Smash Community Riots as Nintendo Interference in Esports Is Revealed

by in Fighting Game News | Nov, 30th 2020

The Super Smash Bros. competitive community is up in arms after it’s become clear that Nintendo has been interfering with the growth of its scene for years. This was long suspected and even a thinly guarded secret amongst the top levels of the Smash scene, but now an anonymous account of various Nintendo negligence or outright stoppage of competitive events has been released publicly and confirmed by various members of the scene. 

This has led to a massive revolt in the Smash community, kicked off by the #FreeMelee movement, but now with a match thrown into what’s already been a volatile situation. 

What Were the Allegations Released Anonymously?

The allegations against Nintendo released by the anonymous smasher claiming inside information included a number of times that the company had actively gotten involved with then pulled away from the Smash esports scene. 

The anonymous person does note that they are not a journalist, but that they have verified the allegations against Nintendo it with several members of the Smash community, along with what they’ve heard. All of this should be taken with a small grain of salt at least, as despite the corroboration from key members of the community, it’s still a rumor until confirmed otherwise. 

“For the longest time, it’s been known that Nintendo has wanted to avoid supporting the Smash esports scene in a way that helps us grow past the grassroots level,” the Smasher said in a Twitlonger. “Nintendo is this entity that, for cultural or financial reasons, has simply chosen to not get involved in esports with Smash, at least not on the level that publishers get involved in most major esports. We’ve heard quotes from top executives at Nintendo many times about their disinterest in competitive gaming. We accept this because it is their intellectual property and they can have whatever vision they see fit for it.”

Here are just some of the allegations that Nintendo is accused of in interfering with licensing for events, per the Twitlonger.

ELeague – The organization that has brought Counter-Strike, Street Fighter, and many other games to ESPN, had attempted to throw a large event for Smash. In the end, they only got rights to re-broadcast the E3 Ultimate invitational. My source explained to me that the rebroadcast rights served mostly as a consolation from Nintendo, as Nintendo wasn’t cooperating on allowing them to run a more meaningful Smash event.

HTC – after HTC Throwdown, a successfully capped one-day event ran by HTC esports, they had an interest in running a Smash circuit with more money than we had ever seen in Smash. However, because an official Nintendo/Twitch Circuit was “just about finalized”, HTC was asked to instead aim to sponsor the main circuit rather than run a competing circuit. Thus, HTC backed out on running this circuit under the expectation that a Twitch/Nintendo circuit would come to fruition. As we now know, this circuit never came to be, as I will discuss in the Twitch section below.

ESL – ESL Made an attempt to work with Nintendo to run its own circuit/league, but Nintendo was largely unresponsive. They tried making meaningful contact with the company, prepared decks to sell the idea, but it couldn’t go anywhere as Nintendo would not respond. I think it’s interesting to note that Nintendo was willing to have Splatoon on ESL. To me, this shows that Nintendo will support scenes that don’t thrive on their own, like Splatoon and ARMS, but they won’t touch Smash because they can hang back and reap the benefits that we create as a grassroots community, essentially letting us do all the work, while doing nothing to help us get bigger.

MLG – In 2015, MLG held an event with Melee, and later with Smash 4. According to my source, MLG did not continue working with Smash Melee after MLG Anaheim in 2015 because Nintendo wanted to charge a $50k licensing fee per event, over double the asking rate for Street Fighter IV, a much more modern game at the time. This practice to me seems like a way to effectively shut down Melee at MLG without directly preventing them from running it. I would also assume that this fee would be charged, and no real support would be provided by Nintendo, as has been been the case with some of our grassroots events.

Pro Smashers Corroborate the Allegations, Claim Hope Is Lost for Smash Esports

The competitive Smash community responded predictably to the claims of Nintendo interference – namely, they were furious, but also said that the allegations were almost 100% true with a few minor inconsistencies. 

“One or two things that are not completely accurate with the anonymous post,” Leffen said in a 17 minute rant on the subject. “It’s “extremely accurate overall due to the way it lines up so perfectly with what myself and many, many friends whom I trust have said about Nintendo and what’s been happening in the last five or ten years.”

Others are saying that Smash esports is likely dead, especially during the pandemic. Juan “Hungrybox” Dibiedma called out Nintendo in a blistering opinion video called 

“Slippi is the only form of Melee we have right now during a pandemic. For a game like Melee, whose life blood and life source as a competitive scene is based around tournaments that happen in person… Slippi was the only chance Melee had to live during the pandemic,” Hungrybox said. 

This builds on what he’s previously said about the situation, which included the following quote that’s sure to raise a few eyebrows at Nintendo, if they ever bother to watch the video that is.

“Why are you taking away the one thing this community has left? What is to be gained? Do you think it affects sales of Ultimate? Nintendo, you are a company. We haven’t seen eye to eye on so many things, and I get that there are legal ramifications, but instead of just going so far as to pluck this beautiful spectator sport away from the last clutches of what we have, why not compromise? What is truly the big deal about this? The people are simply showing you what we’ve desired this whole time – an online form of Melee. An online form of any Smash game that has a decent netcode that allows us to enjoy the game from a distance, especially in the time of a crisis. And frankly, I won’t stand for it. The one chance that people had to grind the game, more so than ever before against people with beautiful netcode, and you’re telling me that’s gone? Then what chance does Melee have? If this is the case, Melee online and Melee in a pandemic can no longer exist.”

The Road Forward

The sad truth is there’s really not much that the Smash community can do beyond continue to give Nintendo negative feedback and PR on the situation until they change their minds on their own. As Smash is their IP, they can do whatever they wish with regards to who streams their game, runs events, officially sponsors tournaments, and more. 

Of course, grassroots events will still continue to run once it’s safe to do so, when COVID ends, but the future of online events is very much in question. There are signs that the community is going to continue to fight back, such as the Ludwig Ahgren Championship Series 3, an online melee tournament being run for charity. The community has already raised over $45,000 for this event, and should Nintendo cancel it, it would be PR backlash on the same level as the near-cancellation of Evo 2013. 

However, with major events like The Big House Online being outright canceled, there’s really not much hope for other major online Melee events going forward, especially those at scale. While Nintendo might not act aggressively against each and every one, they certainly wouldn’t promote these events using NintendoVS if they don’t outright send cease and desist letters to each one. And there’s not much hope of legal recourse either. Big N has legions of lawyers ready to fight such cases and a small grassroots tournament organizer almost certainly doesn’t have the kind of capital nor would it be prudent for them to spend it fighting what would likely be an open and shut case unless the argument was for emulation to be legal. Such a battle would likely be tied up in courts for months (or even years) easily passing the original date of the tournament in the first place. 


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