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Published March 14, 2022

Last week, the Smash World Tour announced that it was returning for 2022, this time providing a $250,000 prize pool across both Melee and Ultimate – the largest payouts in Smash history. It will have an official points-based circuit, where placings at LAN tournaments will determine a player’s spot on a global standings list. The players who have the most points – or are No. 1 in their respective designated region – will qualify for the Smash World Tour Championships in December, with additional spots given to the top two from a Last Chance Qualifier event.

In other news over the weekend, Ginger won Saturday’s Xanadu Legends over Prometheus, while DrLobster won SSS 14.4 in New Hampshire.

To follow more tournament related news, follow Melee Stats on Twitter.

Is Melee Dying? (The Short Version)

Five days ago, moky released a video titled, “Is Melee Dying?” It started a new wave of community discussion over the future of the scene, as well as the latest stretch of top player reluctance to enter tournaments. Shortly after this video came out, Axe released one of his own titled “Why Top Players Aren’t Entering Tournaments.”

So, is Melee actually dying? The short answer: no. Melee is not dying. We’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s caused people to be wary about returning to tournaments, as well as the postponement of our most historic major series. In fact, we’ve had this same discussion a million times before – it’s happened every single year for the last five years in spite of the fact that we are two months removed from the largest Melee tournament ever.

But given the scene-wide discussion of this topic, I have to admit that there’s a grain of truth in the seeping idea that something is uniquely wrong right now with the community. I think moky’s video makes it abundantly clear that the problem goes way beyond top players just not entering events. In today’s column, I’m going to break down what I think are four massive challenges facing Melee today.

Challenge No. 1 – Representation

To be fair, Melee has taken a big step forward in terms of representation. It’s been a joy to see the rise of groups like gaylee and HeartswapTV, let alone vast community support for events like HomeMadeWaffles’ Black Empowerment Melee Invitational series. What’s particularly impressed me is how universally positive scene leaders have been toward these types of contributions. The community’s social climate is overwhelmingly progressive and you don’t have to look far to find it. It hasn’t always been like that, so, obviously, this is great.

With that said, there’s something to be said about the fact that Melee is overwhelmingly dominated by men. The aforementioned examples I brought up are still exceptions to the rule. I would like to see even more events catered toward different minorities and groups of marginalized people. As LAN events return, I hope to see Smash Sisters return to the same kind of prominence it had before the pandemic, maybe even running something similar to a invitational along with the crew battles present at majors.

One thing I unfortunately have to mention in this segment is the disbandment of the Code of Conduct committee, which followed the community’s now infamous #MeToo movement in mid-2020. I hope to see the return of a new and improved CoC. In spite of the old one’s flaws, its dissolution was a huge loss for the scene. It would be really bad if it didn’t come back in some form.

Challenge No. 2 – The Incentive Problem For Involvement Got Worse

Some of you reading this might recognize this issue as the “capitalism” problem. If you don’t like using loaded terms like capitalism, the best way to put it is that “producing anything of value” in Melee lacks strong financial incentives. The few people who can make a living off Melee (more on this later) require an entire network of part-time volunteers and underpaid freelancers. This is the case is because most of those people have to balance working other jobs or dealing with school along with pursuing Smash as a hobby. While boring, it’s true and this problem has been heightened during the pandemic.

Because there’s little money in Melee – relative to other esports  – for most people who get involved, it’s for personal reasons, and those tend to correlate with burnout. Although the community has a great ‘bench” of people willing to step up in place of where others used to be, it’s hard to deny that turnover is a big problem, let alone one that hasn’t been more obvious in recent times.

I’m going to mention something here that might sound unrelated, but I promise – it’s relevant. There’s a lot of people in the scene who are quite good at what they do. However, because of the lack of financial incentive or structure for themselves and the broader community in general, they often fall into a common trap of thinking that their contributions and KPIs are the most important. In their mind, anything or anyone which inconveniences them or contradicts their “Melee worldview” is bad for the scene.

There’s many commentators, top players, content creators, tournament organizers, writers, and prominent community figures who have this problem, and, as a result, don’t get along with and don’t want to work with each other. I admit that, to an extent, I contribute this problem in a few minor ways. But remember – I’m not writing this column to spill the beans on who I don’t like. I only mention this part specifically because you’ll want to remember it as you read about the next two challenges.

Challenge No. 3 – Consistent Monetization Is (Mostly) Limited To Top Players

There’s three types of people who are needed for any healthy scene: top players, organizers and “contributors.” Top players compete at tournaments, organizers run them, and contributors ‘supplement’ the former two in a variety of ways (video making, commentary, writing, etc). All three are necessary parts of the community and they need each other. As of right now though, only top players carry any kind of sustainable independent monetization model, and unfortunately, the vast majority of organizers and contributors need top players for any chance of growing their respective involvement within the scene.

It’s worth noting the conflicts between what’s best for top players and everyone else. A major is going to optimize their event for the majority of their attendees, not top players. You’ll often see a lot of the latter complaining about a tournament’s scheduling and offering suggestions on how to make it different, but these concerns are not relevant for thousands of other people at the same event. Meanwhile, for a contributor, they have to represent the community in a way that either gets people to events or to start paying attention to “Melee” in general. In many situations, this happens in ways that add stress for top players. Yet to contributors, sometimes they feel like it’s worth it.

To recap, organizers are unhappy that top players aren’t going to their events because it decreases hype for them and makes it harder to sell their events to sponsors. Contributors are unhappy that top players aren’t going to events because they have nothing to talk about and have to otherwise spin the wheel of annoying “engagement heavy” topics to drive community discussion. Top players are unhappy because they view their relationships to organizers as ones of unsatisfied customers and they see contributors as obstacles to their happiness.

I don’t have a solution to dealing with this split. One common suggestion is that rankings – a huge source of stress for any prospective full-time player – are to blame for the top player exodus, and as such, people behind MPGR should make a list of tournaments that count. I’m calling bullshit on that. Mango and Axe aren’t going to start magically attending locals if they officially don’t count. It’s just an easier target than the actual truth, which is that attending non-majors just isn’t worth it for top players compared to staying at home and making money off their streams. You can’t really blame them, especially not in an environment where the community is still dealing with the world-wide consequences of a pandemic.

However, if I could make a humble plea to everyone – not just the top players – it’s to remember the invisible fourth type of person in the community: “normal players.” These are the actual life force behind Melee. Without people interested in actually playing the game at a bare minimum (or consuming content surrounding it), there is no scene. The more this split widens between top players, organizers, and contributors, the worse it will impact this fourth type of person, potentially drive their interest away from the scene, and hurt everyone involved.

Moving forward, Melee is going to find a better way to manage these relationships. Doing so will likely necessitate discovering effective independent monetization models for organizers and contributors. Sadly, as you’ll learn in the next part, I find this very unlikely to happen in the short-term for one big reason.

Challenge No. 4 – Formalized Sectarianism

If you’ve ever heard me talk about the scene before, you’ll remember that I view the “Melee community” as basically a bunch of different friend groups who share a common interest. A recent problem however – and one that I frankly think is worse than every other problem – is how the decentralized nature of the community has become formalized in tandem with a mini-resurgence of professional investment in the scene. This is the worst time for that to happen.

It might be surprising to you that I haven’t directly said “Nintendo” yet in a column detailing the biggest challenges Melee faces today. That’s because I’m not scared of Nintendo. Although it’s certainly an obstacle, it’s one that isn’t particularly unique to the current landscape. What’s far more concerning to me is the increasing factionalism that exists in the scene as a result of different groups trying to professionally navigate the aforementioned renaissance we’re going through in oppositional ways.

Think about it for a second. Right now, there’s two circuits that are supposed to represent the community. One circuit is officially sanctioned by Nintendo, but doesn’t have any listed events five months after its announcement. The people behind the circuit are legally only allowed to say “trust me bro,” in response to any questions about what they’re doing. The other circuit acknowledges the existence of Nintendo but isn’t directly associated. Neither of the two has the most prestigious majors of the year, Genesis and The Big House. They don’t even incorporate Smash Summit, the biggest invitational series.

The whole point of a circuit is that it’s supposed to centralize a healthy ecosystem for organizers, contributors, and players, as well as provide a unified front for sponsors. There’s no such legitimacy when there’s two circuits and neither have the most important tournaments. I could name several topics where the scene has areas of disagreement (rankings, controllers, rules, stages, etc), but I can’t get over the fact that we have two circuits. It’s infuriating. When we’re fractured in many different professional directions – not just social – it gradually poisons the fabric of our scene. In the long run, it will limit our ability to do great things together.

Two years ago, I said that the biggest roadblock Melee faced was something along the lines of lacking the willpower and collective pressure to ensure mutual cooperation between organizers. I still think this is a huge problem, and it’s particularly scary to see it showing up when the scene is on the cusp of a resurgence. In my opinion, this issue has partly ruined an otherwise unambiguously incredible time to be part of the community.

This won’t kill the scene, but it’s made partaking in it way more unpleasant. If we don’t resolve it soon, we’re going to look back when it’s too late and realize how wasted this period of time was because we couldn’t work together.



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