The off-season of Smash is here with almost a month off tournaments before Genesis 4. In times like these, it’s good to appreciate what makes players and events make up the community. The focus today is on the MasterHand events in Osaka, Japan. The Japanese scene is still a small niche community, but the tournaments rival any local or regional scene in terms of talent, in the United States.
Yosuke “Kounotori” Kono is the number one ranked player in all of Japan as well as the head tournament organizer for one of the most prominent regional in Japan. The MasterHand events are bi-weekly tournaments that attract many of the top Smashers. It’s the breeding ground for names like Masaya “aMSa” Chikamoto and Daiki “Rudolph” Ideoka, who have made an impression on American Smash fans.
For Kounotori, it’s a struggle as a tournament organizer to grow a scene that is focused primarily on Smash 4. “It is difficult to judge if the Japanese Melee scene is growing or not,” said Kounotori, “Japanese smash 4 scene is much more lively than Melee. And there are tournaments which are recognized by Nintendo officially. And recently sponsored players appear gladsomely like Nietono, Abadango, Komorikiri, Kameme and Ranai.”
The Effect of “Shachiku”
On top of Smash 4 being the main game in Japan, the general work culture often prevents players from improving their games. Several players must deal with life, as Konoutori puts it, as a “Shachiku,” which basically translates to an employer forcing long hours on its employee.
“Once a player becomes a Shachiku, they have no time to play Melee competitively any more. It makes competitive level go down and quench other players’ passion… its big loss,” said Kounotori. He noted that this is probably the main reason the Melee scene has stayed relatively small in Japan.
Japan’s Unique Play styles
Despite lower average numbers than most American events, Japan has produced some incredible talent throughout the years. Ryota “Captain Jack” Yoshida is a legend in the Melee community, as well as aMSa who popularized the aggressive Yoshi style and found plenty of Yoshi tech. Names like Kounotori, Rudolph, and Flash (retired as best Sheik in Japan) have been on the brink of making deep runs at North American majors.
In the meantime, Kounotori talked about two of the better players in Japan who can’t travel. “K.F is Japan’s Best Jigglypuff. Unfortunately, he can’t attend overseas tournament because he can’t take consecutive holidays,” Kounotori continued on,”Tapioka, a Japanese top Fox/Falco. I think he’s never attend overseas tournament because of money problems mainly.”
Only a small portion of the Japanese scene can afford to pay to travel to American tournaments out-of-pocket. Some of the most talented players can only be seen at the MasterHand tournaments: Nanashi the top Samus main, S-Royal a strong Fox player, Shippu the top Japanese Peach,and Zoma who’s currently the best MewTwo player in the world.
The MasterHand tournaments are still the most consistent way for Japanese players to play the top-level competition in the country. BattleGateway, per Konoutori, is the highest attended event on average, as it’s held in Tokyo, Japan. “BattleGateway in Tokyo is about bimonthly or less but around 80 players attend,” said Konoutori. “Kansai (around Osaka) has as many strong players as around Tokyo. But total of players are less than Tokyo.”
MasterHand caps it at 64 players, but they do throw an annual tournament that has around 128 players called CrazyHand. It’s not the most wide-reaching tournament series, but it does attract good competition. Without Nintendo support, the entire effort falls on the shoulders of tournament organizers like Konoutori.
“The Japanese scene is much smaller than the US,” said Konoutori. “It’s not only about the number of competitors, but also ‘spontaneous contributors for community’. Of course, I really appreciate attendees (especially helping us set up).” It’s a team effort to provide Japan with a competitive tournament.
The tournament is streamed by aMSa every week, and even with smaller numbers it’s still one of the most entertaining regional because of the different styles. MasterHand will continue to develop players with unique outlooks on the game because they’re not influenced by American play styles.
As Kounotori said, “now the Japanese Melee tournament scene will manage on a small portion of players.”