By Shawn Wilson
The crowd leans forward in their seats. Waiting in anticipation, with bated breath, as the game’s conclusion creeps closer. A final play is met with a chorus of cheers as the champion leaps into the air, the rush of exhilaration and adrenaline released as pure emotion.
Your thoughts might spring to basketball or football, perhaps even tennis or volleyball, although very few people (prior to reading this article’s title) would have thought the words above describe e-sports, specifically the Super Smash Brothers community. “Well,” your next thought may be, “What is the Smash community?”
The very first Super Smash Bros game was released in 1999 for the Nintendo 64 console, and since then its community has drastically grown; large tournaments today boast upwards of 3,000 attendees. While only three subsequent games have been released since then, the Smash community’s longevity indicates a strong bond among fans of the game.
One chief cause of the Smash community’s lifespan is the people in the community itself, their determination has lifted up the community since its birth. Even in the face of animosity from the company that created the Smash Brothers series, the community has grown and thrived for over a decade.
Many other popular fighting games have support from the companies that made them; for example, the famous series Street Fighter has a professional tour put on by developer Capcom. However, Nintendo, publisher of the Super Smash Bros series, rarely if ever hosts or sponsors tournaments.
When it was created, Smash Brothers was intended to be a party game. Nintendo, in an attempt to preserve that intent, distances itself from the competitive aspect of the game even to the point where it is speculated that the popular fan mod Project M was shut down by Nintendo because it is geared toward competition.
Despite a lack of big support, the once grassroots Smash community has evolved into the e-sports powerhouse it is today. It is currently the only series to have two of its titles played at the esteemed tournament Evolution Championship Series (EVO), not only in 2015, but also in 2016 and 2017.
Even in an e-sports community where winning can seem the ultimate goal, it is important to understand how the relationships between players and the welcoming atmosphere helps the community thrive.
When asked about the first Smash Brothers tournament he attended, Kevin Kim, a player in my local Smash community, replied that it was “a little intimidating at first, because there were so many people and it was very crowded. But once I ended up sitting down and playing, I was able to relax,” adding that he able to make a lot of friends. He also described how the Smash Club at his school provides a “chill environment” and “a place
of relaxation, a place to get away from stress.”
Joshua Ching, another player from my local community, expressed that his first tournament experience was a positive one, saying, “It was great!” prior to recalling the “nice people” who attended and the enjoyable experience overall.
An environment where people feel accepted quickly and are even able to relax on the first day of joining is a hallmark of the Smash community. At the first tournament I attended, which had upwards of 150 entrants, I was encouraged that people I had never met before were friendly and even humble.
Although I was the youngest person in the whole venue (being only 14 at the time), I was praised by someone roughly 1.5 times my age for a combo I had discovered in the game, and even after suffering losses, my competitors commended my strengths while helpfully pointing out areas of growth. Smash tournaments commonly have an encouraging mood, and they are one of the few times I feel as if I have equal status with adults, as opposed to being viewed as subordinate.
Not only is the Smash community friendly and accepting, but the players who constitute it create strong bonds with each other, which largely contribute to its appeal. Members of my local community have created new friendships through tournaments and the game in general, and they enjoy the sense of community that Smash brings.
Owen Kerr, a member of my local community, said, “A lot of my friends and I have bonded and became closer through Smash; it’s a fun thing that we can all do together.” He added, “It’s really its own community that just love to have a great time together.”
Ching expressed that participating in tournaments “helps not only my gaming skill but also my people skills,” and Kim said that the Smash community has “without a doubt, helped me create new relationships and strengthen older ones.” He added that he’s met many friends in the Smash community. “They are undoubtedly some of the best people I know.”
Although video games are often seen as antisocial, the Smash community is the opposite of that; tournaments help develop social skills, as well as creating a very amiable and connected environment for people to enjoy with friends.
One of my favorite things about the community is how it manages to be competitive and low stress at the same time. I have enjoyed playing baseball since I was only four years old, although the older I get the more competitive it becomes, which has led me to enjoy it less and less over the years. However, after a Smash tournament, regardless of the result, I always feel as if I have enjoyed myself; I don’t feel a pressure to constantly improve in order to have a good time.
When asked to describe the Smash community in three words, interviewees responded by calling it “competitive,” but also “fun, easy going,” “collaborative” and welcoming.” It hits a magical sweet spot where it is fun for both casual and serious players, while also managing to be both competitive and low stress.
In 2013, the previously mentioned prestigious tournament EVO hosted a contest in which fans of several games, including Super Smash Brothers Melee, were challenged to raise money to support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, with the group that raised the most money having their game featured at the tournament.
After fundraising ceased, Smash Brothers fans had raised the most of the $225,744 total, with $94,683 in donations, all of which went to support the fight against breast cancer. While this money was raised in order to achieve a goal as opposed to pure generosity, the Smash community still steps up and gives aid to important causes even without having an incentive.
For the past three years, a tournament called Smash The Record has been run with giving back as its only goal. The tournament is very casual and fun, without any prize money for placing well. A donation drive is run for 72 straight hours during the tournament, and all money raised goes to support St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. In the three years it has been run, the event has raised over $115,000 for St. Jude.
So what is the Smash community? It is a community that brings people together, develops bonds between friends while also creating new ones, fosters friendly competition and helps support important issues.
Kerr summed up the community artfully: “We are all there to bond over this game we love. We are all there to meet new people. We are all there to have fun and be a part of the community. Your Smash community knows who you are – you can make a name for yourself, you can make friends and build your connections. It isn’t about winning, or being the best, but to have fun. That’s why we spend weeks planning local tournaments and why we attend these events thrown together by fellow Smashers; it’s because we’re just friends.”
Featured image (at top of post): Everest Public High School hosted a Smash tournament, planned and run by the community. PHOTO CREDIT: Spencer Maples