In recent weeks, a wave of controversies has spread through the Super Smash Bros community. In its own equivalent to the MeToo movement, it’s turned out that many pro players and community contributors have been acting very poorly behind the scenes, with stories of everything from abusive relationships to sexual assault coming to the forefront.
And this has caused many people to re evaluate common practices in the community and tournament scene. These include the practice of Smash ‘houses’ (where pro players of various ages and genders would live together to practice for tournaments), the backroom parties where underage drinking was allowed and often encouraged, or the complete lack of adult supervision throughout many of these tourneys, with younger and older players allowed to seemingly do whatever they like without organisers or parents stepping in.
This makes sense. After all, you probably should have a situation like the Sky House where teens and adults are living together without supervision, or instances where random kids are stuck sharing hotel rooms with older competitors. That’s a recipe for disaster regardless of how you look at it, and putting an end to some of those practices seems like a necessary step for cleaning up the competitive scene here.
Yet many people go further than that, and say that Nintendo’s lack of involvement is something that needs to change too.
That these issues could only occur because Super Smash Bros’ tournament scene had grassroots origins, and that the best way to solve it would be to have Nintendo themselves host all the tournaments. Or more extreme still, somehow ban fan run competitions altogether.
For these people, Super Smash Bros is seen as the outlier in the eSports scene. The odd game out whose publisher doesn’t control the tournaments, rules or prize money.
Yet I disagree. In fact, I feel that its eSports as a whole that’s the outlier, not Super Smash Bros.
What’s more, I think that other eSports should be more like Super Smash Bros there, not less. That the communities themselves should run the show.
And that’s because for every other game and sport in history, that’s exactly how it’s worked.
Think about it. Who are the authorities in other sports?
Independent bodies that set the rules independently of those sports’ creators, that’s who. FIFA didn’t invent football, just as MLB didn’t invent baseball or the ATP invent tennis.
Instead, they formed entirely independently of it. They may be big now, but they started off as random groups of people getting together and deciding the rules for their competitions.
Every other competition, game, sport or activity is the same way. From chess to mixed martial arts, spelling bees to dog shows, every one of them had its ‘authorities’ start as an unaffiliated group of afficianados who wanted to celebrate the best of their field.
What’s more, they’re rarely if ever the only games in town either. Football has rival leagues that clubs can compete in if they don’t like FIFA or their country’s Football Association. Robot combat has multiple competing events in different countries with their own organisers and rulesets to match.
And in the case of boxing, four different organisations have entirely different belts and champions too. The IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO may recognise each other champion’s and have similar rulesets, but they are run as independent bodies nonetheless, and can all have different champions at the same time.
So why shouldn’t eSports be similar?
Why shouldn’t all video game tournaments be community run affairs controlled by their players rather than ‘official’ deals by their developers or publishers?
The fact other eSports are so heavily controlled by their IP owners makes them the outliers and aberrations there, not Super Smash Bros.
And it’s utterly terrifying how many people don’t realise just how weird that departure from the norm really is. Think about it. Imagine if the creator of say, cricket could shut down the Ashes or Cricket World Cup because they disliked what was going on there. Or thought they deserved more recognition than those competition’s managers were willing to give.
It’d be utterly ridiculous. People would be outraged over it, and they’d get laughed out of court over it.
Yet similar things have happened in eSports. Nintendo has tried to block or take down streams for Super Smash Bros tournaments, including the one at EVO a few years back.
That shouldn’t be possible. EVO shouldn’t have to give a toss about what the companies think, nor should anyone else in any competitive video game scene. Like with chess or golf or any other sport or game in history, it should be up to the community to control what the rules are, how tournaments are organised and how these competitions should be broadcast online.
So no, the problems encountered in the Smash Bros scene shouldn’t be ‘fixed’ by losing the grassroots appeal of the community, or by giving Nintendo control over the whole thing.
It should remain entirely independent, as should all other eSports and tournament scenes for video games going forward.
Thanks for reading!