Super Smash Bros. Ultimate competitor Tyler “Marss” Martins set off a firestorm in the fighting game community over the weekend when he suggested top players should be able to register for open-bracket tournaments ahead of those he deemed less important.
“I know its top player privilege or whatever, but I’d rather see MkLeo and Light, for example, rather than two dudes who are gonna go 0-2 and ask top players for pictures after they lose,” Martins wrote on Twitter after Leonardo “MkLeo” Lopez Perez and Paris “Light” Ramirez Garcia, two of the best Smash players in the world, failed to sign up for a major Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament before it hit the extended 768-player registration cap.
Kotaku contacted Martins for comment but didn’t hear back before publication.
The organisers of the tournament in question, Community Effort Orlando, gave an exact date and time for registration re-opening two weeks ago. Despite this, Perez and Garcia have both publicly admitted to sleeping through the sign-up period. And while Garcia is a free agent, Perez is employed by T1, one of the biggest esports organisations in the world, ostensibly making Smash competition his job. That he missed out on not one but two chances to register for an important event like Community Effort Orlando (and feels justified in complaining about missing out) under those circumstances is confusing.
Kotaku reached out to Perez about this situation but didn’t hear back before publication.
In short, the argument being made for opening registration early to a certain class of player is that tournaments would benefit from reserving spots for better players, as they are more of a viewership draw (and thus capable of bringing in more ad revenue) than so-called randos without established placings in the community.
Several notable members of the Smash community, Perez and Garcia included, rushed to agree with Martins, but he was largely beset by criticism. Grassroots tournaments are known for their open-bracket policies, which place every player on even footing regardless of status. Giving someone preferential treatment due to their skill level or professional employment with an esports org is antithetical, dissenters argued, to the ethos of the Smash and traditional fighting game communities. The demand gets even weirder when taking into account the recent rise of invitational events that cater exclusively to those types of competitors.
“As an active player and organiser, I try to be understanding of every situation CEO attendees may be in,” Community Effort Orlando organiser Alex Jebailey told Kotaku via email. “CEO 2021 is taking place during an unprecedented situation, with the return of fighting game events creating never before seen enthusiasm for registering early. I’m humbled and flattered that CEO sold 3,500 passes so quickly, but that response shouldn’t lead to CEO stepping away from open brackets and open registration. In my opinion those are the things that make our conventions great.”
The desire for major tournaments to feature only the best competitors around is understandable, but the argument surrounding Martins’ suggestion highlights the key difference between fighting games and esports. The fighting game community has sustained itself for decades as a place where anyone and everyone can come to compete, regardless of skill level or history. It’s not a place where monetisation is easy to come by.
And while that can result in negative things like tournaments living event to event and organisers relying on volunteer labour, it’s also imbued competition with a grassroots passion that can’t be replicated by bigger games like League of Legends or Overwatch. There’s simply nothing in esports like the fighting game community, and that continues to frustrate esports-minded interlopers who see its “untapped” or “squandered” potential as a means to benefit small groups of players and investors rather than the scene as a whole.
“I think as we get back to bigger events in the future, we will be better prepared to manage demand,” Jebailey added. “I also think that invitational opportunities will increase to better serve our most elite players. At CEO though, all our attendees are given the same opportunity to become a champion no matter their skill level. An opportunity that starts on the registration page.”