After a decade’s worth of antagonism toward the Smash community, Nintendo of America announced an officially licensed 2022 circuit for both Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Super Smash Bros. Melee with longtime FGC giant Panda Global. While Smash circuits have existed in the past, none of them have ever been officially licensed by Nintendo, save for the brief Fighting Road Circuit in Japan from 2002. PG is the first esports team to run a Nintendo-approved and licensed – not merely sponsored – North American tournament circuit.
We are proud to announce our partnership with @NintendoAmerica
In 2022 Panda will bring the first officially licensed circuit for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Super Smash Bros. Melee to North America.
More details for this short series of events with cash prizes coming later. pic.twitter.com/9PdW9ntfd6
— Panda (@PandaGlobal) November 18, 2021
It’s worth noting that major tournaments have been sponsored before. The Big House had an annual partnership with Nintendo prior to being shut down in 2020 for its planned use of Project Slippi during the pandemic. The Genesis series also had a sponsorship with Nintendo. Having asked representatives of the two majors of what the partnership entailed, I can attest that they aren’t allowed to publicly verify what they gained. They didn’t tell me in private either.
As of this moment, neither of the two major series have been included in the circuit. No other annual mainstay of the scene – Smash Summit, Smash Camp, Get On My Level, Shine, Super Smash Con, you name it – is currently listed as part of the circuit. In fact, there are no events that have been acknowledged as of this time. So with little information to work from and endless speculation, let’s make sense of this new development.
1. My Thoughts on the Panda Global/Nintendo Circuit (The Good)
I’m not going to sing Nintendo’s graces any time soon. But purely from a professional standpoint, this is an extraordinary accomplishment by PG. Companies like Twitch, Red Bull, and ELeague have reached out to Nintendo and been stone-walled. I can’t imagine the level of organization, sales efforts, and brand-building that must have led to Nintendo deciding to do something different. It’s not easy to convince a multi-billion dollar company that handing off their IP is worth risking brand integrity. I don’t know if this is because PG did something different or the pressure of seeing other competitive platform fighters come to the forefront of the industry, but either way, it’s impressive.
As someone who worked with PG for the last month to publish his team’s premier editorial project (more on that later), I’m going to be biased in how I talk about the company. But there’s reason to view its involvement charitably. It’s better to have an established entity – one which has sponsored top players, ran annual rankings, and hired community contributors even during Smash’s relative down years – lead this circuit than an outside investor unfamiliar with the cultural dynamics of the community.
A scene-wide sponsorship with Nintendo won’t instantly lead to million-dollar prize pots and high-production-value monthly tournaments, but it will provide a promising opportunity for people who want to build career portfolios within Smash. I don’t mean that pejoratively. Smash has a history of simultaneous talent development and burnout. The scene is better and more fun to be a part of when its most dedicated members are incentivized to create things of value that everyone can enjoy.
Imagine a world where PracticalTAS can remain involved in the community without having an existential crisis every week related to why he picked Smash as a hobby. The same goes for JDMH, someone who produces our weekly podcast and made an incredible trailer for our Top 100 project with PG. The team’s content director, Thomas Tischio is an incredible photographer who also internally advocated for Melee Stats while letting me retain significant editorial control over the Melee Top 100 project, a risk he didn’t have to take. I continue to have a good professional relationship with turndownforwalt and Juggleguy, both who don’t need introductions, and Epengu was present with me on my wedding, the best day of my life. Coney’s been nothing short of extremely positive and supportive of my team.
For any shortcomings that the PG circuit may have, it’s not because the company is made up of evil people. They are sincere longtime community figures who are trying to position themselves to contribute more to a scene that they care about. I want them to do well and think they are talented people who have a chance to do great things for the community.
The last thing I’ll say: the biggest benefit that could come from this circuit has to do with player safety. Tournaments included within the circuit could now have access to legal resources that mitigate individual risk for organizers who want to ban players. I’ll let Dr. Piggy speak for herself here.
I want to talk about a number of “worst case” scenarios, the first of which has to do with the rule set. The most extreme case involves Smash tournaments running free for alls with items and all stages turned on. This would basically make a mockery of the scene, tarnish PG’s reputation for no reason, and offer nothing to Nintendo. I don’t think this is going to happen. It’s more likely that we may see UCF’s future – or other game mods like Frozen Pokemon Stadium – get thrown in jeopardy. If majors get picked up by PG and Nintendo, I’d be pleasantly surprised if UCF stuck around, although it’s worth noting that PracticalTAS remains publicly associated with UCF.
Furthermore, I’m fairly certain that Project M, like it was from 2014 to 2019, will be shut down from Smash majors that are large enough to draw a letter from Nintendo. This sucks, but at the same time, I’m not sure how different this will be from the norm right now. PM will continue holding shadow majors in the hotel adjacent to the main venues, and its scene will be just fine. I’d like to think that an older, wiser Smash community would not act like entitled jerks with a false sense of superiority in 2021. If Nintendo starts sending the intellectual property police after teenagers in their hotel rooms, I have faith that Melee players and, yes, even Ultimate players, will not abandon our sibling scene.
I've grown tired of Twitter, so I decided to give Medium a shot.
— The Crimson Blur (@OXY_Crimson) November 19, 2021
One thing I could see potentially becoming thorny is Nintendo forcibly centralizing the scene’s resources – just for the sake of technically controlling them. You could totally see Nintendo reaching out to tournament organizers looking to take their respective tournament series to the next step – like, say, Smash Camp: Arizona’s annual and beloved grassroots series – and offering its organizers a ‘sponsorship’ they couldn’t refuse or publicly talk about. If you ever wanted to run a major, you would basically have to accept that if it was big enough, you won’t actually own it any more.
An alternate version of this is if Nintendo did the same thing, but with Smash streamers. I don’t think local streams or top players would be under threat, but organizations like VGBC, MeleeEveryday, and even BTSSmash have a lot to worry about. What are they allowed to broadcast and what aren’t they once Nintendo is in the picture? Will Nintendo be streaming every event instead of the names that we’ve grown to become accustomed to for our majors?
I’ll be honest. These are terrible situations, but they are manageable, if not somewhat similar to the situation that the scene is already in. What I’m more worried about is the most awful – and horrifyingly plausible – situation: Nintendo hunting down Slippi or trying to obtain ownership over it in a legal settlement. Because it’s technically a mod of Melee, the company is well within its legal rights to destroy or corrupt the greatest thing ever made for Melee players.
My thoughts as a member of the Melee community:
What might go a long way to regaining our trust would be a public statement from Nintendo about… anything relevant. (Suggestions in thread)
Ignoring the problem is not how you heal a fractured relationship.
— Jas | FIZZI#36 (@Fizzi36) November 18, 2021
I don’t think Nintendo would benefit enough from trying to ruin Slippi. In addition to the awful public relations spectacle that would follow, Slippi is so unambiguously outstanding as an advertising tool for Smash. I won’t say I’d be stunned if it happened, but at the same time, this possibility doesn’t logically follow from Nintendo sponsoring a tournament circuit. They could do this at any time if they really wanted to, and if they haven’t yet, why would extending an olive branch be the catalyst?
Part of me wants to ignore my doubts and go all in on hyping this circuit up. I want Smash to be a career for the people who care most about it. I want my friends to be able to spend more time contributing to a scene that’s given me more professional happiness and personal growth than any other activity. Moreover, I don’t want to be the naysayer because, in a weird way, that’s just preemptively coping for something that hasn’t happened yet. However, how can I trust Nintendo? History might not always repeat itself, but when someone shows you their true colors multiple times, it’s not always reasonable to expect something different to happen on their word.
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but what I have is a lot of faith. Whether any of the best or worst outcomes happen, I believe the community will respond and that more of us will make the right choices to keep our scene alive. We have 20 years of building everything by ourselves and passing our craft onto generations. No matter what happens, Melee is our game because we’ve made it our game, even if the IP technically belongs to someone else.
At worst, the ramifications of this circuit could make enjoying a hobby a little more annoying for most people in the scene and it could ultimately still continue perpetuating the professional glass ceiling that it has for its most dedicated contributors. But the scene will find a way to persevere. We always do.
2. Notable Inclusions & Exclusions on the Melee Stats Top 100
I could talk about the Melee Stats Top 100 forever, but for the purpose of this column, I’m going to explain the not-so-fun part of working on it: the decisions to include and exclude controversial people from the list. I saw different players receive scrutiny or attention for either being excluded or included within the final Top 100 lost, so in this part of the column, I’m going to address a few of them.
Keep in mind that the the parameters for disqualifying behavior were ultimately my decision. My team put their faith in me to create a criteria that we would roughly agree on. Any shortcomings or inconsistencies found in the below rationale are attributable to me, not the Melee Stats team nor PGStats.
When looking at Hax, I did not and still don’t think his infractions warrant permanent exclusion from the scene. The most important thing for the public is that Hax – even though it took some time – eventually walked back his harassment citing toward Leffen and apologized. Even if Hax were to personally believe that he was unfairly maligned, a willingness to accept the social standards of the scene and “not” repeat a serious offense is all people can realistically ask of him. At the very least, he knows that he can’t do this again.
To double-check my intuition on Hax, I spoke with TOs from his region and national scene. They universally agree that he has a path toward returning to tournaments. Any gripes I have about Hax aside, I agree with major leadership and wanted that decision reflected in the final Top 100 list.
Westballz is a good example of “TPP.” He’s gotten away with a lot of unacceptable private and public behavior. In addition to making really gross comments about Asian women in the scene, he’s defended using racial slurs, and, most importantly, was previously accused of groping someone. It amazes me that he still has fans who defend his behavior; people who act like Westballz is a victim of unfair public perception.
Let’s start with the most severe case. As far as available information goes, this issue seems to have been resolved with the other party. I found the lack of public resolution for this instance somewhat concerning and was nonetheless tempted to ban him. However, the byproduct of this allegation led to no immediate bans for him entering tournaments on a local or national scale. I couldn’t reconcile this with what I knew about Westballz, but I placed myself in any TO’s shoes. If an allegation came to light, but I allowed someone to keep attending tournaments after seemingly resolving the issue, it would have to be based on additional sensitive information that I have and would possibly not want to reveal to the public. This is a long way of me saying that it didn’t seem right of me to break community precedent.
Jman might as well be a ghost. There’s little to no publicly verifiable information regarding his absence since 2014. I know this because a year ago, I wanted to research Jman for a longer project. I reached out everyone that was close to him, only to be universally rebuffed; utterly stone-walled. The only common thread that seems to be accepted and acknowledged by them that Jman went to jail for something “really bad.” I still don’t know what this means, but I don’t think going to jail by itself is grounds for a permanent ban. I have no idea why, how, or even if this happened at all, let alone if it had anything to do with his behavior within the Smash scene.
When I asked TOs from the region, I still couldn’t find a concrete answer. What I did learn was that around the time of Jman leaving the scene, Tristate handled bans as a completely backroom matter. TOs would meet a player in private, discuss their future in the scene, and suggest whether or not they should be entering tournaments, similar to how a small group of friends might confront one of its members in an intervention. The problem, of course, was that nobody within the aforementioned circle wanted to talk to me. I wasn’t sure what to do. As far as his behavior within the community went, I had no proof of Jman doing anything reaching the territory of permanent exclusion. Outside of the scene, how could I ban someone for something that I had literally no starting point for evaluating? I erred toward keeping him on the list.
2017 to 2018 was a turbulent time for Melee, and part of it was because of the return of DaShizWiz. In addition to him publicly expressing homophobia, he had been arrested for assault and had a documented instance of refusing to leave a smasher’s home. Nonetheless, he was voted into Smash Summit and his re-entry into the scene was, more or less, accepted as an instance where a ‘reformed’ player with a troubled past could be allowed a space within Smash to demonstrate their growth. Full transparency: I remember back then that I thought it was the right decision to re-integrate Shiz into events. Four years later, I look back and wince. Shiz completely flew off the deep end. Looking back at how he addressed some of those previous instances, with what we know now, his responses were so woefully inadequate. Someone who publicly says shit like this in today’s community – one where some of our most inspiring people are LGBTQ – has no place participating in it.
So far, Shiz has shown no intent of returning to the scene. Based on a source I have from Florida, the current lack of an explicit ban on Shiz has more to do with the disproportionate attention it would draw vs. the lack of an actual impact. With this information in mind, I saw no future in which DaShizWiz would or should be allowed back into the scene. As a result, he was the first player I banned.
I expressed my thoughts on Ryan Ford in this response here. The long story short is that the two most ‘bannable’ offenses he had came in murky contexts. The first came as a retaliation to racially loaded harassment at an event. The second was a far more serious interpersonal charge of domestic abuse, which was then followed up by the other party advocating for his eventual return to the scene. Since then, he’s been the go-to case of a reformed player within the community, having no repeat offenses.
Ultimately, I did not want to re-litigate something that was resolved by all parties. No major TOs since 2015 have seriously pushed for a Ryan Ford ban and it didn’t seem right to exclude him.
Any other notable players that may otherwise be on the list I had the least reservations about banning due to having documented accusations of sexual offenses, including grooming, sexual assault, or inappropriate conduct toward minors; accusations which led to their immediate bans from their regions and from majors. Unless something comes out about these players and exculpates them from these charges, I have no reason to think any players guilty or banned for the above offenses have a path to re-entry into the scene.
When the time comes, I’ll probably do a more in-depth reflection/recap case on the interesting parts of the Melee Top 100 – or at least maybe do a chill stream with the balloters talking about players we thought were interesting. See you guys next week.