By Chris Brown
It’s been just over a year since Super Smash Bros left the Major League Gaming Pro Circuit, and the Smash community continues to thrive, build, and persevere despite many who think the game’s time has passed. Where has Smash been, where is it now, and where is it going in the future?
For years, the biggest strength of the Smash community has been the sheer number of tournaments. Don’t be fooled by anyone who says the game “dying.” In a typical year, Super Smash Brothers Brawl holds over 400 competitive tournaments in North America. Since the game’s release, thousands of tournaments have been held with tens of thousands of entrants and over $1 million in prizes. The membership of Smashboards has surpassed 110,000, making it one of the largest communities ever for a competitive game. Even now, almost four years since the US release, hundreds of fans still travel out every weekend to events. Few other communities have similar access to tournaments, with most major metro areas holding Brawl tournaments on a near-weekly basis. However, this is a double-edged sword: with tournaments being so common, they will tend to overlap and can spread the community thin.
When Brawl was released in 2008, the Super Smash Brothers Melee scene shuddered, and for almost a year the community was a shadow of its former self. Starting in 2009, a recovery began to take shape, and since then Melee has taken on a new identity. While the Melee community can no longer support the constant weekly events seen in Brawl, it has shown it can consistently hold larger, more hyped events that bring out talent from hundreds of miles away.
Since last year, the community has made several strides to improve its image. First, live streams and the overall quality of underground tournament production have risen. This is an important step in presenting the community in the best light. Live streams create an audience outside of those attending the tournament, which is an aspect that the scene has been missing until this past year. Of course, with new technology comes new hurdles. One large tournament last summer, Genesis II, was not able to secure a venue with a proper Internet connection. The need for a live stream proved so great that an attendee ran the stream through his phone, and when his phone ran out of bandwidth, another dedicated fan stepped up to continue the service. The quality here left one wanting but the effort and the solution were novel.
Aside from integrating new technology into the scene, the Brawl community has also become better organized. One of the largest issues in the community has been its variance in rules, an issue spanning back to 2002 when the scene first developed. Smash, whether Melee or Brawl, can be played in many ways, and with so many setting options it was only natural to see a huge difference in rules from event to event. This variance lowered each year, but the progress toward a singular ruleset was slow. In 2009, Melee finally began to condense most tournaments around a single ruleset. It would have taken several more years for the same thing to happen to brawl if it were not for the Unity Ruleset.
The Unity Ruleset, made by a committee of tournament directors, was organized and implemented beginning in April of 2011. Most of the largest and most prolific tournament directors put their differences aside and agreed to run the same rules, even if they disagreed with a few of them. The result was that within a matter of months, the Unity Ruleset became the most used ruleset ever in the Brawl community.
Finally, as many have likely already heard, Meta Knight was recently banned from competitive Brawl play. This ban will take effect beginning in January, so that players have time to work on their new main characters. The ban was a result of the huge level of dominance shown by Meta Knight since Brawl’s release in 2008. The Smash community actually had the statistical information of character usage from over a thousand different events. This is another strength of the the community: incomparable levels of stat tracking and data mining that is especially impressive when considering the franchise’s poor online integration.
There are a couple of milestones to look forward to in the near future. Most immediately is the national tournament Apex 2012, which will happen at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Still a month away, the tournament already boasts over 260 paid-for registrants and will have a large international attendance. The Meta Knight ban will take place after Apex, beginning a post-Meta Knight era in Brawl. Beyond that, Smashboards awaits the release of the next Smash game for the Wii-U.
If you or someone you know are interested in playing in tournaments, make sure to check out the tournament section at smashboards.com.