On Wednesday, the Evo tournament series notably excluded Super Smash Bros. Melee from its roster of fighting game tournaments for Evo 2019. It is the first time Evo hasn’t held an official Melee tournament since 2012 – making this the end of an unprecedented streak and accomplishment for a fighting game community.
There’s no way I can awkwardly transition into Melee tournament news for this segment, so before going into my weekly recap, let’s address the elephant in the room. Disclaimer: most of what I’m writing here is pure speculation, so take it for a grain of salt.
1. There’s Zero Proof Ultimate Is Killing Melee
Here’s my two cents: I don’t think the Evo news is a sign of the scene dying, and I doubt it’s a catalyst either. For reference, here’s what I wrote last week.
The fact of the matter is that the biggest factors “stopping” people from playing Melee are outside of the game and series. They’re dealing with responsibilities like having a job, graduating college, preparing for marriage or having kids. Simply put, they’re time-sensitive and tiring obligations that are sometimes, even by myself, confused with resentment toward or burnout in Melee. A new game changes none of that for the average Melee fan.
There’s a common sentiment that I’ve seen come from both casual members of the Smash community and people outside of it, my friends included: that Ultimate is killing Melee. The surface level reasons are simple: at the end of December, Ultimate had sold a little over 12 million copies, per the Video Game Sales Wiki. It will likely end up as the highest selling Smash game of all-time, and it’s easily the most watched right now. Many of Melee’s top players currently play Ultimate, and at least two of them (Armada and Leffen), at the moment, are prioritizing it over Melee, with one of them (Armada) leaving Melee.
So is it really true? Is Ultimate killing Melee, or at least drawing in all Melee players to a point where the Melee community is “dying?”
My gut tells me no. After looking through the data, I still definitively think it’s not true. But combining the numbers for both singles and doubles entrants at notable Smash majors, I think it’d be hard to deny that Ultimate has gained better reception from Melee players.
At Don’t Park On The Grass 2018, Melee events had 291 unique entrants out of 563, making the “unique” rate about 51.7 percent of players. At Genesis 6, Melee had 543 unique entrants out of 1,150, for 47.2 percent, and at last weekend’s Ultimate Nimbus, Melee had 49 unique entrants out of 84, 58.3 percent. Not taking into account the same attendants going to multiple majors, this is about 883 unique entrants across 1797 Melee players: a 49.1 percent “unique” rate and 50.9 percent crossover. For the sake of not spending too much time in evaluating the results, I didn’t take into account Melee players exclusively entering non-Ultimate brackets; I assumed the difference would be negligible.
You might look at these the decreasing prevalence of Melee “only” and correlate it with the overall drop in total Melee attendees at supermajors that TOs are largely panicking about. Below, you’ll see Evo 2017 as a point of comparison in comparing Smash 4 with Ultimate.
I think you’re still assuming way too much here; I think even market research I doubt mrwiz did would’ve suggested that smash ultimate – melee crossover was much much higher than the ~16%ish between ssbm-s4 (figures from 2017) pic.twitter.com/VeQJcVtWbL
— Eryk (@Ambisinister_) March 2, 2019
Here are a few counterpoints though: the overall volume of unique Melee entrants is still quite high relative to other games. In fact, the higher rate of crossover doesn’t come close to pointing toward a gloom-and-doom scenario for Melee players invested in the scene. Moreover, the high amount of crossover doesn’t prove that Melee players are “leaving.” It shows that they actually seem to like the new game!
That’s not a dangerous thing on its own. Ultimate might superficially “unify” the Smash community, but it’s still less true than the reality: that Melee players like Ultimate a lot more than they did with Smash 4, but that there’s also no proof that they’d actually prefer playing Ultimate.
I have no data to back this up other than gut feeling but I really think it’s more about the perception of melee not bringing unique entrants because of ultimate rather than that actually being true
I know that sounds nitpicky but still important to call out the diff imo
— Edwin (@edwin_budding) March 2, 2019
It turns out I was right; well, sort of. The crossover rate is about 15 percent more than what I would have guessed, which is significant, but the volume of unique entrants that Melee draws in is still really high. If anything, it just confirms my initial belief that Ultimate’s far better perception among Melee players gave Mr. Wizard a poor excuse to exclude them – members of a community that loathes him and who he has openly mocked for years – from his series. That he sees potentially more than 500 unique Evo attendees at his event as not worth recognizing remains puzzling.
Side note, but it’s also important to recognize that Ultimate is still fresh off its release. A more fair comparison than looking at Evo 2017 for crossover between Smash games would be if I looked at Smash 4’s first few majors.
But even looking at something like The Big House 5, it’s hard to argue that Melee players didn’t immediately sniff out Smash 4’s, er, “badness.” Here, Melee had 1,116 unique entrants out of 1,326 (84.2 percent). Ouch.
Was that number a lot lower for tournaments like Apex 2015? I’m not sure. The numbers for those tournaments aren’t as publicly actionable (read: not filterable on Smash.gg) as the ones I have listed above. I highly doubt the Smash 4 crossover was anywhere as big, but if anyone wants to prove me wrong, I’m more than thrilled to learn – balancing writing my column with a day job makes me unable to delve into this topic more, at least for today.
Anyways, Don’t freak out. We have bigger fish, er, tournaments to fry than Evo. Our game has more than enough appeal to its players.
2. Edwin’s Weekend Tournament Recap
If last weekend was another edition of the adventures of AbsentPage, this one was highlighted by the conquests of Captain Faceroll, who won Saturday’s House of Paign 20 in Illinois and flew back to California a day later to finish first at Ultimate Nimbus, both over stacked regional fields. The performances are a strong rebound from his disappointing 49th at Genesis 6, and they cement Faceroll as one of the early breakout stars of 2019.
Elsewhere in Melee news, New York City’s iBDW conquered Australia, winning Phantom 2019 over Spud, the continent’s defender, and SFAT. At the United Kingdom’s Roast of CPM, Professor Pro came out on top over Setchi, who is now back to competing. In Kansas, the visiting NMW took home the gold, and in New York, Captain Smuckers won the Brooklyn Kumite invitational.
3. Monday Morning Mailbag
I had a lot of private disagreements with people over what I wrote last week; and I was asked to respond to three comments in particular, all of which I’ll be copying below.
“There are parts of this I agree with but uh…
Nah. Just nah. My enjoyment of the scene would decrease precipitously if I saw it shrink. We’ve worked too damn hard to let all that progress go to waste. Call it empire building, or even call me delusional, but I want to see Melee as the esport to rule them all, and imma die trying before giving up on that.
Game and community will be dope either way but as someone who has lived across all eras: no, we’d all be worse off if it was smaller and if anxiety is a motivator than by all means, worry.” – Blur
I have to agree with Blur here. I loved the grassroots days too, but a lot of the things that make Melee fun for me nowadays are the result of the “esports era.” Things like Smash Summit, the massive amount of Melee content out there, getting to watch my favorite pros regularly stream, and having friends who don’t watch the game be familiar with players like Mango and M2K because of their appearances in other media. More money in the scene equals more content, higher prize pools, more players able to play for a living, and thus a higher average level of play across the board.
I have fond memories of 2012, but seven years later, I’ve graduated from college and work full-time. My lifestyle is different; I have less time to go to locals, but more time to consume Smash content at home and at work, and more money to travel to faraway majors. A return to the old days would hurt the aspects of the scene/game that are most accessible to me. – Alex Lee
I mean, going back to Apex 2012 levels of not having a lot of prominent Melee majors would suck. It means that the average level of play would drop, the only people taking the game seriously would be high school/college age people with lots of time, etc…that would be a serious step down. Yeah it’s not going to make playing Melee less fun, but lots of people enjoy playing and watching Melee. I enjoy playing pickup basketball but if my team completely relocated and rebranded to a new team, that would also really fucking suck, and I do think that would probably affect my enjoyment or motivation to play pickup basketball too. – get_in_the_robot
I’ve already written way too much for this week, so I’ll try to boil down my gut responses.
- I’m not arguing that Melee dwindling in size is preferable to its current state. One of the main points I brought up last week were how the factors that could lead to “death” were largely unrelated to Ultimate. It seems like this point is largely uncontested.
- However, I’m interested in the idea that dwindling in size of the scene would demotivate people to the point of stopping an involved person from remaining interested. I write a weekly column about the Melee community because I love the game enough and recognize that my friends and their friends love the game too. I’m a little surprised that the scene returning to Apex 2012 levels of “obscure” – the event had 318 Melee entrants and over a thousand attendees in total – would play that significant of a role in people’s investment! It would certainly be quite disappointing if that was our main and only big international event of the year, but is it really bad to the point of withdrawing from the community?
- At least for myself, scene growth does not play a relevant role in my enjoyment of playing Melee or writing about it. I certainly would rather see Melee “succeed” than not, but in addition to thinking “death” is nowhere close by, I really don’t think it would affect my interest in Melee itself. If my readers really feel differently, I would love to hear more.