Changing the Game: Cultivating the Landscape of Super Smash Bros.

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Image by Robert Paul
By David “Shears” Shears

How big is Smash? That depends on which area of Super Smash you look at. Super Smash Bros. the community is very small. Super Smash Bros. the series by Nintendo is massive. Throughout its history, Nintendo has sold over 39 million copies of the Smash Bros. franchise: 5 million copies of 64, 7 million copies of Melee, over 13 million copies of Brawl and nearly 14 million copies of Smash 4 so far. However, the r/smashbros subreddit, likely the biggest collection of Smashers online, doesn’t even have 250,000 subscribers. This is a drop in the bucket, potentially only 0.6% of people who own a Super Smash Bros. game are aware of the competitive Smash Bros. community. There are more people who love and play Smash and have never seen the Smash Brothers documentary than there are people on the planet who know of Mang0 or Isai.

I often meet people at bars, on Tinder or running into an old friend and catching up on life, and nearly everyone I talk to loves and remembers or plays at least one version of Super Smash Bros. When in conversation with these strangers or old acquaintances, I tell them about how much of my free time is spent traveling the world and competitively playing one of the most popular video games ever made. Nearly every single person is convinced they are gods at these games, but none of them know of any advanced techniques, top players or even events that happen in the cities they have lived in for years. In college you could go down the hall and run into any random dorm room and there was likely a Nintendo 64 or GameCube along with a copy of Smash. I often played people in college, destroying them with ease; it was a good way to hustle beer money. But these people who love the game exist everywhere, are part of all demographics and are thirsty to play people they know they are better than. The problem is the community is niche and inaccessible. When we look at attendance, we see numbers even worse than on reddit. The biggest events cannot break 5,000 attendees despite having over 100,000 viewers at home. These events are virtually nonexistent to Nintendo compared to its tens of millions of customers worldwide. This is why Nintendo does not care much about competitive Smash, because it fails to add any significant growth or profit margins. The entire Smash community is an obscure, small and negligible fraction of its customers.

Shears Chart I

Shears Chart II

Does size matter? For sustainability, not too much. At both Genesis 3 and Genesis 4, the convention center was shared with other events the same weekend. For G3 it was FurCon, for G4 it was NeedleArts. One is a known but very niche community, often seen as a strange fetish, and the other is a hobby I never knew existed until I got to G4. What is most interesting about both of these events is that their attendance was about the same as the number of entrants at both G3 and G4. There are two sides to this coin. These hobbies and communities exist all over the world and their biggest yearly conventions take place with comparable numbers and have been growing for years. With Smash in the same ballpark as far as numbers go this is very encouraging for sustainability. NeedleArts does not need tens of thousands of fans and neither does FurCon. They get 0 viewers on Twitch, they do not need YouTube ad revenue and with conventional advertisement, sponsorship and a loyal fan base, both of these communities thrive and stay sustainable.

In a way our Smash community is like this, but the big difference is we should not be. We should not be as small or as niche. This is one of the most popular game series in the world with loads of income sources via Twitch, YouTube, merchandise, sponsors, loyal customers, etc. and yet its competitive community cannot beat out people who like dressing in animal costumes or stitching a Christmas stocking. This is not because daddy Nintendo refuses to tweet us out or give us money, it is because we are doing something wrong and these much smaller communities are doing something right to compete with us in size. Is Smash sustainable? Yes. Is Smash significant? No. Go out to any public event whether it is a bar, carnival, music festival or whatever and ask people if they are a furry. More often than not they will say, “no,” or ask, “what is a furry?” Do the same with NeedleArts and you will be hard pressed to find a single person that has ever heard of that convention. Now compare these results to asking people if they love Super Smash Bros. and you will find just about every person you meet knows of the game and an overwhelming majority love it. So how does this change?

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Credit: Ronan Lynam.com

I have a million and one ideas on what is needed for growth in Smash and much of it has to do with local traditional advertising, viral marketing, social media ads, new event structures, better fan and competitive experiences, traditional sponsorships and more. All these ideas focus on tapping into the already indoctrinated fans of Smash, the ones who played it as children when it first came out or are still playing it but unaware of the competitive community. The random scrubs who can beat all their friends and so they must be gods. There are millions of these people out there and Smash has been struggling to bring them in. The 100k viewers on Twitch watching G4 or the 250k on reddit that saw the event page and announcements knew of G4, they knew who was going, they knew how much the trip would cost them, they knew how much fun people have at these events and they KNEW that they did not want to attend.

The current strategy in Smash is to try and convince people who know of an event and do not want to go to change their mind and attend anyway. It is shouting into the echo chamber of reddit, Twitter and Smash Facebook groups. It is like asking a girl out, her saying no and then asking again as if her mind has changed. You are not going to draw someone away from their high school sweetheart. They picked Melee as their first love, or League of Legends, or Marvel vs. Capcom. Players rarely switch to entirely new Smash games and top players from other games rarely have any interest in even competing in Smash. Instead of asking the same girl out we need to ask out the fans of Smash who have no other hobby, the ones who are not married to other games or know of the competitive scene and deliberately choose not to attend. Remember, 39 million copies sold yet Smash routinely panders and markets to the 0.6%. While these are growth opportunities, they cannot be long term efforts and reliable systems to continue bringing new players in. Influx of Smash fans depends on Nintendo’s release of the next game. There is no system in place to morph casual people into new community members and this kind of player source is what I believe to be a very important step in the sustainability and growth of the Smash community as a whole.

This past weekend I organized and played in an event that was unlike any event I have seen or been to. Many members of my region, MVP (Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania), drove out to face off against our neighboring rival region, MOMS (Masters Of Midwest Smash), meeting at a halfway point for the two scenes. Instead of a standard tournament with winners taking home cash, mid-level players attending with the hopes of just doing a little bit better than last time and low-level players having basically no hope at anything but a sad 0-2, we ran the event similar to a track and field meet. This regional dual meet was exclusive, we wanted to hit home the rivalry and really give attention to the players from each region. Instead of first place going home with 50 percent of the prize pool, they instead earned points for the team along with a handful of side events, bonus scoring categories and points via money matches and social media. The team with the most points at the end of the weekend took home a majority share of the prize pool to be divided amongst everyone.

Instead of one player taking all the money, everyone who attended and competed truly helped support the event and their region and went home a winner. It wasn’t about a top player, it was about the region and the team and everyone who helped contribute to that. Every single person who attended helped their team in some way, whether it was winning a MM versus another low skilled player from the rivalry region or outperforming their seed. The little guys were important contributors to the team just like the PR players that normally dominate regional events. Individual winners still got awards as we had ribbons for Top 8 of each event and in the end it built strong regional pride and camaraderie. We also used a portion of the budget to get pizza and soda for all attendees to socialize and get to know each other for true sportsmanship and a respectable rivalry. This new event helps build a team and a team brings people together to keep coming out and fall in love with their community and the game.

The reception of this event and how it felt for me has inspired me to start running this style event more often and push it to the rest of the community, but I started thinking about how much further this can go. The entirety of it stemmed from my own personal experiences running track in high school, being on a team, contributing to that team’s performance and traveling to face off against other nearby teams to decide who was the best. I was not in it for money, I did want victory, I did want the plaques, awards and trophies, but I did want my hometown to be respected, my school to be feared and my teammates to do well. It was about school spirit and building inward support for your team. But it was not only about my performances, it was about the team as a whole. When we won our meets and victory came down to one of the little guys outperforming their time and upsetting another runner to steal a point here or there, it became a special moment. Everyone went home a winner and people that were not the best still mattered and became a part of something. This is what I wanted to capture with MVP vs. MOMS and I believe we succeeded.

The venue for MVP vs. MOMS was offered to us for free with the agreement that our attendees would like and subscribe to their social media as well as watch and like a couple of their YouTube videos. Coincidentally, one of the videos they specified for us to watch was about getting esports into high schools. With our event being modeled after high school competitions and meets, this video really matched up with what had been on my mind. It delivers the idea that if you can have teams of players in sports going to other high schools to compete, then the same can be done for esports. It is no different when you think about it. A singles and doubles tournament combining for a total team score and a team victory is like a track meet where individuals run to score points for their team and have a relay race with a few of their teammates to maximize their team’s points. Our event model translates perfectly to esports clubs for high school and is a tried and true system that has proven to work.

For me, I never had video games as a kid, never played them as my mom did not believe in them. I did not own any Smash Bros. games or consoles until the very end of 2014 when I bought an N64 and SSB64 off craigslist. My life as an adolescent was spent mostly playing sports, being in different rec leagues and subsequently on middle school and high school sports teams. These systems are simple, especially since they are mostly designed as after school programs. Every parent wants to get their kid into these so they stay away from less savory activities. I see no reason Smash cannot become a part of this. Many schools already have video game clubs or Lego robotics clubs, but instead they run them as hobbies instead of competitive programs. With minimal effort, these can be turned into after school programs where students play and practice, and on weekends a bus is rented to meet at other schools and the kids spend their days playing each other and earning victories for their teams.

Leagues and divisions are created locally and competitions held much like our events already, the same way our major tournaments are held. MVP, rookie of the year, best sportsmanship and many other awards can be easily created and distributed to these high school esports athletes. Most schools get public funding, especially for their athletic departments, and so these events and programs do not even need the overhead and dependant entrant support that our current majors do. On top of creating organizations for Smash we create an avenue for growth. Younger fans of the games have an easy way into the game, stepping in at their youth through these programs and then pursuing either careers in Smash or becoming lifetime fans like we see for football, basketball, and other traditional sports. These kids begin playing at young ages, practicing and becoming the best. The floor of competition rises across the community as well as the ceiling and the pros of today are the scrubs of tomorrow.

Smash is already one of the most popular games of all time, kids are already playing it, and a model and system already exist to take Smash to an entirely new level; we just need to take the next step and begin pushing it into these new domains. People are Hungrybox fans, they are not Liquid fans. If Hungrybox leaves Liquid for another team most fans will follow the next team; these “teams” are just a label and fail to truly capture what a high school or professional sports team are. When Peyton Manning left the Colts, people in Indianapolis were still Colts fans. Sure they still love Manning and follow him but they did not divorce the team they followed because it is a part of their home. A high school team is a part of a person’s home, it is where they grew up, where their family and friends are and something they root for for the rest of their lives.

With this system in place it becomes easy to institute the same system for club and rec levels locally, much like we have done for MVP and MOMS regions. There is a hometown regional pride that is synonymous with local sports team pride; whatever brand or sponsor is thrown onto that, whichever players come and go, it does not change the pride a person has for the place they call home. It stimulates more love for Smash, more commitment to it and it creates a stream of new players in every generation to become part of our competitive community. Our youth is the future and if we fail to create an accessible community and system for them Smash retires when we do.

Featured Image by Robert Paul
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The Path of the Desert Wanderer

Things are happening down in Lake Havasu. Havasu Smash has been going at it with their weekly tournaments for over a year now and the top dogs have mostly remained the same. Over 50 weekly tournaments have happened and until recently, there’s only been one player to win those tournaments. Daniels. Well now, things might be changing. Other players are now challenging him for the throne.

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In 2009, 3 of the leaders of what would today become Havasu Smash lined up for first period freshman PE Class. Daniels, Dusttin and Aces all met in that first class of their high school years. All of which were there when the Nintendo 64 was brought out of the closet in 2014. They all played on an HD TV for a year before they discovered the competitive scene. At the start of 2015 Havasu Smash as we know it, was born.

Dusttin, friends with Cody Daniels, became one of the top players in Havasu as a Fox player. Back in 2015, Dusttin’s Fox quickly became king in the Havasu community. Daniels and Dusttin would battle for supremacy with Green and Purple Foxes on the HD TV. As more players became involved in the scene, Dusttin took a short hiatus but he then returned stronger. He began teaming with his long time friend Daniels at tournaments such as ODS I and Snosa. Following ODS I and Genesis 3, Havasu started their weekly tournaments and began the local competitive drive Dusttin and other players needed to get better.   

19184408_1415938795119565_209521318_nAfter the weeklies started, the birth of the Power Rankings were soon to follow. The top 4 on the list consisted of Daniels, Dusttin, Aces and SonicFuzz. Daniels and Dusttin battled it out in Fox dittos for many games of their sets in the early days of the weeklies. Until around Havasu Smash 10, when Dusttin picked up and quickly learned the way of the Rat, Pikachu. Daniels believed Dusttin started going Pikachu in their matches, instead of their tradition of going Fox dittos week after week, because he now believed he had what it took to take Daniels down. Dusttin, Aces and Sonicfuzz battled it out for their spots in the top 4. Many tournaments and months had passed and nobody had yet taken a set off of Daniels. Until July 16, 2016. Havasu Smash 19 was going as expected when Dusttin pulled out Pika to face Daniels in winners finals. He made history upsetting Daniels 3-2 and advancing to Grand Finals where he fell just short of winning the whole tournament. Dusttin made history by taking the first set, but was not satisfied as he wanted to be the one to take the first tournament. Sonicfuzz followed by making his mark on history by taking his first set off of Daniels. It seemed that Daniels was getting closer than ever to losing his first tournament. Come Havasu Smash 28, the day had come when Dusttin and Daniels battled it out for 3 sets before Dusttin won and made a lasting impression on Havasu Smash. To this day Dusttin has been the only one to take a tournament off of Daniels. He’s taken a total of two tournaments off of him with more than 10 sets as well. The only other player to take a set of Daniels is Sonicfuzz.

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Dusttin (Left Center) and Aces (Right Center) face off with the Havasu Crew.

Dusttin has attended multiple majors including both ODSs, Snosa and Genesis 4. He teamed with Stranded at ODS 2 and they made a run to 9th place before being eliminated by team CodyKeroppi. Dusttin has slowly been climbing his way up through the ranks of the Smash Bros. community and was on the cusp of making bracket at Genesis 4 and Snosa. He’s leveled up in the months since Genesis 4. We expect a great showing when he and the Havasu scene travel out to Snosa 3 on June 16. Daniels and Dusttin will once again team at Snosa 3. Tune in to  the Super Smash Bros 64 League Twitch to see how Dusttin and the Havasu Smash Scene perform at Snosa 3.

Philosophy Corner with The Dark Gentleman: BarkSanchez

By: The Dark Gentleman

“Nothing is a free win.”

 

Hello 64 fans! This is part three of my interview series, Philosophy Corner with The Dark Gentleman, hosted by The Smash Writers. Below is the best of my conversation with BarkSanchez, just in time for Lets Go! The consistently dangerous Pikachu main will be defending his region later on this week.

 

Dark Gentleman: Bark! Let’s talk a little bit about how you got into competitive 64. How did you get your start?

BarkSanchez: That’s a weird kind of question because if you’re talking competition, I didn’t get into the scene until the end of 2014 when Shears made his famous craigslist post. He basically posted an angry ranting challenge that read something like, “I’m a Smash God in 64, if you can beat me I’ll give you twenty bucks.”

Dark Gentleman: So you really did find out about the greater Smash 64 scene by seeing a craigslist post?

BarkSanchez: Yea basically before that my brother, Darkhorse, and I had been going to a weekly bar tournament with widescreen TVs etc. They had Smash 64 and a lot of other classic games. There was a guy there called “Teflon Ron” who they called the “Smash King.” DarkHorse beat him pretty badly and they started calling [Darkhorse] the “Kingslayer.” That was pretty much the extent of our competitive experience before one of the players at the bar found Shears’s craigslist post. He was basically like, “You guys can beat this guy, right?”

 

Dark Gentleman: You’re lucky enough to have a brother who is also high level at 64. How much did playing with him in the early days impact your future competitive mindset?

BarkSanchez: Darkhorse and I have been competing against each other our whole lives. We always wanted to beat each other and he always had the upper hand. I’ve always kind of attributed my style to playing with him. He’s very mind game oriented which helped me develop a strong mental game. Earlier on he used to mop the floor with me. You think of all the top players in 2014 when we started, those core top players like Isai, Boom, Tacos, Wizzrobe…they’ve been playing competitively for so long. If we had that level of talent that long ago I’m curious as to where we’d be now.

Dark Gentleman: I’m sure there’s a lot of players out there right now who feel the same. I know I do. That depth of experience just counts for so much.

BarkSanchez: I think if Darkhorse travelled to as many tournaments as I do he would be much closer to my level. Travelling and playing many different players can give anyone a huge advantage. I think that’s why so many people are going to online 64 now since it gives them exposure to more high level players and that really helps.

 

Dark Gentleman: You are one of the most travelled players in the current meta. Having played so many people, how has that changed your style? How would you describe your gameplay in 2017?

BarkSanchez: Well Revan calls it “dumb.” I’m always looking for something kind of dumb or unorthodox. Back in the day if I saw something I liked I always tried to add it to my game. It turned my game into kind of a patchwork of styles-and most people I play now are not ready for all the different options I use. At this point I’ve tried to move away from collecting styles like that and it’s more about bringing out more original additions to the meta. Introducing new things to people that can work in their game…and mine.

 

Dark Gentleman: What does it mean to you to expand the meta? Can you say more on that?

BarkSanchez: To explore parts of characters that people haven’t seen yet that can be applied to competition. Think about the down Bs with Pika. Its kind of a dumb move but it’s useful and people haven’t seen that til now. Also, some of the weird up B angles I do with Pika. People have started calling it the “BarkSanchez” when it’s really just a basic angle but not a lot people do them. A couple years ago people just used to up B straight up and straight to the stage. Banze was one of the only ones using innovative zip zaps. Wario was also pretty big for the Pika meta with his ledge cancels and zip zaps.

Dark Gentleman: Are there any practical examples from the Pika meta you can explain for our readers?

BarkSanchez: So in the Pikachu ditto, he has a kind of a rock-paper-scissors triangle in neutral between up air, down air, and back air. Most Pikas will strictly stick to up air, because it’s the safer option with the disjointed hitbox and what not. However, I think a lot of people can actually get destroyed by Pikas that know how to successfully space [and use] back air. It gets beat head to head by up air, but back air has better duration and reaches further. I guess in that regard it’s an example of a less safe option becoming very strong if you really know how to use it. Of course if you run into a player with amazing up airs you might get destroyed, but then you have to mix it up.

Dark Gentleman: Lets talk about some of your results. At Frame Perfect Series 2 you won a huge set against Wizzrobe, one of the best players in the USA. Would you describe that as your biggest win yet?

BarkSanchez: You know, everyone jokes about the Kero win, but this win against Wizzrobe is probably bigger. As a very volatile player, I’m always looking at my opponent trying to figure out how well they’re playing on that day. I can always tell when someone is a little bit shook, or not on their game. When I played Wizzy, I don’t think I got his best, but at the same time, I followed through. I used to be very bad at that. I’d take a game from someone very good, and feel in it, but then I’d let it slip away. I’m getting better at punishing players for not giving me their best.

Dark Gentleman: That’s awesome. Is there anything you can tell us about the mental game in that set?

BarkSanchez: If we’re talking about mentality, I kind of snapped when I first played Wizzrobe that day. In the first set he five stocked and four stocked me. In the second set he was up 2-1 (set count) and was up 2 stocks in game 4. I was just sitting there telling myself “I’ve been here before. Alright, if I’m gonna lose, why am I gonna make it this easy on him?” And I just snapped. Right there. I felt like “I don’t have to let him win. I don’t have to sit here and take this.” And I got the comeback and won that game 4. And I think he kind of lost it after that.

 

Dark Gentleman: I think there’s a lesson in there for every player, whether they’re going up against the best person at their local, or competing in a major.

BarkSanchez: A lot of people at the higher level will kind of sleep on their opponents. Hopefully I’m opening some eyes here but nothing is a free win. Just because you beat someone last time, and the time before, and the time before that, doesn’t mean you’re going to beat them today.

 

Dark Gentleman: Are there any players or wins that you’re really targeting for this year?

BarkSanchez: I guess there are two players I’d like to get a rematch with and see if I can’t work some magic. Banze, I played him at G3 and embarrassed myself in the first game. However, times are changing and I’d love to play him again. I also think Dext3r was really fun to play against and I think if I got him on a good day I could take him down.

Dark Gentleman: Let’s Go! is this coming weekend. As a quick wrap up, do you have any predictions for yourself?

BarkSanchez: Shears doesn’t think I’ll place top 8. I feel there’s an outside chance I could make top 3.

Dark Gentleman: I hope to see an impressive run from you. Thanks for doing this interview and I’ll see you at Let’s Go!

 

TDG Conclusion:

First of all let me just say: BarkSanchez is a great guy to talk about Smash with. If you ever have the chance to interact with him at a Smash event, I highly recommend that you do so. And with the great number of tournaments Bark attends, odds are good that you’ll meet him, possibly even in bracket. His commitment to competition is probably one of the biggest defining factors in regards to his status as a high level player. I think Bark is a great example of a player who is simply willing to put in the work and get good. If you play Super Smash Bros. on N64, then BarkSanchez is willing to travel to wherever you are and try to beat you.

Bark is a part of a new wave of high level 64 players who didn’t start competing during the legacy era when tournaments were scarce and the community mostly just existed online. I’d say he’s proof that a Smash player participating in tournaments with friends at a bar can make it to the big stage and start taking some of the big names. It kind of makes you wonder, is that next top player somewhere out there? Is there a future top player still playing on an HDTV in 2017, without having the slightest idea about the competitive 64 scene?

He has an easy-going nature when you talk to him, but Bark is a fierce competitor in-game. He learns from his losses, and builds towards wins. He isn’t a player that wants to coast on his achievements, he embraces the climb. Going into Lets Go!, a tournament in his own backyard that is shaping up to be one of the biggest 64 events of 2017, Bark will be looking to continue his ascent. A lot of talented players will be standing in his way. I’m sure he’s looking forward to the challenge.

Top Picture: BarkSanchez (Right) speaks with Alvin (Left) prior to their match at CEO Dreamland. Credit: Helloitsli Photography