This year’s instalment of The Big House, one of the most important tournaments in the Super Smash Bros. community, has been shut down by Nintendo over its use of a fan-developed mod meant to improve online play in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
“The Big House is heartbroken to share we’ve received a cease and desist from Nintendo of America, Inc. to cancel our upcoming online event,” the tournament’s official statement reads. “We were informed we do not have permission to host or broadcast the event, primarily due to the usage of Slippi. We are forced to comply with the order and cancel The Big House Online for both Melee and Ultimate.”
“Nintendo appreciates the love and dedication the fighting game community has for the Super Smash Bros. series,” Nintendo told Kotaku via email. “We have partnered with numerous Super Smash Bros. tournaments in the past and have hosted our own online and offline tournaments for the game, and we plan to continue that support in the future. Unfortunately, the upcoming Big House tournament announced plans to host an online tournament for Super Smash Bros. Melee that requires use of illegally copied versions of the game in conjunction with a mod called ‘Slippi’ during their online event. Nintendo therefore contacted the tournament organisers to ask them to stop. They refused, leaving Nintendo no choice but to step in to protect its intellectual property and brands. Nintendo cannot condone or allow piracy of its intellectual property.”
(While The Big House organiser Robin “Juggleguy” Harn confirmed these details in an email to Kotaku, it should be noted that backing up your own copies of video games for personal use is entirely legal per United States copyright law.)
Slippi is a third-party modification built by a group of fans to add rollback netcode to Super Smash Bros. Melee. Before Slippi’s release earlier this year, Melee players suffered with a subpar online infrastructure that made the 19-year-old game much harder to play at a competitive level. But with the addition of rollback netcode — the benefits of which are widely acknowledged by anyone who takes fighting games seriously — Melee players were finally able to enjoy great matches with far-flung opponents.
The arrival of Slippi became even more important as the onset of the covid-19 pandemic pumped the brakes on the grassroots tournament circuit, with several notable players singing its praises. Many of those same players are rightfully making their displeasure with Nintendo known online in the wake of The Big House’s cancelation, and the hashtag #FreeMelee is now trending on Twitter.
“Remember this when you buy their shitty Pokémon game for the 100th time,” Melee god Joseph “Mango” Marquez wrote on Twitter.
“Of all the shit from Nintendo, this takes the prize,” Adam “Armada” Lindgren, another top Melee player, said. “It’s a global pandemic going on and Nintendo once again wants the competitive scene to suffer. Is it too much to ask that people can play and compete in games from home during this time?”
“With Slippi online, I’ve worked hard to create as close to an authentic, in-person experience as possible,” Slippi developer Jas “Fizzi” Laferriere said in his own statement. “The Melee community has been clear in expressing their gratitude. It has enabled competing in and watching top-level competition without requiring risky gatherings. I am disappointed that Nintendo is restricting our ability to power through these hard times.”
When Melee came out in 2001 it did not have any form of network play; adding such necessitates the use of the GameCube and Wii emulator Dolphin, which one can only assume Nintendo would rather not exist. That would make Slippi, which works in conjunction with Dolphin, a no-go, even if the mod isn’t the crux of the problem in and of itself.
That said, this isn’t the first time Nintendo has thrown its weight around in the grassroots Smash community. The Big House organiser Robin “Juggleguy” Harn intimated during a conversation with Kotaku in 2017 that that year’s instalment of the tournament series had issued a venue-wide ban on third-party, box-style controllers due to Nintendo’s influence. And who can forget that the Melee developer almost kept the game from an appearance at Evo 2013 before ultimately changing its mind.
This is the sad reality of competitive gaming, even in 2020. At any point, corporations can tell a tournament that it’s not allowed to run a game, and there isn’t really much a grassroots organisation can do but comply. Nintendo didn’t even have to give The Big House a reason. One might assume that the circumstances surrounding this year’s instalment, which was forced to move online for obvious reasons, might soften the Big N’s heart, but no. And now the community has been robbed of one of its most important events, in a year when everyone is desperately searching for something, anything, to get through the day.
“I am very disappointed that the one year [where] our only option is to play online during the pandemic is also when we are told that path has been shut down,” Harn’s separate statement reads. “I don’t have all the answers, but I still believe Melee will find a way. We always have and we will again.
“We have all put years of our lives into this game, and many of my fondest memories are thanks to this community. Which is why we need to be in this together the most right now. This is about more than The Big House.”