There’s A Rift At The Heart Of The Smash Bros. Scene

There’s A Rift At The Heart Of The Smash Bros. Scene

Despite being nearly 15 years old and having had a couple of sequels, Super Smash Bros. Melee is still alive and thriving. The fans won’t let it die. Usually, the community enthusiasm around Smash Bros. is admirable. But last weekend, at the biggest Smash Bros. tournament ever held, fans’ endless love for Melee turned ugly.

I had the chance to go up to New Jersey last Sunday for the final day of Apex 2015, the largest Smash Bros. tournament of the year. I watched as a man won a tournament for Super Smash Bros. Wii U, only to have fans demand that he get off the stage, so that they could watch Melee instead. It was a moment that perfectly captured the long-standing rivalry between Melee and newer Smash Bros. games. It was also a tension I saw manifesting itself in a smaller ways at the tournament.

Nearly every top-level player in the world flew in to the sleepy town of Somerset, NJ that weekend for the tournament. Anyone near the Garden State Convention center could feel the energy: hundreds of players relieved to have found a refuge there after the original venue planned for the event turned out to be a bust, hundreds of players happy to be huddled around tiny CRT screens while Nintendo mascots duked it out in front of them.

There’s A Rift At The Heart Of The Smash Bros. Scene

At the end of the convention center was a stage where Melee players sat and competed against each other. Despite the fierce competition, and despite the intense rivalries between players, the set-up was cozy, intimate. Players were practically rubbing elbows with one another:

There’s A Rift At The Heart Of The Smash Bros. Scene

Two giant screens anchored the stage. On the left, Melee. On the right, the newer Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U. Both screens had dozens of seats laid out in front of them, for people to sit down and enjoy the show.

The first thing that struck me about being at the tournament was how quiet it seemed. I was used to watching Smash Bros. events on Twitch with 10, 20 times the size of the audience at Apex. I was used to the constant raw force of rowdy comments accompanying every second of a tournament. Apex, by contrast, practically felt like Wimbledon.

Even though I was sitting in the Smash Wii U section of the convention, I was fixated on Melee, on the other side of the stage. There was something about its sharp pace, and the elegant way that people played it, that commanded my attention more than Smash Wii U did, even though I actually like playing the Wii U game better. Melee made me feel like I was watching a high-speed version of fencing. I don’t think I’m the only person that felt that way this weekend. Nearly everyone around me on the Smash Wii U side was actually watching Melee. Some people turned their seats in that direction, ignoring what was going on the Smash Wii U screen. Others loitered in front of the Smash Wii U screen without a care, something that, if done on the Melee side of the room, would have gotten a few angry Melee fans telling them to sit down. Furthermore, unlike Melee players — who were literally taking center stage at the event — Smash Wii U players competing on the screen were tucked away on the side, behind a few rows of spectators.

I had expected the newer game to be the main attraction: certainly, that’s what courted Nintendo’s sponsorship of the event. They want to sell more copies of Smash Wii U, and in their ideal world, players would forget about Melee. Remember when they tried to ban it from EVO 2013, and only relented after fan outcry? But however Nintendo might feel about it, Melee was at the heart of Apex, and everything else felt like a side-event.

I didn’t make much of this initially. I knew that players regarded Melee highly, but that didn’t actually seem like a problem. As the day progressed, the matches shown on the main screens changed. Instead of having both Melee and Smash Wii U on both screens at the same time, one screen displayed the Smash Wii U quarter finals, and the other screen displayed Smash 64. The top eight matches for Melee were scheduled to come later in the night. Since most people seemed to be there for Melee, they stuck around the area throughout the Smash Wii U matches: they wanted to stake out seats early, before the main event. While they waited, the crowd seemed to collectively stop caring about the tournament. The convention center got louder. People seemed more interested in chatting with one another than paying attention to what the players were doing.

Smash Wii U is not a fast-paced game — not in the same way Melee is, at least. People are still trying to figure the newer game out, too. The techniques that players use aren’t as developed in Smash Wii U as they are in Melee, not yet. On top of that, matches for Smash Wii U were best out of five, instead of best out of three. I heard many players complain that the final segment of the Smash Wii U tournament felt like it was uninteresting, or that it was taking forever.

The Apex schedule had promised Melee back on the screen by 7pm on Sunday, but that time came and went, and still Smash Wii U was on the screen. Presumably, this was because the tournament lost an entire day on Friday, thanks to the venue relocation — it wasn’t their fault. Still, players were getting exasperated. Diddy Kong wasn’t helping.

Let me explain: many of the top Smash Wii U matches included the infamous Kong. People hate Diddy for a number of reasons, partially because he’s powerful in the right hands, but also because people feel like they know exactly how players will use him. Diddy favours juggles, and he likes to keep his opponents in the air. Diddy Kong players will often grab their opponents, and throw them into an air using a very specific combo. He’s considered predictable, and therefore uninteresting to watch.

The community has taken to chanting “HOO-HAH/” every time Diddy Kong does this set of moves in a pro match, and while that chant is playful, it’s also critical of the character. The heated arguments about Diddy can sometimes seem excessive, like the community is trying to find a character to be a new punching bag. Nearly every game has one such character, especially fighting games. Ken in Street Fighter, for example. But at one point during Apex, the matches literally became Diddy Kong vs. Diddy Kong.

Listen: I love Diddy Kong. I main Diddy Kong myself, and have done so since Brawl. But after watching an entire day’s worth of Diddy Kong matches last Sunday, I started to see where people were coming from. I wasn’t as upset as the people around me — at some point during the tournament, audience members started straight-up booing whenever a player picked Diddy Kong — but I could sympathize. People attended the event to be entertained, and when they could guess exactly how things would go down in a match, they probably didn’t feel like they got their money’s worth.

Later that night, a Smash Wii U match had technical difficulties, and the screen displaying the match turned black for a few moments. In response, people started cheering, “MELEE, MELEE, MELEE” as if to say, finally! The nightmare that is Smash Wii U is gone! Can’t we get back to broadcasting the game people actually want to see? When the tournament organisers got the screen working again, people booed. One person next to me screamed “NO, NO, NO!” The announcer at the event had to get on stage to tell the crowd to stop and cool off.

Eventually, the Smash Wii U event did end, and the tournament could crown its winner: Zero, the Chilean man who mains Diddy Kong. Zero was handed his trophy, and the crowd’s reaction was a mix of booing, chants for Melee, and cheering. But the cheering didn’t seem to be for Zero, not entirely. Rather, some people were overjoyed that Melee was going to come back on the main screen, and Zero just happened to be the means through which it would happen. By winning, Zero put an end to Smash Wii U matches, which is exactly what some of the community wanted.

“It was very disrespectful but what can you do?,” Zero said to Kotaku in an email. “I was very happy from winning, and that feeling won’t go away with a few people voicing their voices like that. I don’t care much at all, but it shouldn’t happen.”

On Twitter, Zero opened up a bit more:

I’d lie to you if I told you it didn’t bother me.

I’ve been waiting to win an Apex for many, many years. I’ve dreamed of the moment where I can finally hold that trophy, and just smile. But when the crowd was cheering it wasn’t for me, it was for the fact that the game was over and they can now see Melee. It wasn’t cool and my heart was crushed, but I was only annoyed at the individuals who went ahead with it. I’m not saying all Melee players do this, but this is to those who did.

Let’s make things different.

Don’t apologise to me. That’s not important. What’s important is fixing an issue within the community. Generalising isn’t cool, but the friction between Melee and other Smash games has always been there. It’s at events, in forums, and chats. I’ve seen disrespect, and I’ve been disrespected in many different ways.

Who draws the line? How do we fix it?

This issue is old. It’s a part of the scene, regardless of how some feel about it.

I personally think that if we collectively bring light to the fact that this is a critical issue then we are one step closer to fixing the problem. The thing is that, while this is an issue, there’s still people that find these things ‘ok’ or ‘fine’. But if this type of attitude is actively punished and scolded then we just might see some change. Until eventually it becomes a very rare issue.

You can’t really understand how it [is] being on the other side of the topic. To be honest, I didn’t understand until I was on that stage. When Nairo got the same treatment I didn’t think much of it. But we dedicate our lives to being good at Smash, to put on a show of high level display for you, and when we finally get the validation of winning something as big as Apex…when you are looking to your Smash family for support you just…

I’ve seen top players in different Smash games not feel as important to the community because they don’t play Melee. And that’s not ok. This shouldn’t be the Melee Community or the Smash 4 community, but rather just the Smash community.

I get it, fine. You don’t like the other game. That’s fine. But it really sucks to see more disrespect from people inside our community, than the people outside. Do you really have to be so vocal about it? So public to show it? Does it really have to? That’s my point.

If anything, we have to work to do as a community. We’re growing, and we’re doing great things. This past Apex was a milestone in many, many ways for our wonderful community. I really hope this one issue at some point can be resolved. But I believe we can do it. It would take time, but it’s possible.

At the end of the day no matter what game you play the person behind the controller is a part of this Smash family. We all share the same passions, and that’s Smash. It’s amazing how many times we forget that.

As Zero says, not all Smash Bros. diehards booed, or cheered for Melee. At least some people online were appalled with how the community treated Zero after his win. “This is why people say the Melee community is toxic and harmful,” one thread on Reddit said. “The crowd and how it reacted right after Zero won Apex 2015 Smash 4 singles was absolutely unacceptable on all accounts…it makes the entire Smash scene look bad.”

The way the community reacted to Zero’s win isn’t an isolated incident. At last year’s Apex, the Brawl grand final was also met with chants of “MELEE, MELEE, MELEE,” robbing a different player called Nairo of his grand achievement, which Zero referenced in his statement on the matter. For comparison’s sake, the winner of the Melee grand finals this year was met with unanimous excitement, with nearly everyone getting on their feet to clap, and quite a few people rushing to the stage to congratulate him. With good reason, too: he deserved the praise and the support.

Right now, the Smash Bros. scene seems to be in a transitional moment. More than one hundred thousand people tuned in to watch Apex on Twitch. With the release of Smash Wii U, there’s a renewed interest in Smash Bros. I’d wager that Smash Wii U is doing more work than Melee is when it comes to bringing new players into the fold.

Melee might be considered the more technical game, but the elitism around it is causing tensions — and these tensions might influence the fate of the Smash Bros. community. Judging by the incredible efforts by the community in the last few years — like bringing Smash to EVO despite bans, or finding a new location for Apex 2015 after the first convention center didn’t work out — I’m optimistic that the scene will keep blossoming, and that incidents like the one at Apex are just growing pains. I just hope that next year, all of the winners at Apex will hear cheers for their victory, regardless of which game they were playing.


  • Disappointing that the real story, a community rallying to save a big event on the brink of cancellation, gets thrown in as a footnote on yet another Kotaku US hitpiece about how hate-filled and spiteful fighting game fans are.

    • Kotaku has covered that very issue before (in fact, I think a couple of writers did). Would you prefer that they ignore the negatives that occur in gaming and just give us the sugar-coated positives?

      Besides, Patricia isn’t wrong in this instance. What happened at Apex is pretty damn shameful, and it certainly isn’t going to change unless people have a dialogue about it.

      • What happened at Apex is pretty damn shameful, and it certainly isn’t going to change unless people have a dialogue about it.

        It’s not ideal, but is it really shameful and disgusting on a newsworthy level or is that just us enjoying the opportunity to look down on others, making ourselves feel like better people by pretending everyone else is worse? People weren’t there to see Smash Bros Wii U and they definitely weren’t there to see predictable by the numbers Diddy Kong matches. So they made that known. They were a little crude about it but it’s a video game tournament. Sure it sucks for the guy who won, but it’s the event organisers who are at fault here.
        Personally I prefer Smash for Wii U but there’s no question it’s being forced onto the scene. It’s not really that much different than if Microsoft struck a bunch of deals to make Killer Instinct the headline event.

        I’m not saying their actions were beyond question just that this article seems to continue a long internet trend of actively seeking the worst in people in order to feel superior for not really doing anything. It’s like my generation got so hooked on the feeling of superiority the idea of the bully pumping their gas someday gave them, that when they grew up and realised that it was a load of crap they had to find a new way to feel like they were above average.
        We fell in love with the idea that YouTube, Reddit, XBOX Live, 4chan, every comment section, etc were packed with monsters because it makes us heroes for… not being absurdly racist and homophobic? Am I really a decent person or am I just comparing myself to a group of people who, after a night of frustration, were inconsiderate towards the winner of a tournament? I didn’t even watch Apex 2015. I didn’t support ZeRo at all. If I had to watch the Superbowl before I was allowed to watch the end of a Flash two parter I’d probably be annoyed enough to laugh at the Seahawks for losing (granted even if they couldn’t pound me into dust I doubt I’d do it to their face).
        Why am I so much better than these people that I’m free to judge them so harshly when the only thing I know about them is their actions during one tiny moment in their entire lives?

    • They’ve already covered the saving of the event in other articles. I don’t see anything wrong with this (except for the fact that it spoiled the winner of the Smash 4 tournament, while I’m still working my way through the VODs…grrr).

      • it spoiled the winner of the Smash 4 tournament, while I’m still working my way through the VODs

        Well it did say in the second paragraph

        I watched as a man won a tournament for Super Smash Bros. Wii U, only to have fans demand that he get off the stage, so that they could watch Melee instead.

        So I would have assumed that it would have mentioned who won, especially considering the length of the article.

        That said, I sympathise man, I’ve had stuff spoiled before because I read the wrong thing. It blows :c

  • I read somewhere recently a small list of the things that Melee fans have done that fans of Brawl and 4 did not do.
    It was not a flattering list, I’ll tell you that.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!