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Metagame looks to raise the bar on esports documentaries

Metagame looks to raise the bar on esports documentaries

In the surprisingly large canon of esports documentaries, The Smash Brothers (2013) stands out as one of the genre’s best. Whereas many better-funded productions are riddled with all kinds of cringe-inducing displays—ESPN’s Throne of Games never forget—The Smash Brothers feels less like a movie held together by the skill of its directors, and more by a palpable zeal for its subject. Thanks in part to its Lanzmann-esque running time, The Smash Brothers managed to encapsulate the first decade or so of professional Melee competition, from its early rivalries to Nintendo’s controversial decision to forbid the EVO 2013 finals from being streamed on Twitch.

But Smash has changed a lot since then, making a sequel necessary. Enter Metagame, a six minute excerpt of which was released earlier this week. Take a moment to check it out:

It’s nice, right? The Smash Brothers—and I say this from a loving place—was not always the most, uh, stylish film (I distinctly recall a few scenes where the crew’s equipment encroached into the frame, and the less that’s said of the original sound editing, the better). But Metagame looks like it benefits from both its directors’ artistic maturation and a more generous budget; those interviews look a whole lot crisper, and that closing title is a very cute, minimalist take on Battlefield, one of Melee’s most iconic stages. (To be honest, I’m not even sure The Smash Brothers had a title screen).

In many ways, this distinction between The Smash Brothers’ endearing, DIY-aesthetic and the braggadocio of Metagame tells in microcosm the story of how Melee has changed over the last five years. The Smash Brothers was funded and released during a dark period in Melee’s history, when the future of the game was very much in doubt. As such, the tone of the film was celebratory in the way that a eulogy is, the bearing of witness to a beloved phenomenon teetering on the verge of extinction.

Metagame still seems animated by a genuine love for Melee.

Things are better these days, of course. Hell, Melee is probably in the best place it’s ever been, even eliciting a begrudging respect from the weirdly hard hearts at Nintendo. And Metagame reflects that. It’s a celebration, full stop, centered on the new generation of Melee professionals (Armada, PPMD, etc.) who emerged out of the ruins of the early 2010s. So too have these characters grown as people. It’s only been a few years, but Mango’s tattoos have multiplied, and his teenage SoCal skater shtick has given way to his swarthy, grown-ass-man-playing-video-games-for-a-goddamn-living swagger.

But what’s most heartening about Metagame, even from this short clip, is that, in a film that could probably afford to brag to the world about where Melee is today, it still seems animated by a genuine love for the game. Too often, esports documentaries have this quality of “take me seriously!,” directed at an exterior that world too many esports fans imagine as recalcitrant and in need of convincing (N.B. that this tends to have the opposite effect, just like demanding to be taken seriously usually induces eye-rolling). But just look at how much of that clip is straight up in-game footage! It’s nice to see that, despite everything wonderful that’s happened to Melee, the folks that gave us The Smash Brothers still love the game, and the people who made it great, more than they love the success it has given them.

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