
With several Smash Bros. titles still active, how will Smash 4 fare in a mixed community?
In the past two years, Smash Bros. has burst onto the eSports scene. Thrust into the forefront of the gaming public by The Smash Brothers documentary in October of 2013, Super Smash Bros. Melee saw a huge resurgence of popularity and respect in the fighting game community. This summer, dubbed the ‘Summer of Smash,’ was Melee’s greatest yet. Several major eSports teams scrambled to sponsor top players, and Melee made notable appearances at major fighting game tournaments and eSports events such as MLG Anaheim, CEO, and EVO 2014.
One might imagine that the release of the two new versions of Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U would solidify Smash’s spot in competitive gaming for years to come. But before that can happen, it will have several hurdles to overcome - the most prominent of which comes from within.
A Community Divided
Of all the games in the current eSports pantheon, Super Smash Bros. may be the most curious. For starters, Smash Bros. series is its own sub-genre of fighting games – it’s cornered the four-player party game-turned competitive fighter market. The biggest difference between the Smash Bros. series and other competitive titles, however, is that every Smash Bros. game still has an active competitive community. Large Smash Bros. tournaments like the Apex series regularly hold events for Melee, Brawl, Brawl mod Project M and even 64. To the uninitiated, this sounds like great news – but history says otherwise.
One needs only to look back at Brawl’s release in 2008 – an event that nearly killed competitive Smash altogether. “There was a lot of rancor right off the bat,” says Wynton “progducto” Smith. “I remember Melee players berating the game and people who played it. At the same time, Brawl fans posted on my Melee uploads questioning why was I wasting my time with a dead game.” Committed Melee players couldn’t stand the slower pace of the new title, while the much larger Brawl community taunted the Melee faithful . It was not until the inaugural Revival of Melee tournament a year later that competitive Melee found its footing again. Many speculate that without that tournament, Melee may well have died altogether.
Brawl’s competitive community had its own struggles. While its competitive scene prospered for a few years, it struggled to gain the respect of other communities. During its first appearance at EVO in 2008, Brawl’s ruleset included items. It turned Brawl into the laughingstock of the tournament, mocked by the other competitors in attendance. EVO 2009 took items out of the ruleset, but the damage had been done: despite its merits, Brawl would not be accepted as a legitimate fighting game by its peers. And while Melee has found its stride in recent years, the majority of the Melee scene has notably not extended an olive branch to its more embattled counterpart.
Can't We All Get Along?
All this begs the question – what happens when Smash 4 comes out? Will people learn from the release of Brawl, or is history bound to repeat itself? Melee It On Me’s tafokints is convinced things will be different this time around.
“It's a tough world with anonymity on the Internet. Twitch chat and YouTube comments seem to bring out some nasty comments,” says Tafokints. “However, many figureheads are looking at Smash 4 in more of a collaborative mindset as opposed to a competitive ‘us against them’ mentality. There's a bigger pie now, and even if Melee and Brawl have to share it for Smash 4, I do believe everyone gets their fair share.”
So while there may be squabbles, in the end, mutual respect will be the key. West Coast commentator Toph says it best: “In 2008, Melee was on life support, and tournament numbers were at an all-time low thanks to the hype of Brawl. I think Melee players felt that, unless they showed vehement passion for the game, their scene would die. But unlike 2008, when the Melee response to Brawl was to deride their game (causing Brawl to retaliate in turn by insulting Melee players,) I think the best thing for the community would be for each unique game’s scene to support each other. Take an interest in other titles, or at the very least don’t willfully degrade and segregate others based on who plays what.”
With the Japanese release of Smash Bros. for 3DS only a week away, the ball has already started rolling. Let’s hope that each Smash scene will help roll it in the right direction – together.
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