Super Smash Bros. gets another major tournament this weekend, as North America’s top players gather in Boston Harbor for Shine 2016. Considering how close the Smash 4 and Melee scenes have proven to be in recent months, it’s likely to be a weekend of upsets and razor-blade victories.
How to watch:
Free on: https://www.twitch.tv/bigbluees and https://www.twitch.tv/vgbootcamp
Starts on August 26, 2016
Esports viewership correlates strongly with player numbers. So goes conventional wisdom, and with most tier one esports—League of Legends, Dota 2, Overwatch, etc.—it’s true: games with more players get more viewers. In this way, Super Smash Bros. Melee is the ultimate outlier. I’d venture to guess that far more people watch Melee than play it seriously. There are several reasons for this viewership phenomenon. The Nintendo characters who fill Melee’s roster are recognizable and well-loved. Melee personalities and rivalries are as vibrant and fascinating as any in esports. And just about everyone has played Super Smash Bros. at some point in their lives, which gives Melee a basic floor of legibility across the gaming universe.
More than anything else, though, I think Melee is so resilient and spectator-friendly because it is an incomparably beautiful game. A really top-notch Melee match has a speed, technicality, and edge-of-seat visceral-ness that rivals anything other games or traditional sports have to offer. Whether or not you understand the intricacies of wavedashes and shine-grabs, professional Melee is visually dazzling. It’s also easy to understand: victory tends to go to the player who moves with greater speed and precision, the player who lands more hits.
Smash 4 might lack the breakneck speed and mechanical wizardry of Melee, but it shares this visual impact and legibility. It also has a fascinating field of close competitors, not to mention a much wider array of viable characters. Both games go to tense last-hit scenarios; both reward off-stage acrobatics, prediction, and grit.
At Shine 2016, Melee competition will likely terminate in a Mang0 and Hungrybox grand finals. (If he can overcome his Jigglypuff Kryptonite, Mew2King might mix things up—the venerable competitor probably has 95% of the community rooting for him to take a major at this point.) No matter how many times we see Mang0 take on Hungrybox, the matchup never loses its spark. Either player can win. Each values a win over the other more than anything else. Hbox crushed Mang0 at EVO; Mang0 fired back with a 3-0 Grand Finals drubbing at Super Smash Con.
In Smash 4, the finals matchup is much less certain. Many players, including ZeRo, Nairo, Larry Lurr, Ally, Mew2King, and more, have proven their capability to sweep major events. Shine 2016 will be yet another opportunity for a North American player to break from the pack. In Smash 4’s early days, ZeRo reigned supreme; his successor, if there ever is one, will have to subdue a fearsome field to take the throne.
The next step for esports may be a broadening of audience, the rise of games that appeal to everyone, not just those who play them. If you’ve never watched competitive Smash, I highly recommend that you check out Shine 2016 this weekend. Get in on the ground floor: for my money, there’s no esport with a better chance of becoming truly universal than Super Smash Bros.