Is competitive Smash dying?
For myself and many others, this year has provided some great moments for Super Smash Bros.. 2GGC Civil War, EVO 2017, Big House 7 and the year-end 2GG Championship are just a few of the many exciting competitive Smash tournaments that we’ve seen this year. However, with the year coming to a close, now is the best time to reflect on the future of Smash. As we wait for the new year to provide us with more exciting, competitive Smash tournaments, let’s discuss the current state and future of Smash as an esport.
This is the first of two parts of this discussion. For the first half of the discussion, let’s talk about the unfortunate reality of the Smash community’s size and profitability. Many believe that competitive Smash is on borrowed time in regards to being an esport. Moreover, many fear that the series has stagnated in growth, and that both the community and viewership of Smash are beginning to shrink. Are these concerns true and/or warranted? Let’s talk about it.
The slim pickings of Competitive Smash
While discussing the financial aspects of esports may be uninteresting to some, it’s ultimately a necessary part of the picture for any esport. Ever since the emergence of its competitive community, Smash has struggled to feature events offering large payouts to its dedicated competitive community. This becomes even clearer when comparing payouts from Smash Bros. events to the payouts of events for games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Call of Duty, Street Fighter and many other esports. While it’d be lovely to say that payouts don’t matter that much, the sad truth is that it’s a big factor of a game’s longevity as an esport.
Most Smash events have relatively low prize pools. The recent 2GG Championship was one of the highest prize pools in competitive Smash’s history, yet the event’s prize pool was only a total of $50,000. For comparison, the prize pool for the recent Capcom Cup for Street Fighter V was a total of $380,000.
There are many reasons as to why Smash events don’t receive good payouts, including Nintendo’s resistance to sponsoring large events. Regardless of the reasons behind it, however, are the players. The top players of any Smash game devote just as much time as dedicated players of any other esport, but the money that Smash players receive from tournaments is much smaller. So much so that many competitive Smash players find themselves resorting to making content via YouTube and/or Twitch in order to make more revenue to financially support themselves. In the midst of his win streak where he placed first in every event he attended, Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios stated that the money he made from tournaments wasn’t enough to keep him financially comfortable.
While over two years have passed since then, the fact still remains that the highest level Smash players don’t make very much money from tournaments. This issue goes on to affect how much certain players can travel to go to events. The lacking payouts at big Smash tournaments ultimately harms how many competitive players can keep attending tournaments. This has possibly gone on to affect another component of Smash’s uncertain future.
Less player attendance at events and the issue of stagnation
Perhaps the most obvious cause for concern for Smash’s future lies in the amount of players attending events. While Smash tournaments provided many entertaining and exciting spectacles throughout the year, there was a notable decrease in the attendance at most events. Every game that has a spot at EVO has some of their highest attendance during the event, and yet both Smash 4 and Melee saw a decrease in amount of players in the tournament from last year’s EVO.
Moreover, many of the top-level players for Smash have maintained their rankings and placement throughout the last few years. New players entering the higher echelons of competitive Smash have become very few and far between, especially in Melee’s case. This leads to a dire question: Is competitive Smash dying? Are we to expect a continued decrease in attendance at Smash events?
A large factor to a possible answer for this decrease is that of hardware. Unlike games like League of Legends or Street Fighter that can be played on the widely available platform of PCs, Melee and Smash 4 were released on the GameCube and Wii U, respectively. These consoles also happen to be Nintendo’s two lowest-selling consoles to date (excluding the Nintendo Switch, which is on track to outsell both consoles by this time next year).
A simple fact of the matter is that Melee and Smash 4, the two Smash games that have the richest competitive communities, are difficult games to pick up now. It’s difficult for younger viewers to get their hands on trying to play these games. For a new player to pick up competitive Melee, they would have to track down a GameCube, a copy of Melee, a GameCube controller, a GameCube memory card and a CRT television, along with hours upon hours of practice to even stand a chance of competing against the select group of top-level Melee players.
This difficult bar of entry makes competitive Smash seem impossible to get into for newcomers. This could potentially be causing the Smash community to stagnate. It’s difficult to accurately judge if the Smash community is growing or shrinking. On one hand, higher prize pools have been more common throughout the last year, making dedicating so much time to the game more viable to dedicated players. But on the other hand, new players have to jump through so many hoops to even get started at practicing competitive play.
Looking to the future
Granted, I don’t mean to be grim about the current state of Smash. But these are just a few legitimate concerns that the Smash community needs to take into consideration. The last year and a half have seen vague rumors of a Smash 4 port coming to Nintendo Switch, or a new iteration of Super Smash Bros. being in the works altogether. With the Switch being so successful so quickly, a new version of Smash could help bring in many new players. But until then, we have to think about what the Smash community can do to prevent itself from stagnating and possibly shrinking.
But what do you think? Do you feel that competitive Smash may be stagnating, or do you think that the future for Smash is as bright as ever? As always, join the conversation and let us know!
Stay tuned for the second part of this discussion next Saturday, December 30!
Featured image courtesy of Smash.gg
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