Welcome back to our series of articles on why Super Smash Bros. Melee rocks. Last time we took a look at the deep fighting system Nintendo developed for the GameCube’s most well-loved fighter (which can be found here). This time, we’re going to take a look at what allows Smash to have one of the best competitive scenes in the country: The community.
Back in the days of the N64, a teenage boy from Pennsylvania called Gideon created a website dedicated to his favorite game, Super Smash Bros. He had tips and tricks, pictures and most importantly forums where fans of the game could meet and interact. Little did the founder of Smash World know that his website would blow up into one of the biggest and most dedicated independent competitive gaming communities in the world. Smash World’s forums were eventually given the web address smashboards.com and from there the community really took off.
Smash players themselves are an odd bunch. They take the game seriously but with a ridiculous kind of humor and goodwill that is unmatched in other competitive communities.
Once there were players from all over the United States on the message boards, it wasn’t long before local tournaments began to spring up. Players would advertise at their local game stores and on other websites with message boards and over time the small tournaments helped the community at Smash World Forums (SWF) grow. But things really took a leap forward when Nintendo announced the release of Super Smash Bros. Melee at E3 in 2001. Literally thousands of Nintendo fans from all over the world began searching the web for information on Melee and when they found an already growing community of like-minded fans at SWF, they became permanent members themselves. When the GameCube launched with Melee at the end of 2001 the members of the community started right up doing small local tournaments and finding all of Melee’s inner secrets.
One of the most significant forces in the development of SSBM’s tournament community was the inter-coastal rivalry that sprang up between the East and the West. California, like with many fighting games, was the hotbed of tournament activity for Smash and they boasted having both the biggest community and the best players. The East Coast however, especially in the NYC and Washington DC areas, had a lot of up-and-coming players and some intense competition as the community grew over the course of 2002 and 2003. The rivalry helped drive players on both sides to train and look for new tactics and keep the message boards active and interesting to read.
The turning point for tournament Smash sprang out of a series of competitions started by a player from California, Matt Deezie. Deezie started a tournament series called Tournament Go, or just TG to most Smash players. The first two TG tournaments were much like the others advertised on smashboards–local competitions with players duking it out for first place. After some message board trash-talk, TG3 and TG4 turned into the place where Northern California and Southern California could settle who ruled the state. TG5, held in the summer of 2003 was heavily attended by players from all over the US and even drew in some international competition from Canada and Europe. And finally TG6, what Deezie made clear was the last of the series, pulled an even bigger group of players from all over the US, Canada and Europe. TG6 was officially dubbed the “World Championship of Smash” when Captain Jack, Japan’s No. 1 player, showed up to compete as well. Needless to say, with the amazing success of the TG series more and more tournaments began popping up all over the United States, gradually starting regional communities that stretched to all four corners of the US and beyond.
What makes all this even more awesome is that unlike many shooting and fighting games, Smash players were never (until MLG) recognized by a corporate body or pulled big money sponsors for events. Tournament organizers paid out of their own pockets for Elk’s Lodges and church gymnasiums, community members hauled their own televisions and GameCubes from home and with minimal staff tournaments of 60-100 players ran (generally) without a hitch on a monthly basis all over the community. And despite clear regional favorites asserting their dominance, leaving little-to-no prize money for players outside of the top couple crews, tournaments keep getting bigger and players began traveling further and further to play new competition.
Smash players themselves are an odd bunch. They take the game seriously but with a ridiculous kind of humor and goodwill that is unmatched in other competitive communities. It’s not infrequent to see players challenge each other on the web, talk trash for months leading up to a tournament and then during the match smile, laugh together and hang out afterwards. Even the biggest rivals are likely to at least shake hands after a match and say “good game.”
The community Pros are a different breed as well. I’ve seen lines form behind famous players like Ken or Azen consisting of dozens of tournament n00bs and forum lurkers waiting for a chance to play their idols, and those guys sit patiently and destroy them all one by one, asking which characters their opponents want them to play and offering pointers after the match. Despite the competition, the regional rivalries and the trash-talk, the Smash community is a community of friends and like-minded fans who support themselves, no matter what other gamers out there think.
In fact, Major League Gaming’s addition of SSBM to the lineup has increased the number of community-run tournaments, including huge international events that pull well over 100 attendees. These days, top players take home hundreds of dollars for winning local events, while national tournament winners take home even more.
So how is it possible that despite the same handful of top crews taking home the money event after event, players keep coming back and shelling out their hard earned cash to travel and participate? Some would say the lure of competition and the hope of becoming a top-ranked player is a key factor, but with Smash the general consensus is that it’s for the love of the community. The community has sustained itself because its members help pay for the website, run tournaments and give each other car rides and free housing when traveling. It has even developed its own file-sharing network to trade match videos (at peak usage there are over 80 computers connected and two Terabytes worth of videos shared). And this summer, America’s top players will be traveling to Japan to represent their country in a new world championship event which will be–you guessed it–community-run.
So if you ever wander into an MLG event looking for your next Halo or Tekken match and happen to stumble into Smashers playing the game they love, stop by and check it out. The game and the fans that support it are well worth learning about. In fact, after joining in with some Smashers who were betting dollars on Level 1 CPU matches (and screaming like idiots) in Houston, one of the coolest men you’ll ever meet, MLG’s EVP Sundance DiGiovanni, had this to say: “Smash kids are ‘effing cool.” And he’s ‘effing right.