Nintendo Responds To Smash Bros. Pro's Callout, Wants To Keep Scene Grassroots

One of the world's top Super Smash Bros. players recently knocked Nintendo for not sufficiently supporting the scene and said he hoped that Nintendo heard him. Last week in Los Angeles, they did — after we played a clip of his speech to Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime.

Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma, a top-three-ranked Super Smash Bros. Melee pro, called Nintendo out a couple of weeks ago in his victory speech at Wisconsin tournament Smash 'N' Splash 3: "A certain company that acknowledges us but refuses to push us — I hope you're listening right now, because I want you to hear this," he said, as a room packed with players and fans cheered. "I want you to hear the amount of people who support this league, the amount of people who want this to be a lifestyle for people. This is not just a video game. This is a lifestyle! All right?"

Listening to a recording of Debiedma's entreaty in a Los Angeles meeting room at E3 last week, Fils-Aime said: "I love passionate Smash fans."

I'd played the clip for Fils-Aime while we were in the midst of discussing Nintendo's approach to competitive gaming. The company held tournaments for its new and upcoming Switch games all week in Los Angeles, using the events to hype the multiplayer potential of Arms, Splatoon 2 and Pokken Tournament Deluxe. In recent years, it has also run Smash Bros. tournaments, including one where Hungrybox and Fils-Aime faced off. Despite those flashy Nintendo-backed events, Fils-Aime said Nintendo mostly wants to keep things grassroots.

"We've been in this social competitive space for a long time," Fils-Aime said. "Smash Bros. Melee has been a mainstay in the competitive gaming space for a long time. What we're doing — and our take on his space is we want to encourage the community. We want to enable them to put on tournaments and to have fun and for the players themselves to participate in these types of situations. That's our view of this space."

Fils-Aime and Hungrybox faced off in Smash Bros. at the 2015 Nintendo World Championships, which were held in conjunction with that year's E3.

Nintendo has officially backed the inclusion of Smash Bros. games at EVO, the world's biggest fighting game tournament, long after the series became an unofficial mainstay there. It's done the same for the Apex tournament. Debiedma, however, is among the players asking Nintendo to do more. I pressed Fils-Aime about what he made of the Smash pro's statement.

"Look, we love Hungrybox," Fils-Aime said. "We had him in our tournaments. There is a passion in the Smash Bros. community which is fantastic. When he talks about lack of support, I'm not quite sure what he's alluding to."

"I will say this," he added. "Five, six, seven years ago, as we engaged with our developers and talked to them about Smash Bros. and what was happening, there was not a lot of understanding about this space. And it's been people like [Nintendo of America's] Bill Trinen and JC Rodrigo and all of these folks who understand the space that have helped us educate our company and educate our developers around the benefits of engaging with the community and empowering and enabling this to happen.

"It was with the most recent Smash Bros. that we've done more tournaments and we're supporting both the Melee community as well as the Smash Bros. Wii U community and they're both vibrant and are continuing to grow."

Since Fils-Aime wasn't sure what Hungrybox wanted Nintendo to do, I asked the player to explain himself further. He did, over email:

What I meant by 'push' was not to 'challenge,' but to support.

I feel that Nintendo could actually use the cult following that competitive Smash has accrued to their benefit. Similar to how Capcom runs the Capcom Cup circuit, it allows:

a) a larger audience be exposed to competitive gaming (many casual gamers have no idea it exists)

b) have potential for a large worldwide circuit + having it be broadcast on cable networks (see: ELEAGUE)

c) have a massive bolster in Smash popularity if it came to re-releasing Virtual Console titles and ESPECIALLY a Smash 4 Port to the Switch

d) open the doors to an entirely new branch of Nintendo (Nintendo Versus hinted at this, but to make it something that people could earn money from is a whole new animal)

Nintendo just doesn't want to do a league. Fils-Aime said as much to me when describing the company's philosophy about competitive gaming: "It's community-oriented. It's enabling the community to drive it forward. We have relationships, obviously, with entities like Evo and Battlefly. We want to do this much more at a grassroots level than others' visions around leagues and big up-front payments and things of that nature."

Hungrybox had already seen Nintendo downplay the idea of making an official league, so he's not expecting it to happen, certainly not for Melee, which isn't even the Smash game that Nintendo seems most interested in promoting.

"I hope the best for the future and I respect Reggie and the Nintendo execs more than words can describe," he said. "It just is always a dismay for our parent company to not see a venture in the same golden light we've been viewing it for over a decade."


Comments

    Just another example of Nintendo being stubborn and weird. "We must do everything different to everyone else because reasons"
    Would be lovely if Reggie actually answered his question too. He sounds like a politician skirting the issue.

      I'm not sure. I know certain gaming communities that would love to wrestle control of the competitive scene from the creators as there's a disconnect between what the community wants and what the creators want (after all, if a creator is going to spend money and time setting up a tournament scene, you can be sure they'll do so in ways they can directly profit from).

      I think both approaches have their pros and cons but I do believe that if Nintendo took control of the Smash scene, the amount of bellyaching over their every single decision regarding it would be astronomically higher than the current dissatisfaction with their lack of support.

      How? They made a game people started using for tournaments, they incorporated feedback into future games, they support people using the game in tournaments. The only thing they don't do is actively promote, finance and get involved in the tournament scene.

      Are you saying that if I started, say, a Wipeout tournament, Sony would instantly jump behind it and promote it... no, of course not. So how are Nintendo somehow obliged to start financially supporting Smash Bros tournaments?

      Perhaps they could start running their own tournaments and charge teams thousands of dollars to enter, like blizzard with overwatch? Would that be better?

      The guy is asking for Nintendo to support a 15 year old game. Reggie backhandedly telling him to piss off the right and only answer. Did you even read the suggestions? That's a massive commitment for even the most e-sports worthy games, let alone a niche but cult followed one such as Smash. Smash Bros 4 is doing just fine at various tournaments, Nintendo don't need to do anything.

      Honestly, the sooner the Melee scene dies (I bloody loved that game as much as the next guy) the better it is for the series.

    I disagree, I'm still not sure after reading the article what Hungrybox is really trying to say.
    Does he want Nintendo to pay him money and promote him?

    It sounds like Nintendo doesn't want to run a league and monetise the players/game in that way, but is supportive of the community running leagues, and is open to feedback on how to make the game better for leagues etc.

      The thing is that Nintendo hardly needs to run a league of their own. Currently there are already so many Smash tournaments (practically one big one every weekend, a major every few weeks, and constant weeklies all over the place) that a number of pro players have expressed concerns about burnout. As an example, Ally, the number 2 player in Smash 4 at the moment DQ'd himself from last weekend's CEO tournament because he needed a rest.

      I don't really think there's room for a Nintendo-run Smash league and I agree that I'm not really sure what Hungrybox is asking them to do.

      It seems he wants Nintendo to create a new team to expand in a totally new market - running professional eSport leagues.
      There's a reason why he's a pro player and not an investor.

    Responding to or acknowledging Hungrybox was a mistake.

    That's weird, usually the FGC is against commercialization and eSports and all that shit. Personally I think that's stupid

    I really don't think that Nintendo should start a league for Smash. Even if they did, it'd be for Smash 4. Melee is a 16 year old game that came out on a console that's long dead. You don't really see many MvC 1 tournaments around nor do you see many MK 3 Tournaments around. The FGC generally prefers to play the newer stuff and the viewers generally prefer watching the newer stuff.

    It's a shame that Nintendo isn't going to bring Super Smash Bros. to the Nintendo Switch but it was fun though selecting your fighter and then selecting a fighting stage you want to fight on I mean since the first Super Smash Bros. came out for the Nintendo 64 in 1999 we really wanted more fighting and more brawl action than we wanted but now it's come to an end for us.
    So RIP Super Smash Bros.

      How'd you come to that conclusion? Nothing was mentioned in the article and we're less than 6 months into the current cycle. There's ample time for an announcement at some pint in the future.

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