Super Smash Bros. elite want change, and the FGC doesn’t like it

Michael Martin
Super Smash Bros. Melee crowd gets hype at CEO 2016 (Rose Silvestre)
Super Smash Bros. Melee crowd gets hype at CEO 2016 (Rose Silvestre)

It’s 2016, and the FGC still has a hard time accepting the Smash scene.

Despite Super Smash Bros. and the rest of the FGC growing alongside each other as modern esports, the two have largely remained segregated. Go to any FGC event hosting Smash tournaments and generally you’ll see most fighting games kept in one area while the Smash games are in a completely different part of the venue.

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That odd treatment might be the status quo, but pro Smash players are hoping for some change. They might not get it.

Alex Valle getting in some Street Fighter Alpha 2 at Final Round (Michael Martin)
Alex Valle getting in some Street Fighter Alpha 2 at Final Round (Michael Martin)

In the beginning

The roots of the FGC run through the largely defunct arcade culture, where players crowded around arcade cabinets for hours. Every game meant something to a player because a.) it cost them money and b.) nobody wanted to lose and go to the back of a long line.

Super Smash Bros. first launched on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, a time when many North American arcades were dying out. The game’s combination of iconic Nintendo characters and intuitive controls for up to four players appealed to fans young and old.

But because it’s always been on consoles, Smash never really connected with the arcade-driven players of coin-op fighting games like Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Mortal Kombat.

Both scenes have endured growing pains as they’ve evolved into esports. And both scenes have handled it very differently. The FGC clings to its roots fiercely, while Smash has been a bit more progressive, or at least has tried to be in dealing with controversial issues like “wobbling” (an Ice Climbers infinite grab named after Melee player Robert “Wobbles” Wright), floating top players in pools, or establishing warm-up areas for certain players.

To VIP or not to VIP

In recent weeks, a number of high-profile Smash players have taken to social media to voice their opinions on issues like floating in pools or, more problematically, “VIP rooms” where certain players could hang out before a match.

And FGC players responded, sometimes rationally and sometimes derisively.

The problem, it seems, boils down to the Smash community deifying certain players, and in turn, those players getting perceived special treatment at events.

I use “deifying” literally. The popularity of Smash has created a playful (but totally serious) “god” culture among its playerbase. Adam “Armada” Lindgren, Joseph “Mango” Marquez, Kevin “PPMD” Nanney, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, and Evo 2016 Melee winner Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma reign supreme as the Five Gods of Melee.

“Without realizing it, we’ve made a lot of our personalities rock stars in the scene,” Smash player D’Ron “D1” Maingrette told Yahoo Esports. “Because of things like the Smash documentary or how commentators refer to players in the whole ‘Gods’ narrative in Melee, people put these players up on a pedestal. They do it in Street Fighter too, but I feel like Smash fans take it to another level.”

In addition to the Five Gods, there are the up and coming “Godslayers” (pros like William “Leffen” Hjelte or Wobbles). These players, and many more between Melee and Smash 4, are finding it harder to do their jobs, which is ultimately to go out and win.

These players deal with large crowds of spectators at events, sometimes never getting a break because fans are vying for their time. And the general expectation (at least from the FGC perspective) is these players must give most — if not all — of their time to fans no matter how tired, hungry, or cranky they may feel at events.

It’s important for these players to acknowledge and cultivate their followings, and most seem to handle it well, but it appears to be getting to a point where fan interaction is distracting players.

A massive crowd surrounds Smash 4 player TSM superstar Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios at Evo 2016 (Stephanie Lindgren)
A massive crowd surrounds Smash 4 player TSM superstar Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios at Evo 2016 (Stephanie Lindgren)

In theory, ideas like floating in pools or private warm-up areas would allow players to schedule time to interact with fans or just catch a few moments to relax in the middle of a stressful tournament. It’s less about avoiding fans, as some within the FGC believe, and more about doing a job to the best of a player’s ability.

“The Smash scene is willing to try new things, implying the FGC is not,” David “UltraDavid” Graham said on a special episode of UltraChenTV, featuring D1 and Daniel “Tafokints” Lee. “Even if you’re not trying to imply that, I think that’s true. We definitely have set ideas in terms of how we want things to go and this is how many of us think, certainly it’s how I think. I’m down with new things and change but on our terms.”

Indeed, Smash TOs have made changes to their events to accommodate the players, while attempting to maintain the integrity of competition. At Shine 2016, organizers floated top players in Smash Melee. There were also stations set up behind the staging area for Smash players to practice or warm up. Some mistook the area as a VIP room, and that created a fuss.

From top to bottom, no player deserves special treatment over another in the FGC. Everyone plays everyone in casuals to warm up at Street Fighter V events. But will that change as the game gets older and top players go back to playing privately or exclusively in salty suites? Because that’s what happened with many of the top Asian players in Street Fighter IV.

“Top level Smashers have been asking for change because, like it or not, they get hounded at events. If we notice there’s a growing trend, we’ll change the community in response to that. It’s nice to have an area after they have the opportunity to interact with fans to get some breathing room or warm up for the tournament,” D1 said.

Expectations vs. responsibilities

As one of the most popular Smash 4 players, TSM superstar Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios has been a strong advocate for change within the scene.

To him, the issue isn’t about hiding or avoiding fan interaction, a point many people latched onto in the “VIP room” debate. He is grateful for his fans, but the amount of time he dedicates to interacting with them takes away from his ability to focus on winning, which is exactly what makes him so popular in the first place.

“The reason I want a private warm-up area is to have some privacy and to be able to focus and prepare for events,” ZeRo told Yahoo Esports. “When people come to events to watch the top players, they expect a certain quality of gameplay. I need proper focus and privacy to do my job correctly.”

He isn’t wrong. Fans expect these guys to perform and to win. ZeRo made it clear the issues aren’t about serving the needs of the few over the many. Private lounges can be available to anyone who needs it, such as players coming up on streams or players making it into the later brackets of a tournament. Not just the Smash elite.

He also feels there is a tangible difference in results when he’s more comfortable at events. ZeRo didn’t play particularly well at Evo 2016 and Super Smash Con (he describes these here and here), whereas at Shine, he was able to focus on his play and it worked out quite well.

“At Shine 2016, I spent a lot of time in the back because I needed to focus as much as I could to win,” ZeRo said. “Guess what? I ended up winning. I was very proud of that. I interacted with fans, signing autographs, taking pictures, and talked with people after I won.”

With the exception of Street Fighter’s Daigo “The Beast” Umehara and maybe Justin Wong, very few FGC pros have comparable obligations or the “godly” status of Smash’s most popular players. It doesn’t make sense for the FGC to get righteously indignant about the Smash scene’s issues or proposed changes. Let Smash work their own scene out. What Smash does shouldn’t (and usually doesn’t) reflect on the FGC.

Michael Martin covers all things related to the FGC. Follow him on Twitter @Bizarro_Mike.

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