Nintendo Continues its Anti-Smash Crusade by Cancelling Collegiate Ultimate Event
Update: We’ve included a response statement from PlayVS at the bottom of this article regarding the Discord message
Well, here we go again, again. Just a little more than two weeks after my last article about Nintendo issuing a cease and desist order to The Big House Online, which was set to be one of the biggest tournaments of the pandemic, they’ve gone and shut down yet another Super Smash Bros. event. This most recent casualty of Nintendo was a collegiate Smash Ultimate circuit organized by PlayVS. The news broke on twitter. It’s left some scratching their heads and others, myself included, heaving exasperated sighs. We’re fed up. Top Smash player Leffen gave his thoughts on the issue on his YouTube channel, which is how I learned about this, and now I’ll give mine.
The causes this time are even more baffling. In the case of The Big House, Nintendo shut down the event’s Melee and Ultimate tournaments because of a perception that many people still playing Melee online these days are using pirated .iso files of the game. Again, there’s nothing illegal about emulation – only the act of uploading these files for others to download is illegal, and many Melee players, myself included, use legal .iso files ripped from our own copies of the game Nintendo no longer sells. (I got Melee for Christmas in the year Two Thousand and THREE.) And again, the Slippi mod is the only way that enthusiasts can continue to experience Melee during the coronavirus nightmare we’re all inhabiting. But PlayVS wasn’t even going to feature Melee – their circuit was only going to run Smash Ultimate before Nintendo shut it down.
As we head forward in time toward the vaccine that will hopefully give us the ability to play in-person again, the Smash community has high hopes for the future. Once the pandemic passes, Nintendo will have little power to stop people from meeting up and sharing a passion for their games. Without the company’s approval, Smash is unlikely to become a top-tier esport, but even apathetically leaving us in relative obscurity would be preferable to the company’s current insanity.
Why they’d want to stop people from meeting up and sharing a passion for their games is beyond me, but they seem hell-bent on that goal – and they have been for a while. Nintendo’s heinous acts of shutting down online tournaments during quarantine is just the most recent example.
The Tip of the Proverbial Iceberg
The PlayVS case is another example of Nintendo claiming that they have events in the works without providing any evidence for that claim. The words “at a later date” included in the above-linked tweet’s Discord screenshot are insulting to the intelligence of anyone who reads them. “Oh, uh… yeah, well we were… uh, planning to do that later.”
Sure, Nintendo. Okay. Without dates or official announcements or plans, these empty words mean about as much as the gameplay features in an old trailer for Cyberpunk 2077. And Nintendo running an official collegiate circuit of their own is no reason to shut down an unaffiliated tournament. In fact, this is another example of Nintendo deleting content and erasing memories before they can be present moments; in doing so, they hurt themselves (by preventing free advertising for their games), the competitive Smash fanbase, and in this case, a successful startup that’s already done so much to help student esports.
The reasons behind Nintendo’s decisions in this vein are just baffling. Just this paragraph has been re-drafted more than ten times. What am I to say? What are we to do? Nintendo continues to abuse holder-favored copyright laws in order to inexplicably abuse the people who love their games the most. The now-ancient Super Smash Bros. Melee isn’t even in the crosshairs this time. Instead, they’re hurting their most recent Smash game this late into its shelf life. It’s absolutely absurd.
Of course, I can’t yet say for certain that Nintendo will not run their own collegiate events, though I’m obviously chock full of doubt. Note that I’m not opposed to such a set of events – official tournaments and circuits bring a level of legitimacy to esports that brings a proud twinkle to my eye. But the business model for most fighting game publishers’ interactions with tournament organizers is to be hands-off with occasional injections of hype, money, etc. In other words, most companies will either simply let enthusiasts get together to play their game without doing much of anything, benefitting from free advertising via fan content creation. The coolest cats in the fighting game game will even sponsor fan-run events with pot bonuses or points in the official circuit, à la Capcom Cup.
But Nintendo does none of these things and gives us no reason to believe they will do these things in the future. Their community engagement with the competitive scene is laughably shallow. A Nintendo “sponsorship” for a tournament is essentially a metaphorical gun held to the head of a tournament organizer who accepts it. Game mods and emulation of any kind are off the table when Nintendo is involved. Play the game our way or get slapped with a cease and desist, they seem to say, often offering no setups and zero dollars as their end of the bargain. And it’s their right to do so, with copyright laws as they are. But using even the slightest amount of logic points us in the direction that they should put the gun down and let their fans play their games in peace. It’s a wonderful activity to be involved in for us and free advertising for them. So why Nintendo keeps shutting down tournaments is anyone’s guess.
Tales from a Twitlonger
Through this link is a set of chronicles from an “anonymoussmasher” that recounts several details of Nintendo’s similar decisions in their asinine anti-Smash crusade. I can’t verify every story within it, but it’s undeniable that Nintendo has done so much to hurt the competitive scenes for their own titles.
The most heinous section in there is the one on Twitch. Before the streaming platform was even a thing, people were playing Smash on CRT TVs in packed venues and generating hype moments. Melee had storied chronicles at MLG even before the incidents discussed in that Twitlonger. As said in there, our scene had esports storylines, talent, and viewership even without publisher support. And “Typically, developers front some money themselves for a chance to run a circuit with companies like Redbull and Twitch. In this instance, we have Twitch and Redbull willing to put down a lot of money to run a circuit, and still, hardly anything comes from Nintendo.”
The company knows what a draw this IP has, what appeal to both casual and competitive gamers is held within the name “Super Smash Bros.” Nowhere else can Super Mario beat the stuffing out of Pikachu. Nowhere else can Ryu from Street Fighter give Sonic the Hedgehog a Shoryuken to the chin. Nowhere else can a lord from Fire Emblem lock blades with Minecraft Steve. Nowhere else can Sephiroth of Final Fantasy team up with Mega Man to do battle with Pac Man and Pikachu. Nintendo doesn’t need tournaments to sustain themselves, but they really want tournaments to need them if the events are going to exist anyway.
The suits at Nintendo are perfectly happy to get free advertising from events, but will put in no effort to help the competitive scene grow. Or worse, they’ll actively sabotage that scene. Boneheaded decisions like shutting down the PlayVS Ultimate circuit don’t hurt the company’s bottom line too much, you see, and so Nintendo has no reason to care. Other entities, like every tournament player and the companies mentioned in that Twitlonger, want to see Smash do well as an esport, but Nintendo doesn’t care either way. They’ll still be making millions just from future DLC sales from people that want to see Batman and Goku team up to fight Joker (from Persona 5) and a Barack Obama Mii Brawler or whatever.
Nintendo doesn’t give a rat’s ass if Smash tournaments do well, in other words. And they know that they can use copyright laws and their dragon’s hoard of lawyer gold to dispose of any peasants who get too uppity.
Effects on the Scene
The bottom of that Twitlonger has the same heading as this section. I’ll parrot that it’s a crying shame that Nintendo involvement in a grassroots event is generally regarded as a bad look. It means that no mods, even those that don’t impact gameplay at all like the Slippi platform, will be allowed. The “Universal Controller Fix” that has become the tournament standard for Melee would not be allowed at any Nintendo-sponsored event, nor would any other modification of their games.
Slippi is incidentally not just the Melee scene’s means of playing netplay in the midst of the COVID-19 nightmare – it also has replay support and can display stats, live or recorded. It’s the kind of labor of love that Nintendo despises, for whatever reason. It was seen as the future of Melee when it released, but that future will not come to pass so long as the scene is tethered to Nintendo in its current monstrous form.
Similarly, many Smash players see their preferred futures slipping away as Nintendo shuts down tournament after tournament. Many esports orgs have been dropping their Smash players and many top players have encountered difficulties in getting signed. Yes, it’s a privilege to be able to play a video game full time, but it’s one that I think people should be allowed to enjoy. Call me a communist socialist anarchist Marxist menace or whatever, but I think the development of skills that bring fulfilment to one and provide entertainment for many should be a viable career path. With Nintendo’s attitude in its current state, top players of their games are going to have to go into paths they’d rather not travel.
And with that attitude from the publisher of the games we love so much, the competitive Smash scene itself may not be around much longer. Four friends playing Melee teams on a CRT TV in a dimly-lit apartment may be the last remnants of that scene if Nintendo doesn’t change their tune soon. I’ve been one of those friends many times, and don’t mind being one once again, but I’d certainly still like to watch Smash on main stages of esports events for years to come. Will Nintendo allow this? That remains to be seen. Only sustained community pushback can convince them to back off.
The Case of Project M / P+
As stated in that first Twitlonger and in my previous article, there was no cease and desist issued by Nintendo to this fan-favorite mod of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. That was the community’s assumption at the time, but the “PM” dev team came out and denied it, stating that they just wanted to move on to bigger and better things. Of course, Nintendo would have had the power to issue that cease and desist order at any time during PM’s development, a threat that no doubt hung over every patch.
Now, a new story has broken: Chia of CLASH Tournaments released a Twitlonger detailing some backroom dealings that led to Chia being forced to stop streaming her favorite mod.
Note that Project M only ever came to be because Super Smash Bros. Brawl was intentionally made to be less competitive than its predecessor, adding great ideas like random tripping and removing mechanics like Melee’s directional air-dodges that led to “exploits” like wavedashing. I put “exploits” in quotes because Masahiro Sakurai himself knew about wavedashing and called it a “technique” in an official response to a forum post, as demonstrated by Melee YouTuber AsumSaus. Smash isn’t just a party game. The beauty of the series is its versatility – it works just as well on the main stage of a tournament as it does in your living room. But I digress.
I and many other players considered some patches of PM to be balance disasters, but in its most recent form, known as P+, it’s an absolute blast to play. Whether you’re a casual or competitive gamer, P+ is a massive improvement over vanilla Brawl. It could have had a long and storied chapter in the book of fan-created mods, but that chapter ends in countless torn pages. And even what remains is covered in censor’s ink.
Chia was pressured to stop streaming PM presumably because of Nintendo pressured Twitch to stop allowing the mod to appear on its site, but I can’t confirm that 100% of the way. We can 100% say, however, that it would be completely in character for them.
We’ve taken this brief detour as a character study of sorts, and as a means for me to explore other avenues than just questioning the sanity of Nintendo executives. I can’t understate how utterly astounded I am that Nintendo would shut down PlayVS’s Smash Ultimate tournaments.
The Smash Scene Has Given Much and Gotten Screwed
In my previous article on Nintendo’s C&D against The Big House, I detailed the case of Evolution 2013. Before that event, the Melee community raised nearly $100,000 for breast cancer research, edging out Skullgirls for the final mainstage tournament slot. Nintendo wanted to shut down Evo’s Melee tournament in the time between the donation drive and the event itself, then denied Evo Melee streaming rights for all of five hours until severe backlash prompted them to reverse this idiotic decision. I re-watched the Top Eight for that event recently and, though the metagame has obviously advanced significantly since then, I can confirm that it still holds up as one of the greatest Melee tournaments of all time. What an incredible set of storylines.
More recently, the Melee community raised $56,069.69 for charity in “Five Days of Melee,” prompting many to say, “Nice.” Streamer Ludwig Ahgren organized a charity netplay tournament that raised over $260K just a few days before the time of writing this piece. Almost five times as nice.
This community has given and given and given, not just to Nintendo, their games, and each other, but also to outside charities. And the response from the company that made our favorite game has been apathy at best. Anyone but Nintendo themselves would actively prefer apathy to what they’ve been doing “for” the Smash scene.
In shutting down PlayVS’s collegiate Smash circuit, they’ve once again shown themselves to be wildly out of touch. It’s clearly not just an issue of emulation, or pirating .iso files, or of wanting diehard fans to “move on” from Melee. They leave that last one to the Internet trolls who will never know the satisfaction of eviscerating a stock with Melee’s free-form movement and combos. I love Melee, have played it for years, and will continue telling people that it’s the best platformer and the best fighting game of all time at the same time.
But I also love Smash in general, a celebration not just of Nintendo, but of gaming in general. I love that within the code of Ultimate, so many theoretical inter-series gaming matchups can be tangibly settled among friends. I love hearing the sounds of every Smash game played through the loudspeakers of Super Smash Con, an event I’ve never missed. When Fox or Falco hit a “shine” that echoes through the venue and the player controlling them goes on to perform a stock-ending combo, getting the whole crowd to stand up and scream, I feel a passion burning within my very being, a fire in my stomach.
This is what Nintendo stands against, for whatever reason they’ve gotten into their heads. We’re past #FreeMelee now. Now it’s #SaveSmash… from the company that made it in the first place.
Statement from PlayVS:
In the past 24 hours, a screenshot of a communication from a PlayVS employee on our Discord server has been widely shared around the internet. We want to clarify that statement was not approved by PlayVS leadership and it contained a misrepresentation of the facts. PlayVS and Nintendo have been engaged in discussions about how to best support the competitive gaming community and help it grow. At no time has Nintendo expressed any desire to stifle this community.
We deeply regret that this statement has unfairly put Nintendo in a negative light. Nintendo has been an excellent partner to us and all of our conversations have revolved around adding to an already passionate community and never about taking anything away from the competitive Smash scene. We look forward to continued, fruitful discussions and collaborations in the future that elevate the esports space.