With the recent release of Super Smash Bros for Wii U, the Smash community has entered a weird transitional phase, as new players flood in to play the new game, old fans adapt and start breaking open Sm4sh while others continue playing previous installments, with some denouncing Sm4sh as terrible and the end of all things. In terms of Nintendo itself, there is a tension between their marketing teams, as they start to sponsor tournaments and finally cater (if very slowly) towards the competitive scene, while Sakurai seems very resistant to nurture the competitive side of Smash. As for actual tournaments, big grassroots events like APEX seem to be missing the crowd favourite Project M, causing fans to cry that the game is dead and that those that are supposedly dedicated to it, are leaving to play Sm4sh. So, is Super Smash Bros in danger of falling apart?
To be honest, no. Any competitive community goes through a period of change and uncertainty when a new installment comes out, as old and new fans meet and the game is collectively broken open to find its juicy tech and secrets. However, the Smash community has a weird flaw that every new installment since Melee seems to herald the apocalypse. Some members of the old guard claim that it is not as good as Melee and go out of their way to dismiss it entirely, new fans cling to the new member of the Smash family and defend it to the hilt, while most people just play the game and enjoy it for what it is. You go into any r/smashbros subreddit thread which tries to discuss the competitive possibilities of the new Smash or how it measures up to previous titles, and you can expect bile and vitriol to eventually appear. For some odd reason, there seems to be an inability of some members of the Smash community to understand that not everyone likes Melee, or Project M or whatever, and that it is okay to play and enjoy something different.
Especially in the case of Sm4sh, due to the fact that the game is not as offence-based as Melee or Project M and may be slower, it is automatically less of a ‘competitive’ game and is considered bad, according to the opinion of some armchair professionals. While it is the case that Melee is faster and Sm4sh may not have the amount of advanced technical options as previous games, this does not make it more or less competitive. It makes it less technical, and maybe even less complex (even though that is debatable at this early stage in the game’s life cycle) but a game’s competitiveness is not determined by whether you can wave-shine or not. Competitiveness is determined based on if the players of said game make it competitive. Take something like Rock, Paper, Scissors. You only ever have three options in that game, yet players have created world championships and held massive tournaments over some basic game mechanics. While it is true that a game’s complexity does help it become competitive, the number of advanced techniques is not the be all and end all of whether a game can be competitive. Sm4sh is merely something different, and the game should be left to grow and develop its own meta, without people with an axe to grind hacking it down because you can’t chain grab.
This is the kind of community tribalism that hurts everyone.
What is even worse, is the snide and holier than thou attitude of some community members, that a certain game in the series is ‘bad’ and that players of that game are somehow lesser for playing it. That attitude helps absolutely no-one and only seeks to drive people away from the series. By all means be critical and don’t like something, but don’t be rude to other players for playing something different. You almost never see this attitude in other communities, like Street Fighter 4 players being mocked by Third Strike players just because you can’t parry or that the game is more defence based, so why should the Smash community be different?
Anyway, enough about community negativity, let’s look at how Nintendo itself is fractured on how to support Sm4sh. It is clear that Nintendo want to ride the Sm4sh hype wave for as long as possible, and the way to do this is by sponsoring and supporting the competitive scene. Expect more events like the E3 Invitational and regional events, as they actually try to adapt to the competitive community and play the years of catch up that should have been spent nurturing the Melee scene, akin to Capcom with Street Fighter and Arc System Works with Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. Whether Nintendo will actually treat the competitive scene properly, keeping abreast of meta game shifts and actually turning items off for whole tournaments remains to be seen, but the problem is that the game’s director seems very resistant to making Smash a competitive fighter. This was revealed in a recent interview, which caused a great hullabaloo when a section of it was mistranslated, making it seem like Smash has no future for players who want it to be solely a competitive fighter. The translation was the opposite, as Sakurai actually said that Smash has ‘no future’ if it is only marketed towards competitive players, as the joy of Smash comes from players of any skill level being able to pick up and play it very quickly.
However, the interview did reveal that Sakurai seemed very resistant to the idea of making Smash competitive, stating that the ‘painful feelings’ of losing is how ‘the user base shrinks’ and that making Smash more like a sport would cause the game to taper off to be only for the hardcore. While this may be true, the addition of advanced techniques on top of a simple set of core mechanics does nothing to effect the casual audience. Casual players will continue to play the game how they want to play, while there is an advanced level for competitive players to strive for. Smash will remain popular due to the competitive audience who want to push it to the limit (just look at Melee), and Sakurai’s attitude that fans of Smash should just simply find another game is a bit disconcerting.
Moreover, what’s more irritating is that Sakurai’s design choices are now holding the game back from really being the casual party game/competitive fighter that players in both camps want. The randomised custom moves which cannot be unlocked in a reliable way, single player modes which are downright boring, cluttered menu designs and the real lack of understanding towards the competitive scene only seek to hurt the game’s future. By all means keep him on as a consultant, but his director role should be given to someone who understands both camps and who will better collaborate with others to produce something amazing. Melee only became the success it is due to the consultation of HAL Laboratory and a large amount of luck. Also, the man needs a break, he almost worked himself to death working on Sm4sh and he deserves a huge rest as a reward.
If you look at B.E.A.S.T 5 and the amount of PM entrants, this game isn’t dying soon.
As for the absence of Project M at APEX and the supposed ‘death’ of the mod due to the release of Sm4sh, people are making a huge fuss over nothing. The disappearance of Project M at APEX is a bummer but Sm4sh does need at least one tournament in the spotlight to really test its future. The absence of Project M makes sense as Nintendo is sponsoring APEX and it is a show of goodwill that Nintendo haven’t simply slapped a cease and desist on the whole mod. In any case, the game is not going to simply disappear. The community around it is too strong and there is no real fear of it being driven underground by angry Sm4sh fans. Plus, the people who are mostly likely doomsaying, are probably the same people who are negative about Sm4sh’s surge in popularity. Armchair professionals who have probably never been to a tournament, let alone organised one and whose only real contribution to the wider community, is being toxic to others who don’t play the same version as them. If you are so worried about the evil grip of other Smash games, make your own tournaments! Support your own scene and others will come to bolster it. Reinforcing the grassroots is what the Smash community does best so instead of flaming people on Smashboards, go out and make your supposedly dying game grow.
The Smash community isn’t dying. Not by a long shot. It is just morphing to accommodate loads of new players, ready to make the scene even greater while old fans adapt and get used to this new installment. By all means, don’t like Sm4sh and stick to playing Melee or P:M or 64, but don’t act like jerks to new players wishing to enjoy their preferred Smash game. The reverse is true, don’t curse out people who prefer Melee, P:M or even 64 and strike them down for being an elitist when they are politely saying what they don’t enjoy the latest version. Be aware of other peoples’ preferences and work together to build up the community as a whole, rather than making it splinter into different warring factions. Now, get out there and get Smashing.