Jamel Wilkins says he Smashes with honour and dignity. And yet, for over a month, he was marooned in what players are calling "Smash Hell", apparently an alternate server on which soft-banned Super Smash Bros. 4 players are forced to play with each other, regardless of their innocence. The troubles started when Wilkins picked up Duck Hunt, the lovable but spammy dog-and-bird team. Duck Hunt's playstyle is projectile-heavy, so when Wilkins competed in the online "For Glory" mode, he would keep opponents at arm's length with an onslaught of metal cans and clay plates. As a result, he says, frustrated competitors used the game's "Report" function against him. He soon found himself in Smash Hell: An "obscure purgatory where the darkest of Smashers gather".
It's unclear exactly what Smash Hell is, but numerous players have reported encountering it over the last few years and its qualities are consistent and recognisable. Nintendo did not respond to requests for clarification by press time.
In Smash Hell, Wilkins noticed that his competitor pool in "For Glory" mode drastically changed. It was full of players who spammed the same attacks, told him to "git good" when he lost or had bad internet connections that made online brawls difficult, if not impossible. There, he encountered Smashers like "HorsePssy" and "HIV+". It took several minutes for him to be matched with other players instead of a minute or two. For a month and two weeks, he says, he was "banished".
"I ran into the same people. It took longer for me to get matched and I couldn't take part in tournaments," Wilkins explained. Confused and upset, he went online and detailed his situation to other Smash players, who told him that he had indeed been sent to Smash Hell, apparently a soft-ban mode for Smash players who had been reported by other players. He says he received no warning or notification.
Wilkins maintains that he was innocent. He was sent to Smash Hell, he says, because of Duck Hunt's inherently "spammy" playstyle, which piqued competitors' spite.
Other players interviewed also allege that they were innocent before getting soft-banned to Smash Hell. Smash player Doug believes that the opacity of the Smash Hell mechanic is a function of Nintendo's inscrutable reporting system:
"This is happening to completely innocent players who never infringe on the rules in any way — all the other player has to do is simply view the user's profile after an online match and report them. The game simply asks if that's OK and warns that baseless reports may result in a ban (although it seems like that's not the case)," Doug explained. He believes that the reports are unmoderated, although Nintendo did not corroborate this.
The so-called "Dark Smashers" of Smash Hell are reportedly unpleasant. Kirby players spam his B-up move. Fox players spam his gun. Some use the game's "taunt" function excessively. But others are just really good or win by dishonourable means, like camping on the edge of the stage and throwing projectiles until the clock runs out. Doug said that some players are reported simply for overwhelming others in "For Glory" mode.
Unlike Wilkins, Doug and Sage were only in Smash Hell for a few weeks until they were released back into the normal pool of competitors and allowed to play in "Tournament Mode" again. Wilkins believes that Dark Smashers who embraced their exile continued to report him so they could keep playing against him. He says that some players have even told him that they were going to make him stay in Smash Hell.
As a soft-ban mechanic, Smash Hell allows reported players to continue brawling without being able to harass others. That's it's strength. However, if Nintendo is blindly respecting all reports, players like Wilkins will suffer the same consequences as those who are miring him in this purgatory.
"Innocent people get sent to Smash Hell," Wilkins explained. "You can go there just for playing the game. That kind of report system is broken."