We need to talk about Melee banning the B0XX

By on August 5, 2017 at 11:00 am

For almost half a decade, the Super Smash Bros. Melee community has joked about Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman’s hands. Whenever M2K made a slightly dodgy play or pulled out of an event for “personal reasons,” there’d always be a comment or two about him going to the doctor because — for a long time — he would complain about how much his hands hurt. This came on the back of Aziz “Hax” Al-Yami quitting the game with hand problems and — for brief time — the Melee community was incredibly aware of their hands.

Melee has never been the most welcoming game in the FGC. Although it is initially fun, once you start diving into the technical and competitive aspects of the game, it’s easy to drown. With a massive skill ceiling and a dedicated community that has been grinding out tech for more than a decade, dipping your toe into competitive Melee is an eye-opening experience. At this point the results of most major tournaments are a foregone conclusion, as one of Melee’s five gods — Joseph “Mango” Marquez, Adam “Armada” Lindgren, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, Kevin “PPMD” Nanney, and Mew2King — invariably takes victory, with Armada the most successful of the lot.

A Mew2King meme about his hands
A Mew2King meme about his hands.

It’s the toll that Melee takes on your hands that will get you in the end, though. Top level Melee requires hundreds of inputs a minute — getting close to Starcraft’s APM — all performed on a Nintendo GameCube controller, which was certainly not designed to accommodate the furious speed and technical demands of Melee. This has forced players to adapt strange grips, like the Claw, where your index finger curls to reach the face buttons, and ultimately has led to hand and wrist problems for more than a few competitors.

It was damage to his hands that forced Hax into retirement, and kept him there. It’s hand problems that at one point threatened the future of M2K in the Melee scene, and which have pained Mang0 since the start of his competitive career.

This year, Hax has been able to enter tournaments again, thanks to the use of a hitbox-style controller that he calls the B0XX. When he did, and when the team over at Hitbox offered up an alternative to the GCC in the form of the Smashbox, there was immediate backlash from skeptics in the community. They believed that the Smashbox — and later Hax’s B0XX — made certain techniques too simple, making high-level techniques like wavedashing and shield dropping easier to perform, at the cost of making basic movement more difficult.

Now it’s gone one step further, with the organizers of many of Melee’s largest tournaments — including by Twitch’s Arian “TheCrimsonBlur” Fathieh, who has vocally campaigned against the Smashbox — have created a “unified ruleset” for Melee, a ruleset that bans all non-GameCube controllers. That means that both the Smashbox and the B0XX are banned from events using this ruleset, a frankly staggering decision.

It turns out that these five “community leaders” would rather that Hax, and other players struggling to play Melee because of hand and wrist issues, were physically unable to play the game than let them use a different controller. Why? Because they believe that playing on a GameCube Controller is “intrinsic to what we consider “playing Melee” and the skills involved in doing so,” a nonsensical statement.

Melee as we know it is a completely different beast than what it was designed to be. Wavedashing, L-Cancelling and other high-level techniques have transformed it so completely that series creator Masahiro Sakurai condemned it as the opposite to his vision for the game. What the Smash community considers “playing Melee” is far from what was once expected from it, so why are we now pulling up short?

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

In fact, just go and have a quick read of the “controller” section of MeleeItOnMe’s justification of this new ruleset. It quickly becomes clear that the reason they’re banning box-style controllers and thus, by default, those unable to use the GameCube controller, is because they’re new, and different, and may open Pandora’s Box when it comes to further control mods.

Now, to be fair to the committee, they have stated that this ban of all things not-GameCube controller is tentative, and that they are fully willing to have their minds changed. It should be noted, however, that Blur has been loudly opposed to the Smashbox and B0XX since their unveiling.

It’s not as though these projects have not communicated. Despite consistent efforts from Gravy and the Hitbox team — and Hax, separately — to assuage the doubts and concerns presented by the community, a group of Melee veterans has decided that they haven’t done enough. It comes as no surprise that the only vote against banning these controllers comes from Nintendude, the only high-level competitor of the bunch.

There are other problems with this ruleset. There are oversights, mistakes, and some things are straight up forgotten. It does, for example, allow the infamous Ice Climbers’ Freeze glitch — as long as you don’t do it on a B0XX, of course.

But the main issue has to be with the way it treats the GameCube controller as some sort of Holy Grail. If it were so perfect, why would a whole cottage industry have grown out of the need to modify and change them? Why would Armada feel the need to pull out of DreamHack Austin because his controller of choice broke? Why would Hax require surgery on his wrist, why would M2K need to go to the doctor? Why would other members of the FGC, looking at our broken down players and decide that maybe that GameCube Controller just isn’t worth it?

Because, despite long familiarity, the GameCube Controller is fundamentally flawed. In fact, most top level players actively hunt for controllers that are malfunctioning, as they make techniques like dashbacking easier. You can read a little more about it on MeleeItOnMe. At the end of the day though, this committee has simply declared that this sort of broken is fine, as long as it is in the shape of a GameCube controller.

Just think, for a moment, about Hax. About how he must have felt waking up to this news. About discovering that the only way he could play Melee — a game that has defined his adult life — was banned, just because it was different.

I’d like you to imagine if this committee had been in this position back in the early days of Melee. Would they be banning wavedashing and l-cancelling? Would the Japanese have banned chain-grabbing after Ken beat Bombsoldier? These techniques are, after all, not in keeping with the way that Melee was played in those early days. The future of Melee would have been very different if they had. The future of Melee is in our hands now, and in the hands of Mew2King, Hax, Mango and so many others. This rule is actively trying to make sure that those hands are too broken to take hold of it.

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

Keegan “Interrobang!?” Spindler is Shoryuken's Features Editor, and is far better at thinking about Fighting Games than winning at them. Somehow every character he picks turns out to be low tier, and when he’s not getting beaten you can find him writing nonsense tweets - @DumbGrammarJoke – and trying to work out how to get good.