Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect Shoryuken as a whole.
For all the hype that we saw over Evo weekend regarding Smash 4, many players and attendees were not happy with how Smash 4 was treated over the course of the tournament, with many taking to Twitter to vent their displeasure in both constructive and non-constructive ways. In light of the problems, one of the Evo founders Tony Cannon has made a thread on r/smashbros, addressing the cited issues for Smash 4 and asking for constructive criticism about how to improve next year’s event. Holding your hands up to problems is admirable and despite the drive to improve Smash 4 for future events, I feel that the treatment of Smash 4 during Evo may be symptomatic of how the wider FGC views the game; it simply has not earned its respect yet.
This is not a question of whether Smash 4 deserves it, it’s the fact that outside of the Smash bubble, the community does not have the pull and influence on the FGC that it thinks it does. The lack of a spot on Championship Sunday is most likely due to Smash 4 not having the prestige of Melee and that shunting Melee onto Saturday would do down all of the hard work that community has done to earn the spot. While Melee has had to toil to earn its position among the upper echelon of the fighting game community, Smash 4 has not had to struggle, due to its position as the latest Smash game and its ability to ride the wave of Melee’s resurgence after Evo 2013, which was pivotal in getting Smash to where it is now. As such, Smash 4 now expects to walk to the top spot at non Smash-centric events because of its entrance numbers, rather than due to the work the community has put in over other games that may deserve a Sunday slot. This is not to say that people within Smash 4 aren’t working extraordinarily hard; it’s just that the majority of work is to serve its own community rather than to invite others to join in the fun. Outside of Panda Global, Bear and 2GG, as well as select commentators like D1, TKBreezy and EE who are slaving away to get Smash 4 on the podium alongside Street Fighter, Melee and so on, most other community content is self-serving. There is a severe lack of content which attempts to engage an audience that may not watch every major; instead, it focuses heavily on the dedicated tournament watching/attending crowd.
At the moment, Smash 4 does not have a wide array of personalities, TOs and players who are interacting with the wider FGC to cast a spotlight on why it should be on that Evo Sunday stage with the rest of the heavy hitters. Smash 4 lacks content creators like prog or Tafokints who are doing outreach on sites like Red Bull and ESPN to show the world that this is a game and a community that people should get hype about; instead the community is happy to make things solely for themselves and then complain when things don’t go exactly its way. Players like Dream Team’s ANTi are trying their hand at games like Street Fighter but more needs to be done to get people off the fence and enjoying Smash 4 along with the already dedicated. The actual action at Evo proved that the game can have those amazing moments and matches which should be written into legend, but if no-one outside of the hardcore cares to watch, Smash 4 will be confined to being the warm up act for those bigger games. Yet, rather than shouting about how amazing the action was, most of the top voices are too busy moaning about how Evo was a mess and that they won’t come back. If the only experiences of Smash 4 that the wider FGC experiences is them moaning at every non-Smash event because they didn’t get preferential treatment, it’s not a case of Smash 4 not returning; other communities will not want them back. Be critical and point out ways to improve as there were flaws about the running of Smash 4 at Evo, but these problems should be a galvanising force to make us do better and prove that not giving the community the proper respect is a massive loss, as losing Smash 4 means losing not only intense viewing, but a community that inspires people to play fighting games.
The community’s taking their ball and going home is only going to harm the growing scene because unlike Mortal Kombat or Killer Instinct or Tekken, Smash as a whole lacks something which keeps those games chugging along; developer backing. While Smash does have its own major events like Genesis, Super Smash Con and The Big House, so does every other game on the Evo title card. Killer Instinct has the KI World Cup, Tekken’s got King of the Iron Fist Tournament, Street Fighter obviously has the Pro Tour and while Smash has these big events, they are all funded from the community’s own pocket, with occasional help from outside organisations. That community needs to grow and expand in scope if Nintendo is not going to provide those pot bonuses and big venues so withdrawing from the big FGC stages, where the eyes of the world are on you, is only going to speed stagnation. Smash will eventually stagnate, mark my words, if there isn’t a constant stream of cash from either Nintendo or outside organisations, as other games will rapidly outpace Smash in terms of scope and prize pots. As much as it is quaint to think that the love of the game will keep people competing; top players need to keep food on the table and sponsors need to see Smash as a worthy investment and retreating from some of the world’s largest stages is only going to put people off pumping money in. Sure, Nintendo of America may send setups and retweet a stream or two and I personally know that Nintendo UK does help out with eShop vouchers for smaller tournaments, but the continued lack of a concerted effort by the whole of Nintendo to publicly support Smash with money means that the gears will stop turning eventually. Outside organisations can keep games on life support but that’s just prolonging the inevitable. Melee has a better chance of long-term survival as the game has pretty much become institutionalised in the eyes of the FGC, but unless Nintendo pulls its finger out with the NX and makes a big push to openly support eSports, Smash 4 is especially in danger of being left behind as the eSports train thunders towards the big money.
The attitude towards Evo I think needs to change as well, as this view of it being the tournament of tournaments is not really helping anyone at this point. Rather than seeing it as the world’s biggest stage and the true test of who is the best player, it should instead be viewed as one big advert for why spectators and other FG players should attend your own dedicated tournaments. Rather than being the World Cup, it should be the Olympics; a big show tournament where money isn’t really the objective but showing off your top talent is. The goal should be to convert as many as possible, so that they do come to your own tournaments where you run the proper rulesets and can really show off how the game is played. Moreover, it should be a celebration of fighting games as a whole where everyone meets to enjoy each other’s company, rather than a place where you only stick to your own community. Just look at how many people have been turned to Street Fighter V after LI Joe’s performance at Evo. Those who did not care to look were made to look by just how engaging top level Street Fighter was, by the community reaction, level of play and the storylines which were feeding into the top 8. Smash 4 needs to make itself as equally irresistible, either by producing content for outsiders to fuel the hype, engaging with other communities to get them on side or making the action something that you simply cannot turn away from. It doesn’t matter how many entrants you have to your tournament, if no-one else wants to look in and swell your numbers. Evo 2016 cracked the door open for the rest of the FGC to really hit the big time (just look at the viewing figures for SFV finals on both ESPN 2 and Twitch) so running away from that opportunity now would be colossally stupid.