The future of Smash is uncertain, but the future of its community certainly isn’t.
By Funké Joseph
There’s only one series in the world where you can punch Mario in the jaw while playing as Kirby, and that’s Super Smash Bros. A beautiful anomaly of games with orchestral banger versions of classic Nintendo tunes, walls of collectibles from each franchise’s history that make it feel like a weird gaming museum, and an overflowing list of unsuspecting, wacky crossover characters that even eclipses Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War.
It’s a series with something special, and it’s powered by a community of people who really care about it. Super-fans that continue to pump life into a game for over 17 years; analyzing characters, utilizing glitches, creating competitive rulesets, and organizing communal tournaments around the world for players of all skill levels, simply because they love the games so much.
I got a chance to speak to Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios and D’Ron “D1” Maingrette, a couple of influencers in the Smash community, about what it was like joining the competitive scene, the unique dedication to preservation that Smash fans have, and their predictions of what will happen to the community if Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the last Smash game.
The Smash community is like my second family really.
“People consistently invited me to their house to play, offering me rides to tournaments, free housing and things like that,” says ZeRo. “It was really really easy for me to get a start in Smash, the welcoming happened pretty quickly.”
ZeRo has been on the Smash grind ever since the release of the original Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 64 back in 1999, and it shows. He started his journey back in his home country of Chilé and fought his way through tournaments all the way to America, where he became a top-tier competitor and the best Smash 4 player. He also holds the 2017 Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition title for longest winning streak in Smash with 53 tournaments in a row. He’s proud of where he is right now, but he’ll never forget the support he got in his early struggle days.
“The Smash community is like my second family really,” says ZeRo. “It’s pretty much the second set of people I’ve interacted the most with, they’ve helped me out a lot. It’s only fair to call them my family.”
Melee offers an experience that can’t be replicated.
He’s played every Smash game from 64 to the unofficial Project M mod, but he has a profound respect for the people that keep Super Smash Bros. Melee alive. The Smash Brothers documentary on the early competitive scene produced by East Point Pictures is a huge reason Melee is still alive today, according to ZeRo.
To him, and other Smash stans, Super Smash Bros. Melee offers an experience that can’t be replicated, even if it was remade. He says that when Melee fans tell you it’s the best game ever, they really do genuinely mean it.
“A big reason Melee is so popular is that it has a rich history. Because the game is so old it has so many story lines and out-of-game Melee lore. It’s very interesting from a competitive historian perspective, there’s so many region stories and player stories you can keep track of,” says ZeRo. “There’s no other Smash game like Melee. Not to say that Melee’s better, it just offers an experience that no other game can offer. It has less characters, lesser graphics, and it’s older, but it still offers something that in the market – is not there. “
Competitive Smash has always been grassroots.
He explains to me that competitive Smash has always been grassroots, they don’t offer money like other eSports, but the community still powers on, no matter what. There was no support from Nintendo or many sponsors at the start. It was just people doing it for fun. D1 shares that sentiment, and talks about how it rings especially true at the early stages of the community.
“We were people who were carrying these heavy [CRT] TVs to go to these events and making peanuts when we got there. In comparison to what you see people make for other eSports games, it was nothing,” says D1. “We were just real passionate people who loved the game so much, it didn’t matter how much money was spent or time was burnt. We all thought it was worth it. We had a sick group of friends together that made it worth it, you know? Everybody had their own reasoning for wanting to be part of the scene. It was cool that regardless of what got us each into the game we were all able to enjoy it together.”
Things are in a healthy spot for Smash right now, and they’ll be even better once Super Smash Bros. Ultimate drops.
D1 is an accomplished eSports caster, Twitch Partnerships Manager, and Nintendo Brand Ambassador, who you probably remember from his incredibly enthusiastic commentary at the Super Smash Bros. Invitational during E3 2014. That event was actually a huge milestone for him and the community because Nintendo invited 16 players and 3 commentators from the core Smash scene to help run it. He says it felt like the first time Nintendo was acknowledging competitive Smash in an official way.
“That event meant a lot – they could’ve picked YouTubers, celebrities, or anyone random from off the street, but they picked us. I’ll never forget that. That was a really cool time to see me and my friends up on the stage,” says D1. “To be actually respected for the time we put into the scene was one of the coolest things.”
Nintendo has slowly continued to help support the scene by partnering up with events, doing another Super Smash Bros. Invitational at E3 2018, retweeting and creating content pieces on the scene, and giving more visibility to the players, the personalities, and the games in general. Both ZeRo and D1 tell me that things are in a healthy spot for Smash right now, and they’ll be even better once Super Smash Bros. Ultimate drops on December 7th.
When I speak to them about Masahiro Sakurai, the person behind the Smash series, hinting that this could possibly be the last Smash game he ever makes, they aren’t worried at all.
There isn’t another community that holds a candle to Smash when it comes to preserving a game.
“We’ll just buckle down like we did with Melee and keep playing it,” says ZeRo. “There isn’t another community that holds a candle to Smash when it comes to preserving a game. People will play all these other games, but there’s nothing like the way people go crazy for Smash. There’s small communities for other games where people preserve it, but Melee is still at Evolution Championship Series (EVO), man. To this day, 17 years later, it’s still relevant.”
He’s right. If you look at the list of fighting games at EVO 2018, it’s weird. It’s full of titles that came out over the past few years, like Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, Injustice 2, and Dragon Ball FighterZ, but there was also good ol’ reliable Melee, just chilling there with all those other titles. It’s a shining example of how Smash fans don’t care about what anyone else is doing – if they like a game, they’ll make sure people know it and make space for them.
“We’ve been in worse times. I want to see people adapting to whatever happens, and still keeping the game alive. Never giving up, not being sad if it’s the last game or Nintendo stops supporting the scene for whatever reason. Because we didn’t have all that support back then, so we shouldn’t be so reliant on them,” says D1. “Smash is a celebration of video games. I hope we still have that community that learns to adapt and continues to find a way to beat out obstacles that look really overpowered at first glance, whether that’s a broken character, lack of funds, or the possibility of no more Smash games.”
Smash is a celebration of video games.
The future of Smash is uncertain, but the future of its community certainly isn’t. After speaking to Zero and D1 it’s become obvious that the Smash community is a welcoming, resilient, and adaptive haven for anybody who thinks the games are cool. People will still be playing Super Smash Bros. 64, Melee, Brawl, Smash 4, and Ultimate competitively and casually for years to come. The series has a fascinating, unparalleled quality of being able to unify people from all walks of life under the comfy blanket of seeing their favourite Nintendo characters flail and fight the night away.