Last week was my anniversary. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I’m tempted to say something like “you can feel love in the air,” but it’s lately been cold as shit up in New England and I’ve been sick since returning from my Disney trip. In fact, I’ve actually been inside more often than outside.
You’re probably wondering where the hell this is going. I swear it has to do with Smash. Valentines. Love. Relationships. Doubles. Boom. Let’s talk about doubles. In the spirit of love and friendship,I’ve dedicated today’s column to breaking down doubles. Or, as my dear friend Chroma would put it, breaking down “the decades-long conspiracy launched by top players to give them more money.”
First off, I’m going to share some general thoughts on the state of doubles in 2023. Is doubles actually dying or is this overblown? If it is dying, what’s causing the death of doubles? Can we measure these factors? Heading into this column, I’m approaching it with the following assumptions and seeing if they hold true:
- Doubles saw a decline in attendance over 2022, even relative to the existing decline in singles from before the pandemic to 2022.
- There was significantly less buy-in from top players in doubles for 2022 from years past.
Where is Doubles Right Now Compared To Years Past?
When you discuss doubles with most people, chances are you’ll hear some variant of the following story – that doubles used to be popular in the past, but nowadays it’s not as popular. A few of the more informed people will say that event scheduling typically reflects this; sans for notable exceptions, most three-day events have basically dedicated all of Day 1 to doubles to accommodate people who want to enter singles but can’t take Friday off.
Rather than take this narrative for granted, I decided to look at singles and doubles attendance for majors together. Choosing 2016 as my starting point, as well as just focusing on the five biggest annual offline major series (Genesis, GOML, Smash Con, Shine, and The Big House), I put together a chart comparing the trends of these events in terms of their average attendance in both formats. Big thank you to friend of the column, Melee Stats Patron, and Fourside Fighter Jackzilla for helping me put this (and follow-up charts) together.
NOTE: Due to 2020 only having Genesis as one of the five offline majors to run, I have excluded it from the chart. I also chose not to include 2021 or 2023 either. You’ll notice this filtering happening in future charts as well.
On its own, this will not tell you much – merely that “Melee supermajor attendance has overall gone down since the glory days of 2016.” If you have been following Melee for a while, this is about as newsworthy as saying that Fox is a good character. But what happens when we examine something a little more specific: the amount of doubles entrants to singles entrants at these tournaments?
Here, we see “half-evidence” that doubles, even relative to the overall decline of singles, has seen better days. Versus 2016, in which around 45 percent of the supermajor singles competing population was playing in doubles, 2022, the most recent year we saw all five supermajors featured in, saw that number go down by ten percent.
With that said, it’s not enough to look at one graph and conclude “doubles is dead.” If you remember what I said earlier, I wanted to investigate why or how this could come to be true. My first assumption was that top player attendance in doubles – specifically among people who I consider “contenders” to win supermajors – has suffered. Using some napkin math, as well as subjective parameters to which people could win any of the five annual supermajors in their prior years, I decided to examine two things: “Total Contenders Attendance” in both formats, as well as a variant of the “doubles as % of singles” chart, but for the contenders.
NOTE: If you’re curious about the methodology behind how I determined ‘contenders,’ I regret to inform you that it’s off pure vibes. There are inevitably gray areas, such as if someone entered doubles, but not singles, or if a retired top player, like Armada, could still count as a ‘contender’ in spite of being retired, or even breakout picks like ‘aMSa’ and ‘Jmook’ counting at the times of their respective breakouts. Ultimately, I suggest you view the above as just my ‘broad’ sketch of how popular doubles is among top players – not definitive. For more information, I have attached this Google Sheet.
There’s a couple things to note in the above charts. For starters, doubles is actually more represented at the top level than it is for the typical attendee. However, relative to years past there has been a decrease in representation among top players at majors in doubles. 2017, coincidentally, the year of the FUSE Circuit, was the peak of top players trying hard in doubles, with 73.91 percent of top players in attendance at majors entering doubles. Last year’s number was 40.47 percent: a significant dropoff; one more so than even the dropoff that existed in the total population dropoff.
So is that the full story? Do we have enough information to say that top players killed 2022 doubles by not being interested? Did I just give you permission to DM Mango, Leffen and Zain about how they’re killing the scene? No. Of course not. Please don’t do that.
As I mentioned before, I did my research on this topic with Jackzilla, both a dear friend and fellow Melee pundit, as well as someone who’s organized big events. When I ran my hypotheses by him, he was a little more hesitant. In his words, he thought the years themselves had more to do with impacting attendance rate than anything else. I asked him what exactly he meant by that and he brought up other factors that have gone into shaping doubles attendance at events. To have definitive proof of isolating different variables shaping attendance, I would have to examine some of the following:
- Average player age – for example, are older players likelier to enter doubles? How about younger? Do people have less time to dedicate to doubles today?
- Event scheduling – is The Crimson Blur correct that events are killing doubles by moving it to Day 1? Will giving doubles its own “special” role for Sunday help events drive attendance or viewership? Or is the “doubles on Day 1” strategy beneficial to overall attendance?
- The impact of Slippi: how did the temporary scene-wide shift to rollback and Netplay impact doubles events from 2020 to 2022? Are we still recovering from this impact? What metrics from “pandemic Melee” can we measure that have a relationship with doubles attendance for 2022?
- The departure of many doubles greats from the scene, either together or entirely. See SFAT/PewPewU and Armada/Mew2King. Has the actual quality of doubles, or motivation to keep the format alive, regressed since both teams left? What about the other Lindgren brother, Android? Or Mango and Leffen’s virtual absence from the format in recent times?
Measuring these things exceeds the scope of this particular column. For next week’s Monday Morning Marth, I’m going to examine if there’s any measurable relationships between the scheduling of doubles brackets at these five majors, their actual attendance, and how these events have performed in viewership. I’ll also do my best to talk to some top players about their thoughts on the format, where it is, where it can go, and what factors influence their motivation to compete in doubles.
Before I leave this column, I’d like to offer a sign of hope. With 470 total entrants, Genesis 9 was the largest doubles supermajor we’ve had since Genesis 7. Especially encouraging was six of the top eight in attendance choosing to play doubles. If this trend held, 2023 would not just be a remarkable departure from 2022 – it could lead to one of the biggest doubles years ever. Is this a sign of things to come? Can we save doubles?