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Why the oldest game at EVO is getting so much hype: the return of Super Smash Bros Melee

Why the oldest game at EVO is getting so much hype: the return of Super Smash Bros Melee

In three days, after twelve years of waiting, Super Smash Bros. Melee is about to have its biggest tournament bracket ever. I'm told it will double the size of the previous best. At Evolution 2013, the biggest annual fighting game tournament series in the world, the 2001 GameCube game is about to have its finest hour.

Melee is by far the oldest game at EVO this year, the next oldest game on the schedule is King of Fighters XIII which released in 2010, and yet Melee still has the third most competitors of any game at the tournament, behind only Super Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs Capcom 3.

However, it wasn't originally supposed to be represented at EVO at all. The original game lineup didn't include any Smash games, not even the more recent Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which has never truly been able to overshadow Melee in the way most sequels supplant their predecessors.

The original EVO lineup included eight games, but the tournament organizers decided to hold an open Facebook poll to decide which games should be considered for a spot at EVO. Any game that got more than 500 votes would be allowed to participate in a fundraising competition to benefit breast cancer research.

The competition resulted in a massive $225,774 raised. Melee dominated the fundraising efforts with $94,683.

“As a member of the community, we clawed for this spot,” said Wynton 'Prog' Smith, a Melee commentator and co-host of the Melee it on Me podcast. “We dominated a Facebook poll that people called bogus because of how many rabid Smash maniacs showed support for this game. Then we had the fundraiser. This event for us is more than just our biggest tournament.”

Melee vs Brawl

Melee has stuck around for so long in part because Nintendo seems to have designed the 2008 sequel, Brawl, to be harder for the competitive community to master. They introduced the “tripping” system which causes characters to randomly fall over occasionally after executing certain moves, which was a major turn off for many players.

Fighting games are very precise, and rely on very fast, perfect inputs in order to be played at a high level. If a player makes a mistake, their opponent needs to be able to punish that. The “tripping” mechanic meant that sometimes players could be made vulnerable through no fault of their own, or could miss an opportunity to attack. It's both annoying, and difficult to work with as a competitive player.

Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of the Smash Bros. series, has made comments suggesting that he's never really wanted Super Smash Bros. to be about high-level competitive play.

That's never stopped either Melee or Brawl from enjoying a sizeable competitive scene. But at EVO, Brawl's divisiveness combined with Melee's long and storied history have made Melee the go-to Smash game.

History and community

“I think that Melee's storylines have made it such a compelling tale to follow,” said Prog. “When things were grim, it was the Mew2King/Mango rivalry. Then Mango being unbeatable…until some guy from Sweden [Armada] proved that the U.S.'s hubris might be its own undoing.  Then it was Hungrybox being his anathema, PP's rise to prominence, Mango's wavering, Armada's retirement, the big [four US players] being so close, Armada's return…not to mention so many great players coming to prominence like PewPewU, Axe, Wobbles, Hax, the return of DaShizWiz, Jman……and of course, the return of the King himself, Ken. Rivalries that are nearly a decade old.”

I love learning about communities like this. It's like watching a random episode in the third season of Game of Thrones without knowing any of the plot. You're awash in a sea of drama and stories, and there are so many great people and legends to learn about. 

“The last time this game was at EVO was 2007. Ken won,” said Prog as he tells me why the Smash community is so excited to be at EVO. “As a competitor, saying that you can legitimately stake a claim to something Ken has done is not only rare, but it solidifies you as a legend. There are a lot of questions as to who the true heir to Ken's throne is, but the true testament to that is the fact that people want to be mentioned in the same breath as him.”

When I read this I didn't have any idea who Ken was, but how can you read a statement like that and not want to learn more about Ken? Prog writes his name with a frankness normally reserved for Jesus Christ or King Arthur, or dare I say it…Daigo.

For the uninitiated, Ken was the undisputed champion of Melee in the mid-2000s. He was the “King of Smash.” He had the best tournament win rate of anybody in the world, and was the 2006 MLG champion and won EVO in 2007.

No last hurrah

I initially talked to Prog about Melee's big showing at EVO because I wanted to learn why this 12-year-old game showed up out of nowhere and started making waves again at the world's most important fighting game tournament; why the community had suddenly surged and rallied around this game.

“It's Smash,” said Prog as though that could sum up our entire correspondence. It's Smash. “So many players in other games are veterans, or dabbled in it. Mr. Wizard and Jebailey (two well known tournament organizers in the traditional FGC) both entered.  Chris G started in this game before moving on to…well…dominating everything else.  Everyone has played it.”

The answer seems to be history. The rivalries here are as deep as Justin vs Daigo, and the storylines for this game go back longer than practically any other individual title. 

“It shows the amount of fight we've got, there are plenty of games that come and go, but this community has carried its own torch, 10 years after the first organized tournament,” he said. “This is neither a last hurrah nor a revitalization. It's a homecoming. We've been here before, and we know what it means. The victor will understand that. The community knows it. But, afterwards, we'll all be looking for redemption at the next major event. We'll go on, but this is an opportunity to showcase the best of a community.”

As for whether Melee will continue it's amazing run and return for another showing at EVO, Prog said that all they need is the opportunity and the fans will be there. 

“Give us another fundraiser,” he said, quoting fellow Smash player Scar. “Bring all challengers. Just bring it. We did it once, we'll do it again. That's what maniacs are capable of.”