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Published January 6, 2020

On Saturday, local Fox main Aklo successfully defended Long Island, overcoming Captain Smuckers, TheSWOOPER, Ryobeat, and 3-0’ing 2saint to win Scorpius 2020. The win especially stands out for Aklo, who just finished in third place at the debut of Hax’s Night Club earlier in the week, when he beat Rishi. Though he did not qualify for the 2019 MPGR nomination process, Aklo remains a hidden boss of Long Island – his Scorpius victory is his best regional result to date.

For other news over the weekend, Umarth won the NorCal monthly over Traplord, while Captain Faceroll won SoCal Chronicles over Franz and Jakenshaken beat TheRealThing to win NEOH’s BIG 3. Meanwhile, Medz finished in first place over Tai at Axe’s Pizza Party in Arizona.

In two weeks, the 2020 Melee major season will officially kick off at Genesis 7 (which I am attending!). The signs are encouraging: this year marks the first time that Melee entrants have risen from the year prior since 2016.

But the beginning of the Melee season has a lot more at stake than just determining where players will be ranked for 2019. In fact, there’s quite a bit more to talk about than who will win Genesis. For today’s column, I am going to bring up three narratives for the Melee scene that you should follow throughout this year..

The ruleset debate

For most of Melee’s history, the community did not have a universal ruleset or standardized version of the game for tournament play. The second half of last decade – most of which was Melee’s “post-glow” period – brought long-time contentious topics to the forefront of the scene.

I would personally choose the controversy over alternative controllers, specifically “box” ones, as a catalyst for infuriating and often solution-less ruleset discourse for the rest of the decade. The debate over these controllers also correlates with the development and ensuing controversy over in-game modifications like UCF, with the short-term creation of a “competition committee” that looks more ridiculous in hindsight for ever existing as a reactive measure to this controversy. Just last year, community strife over wobbling and ledge grab limits blew up. Major series like GOML and The Big House broke away from the pack on banning wobbling, with the latter also instituting a LGL. By the way, none of this comes close to opening the can of worms that is the “PAL or NTSC” debate overseas.

As the scene continues to exist without any central authority, the ruleset debate will only continue to grow more contentious. Though I don’t expect there to ever be a situation as dire for the scene as a supermajor or notable regional banning a character, the community will likely continue to be split between events having differing rulesets. This is not too different from now, but it’s also contingent on another factor that I think an increasing amount of Melee community members are becoming aware of…

The TO Cold Wars

It’s no secret that Melee has declined, or at the very least plateaued, over the last few years. National attendants are down, people at the top level are quitting the game, and those who are supposed to take their place are leaving as well. There are more majors and events now than there were in the past, but there’s diminishing returns and consequences that arise from it. If you’re not in a region like New York City, the concept of the “weekly” local is all but dead compared to years past, also partially due to the advent of Netplay as an alternative to local attendance.

Melee fans know that the scene is dealing with these problems. Most of them will usually ask questions along the lines of why an official Melee circuit doesn’t exist. Those with a slightly more jaded view will respond that in order to run any successful centralized league, circuit, or institution for the community, you have to come in with prestige and heavy financial backing – in other words, boast legitimacy. It follows from here that Nintendo is the only organization that can make this work, but that it chooses not to do so for business reasons, stops TOs from doing so for business reasons, or does both for business reasons.

This answer is half-right and obscures more uncomfortable truths. As far as circuits are concerned, they’ve existed before, not always to successful degrees, but their creation doesn’t necessarily depend upon Nintendo. The biggest roadblock to creating a centralized institution for Melee isn’t necessarily Nintendo – it’s that we lack the willpower and collective pressure to ensure mutual cooperation between TOs to create and maintain a centralized structure for Melee.

I’ve talked to and am friends with different regional TOs and major TOs about this problem. Most of them invest about just under double-digit hours per week in running their scenes and preparing for tournaments. It may as well be a part-time, unpaid internship. Yet more than the uncompensated work and financial stressors are the additional social problems that come with being a TO. When it comes to scheduling events, you don’t just worry about venue costs and locations – you worry about other regional TOs stealing your attendees. If you’re a major TO, the anxiety and frustration you feel about this will only get worse.

The long story short: TOs have to deal with a lot from their attendees and from each other. And these folks – for better or worse – have conflicting egos and competing interests, be it differing visions for an ideal ruleset or what kind of events they like to run. It sounds trite, but I really believe that politics, not just fears about Nintendo, is our biggest roadblock.

If Melee were to ever have a centralized authority that isn’t just in-name, you can bet that the amount of bullshit that each person deals with will only become more overwhelming. Imagine trying to build a national circuit and talking about stream rights or compensation. The moment you bring ten TOs in a room to agree on the creation of a circuit, three of them are going to walk right out if they don’t get to stream their event’s top eight on their local channels.

It’s easy to ask these TOs to put aside their petty differences. But to them, these issues are not petty. These people put in countless hours of mostly thankless work for the reward of, at best, more thankless work. Conceding personal agency for the greater collective good is easy to see as a simple choice when it’s not you in the room.

I don’t know if the uneasy tension between TOs will improve or worsen in 2020. But it’s something to keep at the back of your mind for the new year.

Content vs. Competition: How can competitors get the most out of Melee?

If you’re not a one of the Five Gods of Melee (including inactive ones), Leffen or Plup, it’s a brutal time to pick Melee as a career. Though he was roasted for this tweet, tafokints was absolutely correct in suggesting a greater point.

Without being a championship-contending player or having historical legacy within the scene, you have no hope in starting a career off competing in Melee. In 2018, we already saw players like Crush leave the scene – and he was someone who routinely farmed locals every week and certainly could make a full-time living off Melee. A year later, a peer like KJH, who actually developed strong Melee content, announced that he was taking a competitive break in 2020. If you wanted to think of examples before those two, take a look at Druggedfox – and perhaps the new streaming grinder PPMD, who has yet to return to competition.

There are people within the Melee scene who are doing their best to make it work in both areas. Zain, iBDW, S2J, Lucky, Ginger, and even Magi are examples of these players. But it isn’t easy to maintain both and improve at both. Not everyone can be Leffen.

As 2020 stars (who I have mentioned in previous columns) continue to rise and other players drop off in skill or attendance, I predict that those beneath the top level in Melee who I haven’t already named will face a familiar conflict as all the others before them: to somehow balance their competitive pursuits with the content creation goals needed to ensure that they can support themselves as competitors.

In my next column, I will write about my breakout region pick for 2020 and talk about four players with interesting 2019 resumes who could make a splash in the new year.

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