The statement is rare because historically Nintendo has distanced itself from the Super Smash Bros. fighting game scene. Unlike companies like Riot or Blizzard, who work directly to manage the competitive scene built up around their games, Nintendo has studiously distanced itself, and even actively worked against a community that loves its fighting games.The statement caused a stir in the Smash community precisely because Nintendo doesn’t often associate itself with the grassroots fighting game organizations: “It’s official. Nintendo’s pulling the plug. We’re f***ed,” Tweeted one fan in response to the statement.
“Well well, Nintendo has never supported the competitive scene. Now they want to complain about it. What a plot twist” commented another.
“From the perspective of the Smash community, [Nintendo] appears to be relatively selective, and as hands-off as possible,” Christina “Chia” Korsak, a 14-year veteran of the Smash Bros. community, said in an interview with IGN.
This means Super Smash Bros. fighting game tournaments are by and large grassroots affairs, run by third-parties, and technically unofficial. Rather than antipathy, Nintendo corporate has a history of taking action against grassroots competitive Smash.
In 2013 Evo held a donation drive to determine which video game would take the 8th slot for the show’s roster. The community that donated the most money would earn a place for their chosen game in Evo 2013, and the Smash Bros. community managed to “win” a spot for Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Despite this good-natured campaign, Nintendo attempted first to shut down Smash Bros. from even appearing in Evo, before trying to block live streams of the game from the event. After an outcry, Nintendo backed off and a Smash Bros. Melee tournament was allowed to proceed. But the resistance from Nintendo would color the community’s relationship with the developer for the years to come.
The lack of official sponsorship didn’t deter the Smash Bros. community. Artist Jaqueline “Jisu” Choe described the smaller grassroots events as “lowkey and inviting.”
Choe says that the Smash community became what it is because Smash fans took it upon themselves to build up the scene. “If it weren’t for the active volunteer work of many smart, capable individuals, then tournaments would simply not exist. A lot of the important work is thankless, so there’s no incentive to actually stand up for it.”
While the camaraderie of the grassroots scene made the community close, Choe says that it left the door open to disorganization and there was a limitation to what the community could organize on its own. “A lot of accountability is lost… Simple business transactions also become muddied by the guise of ‘friendships’ and things could get very messy and ugly very fast.”
Earlier this month Smash 4 pro player Gonzalo “Zero” Barrios apologized to Choe and another community member named Katie after admitting to inappropriate flirting with Katie when she was 15.
Every Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Fighter
In 2015, Nintendo began sponsoring a handful of fighting game tournaments and events. This meant there were some Nintendo booths and demo kiosks, but Korsak says this wasn’t much of an improvement, and far from the level of support shown by other fighting game-adjacent developers and publishers.
“From the public looking in, we had some game demos or booths from Nintendo at a few events, and maybe a few tweets about the events. No huge prize pots or organization of any kind though.”
While Korsak says that the acknowledgment of the community was beneficial, overall it wasn’t the embrace the community was hoping for. “By being a Nintendo sponsored event we didn’t really get much, but instead had to abide by certain restrictions by them such as — not playing third-party modified games such as Project M at events, not using other game modifications like 20XX, broadcast restrictions with certain licensed music tracks, and more.”
[Ed note: 20XX is a mod for Super Smash Bros. Melee that add features more conducive to tournament play, while Project M is a mod for Super Smash Bros. Brawl that makes the gameplay closer to the one in Melee.]
It likely won’t help future relations that Nintendo’s meager overtures to the community have also been caught in the crossfires of the scandal. Smash Bros. pro Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada was one of the community members accused of sexual misconduct. They’ve been dropped from their esports team NRG, and videos of them appearing on official Nintendo clips have been removed from the company’s YouTube channel.
Still, Nintendo’s distance from the Smash Bros. competitive scene is well-known and felt by the community and fans are ultimately hurt that Nintendo’s condemnation is one of the few statements Nintendo’s officially released about the Smash community.
Others, however, see potential reasoning for Nintendo: “Maybe the community never deserved Nintendo’s attention in the first place because the community is a cesspool of toxicity,” laments one twitter user. “The community needs to stop acting like they deserve Nintendo’s attention.”
“If Nintendo actually introduced structure and organization to help facilitate stable pay and avenues for people who experience physical/sexual assault, then we’d have a much cleaner scene,” disagrees Choe.When asked if she’d like to see Nintendo take a more active role in the community in the future, Choe echoed similar sentiments from other community members online.
“Would I like to [see Nintendo more involved]? Yes. Do I think it’s going to happen? No. Nintendo has been very firm on its beliefs, even at the dismay of many, and I believe all the events that have transpired will either prompt them to come in or permanently keep them away.”
Ultimately, Choe says the Smash community is what it is today because of how grassroots it is, and that official sponsorship will take away “the beauty of what make the community so great.”
“It’s a give or take situation where objectively, it is better for Nintendo to be in the picture, but even without them, the scene has built itself up into one of the most unique gaming communities and will continue to carry itself on its own shoulders.”
Matt T.M. Kim is a reporter for IGN.