Super Smash Bros. got a big update today, adding something that fans of Nintendo's colourful mash-up fighting game have been eagerly awaiting: an online tournament mode. Once they started to get their hands on the update, though, many weren't thrilled to see what had become of it.
The new tournament modes all players from all across the Miiverse to join up and create their own competitive events online. They come in two different forms. First: community mode, which is a much more casual environment where, similar to the tourneys in Mario Kart 8, players can set their own rules for the events. Then there's bracket mode, which is a more competitive affair that follows fixed rules established by Nintendo. There can be anywhere from 16 to 64 participants in either mode. Bracket mode follows a standard elimination format (hence the name), while community mode awards points All you have to do to join either type of tournament is enter a pre-set code created by the tournament organiser.
The last two Smash Bros. games (Melee and Brawl, for the Gamecube and Wii respectively) both had their own tournament modes, so series fans have been asking Nintendo to add a similar (but hopefully better) feature ever since the game released last fall. And at face value, it sort of seemed like the company did: bringing in two different types of tourneys, plus an option to post portions of gameplay directly to YouTube thanks to a Mario Kart 8-esque YouTube sharing system. When it launched with the 1.1.0 update, people on the influential Smash Boards forum and the Smash Bros. subreddit recoiled in disgust at what they'd been handed.
Why the change in tone? I corresponded over email with a few players who reached out to Kotaku and sifted through many irate forum threads, and can boil down the grievances to three main items.
First, players aren't allowed to make 1v1 tournaments in community mode. The only option available is "free for all," the chaotic, every-man-for-itself type of game mode that most people associate with casual Smash.
"This is a huge problem," a Smash player named Tyler explained to me over email today. "It prevents people from making serious tournaments in the new mode. The rest of the options are great, but this one lacking option means that the mode is essentially useless to a very large group of players. In fact, if you take a look at the community tournaments listed, many, many players have named their tourneys '1v1' or similar, unaware that they cannot make 1v1 matches."
Second: to make the only free-for-all option worse, bracket tourneys can only be made by Nintendo, with NO way for anyone else to create one, either online or offline, since the community tournaments are exclusively based on a points system. Let's hear from Tyler again:
This causes a huge list of problems. A. Even the competitive, 1v1 brackets are 2 stocks, 3 minutes. 3 minutes means that nearly every match ends in timeout, with the winner being whoever has done the most damage instead of whoever has the lower per cent. Even Nintendos own competitive online mode, For Glory, is 2 stocks 5 minutes! B. Their competitive brackets are ONLY Final Destination/Omega stages. No Battlefield, Smashville, Town and City, etc. C. Their brackets start only at specific times, and don't automatically start when they fill up. As a result, players have to wait upwards of an HOUR to play in a single tournament. D. There are numerous reports that if a player disconnects midway through a match in this mode, it counts as a loss for BOTH players, removing both from the tourney.
Thirdly and finally, the YouTube replay feature Nintendo added alongside the feature restricts clips to 3 minutes or less. Many critical fans observed that this doesn't make much sense for the tournament mode, since matches are either five, six, or eight minutes long depending on what options you choose. Is adding an extra few minutes really that much of a hassle?
I'm not personally invested in the competitive online Smash scene, mostly because I'm not good enough at the game to participate at any level higher than button mashing in the all-out, all-items party game mode. But I have to say that I'm with the fans here. Smash Bros. has a rich, rich history and culture centered around tournaments made by and for fans. They take place almost every single week across the country. The main difference between these offline events and the ones that will go down online is that people have the freedom to make and play the tournaments the way they actually want to. Not allowing people to have 1v1 games in a mode they can create for themselves seems particularly odd, given how central that mode is to Smash's competitive scene at all levels — from the smallest local tournament to the pro fights at EVO.
Fans are now trying to think of ways to get the message across to Nintendo that the Smash Bros. online tournaments could be much better with a few small adjustments. To the company's credit, it's already started to loosen itself up and begin changing Smash (and its other games) in response to fan requests: nerfing or buffing characters based on who players feel is over or under-powered, for instance. Hopefully this means the company will listen.