Opinion: The Smashbox/B0XX ban does not have Smash’s best interests in mind

By on October 17, 2017 at 4:00 pm
smashbox vs gamecube

The Super Smash Bros. Melee community, and the TOs and rules committee that accommodate them, have drawn yet another line in the sand with regards to the Smashbox/B0XX (herein referred to as Boxes, for convenience sake) vs. GameCube controller battle. Reports came in that during The Big House, players were informed that if they had a Box in their bags, they were not allowed to bring them out at any point in time. Failure to do so could have resulted in their expulsion from the event altogether, with people being threatened with having security called on them due to noncompliance.

Security for events are typically reserved for serious issues, such as violence or threats thereof, sexual assaults, and being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. All of these most certainly warrant the use of security. However, to threaten the use of security over the use of a controller — even in friendlies — that is controversial, and is taking the Boxes vs. GameCube controller debate much too far. To quote John Stossel: “Give me a break.”

While rumors abound that Nintendo’s sponsorship of the event was behind this, no official statement from the company has been made. Further, if this were an issue of licensed GameCube controllers versus unlicensed controllers, wouldn’t this have also extended to the knockoff GameCube controllers that are abundant these days? This would’ve made the culling process insanely tedious, which makes me question Nintendo’s involvement in this altogether. Further, customized controllers would have also had to fall into this ban, as well as ones that had been modified.

As Keegan “Interrobang?!” Spindler wrote in August when the Smash Unified Ruleset banned Boxes, the war on Boxes has been primarily waged by the tournament organizers themselves, most notably Arian “TheCrimsonBlur” Fathieh, and the tournament organizer for The Big House himself, Juggleguy. These controllers, which were primarily created to avoid the hand injury issues which have sidelined several players at times — most notably forcing Aziz “Hax” Al-Yami into retirement — have a created one of the most divisive arguments in any competitive scene. And beyond the physiological issues surrounding the GameCube controllers (which has been given its fair share of coverage) there are many other issues as to why this war on Boxes has gone overboard, and must be rescinded.

Hitbox, Revisited

In 2011, the fighting game community began a similar debate with the creation of a controller that is becoming increasingly prevalent at events: the Hitbox. This all-button controller — which allowed players to control movement with their fingers rested on the buttons like a computer keyboard, making movement easier — was at first met with a curiosity, then later resistance due to some issues found with the Hitbox itself.

hitboxes

The first major issue discovered was that by pressing simultaneous opposing cardinal directions (e.g. left and right), you could block both directions at the same time in a myriad of games, or even allow charge characters to hold a charge while walking forward in Super Street Fighter II Turbo. This was quickly addressed within the community by creating circuit boards (and firmware for existing community boards) that contained built-in SOCD cleaners which prevented these issues, and Marcus “Toodles” Post creating an SOCD cleaner board for circuit boards that didn’t have it built-in, and couldn’t be flashed with new firmware. It is also worth noting that the SOCD issue is still prevalent with basic controllers by using the directional pad and the analog stick simultaneously.

While this was enough to initially satiate the detractors from the new technology, more resistance came later in 2012 — most notably from well-known Tekken and SoulCalibur player Aris Bakhtanians drawing criticism of its ease of inputs, moreso than an arcade stick or stock system controller provides. He took particular note that players in the Tekken series could easily perform just-framed Shining Wizard Kicks — a move which required three forward inputs before pressing left kick, something that could be done easily on a Hitbox by running your ring, middle, and index finger across the left or right button in quick succession.

With that, there was fear that players would rapidly adopt the Hitbox and gain an advantage over arcade stick and pad stalwarts, forcing top players to join the rank of Hitbox players or be left on the sidelines.

But there’s a problem: neither has happened. The only real high profile adoptees within the community lately have been Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez and David “UltraDavid” Graham. The former has only really been seen using the Hitbox on ELEAGUE soon after he switched — which saw him finish with a 0-7 record in pool play — and the latter is notably not on the tournament circuit anymore, and only switched to be able to continue to play due to wrist issues, a problem not too unfamiliar to Melee players. Further, should you look through tournament results to find majors won by Hitbox players, you’re going to be waiting for a while; that has barely happened, if at all. While NickTanella has done well in local events using the device, most players using Hitboxes have yet to truly crack open the field, despite an inferred advantage in ease of inputs. There may have been instances of Mortal Kombat players also doing well on the device, due to instant air moves being easier. However, the point still stands that the overall balance has never shifted to the Hitbox being dominant.

Boxes vs. Hitbox vs. GameCube controllers (The dreaded WWE triple threat match)

The FGC concluded that despite the ease of inputs, the Hitbox offered no noticeable advantages over any other recognized method of input in the scene to warrant a ban. With no macros or rapid-fire options on the device, and with it being visually apparent if a player has circumvented SOCD cleaners on them (even if a person were to try to circumvent this, most modern titles have been programmed with SOCDs in mind, blocking them from within the code itself) the Hitbox has universally been recognized as a tournament legal input method for many years now.

Hax with his version of the B0XX
Hax with his version of the B0XX

Boxes, on the other hand, have automatically been labeled as unfair to use by the Smash rule committee and shoved to the wayside almost unilaterally since their invention. While the ease of inputs of the Hitbox may have influenced that decision given its similarities with Boxes, traditional fighting games and platform fighters such as the Smash series are so vastly different that such conjecture is a kneejerk and baseless assumption.

There have been times where the Smash community has chimed in with their support of Boxes as a valid input option. In December, Daniel “Tafokints” Lee explored the issue on Yahoo! Esports’ Melee Science, stating that he saw no performance difference between the Smashbox and a GameCube controller, even going so far as to say that using a Smashbox made certain things — such as tilts and slight directional influences — more difficult to perform.

By taking devices that were mainly designed to avoid physical issues with regards to the GameCube controller, and making it about a non-existent ease of inputs, the Smash rules committee have not only missed the point, but they have begun to make fools of themselves. This debate — or lack thereof — has begun to look less like protecting the integrity of the game, and more like a group of five elites saying, “Stop liking things I don’t like!” There couldn’t be a more vivid outsider’s description of their stance, than the strongarm tactics portrayed at The Big House.

Further, if they were so concerned that the integrity of Smash would be destroyed by using anything but stock Nintendo GameCube controllers, there are other fish to fry than simply Boxes. Kotaku recently reported on the prevalence of modified GameCube controllers, which featured notches cut into the holes where the analog sticks jut out from. Notch cutting makes shield dropping far easier to execute, which puts into a gray area, where it could create an unfair advantage against players who do not have notches cut into their controllers. If this were a question of integrity in the game, wouldn’t this be excluded? If this were a matter of dealing non-licensed peripherals to make nice with Nintendo — who has had a difficult past in dealing with the competitive Melee community (something I alluded to earlier) — wouldn’t Chinese knockoff controllers, as bad as they are, be banned as well? Wouldn’t the well-accepted Universal Controller Fix—which is an unlicensed software fix that corrects issues with backdashing on certain GameCube controllers — also be banned, especially if this were a Nintendo-forced issue?

This ban has become something that doesn’t protect Melee’s integrity in the slightest. Pointing at UCF and saying, “Progress!” doesn’t make this any less true. This is something that only looks like people that are afraid of what’s different, and not giving it the time of day. Imagine if this were to happen in a sport like golf, tennis, baseball, or ice hockey, where players use a variety of brands and styles of equipment to suit their preferences, to negligible performance results compared to their peers. Athletes would riot or boycott. ESPN, TSN, and their various counterparts would have a field day with the ongoing debates. But professional sports have not stifled technological advancement, nor should competitive gaming — which is exactly what Smash is doing.

Brand Recognition

Let’s just say that the report that this ban is Nintendo-forced is true. Let’s hypothetically say that they were doing this to limit competitive Smash to Nintendo-branded products — something already nullified by the existence of UCF itself at super-majors. What do they gain from it? Unless a port of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is planned for the Nintendo Switch, alongside a licensed Nintendo GameCube to Switch controller adapter and a resupply of GameCube controllers, they stand to gain nothing. GameCube controllers are out of production. By relegating players to only GameCube controllers, Nintendo makes zero money off of this. This is further compounded by the fact that Super Smash Bros. Melee itself has been out of print for a long time as well, and not once has Nintendo conclusively hinted to a re-release of the title on the Switch.

Super Smash Bros. Melee Full Cast

Nintendo gains nothing from the existence of Boxes outside of negative press should they fight against it. Why would sponsors have any say in what controllers are used in any fighting game event? At what point has this precedent been set? Did MadCatz ever do this at any event they sponsored? Has Qanba, Razer, or HORI ever forced players only to play on their controllers at events? Has Sanwa ever held a gun to peoples’ heads forcing them to play only on the JLFs and OBSFs that are standard in nearly every commercial stick produced these days?

No, and you won’t hear of that. Why? Because players would have a field day. Try telling JDCR, Knee, or any Korean Tekken player that their Korean parts are not welcome because Sanwa sponsored an event. Try telling Echo Fox that they have to cover up the Qanba logo on their jerseys because Razer sponsors the Capcom Pro Tour. Try telling John Choi that he lugged his giant MAS stick to Evo to leave it in his hotel room because American parts are banned. The tournament circuit would crumble within only a few events if something like this were ever dictated by sponsors. Which is why if — despite what I said above — Nintendo is behind this, they’ve only further blackened their eyes in their involvement with the community that plays their games.

The Vicious Cycle

What this ultimately amounts to is a vicious cycle that these new devices’ developers may never win. They want their devices to be deemed tournament legal. They can’t prove them tournament legal until they are given a chance to be showcased in competitive play. They can’t be showcased in competitive play because they aren’t deemed tournament legal. And they aren’t deemed tournament legal because a few stalwarts at the top of the competitive circuit are resistant to change.

They have every opportunity to give these controllers a chance, and see whether they affect the competitive scene. This approach is not unlike the one we traditional fighting game players utilized when the Hitbox came out. While the odds are against the Boxes making such a shift that you’ll see Mew2King, Leffen, Hungrybox, or Armada forced to drop their GameCube controller for B0XX in order to remain relevant, if that were to happen, all they have to do is institute a ban. If Boxes truly did create an unfair advantage enough to affect tournament results in such a dramatic way, the shift would be quick enough that you could quickly institute the ban without affecting the legacy of Melee much one way or the other.

But by blindly banning such instruments, you do affect the legacy of Melee automatically. And it starts to look like a bunch of crotchety old men screaming at Box players to “Get off their lawns,” over something far too asinine, while players fall left and right to hand injuries over a controller so unergonomic, that when I showed it — as well as a video of Mew2King playing on it — to Toronto chiropractor Katherine Siu, she strongly advised that players either avoid the controller entirely, or play no longer than 30 minutes at a time.

Is this the legacy that Melee wants? It looks like — from the comments I’ve seen via reddit, as well as speaking with people I personally know who are Melee players — the community is starting to say that the ban on Boxes is unwarranted, whether they intend to gravitate toward the devices or not.

Now it’s up to the rules committee — Fathieh and Juggleguy in particular — to get in line with the community’s voice. Enough is enough; it’s time to let the Smashbox and the B0XX have their chances to prove themselves.


Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not reflect Shoryuken.com as a whole.

Corey "Missing Person" Lanier is a full-time writer, and one half of the "So Smart" team that did commentary for Street Fighter V Crash. A former English teacher, he has spent 5 years living between China and South Korea before moving to Canada. When he's not busy writing, he enjoys streaming, playing mafia and elevating his Super Turbo game. He also believes Sailor Moon S is the best fighting game on the planet, and if you don't believe him, see him in Sailor Moon!