The last few years have been pivotal in establishing Super Smash Bros. For Wii U as its own game, separate from its everlasting older sibling Melee. The Smash 4 scene has grown, developed major personalities and storylines and saw its Evo grand finals live on cable television. Now all eyes are on Nintendo for what's next.
Smash 4 is the modern scene and the most recent title in the series. While each entry manages to garner its own following and hold onto a select few impassioned players, most of Smash is divided between the current entry and the GameCube artifact Super Smash Bros. Melee, which people are still somehow playing 17 years after its release.
It's been hard for Smash 4 tournaments to get out from under the shadow, but the last year has been promising for a few reasons.
The Panda Global rankings, or PGR, has been running most of Smash 4's lifetime; it is a widely accepted, peer-administered metric for success. It's like the coaches' polls in college football, but more generally respected by the community.
In January 2017, Panda Global introduced the tiered tournament system, where events would be given a certain classification based on entrant numbers, amount of high-tier attendees, and prize pool. A month earlier, tournament organiser 2GGaming — or 2GG — revealed the 2017 2GG Championship Series circuit, a series of S-tier events throughout the year that would eventually lead up to a championship at the end of 2016.
These two factors gave Smash 4 a form and structure it needed. As Smash commentator D'Ron "xD1x" Maingrette put it, many team owners were reticent to get involved in Smash because they felt there wasn't enough structure.
"You know, some sort of legitimacy to in comparison to all the other big esports out there," said Maingrette. "So I hope that in the future, we continue to have more circuits like that, as opposed to just many scattered events where it doesn't quite feel like there's a goal in mind."
Of course, part of that elevation is also due to the players themselves. For a long time, Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios was considered almost untouchable, with players tallying up won sets against him as trophies.
But this year saw Barrios fall twice in momentous grand finals: once at Evo, against Saleem "Salem" Akiel Young, and again at the 2GG Championships, against Leonardo "MkLeo" Lopez Perez. Both were dramatic finals, and both showcased the extent to which the game can go — for players, and for spectators.
"I remember when the game started ZeRo just smacked everybody, right," Smash commentator Phil "EE" Visu told Compete. "And now you have at least 10 to 15 people who can legitimately challenge this guy, and that was great for the scene. It showed other players [that] even though I'm getting those hands right now, I could evolve and be something better."
Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios at Genesis 4. Image credit: Robert Paul
Now Smash 4 sits on a precipice. The legend ZeRo is on an indefinite hiatus, citing his need to step back from the stress of constant competition. No new 2GG circuit has been announced yet.
And with Nintendo having incredibly successful console launch in the Switch, many are wondering if or when the announcement of a Smash for Switch will come.
A number of updates have teased the possibility, from the litany of Wii U "deluxe" ports to the quiet compatibility patch for GameCube controller adapters. Despite a list of third-party fighters that would need a new round of legal clearance, the stage seems set for a Smash on Switch, and current Smash players are eager.
Barrios said in a statement that he might return to competition if a new iteration of Smash came out. (Barrios was contacted for this article, but did not respond by publication.)
"Everyone will be excited so I would love to play versus them in a new game," Perez wrote in an email to Compete. "And also I love Smash. I will definitely play the new game [if its comes out]."
But where Smash 4 stands apart from its siblings in some ways, Maingrette had an interesting take on a potential return for older Smash scenes that are forced to use older hardware and hard copies — or less legal means — to compete in their games of choice.
"I guess what I really want to see, honestly, if there was a Smash for Switch," said Maingrette. "Nintendo not only giving us a brand new game, but an opportunity for them to put all the other older titles in there so that we could play them in glorious HDMI with no input delay. Because I'm tired of CRTs. And I want the [Super Smash Bros. 64] community to be able to actually have a community where people are able to play the game on their TVs. It's kind of inaccessible for some people."
There are many more dreams for a new Smash iteration. Maingrette wants to see Geno in the roster; Visu wants an option to play stages without hazards and to play as Crystal from Star Fox; Lopez Perez is just excited for the idea of a new game.
But Nintendo has been coy. The Nintendo Versus account has boosted the social outreach of many Smash tournaments, and the company even supports Smash events, like this weekend's Genesis 5.
It isn't hard to see why Smash 4 players would want a new game. Played on the Wii U — a console that might have sold as many units in five years as the Switch will in its first year — Smash 4 isn't something anyone can pick up right after seeing a cool clip or tournament.
Games like Tekken 7 breathed new life and players into their scenes — why not the same for Smash? Maingrette compared the potential impact of a new Smash to the effect Street Fighter V had on that scene.
"Street Fighter V came through and it just like breathed new life into the Street Fighter community," said Maingrette. "And a lot of people who probably were tired of Street Fighter IV decided hey, you know, I'm going to jump into V. And the great thing about this is that you'll have young'uns who probably never played the older titles come up out of nowhere and start beating the players who were prominent, who actually were winning on the older titles. I feel like that's an opportunity to create new narratives. People just generally like the general public like to see a new game."
A new game would also be a new opportunity for new esports teams and sponsors to enter. 2017 saw a wave of high-profile signings, but several top players like Brian "Cosmos" Kalu and Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby are still free agents. New interest in the scene could be a chance for these players to don jerseys and start travelling to more events.
Smash 4 has grown a ton over the last four years, eclipsing the former Brawl scene and even standing toe-to-toe with Melee. It has its own events and is no longer seen as the "other" Smash. Whether via a "deluxe" version or an entirely new entry, the stage seems set for the modern Smash players to have a breakout year, and convert even more people into spectators and fans.
"You know whenever Nintendo releases something, they try and do it big, right," Visu said. "They want you all to look at it and get invested in it. There's already plenty of Nintendo fans. It's not hard to think they could become Smash Bros. competitors. That's how the scene started."