By David “Shears” Shears
Before 2015, Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 featured two “major” tournaments a year: Apex and Zenith. I like to use the term “major” loosely here because our attendance numbers were minor and consisted of a few dedicated legacy players with a majority of random entrants signing up for nostalgia and fun. Compared to its more popular sequels, 64 seemed more like the wacky, fun, party version people played casually rather than the competitive hallmark its devoted players hoped it would become. The start of 2014 was the beginning of a revival for 64 that took a significant turn upwards in mid-2015. Apex 2014 saw 64 break 100 entrants for the first time. This number has since become the standard Smash 64 majors strive for. Recent tournaments have offered much larger numbers with one event even breaking 200 players. Along with growth at major tournaments, more frequent events, and a strengthening presence of weekly local scenes has made 64 a rising stock in a growing market. Before 2015, 64 was openly treated as a side tournament that was stymied by infrequent events and poor attendance numbers. 2015 should be considered year 0 for this game and community, and everything before that is the Dark Ages. Before 2015, no serious efforts were made to grow the game and community or get it involved with the other major tournament series being played. The purpose of this article is to analyze recent major tournaments to find the source of recent growth, look at where the future of 64 is taking us, and analyze what steps need to be taken to make it one of the largest competitive games in North America.
The graph above shows the obvious growth of Smash 64 in the past four years. The sharp upwards turn can be seen as well, beginning in 2015. A linear regression of the above graph shows that each year, each major grows by 30 entrants. Excluding SSC 2015 as an outlier, we see each major grows by 44 entrants. The steady rise of attendance can be attributed to simply the presence of Smash 64. Exposure and inclusion have been the two driving forces behind the growth of the game. For people to attend tournaments they first have to be knowledgeable of the tournament’s existence and the players attending. As the de facto major, Apex shows that continued support for Smash 64 leads to improved numbers in subsequent years as evidenced by the near linear growth of the game. The ambition of the Smash 64 community coupled with the opportunity granted by major events has given the game enough exposure and persistent attendance to help grow year in and year out. In its twilight years Smash 64 is going through humble beginnings, starting with small numbers and being granted few luxuries, it has steadily built upon each event to quadruple attendance numbers from Apex 2012 to Genesis 3 in 2016. From side streams to main streams, from one tournament a year to dozens, the population of the Smash 64 community and its fans has grown to respectable levels with no signs of slowing down.
For many tournaments, registration data is lost or missing due to age or poor record keeping by event organizers. My research was able to gather registration numbers for a handful of events for which I was on staff for. There will be four major events dissected to give us a better look at 64, its growth, and what can be done to keep these graphs trending upwards and retaining the numbers we are seeing today.
Super Smash Con 2015: The beginning of a new era, SSC launched the future of 64. It marked the beginning of the Dreamland (DL) only ruleset. It also set a new standard for SSB events. In addition to Smash Bros. tournaments, the Convention included an arcade, shows, concert, panels, and more. It was the first in its series and had no brand or name recognition, which other major tournament series benfited from. It was announced late and featured primarily just East Coast players unsure of what to expect. Despite a lot of question marks going in, SSC was a huge success and set a new bar that all future tournaments would be expected to meet.
Genesis 3: A revival of an older tournament series, this tournament easily set the record for the most entrants. It was announced early and its initial announcement was branded with the attendance of Smash 64 legend Isai. This tournament featured the first International Player Fund which helped bring nine different top international players from several countries out to San Jose, CA to compete for international SSB64 gold. The smash.gg compendium also set new precedent by including a Smash 64 goal to fund Japan’s Wario’s trip to G3. Held in January when most 64 players were used to traveling to and attending Apex, this immediately became the default major 64 tournament to kick off each new year.
Pound 6: Like Genesis, the Pound series was a revival that set out to include 64 and was generally seen as an East Coast regional. A few top players were in attendance, but the tourney didn’t draw many cross country travelers. It was announced early and used a registration price model similar to the one employed by Genesis. Despite hitting respectable numbers, it didn’t have the allure of the year’s previous smash hit.
Shuffle VIII: A recurring Midwest tournament in Columbus, OH, Smash 64 was added and hit comparatively respectable numbers. It was in a region unknown for any 64 talent, but attracted some out of region East Coast players and despite its size, its numbers kept up with expected registration trends.
Genesis 3 used a fairly common multi-level registration price model, where the registration would increase a number of times throughout the duration it was open. Observing the statistics on these numbers shows that level increase helps keep fairly consistent registration number across each level as the average registrations per level so far hover between 40-50 entrants. Shuffle used only two registration levels and was open for the least amount of time. It is important for events to give players enough time to register and make room in their calendar or to save up money and plan, and to use incentive structures like price increases to lock in players at each level. Unlike every other major tournament Genesis had overwhelming numbers in its first level and first month open, and without coincidence Genesis announced itself and opened its registration unlike
every other major tournament by debuting with confirmed attendance of a legendary top player, Isai. Every major tournament for 64 has announced its registration opening and then as players register, announced the top players attending. The trend of increasing names being added to the registration list seems to coincide with the trend of increasing registration percents as the deadline counts down. Genesis helped kick start its registration by giving all players the biggest reason to attend: the presence of top talent. By waiting for top players to register, casual and mid-level players hold off their registration until they can confirm the event will be of a high caliber. This is why we see events like Pound and Shuffle with some of the worst early registration numbers compared to other major events. Top players do not want to register unless the numbers are good and they know it will be a big event, but the catch-22 here is that the numbers are waiting for the top players to register before they bother going to a low caliber event. The solution to this problem is to mimic Genesis. By announcing a top player along with registration it confirms the event to be high caliber and immediately captures the casual fans. This helps populate the numbers as well as attracting top players looking for a good challenge which compounds itself making the event much bigger than any other tournament by a factor of more than double.
Ultimately, total number of entrants is going to be largely set by the number of entrants a tournament can secure early on. If we compare SSC to Pound, they both had similar registration percents in their final month of registration, but SSC was 50 percent larger in total numbers because it managed to get 3 times as many registrants in its opening month. Compare that to Genesis and it more than doubles Pound in total entrants by securing nearly 50 percent of its registration in the first month. The answer to getting large early registration numbers and setting high total numbers: confirm top players early and use a multi-level registration price model while giving registrants enough time to register. Offering t-shirts and other bonus incentives to early registrations is another perk which may have helped Genesis in securing early registration.
Along with the increase in attendance numbers, 64 has seen an increase in featured tournaments. For years 64 was being added to only a couple events, but 2015 quickly saw a rise to where it is being featured in more events in the year than there are months on the calendar. With 2016 still underway the 15 major 64 events announced so far is expected to grow. You can find some of the already scheduled 64 majors at http://onlinessb.com/calendar. Even though 64 was included in some of the biggest Smash major tournaments for years, many may wonder what took so long for it to start being included at every major that could get their hands on 64.
Not only were there only a couple major 64 tournaments in a year before 2015, there were only a couple local and regional tournaments for 64. Before 2014 there was no known weekly 64 scene, there was no 64 mecca or city that anyone could point to as the beating heart of competitive 64. There were regions like SoCal, MDVA, Tristate, Florida, and Chicago, but none had any active scenes and their participation in 64 existed either at majors, online, or secretly at home. 64 was rarely ever streamed and unlike the other games, there was no known 64 streamer. If you wanted to watch 64 matches you had to dig through YouTube, if you wanted to watch live 64 you had to turn off the Super Bowl and
watch Apex. 64 existed in the shadows, in a small niche known by few and enjoyed by even fewer until Fall of 2014. In the Fall of 2014 Smash 64 got added to the Xanadu line up and would get frequent streaming on one of the most well known and popular smash streams in the world: VGBootCamp. At the time there were scenes with events in Canada and occasionally Los Angeles, CA but nothing that was being broadcast to the masses week in and week out until 64 started at Xanadu. The story of how 64 came to be at Xanadu is a long one and was described in more detail in an article I wrote for smashboards. This was the beginning of the console era for 64. Shortly after the weeklies had begun, Apex 2015 drew in the largest crowd 64 had ever seen by quite a margin. Shortly after Apex 2015, Super Smash Con was announced and weekly scenes began popping up everywhere. 2015 saw 64 exclusive majors like SNOSA, ODS, and Hitstun 3 join the list of large 64 tournaments with top talent from North America. A year before, 64 was a novelty for nostalgia, but with the growth it created itself in 2015 it caught some attention to become a hallmark of all of Smash. After SSC 2015, Team LAS quickly got to work getting 64 added to the prestigious and historic Genesis series for Genesis 3. With its success, TOs and community leaders for 64 were quickly being contacted to get 64 included in every major tournament possible which is evident by the overwhelming number of tournaments featuring 64 in 2016. With all these tournaments being added it felt like 64’s popularity was growing faster than its population and a big question for the community became: how can 64 keep up with its growth and future?
Sustainability is important for any community. Before you can have a million events, you need people that want to go to a million events and before tournaments were ready to put 64 on the event list they needed some numbers. How many entrants would be expected, what equipment would be needed, and what kind of retention rate is there between initial 64 tournaments and future 64 tournaments. A hard working member of the 64 community, Fireblaster, has been putting this data together for years to help compare numbers that can be used to present 64 to other event organizers.
The chart by Fireblaster details every entrant at each year’s biggest 64 tournament. It shows new entrants, recurring entrants, non consecutive recurring entrants, and one hit wonders who never came back for seconds. The chart is very encouraging for the growth of 64 as it shows the numbers are always increasing and the rate of retention has been growing as well, which may explain the exponential growth in attendance over the past couple years. It wasn’t until Genesis 3 that we saw a dip in retention rate, yet still a massive increase in total numbers. The dip in retention can largely be blamed on the geographical change for 64’s yearly super major tournament. Each Apex was located on the East Coast in a very accessible location in the footprint of competitive 64 while Genesis was the first West Coast super major and in a region that had no known competitive 64 scene at the time. These retention rates and total number increases are what make 64 sustainable for inclusion at major tournaments. The players and fans come back for more beatings and the top players never turn an opportunity down.
Concurrent and Unique viewer data provided by ShowdownSmash. 64 top 8 on 1/17/16
64 has seem an overwhelming growth in the past couple years and it seems there is certainly enough players and fans to keep it going. Its numbers and growth clearly demonstrate that 64 is sustainable and the investment on including 64 or announcing a top player can have great returns for a tournament series initially and long term. With all these great numbers and all these passionate, die hard fans, the big question is always going to be about marketability. People love to play 64, but do people love to watch it too?
For most tournaments, local or major, 64 is relegated to a side stream either officially or unofficially. For top 8 it has recently been included on the main stage with the main streamer. Numbers show that it is tremendous in comparison to the side streams. For a lot of these major streams, it is still a bit of hit in comparison to streaming Melee pools, but the numbers show many fans will tune in to 64 when it is available on a large broadcast. These numbers will help further the growth of 64 and help its marketability for smaller streams and hopefully turn it into a staple for main stage at super major tournaments in the future. The recent majors have hit respectable numbers for a small game with a short history. The 64 only side stream at Genesis, http://twitch.tv/la_smash, hit roughly 1,000 peak viewership and was promoted alongside all the other major and side streams, tweeted out by the Genesis twitter account and added to the official schedule. Meanwhile,
at Pound, the 64 only side stream, http://twitch.tv/thatsadarkhorse, only hit roughly 80 peak viewership and received no promotion or tweets by Pound. By this alone, official and unofficial promotion of a 64 stream greatly affects its viewership numbers. Granted, while the talent at each event was dramatically different, the numbers were even greater in difference than the talent and entrant totals present. Comparing the Top 8 viewership numbers on the main stage and main stream draws some big questions in the differences, but also shows that these main stages with proper promotion do far greater than their side stream counterparts. At Pound, 64 Top 8 had a peak viewership around 8,000 and began airing at 10 a.m. EST. At Genesis, 64 Top 8 had a peak viewership around 38,000 and began airing at 2 p.m. EST, not including the thousands watching in person at the San Jose National Civic Center. Certainly the presence and absence of Isai had something to do with the viewership numbers but the time slots for each are something that cannot be ignored. It will always be hard to get 64 better time slots until it becomes more marketable, but as we can see, proper talent and time slots makes streaming 64 far more attractive. Even a simple listing on the official streams tab or a casual tweet can change a stream from double digit viewers to quadruple digits. This game is growing at an alarming rate and with a little help along the way it can grow much faster.
In conclusion, 64 is an amazing game with an amazing community that is working hard to bring it to the levels of its sequels. It has hard working members and is getting great reception from events and fans. Super Smash Con 2016 is over 125 entrants with 4 months left in registration, projecting its final numbers to be around 400, and Shine 2016 in Boston, MA is expecting totals of 150+ with a few top players already confirmed to be in attendance. SSC is featuring another Internationl Player Fund looking to bring Peru to America for the first time and finally pit the two most talented 64 countries, Peru and Japan, against each other. You can help grow 64 and bring international talent to SSC by donating at http://funding.onlinessb.com. 2017 will be even bigger than 2016. With proper promotion, announcements, and planning, 64 can become the next big competitive fighting game. Suggestions to continue growth and marketability: announce 64 registration early with a top player already in attendance, bring out international talent, use registration levels to lock in early numbers, promote 64 side streams through social media, give 64 main stage stream time even if it is early morning, and make sure to give its players and fans good treatment and all the basic resources other main events get.
In the end, the game and its growth is in the hands of its players and fans. It is the duty of the current community to come out in full force to every major tournament they can attend, to register early and show their support, and to be respectful guests of the events they attend and prove to event organizers 64 is a game that deserves to be at every major tournament. The future of 64 is now.
If you would like to get involved with 64 or learn more about its players, community, or the game and its differences between other smash games check out these references or feel free to follow me on twitter at https://twitter.com/ssbshears
Resource for everything 64: http://onlinessb.com
NA SSB64 Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/USAssb64/
64 Mega post by pidgezero_one: http://tinyurl.com/ssb64guides
Smashboards 64 section (there is still a ton of information here): http://smashboards.com/forums/super-smash-bros-64.11/
North American 64 Elo Rankings: http://elorankings.com/rankings.aspx?id=2190&all=1
SSC 2016: http://supersmashcon.com
Shine 2016: http://smash.gg/shine