A Modern Controller Is Splitting The Smash Bros Melee Community

A popular Super Smash Bros Melee controller's potential ban from big-time esports tournament Genesis 4 has sparked a debate throughout the Smash community over what constitutes a tournament-legal controller for a 15-year-old game. The controller's creator says its ban would be "devastating" for his business.

HitBox

Over a dozen years after Melee's release, nearly everything about its tournament rules are set in stone — except for tournament-legal controllers. The introduction of the SmashBox is making Melee players question whether they should modernise.

Genesis 4, which takes place in January, is the second largest Smash tournament. Over 1300 contestants will compete in the Melee singles event. In a private conversation with a Genesis 4 organiser, Dustin Huffer, who created the SmashBox controller, was told earlier this week that his controller, which is not yet widely available, may not be tournament legal. When he explained to pro Melee player Dustin White, AKA Gravy, that the controller could get banned, the issue caught fire on social media.

Melee players have always used a standard GameCube controller, which has sticks, triggers and buttons. Years have taught more discerning players that these controllers have some issues. Pro Smashers say the GameCube controller's sticks degrade over time and that its analogue inputs are inconsistent (that is, getting an exact angle each time is hard). Also, over time, it's tough on hands.

The SmashBox controller is all buttons, like an arcade cabinet's console, so directional movements are mapped onto cardinal directions. It's like more traditional fighting games' controllers.

Here's a great explainer:

Huffer thinks his controller could be banned "out of a belief that changing the fundamental motions of how you play Smash Bros is a bannable offence". He wants to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the SmashBox, but its tournament status could throw a wrench in his plans.

He elaborated that "We have been both financially and emotionally invested into the development of Smash Box for over two years now and to see it get snuffed out from misunderstandings and fear would be pretty devastating". The SmashBox project can't take off without a crowd-funding campaign and community support, Huffer said, so he's glad people are discussing the controller's legality now. That said, he thinks the ban would be "definitely unfair".

"Smash Box cannot do anything that traditional GameCube controller can't — you just input your moves differently. Because of that everything is more precise and ergonomic, which is the goal of the project. We don't condone macros," said Huffer in an email.

Genesis 4 tournament organiser Sheridan Zalewski told me the ban is still being discussed and will play out in public forums. He and his co-organisers think that the SmashBox, in itself, isn't necessarily anti-competitive — a claim that Melee commentator Daniel Lee (AKA Tafokints) echoed over email. But "keeping it legal would require legalizing certain categories of modifications that they believe change the game and the skills involved too much," Zalewski said.

He cited the ability to map a very precise and difficult position, typically executed on a control stick, onto one digital button as the main issue. It could open the floodgates for other modifications that could prove game-breaking.

Several competitive Melee players are still sceptical that the SmashBox could really be disruptive to Melee's competitive scene. Top-six Melee player Juan Debiedma, AKA Hungrybox, told me, "It's a way to perform very difficult inputs with more precision, with the downside of having to learn how to play the game all over again."

He does think that the controller is worth a shot. What's the harm? But at the end of the day, he told me, "this topic depends on the integrity of Smashers and their willingness to not take advantage of something that could exploit the game."


Comments

    Melee players have always used a standard GameCube controller, [...] Also, over time, it's tough on hands.

    Over time, everything is 'tough on hands.' But to say that about the GC controller in particular is confusing. It's been one o the most comfortable controllers I've ever used.

    What I've found tough on the wrists is arcade sticks. I can't see the SmashBox being more comfortable.

      Arcade sticks shouldn't be tough on wrists, but most designs are based on arcade cabinet layouts, which results in bent wrists.

      If you rotate the button array inwards you have straight wrists and a better time. People scoff at the neo geo stick design, but SNK knew what they were doing!

      I think it's more about how they grip the controller when playing Melee, adopting a "claw" grip to push face buttons simultaneously with a thumb and finger for example.

      I find the Gamecube controller tremendously comfortable, but holding anything in a awkward way for extended periods of time can be painful, ergonomically sound or not.

      I think it would be silly to ban this controller, I can appreciate the fear of advantage over the standard pad but as they say it's not about creating macros or anything... to pull of the moves you still need understand how to and then actually have the skills to perform it.

    My first thought is that if you're making a controller intended for tournament play and your business model is reliant on it being usable in tournaments, it would be a good idea to check with at least a few of the tournament organisers to see if it will be tournament legal fairly early in the project.

    Last edited 10/12/16 5:18 pm

      One would think that this would be even easier to do given that the guy who made the controller is also cited as actually being a tournament organiser. That just screams "conflict of interest" to me...

      The guy that made it IS an organizer though, so that logic is not holding up.

      From the article: "In a private conversation with a Genesis 4 organiser, Dustin Huffer, who created the SmashBox controller"

        I think it means that the dude (Dustin) who made the controller had a private conversation with the tournament organiser. The use of commas in this case is an alternative for brackets i.e. "In a private conversation with a Genesis organiser, Dustin Huffer (who created the Smashbox Controller) was told ..."

        Another way of putting it would have been "Dustin Huffer, who created the Smashbox Controller, was told in a private conversation with a tournament organiser earlier this week that ...."

    Does the tournaments provide brand new GameCube controllers every match?

    I mean, if the controllers are still available then cool, but if your dealing with a declining population of controllers over time, it makes sense to seek out a long term alternative.

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