Nintendo is a company that works in mysterious ways, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the world of esports. Having created some of the most beloved franchises in all of gaming, it’s no surprise that booming competitive scenes have cropped up around many of their games such as Super Smash Bros. and Pokemon. Nintendo has always been hesitant to acknowledge these competitive scenes, sometimes even actively discouraging them and yet the competitors carry on. Last week, Nintendo offered these players a beacon of hope: a new Super Smash Bros. game, coming in 2018. The reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive, and if Nintendo plays their cards right Smash 5 might be their chance to stake their claim in the esports scene.
Although fans have been competing in Nintendo games ever since Donkey Kong first hit the arcades, the “will they, won’t they” conversation around Nintendo and esports mostly originates from Super Smash Bros. Melee, their most popular title in the competitive scene. Melee’s inclusion at EVO 2013 gave the game a second life, turning it into one of the most popular fighting games in the world and reigniting the Nintendo esports conversation. With Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and the yet to be announced Splatoon on the horizon, was this Nintendo’s chance to show support to some of their most hardcore fans?
Ultimately the answer to that question was, well, sort of. Nintendo started supporting competitive Smash as far back as EVO 2014, a far cry from the same Nintendo that almost banned the Melee stream at EVO 2013. At that year’s E3 Nintendo held their Super Smash Bros. E3 Invitational, a glamorous tournament in support of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U that featured top Smash pros Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma, Kevin “PPMD” Nanney, and Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios as competitors. In the following years Nintendo’s support of professional Smash continued through events like APEX, Genesis, and many more. When Nintendo debuted their esports focused Nintendo Versus Twitter account in 2017, repping competition focused games like ARMS and Splatoon, it felt like they were finally making their move.
Following last week’s Nintendo Direct, Nintendo Versus is now in full Smash mode, ARMS and Splatoon 2 avis now replaced by the iconic Smash Ball and a new logo. These updates were quickly noticed by fans, sending them into full Nintendo esports hysteria. We likely won’t be getting any more information about the game until this year’s E3, but when the news does come out I’d love to see some kind of official Nintendo esports circuit announced. Something like the Capcom Pro Tour, but on a smaller scale. Throw your support behind a few upcoming Smash events, then offer the winners a chance to compete at an official Smash 5 tournament during E3 2019, similar to the Super Smash Bros. E3 Invitational. This way they could support the existing scene, while offering recognition to the hard-working competitors in the form of a first party event.
Of course this only works if the players feel passionate about the new game, and the community has been loud and clear about their hopes for the new game. A few suggestions: keep the fast-paced gameplay, remove the Rage mechanic, add an option to remove hazards from stages, and provide frequent, detailed balance patches like the ones seen for Splatoon 2. Assuming Nintendo manages to create another hit game (and avoid another Melee/Brawl fiasco) they will find a large pool of eager players ready to move on from Smash 4 and compete for the top honors in Super Smash Bros. Switch.
Recognition or no the game goes on at events like Genesis 5, which featured competitions for Melee, Smash 4, Splatoon 2, and Pokken. Just like years before, Nintendo was there in some capacity, working behind the scenes to make the event happen. No doubt the tournament organizers, players, and fans appreciate their support, but I hope that with Super Smash Bros. for Switch Nintendo can finally step out from behind the curtain and directly support some of their most dedicated fans.
Sam Stewart is a freelancer for IGN. Find him on Twitter @_SamStewart.