Happy August, everyone! Europe’s Super Bou Online kick-started the month as the premier event of last weekend. Trif dominated the field, beating Frenzy, Ice and Sharp en route to winning the tournament.
— SmashEurope (@SmashEurope) August 1, 2021
Within the United States, Polish, another contender for best Peach, had yet another stellar performance at Ohio’s The Grail 3. Here, Polish withstood an early winner’s bracket loss to go on a tear through loser’s bracket, where he took down lloD, Twotran, Drephen, Sirmeris, Zamu, and Free Palestine to win the Midwest regional.
We Need To Talk About Raging
It’s been about a month and a half since most in-person events have returned. While news regarding the latest strain of Coronavirus is certainly something to watch, most of the Smash scene is ready to transition back to LAN. Unfortunately, today’s column is not celebratory. Instead, I’m going to bring up one of my least favorite parts of tournaments: in-person raging.
This has been treated lightly by tournament organizers for too long, and our scene is worse for it. In today’s column, I hope to convince you that this should be taken far more seriously.
My Background With Raging
I’ve always struggled with my temper. Although I’ve never lost my cool within a venue (not that I can remember), I’ve had several moments of disproportionate anger within and outside of Smash. I’ve yelled at friends, broken objects, and ruined relationships because of my inability to keep my cool. It’s not fun, and it’s something I still deal with every day.
In fact, I’ll let you in on something especially embarrassing. At a local in early 2019, I had a particularly bad meltdown. Upon losing my last match, I immediately left the venue and slammed my controller through the pavement of the road. It went flying and actually proceeded to fall underneath a car on the opposite side. I had to cross the road and suffer the humiliation of having a bunch of puzzled onlookers watching me crawl underneath a stranger’s parked car to grab what remained of my controller.
If I ever did this in a venue, it would be universally – and rightfully – seen as cringe-worthy. But we all know that Melee brings out particularly strong emotions within its players. Let’s talk about what’s just part of the game and what’s not healthy.
What Counts As Raging and Why Is It Bad?
There’s a ton of infuriating ways to lose in Melee. You’re certainly not alone if you’ve ever rolled your eyes at an opponent taunting. Nor are you weird for sighing or putting your hands on your face after getting rested on your last stock. Nonverbal, non-intrusive expressions like these are inevitable in competition. For example, I would not ban Plup for flipping off the television after getting wobbled at Pound 2016. I wouldn’t even ban him for mildly complaining to his opponent. It happens.
None of this means that we can’t draw lines for acceptability. To me, anything that involves the potential destruction of an object, physical harm or harassment to another player, or anything that significantly “kills the vibe” for others, is inappropriate. If you’re a rager, you have to consider the people who suddenly have to manage your emotional ineptitude.
The tournament organizers now have to worry about a potential escalation. You might claim that you won’t hurt anyone else or compromise the scene’s relationship with the venue via breaking something, but what does your word mean if you can’t get keep it together? Furthermore, the opponent has to manage how they navigate your emotions at the outcome of a match – when they shouldn’t have to worry about your health. Other players in the area have to deal with you too.
My most unpleasant encounter with in-person rage involved a fellow Marth player hitting themselves mid-friendly session with me. I immediately unplugged from the setup and said, “I’m going to go now. Thanks for the games.” I have a very good relationship with this player now, but if this ever happened to me again, I would have no tolerance for it.
Now, to be clear, something that’s worth acknowledging is that I’m thinking about norms of conduct for most attendees. I don’t have an answer for how TOs should have managed something like Hungrybox celebrating a victory by hitting a cup of noodles after grand finals. Is there a double standard between tolerating a public figure kicking a chair in comical triumph and warning a player who does something similar after a loss?
Maybe, but in addition to the obvious differences between the two examples (one being an over-the-top celebration and the other coming from a place of being mad), I’m going to flip the equation on its head. What exactly is gained from erring on the side of tolerance for grown adults acting like children? Just because top players do something doesn’t mean that we should encourage it as a standard. As a general rule of thumb, raging, as I’ve described above, is inconsiderate, obnoxious, makes you look bad, and it carries possible consequences for everyone involved. If the worst case scenario of being too “strict” is that we don’t see Leffen throwing his controller in the middle of top eight, I don’t care and neither should you.
With this in mind, I’m going to bring up something that I feel often gets overlooked within this discussion: the impact of rage on the perpetrators themselves. More specifically, I will talk about how bystanders can contribute to this problem in an incredibly toxic way.
The Cycle of Raging
I’ve spent most of this column speaking about this in particularly harsh terms. The reason I’ve done so isn’t due to a moral Protestantism. It’s not even because of some standpoint theory “reformed rager” nonsense. The reason I feel so strongly about this is because of how frequently the following plays out:
- The rager blows up at an opponent, breaks something, throws something, hits something, etc.
- The rager apologizes, says some words of self-deprecation, everyone mocks them, does nothing or memes the hell out of them.
- The same thing happens again and nothing changes.
This is an abusive cycle of self-loathing. We need to recognize and respond to this far more adequately than we do now. It’s bad enough on its own, but given the viral nature of the Smash scene, I would argue that it carries even worse repercussions.
Think back to about four to seven years ago. Some of the most famous Smash compilation videos were videos of smashers losing their shit. Throwing controllers, yelling at other people, loudly crying, breaking televisions – these actions ingloriously catapulted people to the front of the community. Tournament organizers, Top 100 players, local players – smashers from all walks of involvement in the scene just became “epic rage guy” to hundreds of thousands of people.
he rage quit in ssbm pic.twitter.com/CY3YJJOb8C
— hamyojo ♀️ (@hamyojo) May 24, 2018
I’ve talked to many people about their lowest captured moments. The cycle I mentioned above not only made these players hate themselves, but it incentivized them to not care about the consequences of their actions because they carried such a deep shame and hopelessness about it. The internalization of negative feelings and the isolation that followed was infinitely discouraging. In some ways, it was more humiliating than a ban would have been.
Truthfully, this isn’t a recent thing. Even back in the Brawl era, “I think Jeff won” remains one of the most remembered moments in Melee history. I say this not to retroactively cancel anyone involved, but to note that it came at a time when smashers were collectively much younger. We weren’t mature, we didn’t fully understand the impact of the Internet, and we were less prepared to deal with this stuff.
That’s not an excuse any more. The scene is older. We’re at the precipice of a potentially massive revival, and the social climate has changed when it’s come to addressing far more serious issues. The presence of these problems doesn’t mean that we can’t take care of smaller, but still significant things that hurt our community.
Moving forward, I’d like to propose that local TOs start placing temporary bans on people for inappropriately raging at tournaments. I suggest a three-strike rule: you get asked to leave the venue for your first infraction, you receive a month-long ban for your second one, and in your third, you get indefinitely suspended from events, with a minimum of one quarter of a year where you are also barred from your local power rankings. To return, you must make an appeal to your scene leaders, as well as any other players involved within the three incidents. When you come back, you’re on probation for a year, where any further issues result in step three repeating itself.
If you’re reading this and any of it resonates with you, I want you to stop and really think about what I’m saying in the best of faith. You are worth way more than how you perform in a video game. You deserve far more love and support than you think you do. You are greater than your worst public meltdowns.
Melee’s something most of us do for fun. If it gets to a point where you can’t control yourself, you need to take time away from it. If you can’t make that decision yourself, it’s on everyone else to be kind and still give you a wake up call. When you return, maybe Melee can finally be the place you want it to be – where it’s always fun for everyone else and, most importantly, you.
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