Travis “Samox” Beauchamp changed the Smash community forever with “The Smash Brothers,” a documentary series that covered seven legendary Melee players and the history of competitive Melee. Made freely available on YouTube when it came out, this is unambiguously one of the most important pieces of Smash content ever released. Phrases from the movie have become everyday vernacular in Smash culture. At one point, it was called the greatest esports documentary of all-time.
It’s been about a decade since Samox released it. Much has changed within Smash and the entire sphere of esports. In today’s column, I will be discussing this series pros, cons, and impact on the scene.
Because the documentary came out in 2013, it’s worth explaining what “competitive Smash” exactly meant to most gamers back then. Smash, usually Melee, had a direct link to our childhoods. It was something we played with our friends when we were much younger, and maybe revisited as adults – typically in college with other adults. Most of us knew that there were some people who were better at Smash than others and we were vaguely aware that there were professional tournaments. However, it was still an obscure niche, not a topic you would ever know anything more about without direct insight into the community. This is important context to consider when it comes to evaluating the most memorable scene of the entire documentary: the beginning.
To this day, the “now he will try” reveal remains a hallmark moment of Smash content. If you’re not familiar, the documentary begins with the producers inviting friends over to play Melee together. It’s initially presented as a relatively normal hangout session of people who like Smash, but it’s revealed that one of the friends is actually KoreanDJ, an all-time legend of competitive Melee. He sandbags at the start of their session, deliberately throwing away stocks and seemingly fitting in as a fellow casual player before ultimately mopping the floor with his opponents. Everyone is shocked at watching this guy effortlessly defeat them, as they don’t know who he is. In one sequence, Samox compellingly articulates three of Melee’s biggest draws: its casual presence in peoples lives, the immense skill ceiling of the game, and the promise of this entire community built around the game.
imagine where we would be if KoreanDJ dropped his last stock on the "now he will try" segment in the documentary lmao
— MS | Moe🔜TBH11🇺🇸 (@MoepieOP) February 10, 2020
Samox’s understanding of his audience is by far the biggest strength of this documentary. Throughout its long runtime, “The Smash Brothers” paints a clear picture of what it’s like to be part of the Smash community. Ten years after its release, I can still say that nothing showcases the underground nerd fight club vibe of competitive Melee quite like this series. Although it doesn’t always articulate this in the most clean ways – see: the explanation of certain techniques in the game – the wealth of interviews tells the story that the filmmaker believes the audience needs to know in order to understand Smash. Is it always accurate? Not necessarily, but if you saw the documentary, you’ll know exactly where its subjects stand, as well as the filmmaker.
On that note, you really get a glimpse into the larger than life personalities that define competitive Smash. Anyone who’s seen this documentary can attest to the people it covers. For example, there’s Ken, the broody reluctant villain whose journey into competing began with him utterly dominating everyone. I also think that Mew2King’s presented story as a stereotypical nerd who rose to the top of competitive Smash is obviously a very powerful one. But frankly the real heart of “The Smash Brothers” lies within Wife and Chillin, two of the most common interviewees for the episodes. Both of them totally carry the documentary with their vast knowledge of results, personal relationships with many of the players, and their charisma. They offer a wide variety of anecdotes that breathe life into this documentary, like Chillin talking about how Azen always had a knack for beating his friends in video games. For the most part – a few oversimplified and hilariously cheesy analogies aside – the two tell a mostly accurate story.
One final element I want to acknowledge: this documentary’s soundtrack. The title screen music (“Juicy Fruit”) is the best cut, but there’s also “Fuguefat” and the Don Davis-esque Gerudo Valley orchestral remix. Samox uses music extremely effectively, particularly in how he uses songs to build up to narrative climaxes. I’m listening to the Gerudo Valley remix right now and immediately feeling goosebumps remembering PC Chris and KoreanDJ’s showdown at the MLG 2006 Championships. I would go as far as to say that the middle portion of the documentary – episodes four to six – were the best stretches of the documentary in large part because of the music.
Sidenote: Samox’s style as a filmmaker is interesting to evaluate in hindsight. I get the sense that Samox really leaned into the low production value and independent style to properly express the culture of competitive Smash. This does not always date very well (more on this later), but I would say that, for the most part, it adds to the charm. While it can be corny at times, do remember that the core topic of the documentary is literally a children’s party game.
The most obvious problem with “The Smash Brothers” is the embarrassingly dated nature of how it acknowledges sexism and homophobia in competitive Smash. Although it accurately reflects what the scene was like back, this is never presented in any meaningfully critical light. At one point, the film takes a clunky detour where it basically winks at the audience and offers a variety of different perspectives on if words like “rape” or “gay” are okay to say. Worse yet, the series gives DA Wes the last word on the topic, which can be described as “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” In a documentary that is trying to sell competitive Smash, having corny jokes and making light of serious topics does not age well. I cannot, in good faith, recommend this series to someone without acknowledging these elements. In some cases, it spills over into the stories told. The worst offender is the “Don’t Get Hit” episode about Isai. This part of the documentary positions Isai as an enigmatic Smash genius who has motivational issues and is hurt by constantly trying to impress a woman he cares about, whom we never really hear from.
That segment also features another predominant flaw of this documentary: the low production values. On one hand I want to be forgiving of this, as it’s inherently limited by the shoestring budget. At the same time, what I’m referencing is the use of footage from “5 Centimeters per Second.” The hammed up explanations of different Smash techniques early on are other bad instances – particularly when they’re done in sketch formats that hurt the pacing of the documentary or involve juvenile humor.
In my opinion though, the place where the documentary really falls off is the last three episodes, where the series gradually loses focus and clarity. Not only do most of the key events happen in a completely different time span than the previous six episodes, it involves less compelling narrators, and when people like Chillin and Wife are asked to speak on the more recent dynamics of the scene, they’re nowhere near as colorful or plugged in. Hungrybox is also nowhere near the media-friendly and magnetic figure he is today; the much younger version of him stumbles over his words a lot, looks at the ground, and comes off like a dopey kid. To be fair, he actually was a dopey kid back then, but this doesn’t make it any more appealing to watch. Tonally, it feels like a random detour. Separate of Mew2King and Mango, you can best describe these three episodes as “After MLG dropped Melee, smashers stopped playing Melee, then tried out Brawl, thought it sucked, and most of them came back to Melee, and they still play to this day.”
This is not really what happened. If anything, the release of Brawl introduced a completely new generation of players from Brawl into Melee, not just people who were already there, and I feel like this is not quite adequately represented. On the topic of representing the scene itself, I have to say, it’s a tremendous miss on the part of the documentary to not give appropriate time to Wombo Combo – literally the most viral moment in the history of Smash. Even in 2013, I don’t think you can tell the story of Melee without HomeMadeWaffles and showcasing his role in the game’s slow rise to viral infamy. While the documentary tries to cover that last part, it associates this with Mew2King and his famous set vs. DaShizWiz. That’s primarily due to the director’s vision of wanting to tell a story about the greatest players ever and the importance of this match in the context of Mew2King’s career.
I just think the broad summary of these chapters never neatly fits in with the rest of the documentary. The first six episodes on their own tell this really cohesive tale of the rise and fall of Smash; the last three just tell mostly disconnected stories about individuals and then remind us that people still love this game. There’s nowhere near as comprehensive of a look into the dynamics of the community and the interpersonal relationships of the first six episodes.
It’s incredible that this documentary exists with little historical precedent. “The Smash Brothers” deserves credit for uniquely capturing a very specific period of time, expressing what it was like to be part of the Smash scene. When I watched this documentary last week, there were undeniably moments where I cringed, rolled my eyes, and shook my head. However, by the end, I still could not deny the power of this appeal. In 2013, there had never been anything like this series. It’s undeniably inspired countless people to get into competitive Smash and the very least was a contributing factor to the community’s growth alongside the rise of Twitch streaming, the esports boom, and even Project M.
In many ways, Samox was lucky for his work to have the impact that it ended up with. No one could have possibly known the place it would hold in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of people. The series has created a dividing line for the community – a split between the “pre documentary era” (roughly its first decade) and the “documentary era” (roughly the second decade). We are now heading into a potential third decade of competitive Melee.
This documentary was clearly made with two goals in mind: to chronicle the history of competitive Melee and to appeal to the presence of this history as a justification for what makes Melee special. Although I have my disagreements with the recounting of some of this history and think it is not always cleanly presented, I will always admire Samox’s mostly successful attempt to share our story to the world. Ironically, it’s the fact that this documentary has become a critical turning point in our history which ultimately vindicates it.