Rewind to late October, when Nintendo revealed their upcoming Switch console that is slated to release early 2017. There was a question percolating through the controller memes that flooded the internet for the following week, and that question was whether or not Nintendo was about to seriously take on eSports. It was a question that, truthfully, few of us truly wanted to hear an answer for. A confirmation of Nintendo’s eSports could go in any number of directions, some unpleasant and some good, while the opposite would mean that Nintendo was just using eSports as a pretty accessory for their trailer which, truthfully, would hurt our feelings a little.

Creator of Super Smash Bros. Masahiro Sakurai bemoaned the competitive nature of Melee because his intention for the series was to be a non-competitive series that catered to those who weren’t skillful in other fighting games. Incidentally, this is what led to the redheaded stepchild of the series, Brawl, which tried to be Melee with its competitive components stripped. The lack of competitiveness is what prompted modders to create Project M, a mod that attempted to restore competitive elements to the game.

With Sakurai so against the idea of his game being taken to a professional level, one has to wonder if we can expect the same kind of response from the creator of Splatoon, which is the antithesis to competitive gaming. Yet, in spite of its casual spirit, this is the title that Nintendo chose to showcase in the Switch trailer.

The implication of Splatoon eSports also isn’t the first time that Nintendo has attempted to push the competitiveness of the title, having previously organized a Japan-only ¥1 million circuit in 2015 for it. Nothing came of it afterward, which isn’t exactly unexpected. Splatoon simply isn’t made to be played as a spectator sport. The gameplay is static, there’s no opportunity for drama or story lines, no character system, features regular map rotations, and the objective is to attack neutral territory. Without taking into consideration the lack of a spectator mode and in-game chat, the aforementioned weaknesses are what makes Splatoon too simple and too steady to be exciting as an eSport, even if it’s exactly what makes it fun. Nintendo would have to choose between maintaining their initial vision for the game, and choosing to make it viable in a competitive scene.

Despite Splatoon obviously being on the forefront of Nintendo’s minds, it’s not the only game that has been seeing some attention. Emphasis on some. Pokkén Tournament, the Pokémon-themed fighting game released for the Wii U, had a $100,000 USD circuit announced earlier this year that divided competitors up based off of their ages. If you’re just hearing about it for the first time, that’s not your fault – Nintendo did virtually nothing to promote it, not even for the World Championship finals in August (Which, yes, still had the adult and kiddy tables).

Photo by Robert Paul at The Big House 6

Well, what about Smash?

What actually prompted me to start writing about this was the recent rumor floating around of a Melee re-release for the Switch, a rumor that Eurogamer claims was confirmed by three anonymous sources. Of course, word-of-mouth can have results similar to a schoolhouse game of telephone so, as a result, there are a handful of variations of the rumor that all run in a similar vein.

Despite the inconsistencies in these rumors, however, the rumor itself got me thinking.

Not only would a Switch launch help make Super Smash Bros. Melee infinitely more accessible, as it no longer means spending upwards of $50 on a copy that is no longer in production, but it would change the eSports side of things as a whole. Tournament organizers would no longer have to lug CRT TVs that are as old as time to and from a venue, with just as heavy replacements on-hand should any of them break. Capturing the game footage would also be easier with much higher quality, given what we know about Melee’s visual quality on PC emulators.

The thing is, with Smash, the competitive community and Nintendo have had a historically bad relationship with one another.

We’re going to rewind a little further to 2013. Evo, the largest FGC event in the country, is right around the corner but, just as Smashers are packing their jerseys and getting ready to compete on the main stage, Nintendo pulls the plug. After years of blatantly ignoring the scene, they demand that Super Smash Bros. Melee be pulled from the lineup. The outcry of enraged fans drown out everything else, so Nintendo acquiesces and insists that just the broadcast be cancelled. As one could imagine, as no one saw this as a compromise, the community is just as ruthless in their criticisms of the company. As a result, Nintendo relents entirely and allows the competition and broadcast to resume as planned.

To put it simply, Nintendo’s attitude towards its competitive scene is one of begrudging acceptance. This is easily seen in the prize pools at Smash competitions. It is a game that is impossible to live off of, with events struggling to provide more than a few thousand dollars for first place. Whereas Street Fighter V received $50,000 USD from Capcom for Evo 2016, and Mortal Kombat XL received $50,000 from NetherRealm and Warner Bros., Nintendo did nothing to support their community.  The Pokémon Company donated $10,000 to the prize pool of the Pokkén Tournament portion of the event, but it’s safe to say that this was a decision made without the interest of Nintendo in mind when you take into account that neither Smash events received any support.

It seems as if Nintendo is incapable of finding a middle ground between scorning Smashers and completely ignoring their existence, unless they’re giving Nintendo money.

But it’s still possible that the arrival of Super Smash Bros. Melee means that Nintendo is planning to use their sudden (if half-hearted) interest in eSports to finally bring some support to the community. If the Nintendo Switch is the console that Nintendo plans to use to finally put themselves in the industry as a serious participant, having a rerelease of a past Smash game could imply that they wish to embrace the community they previously felt nothing but contempt for.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: In this photo provided by Nintendo of America, Nintendo World Championships 2015 contestants are cheered on by fans as they go head to head in Splatoon for the Wii U console. The Nintendo World Championships, which were last seen in 1990, is a video game competition featuring games from the past, present and future of Nintendo, and kicks off the E3 video game trade show in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Nintendo of America)

Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Nintendo of America

That Could Actually Be A Bad Thing

Something to take into consideration is that it’s very easy to see Nintendo having a stranglehold on the competitive scene, should they enter it; they really hate it when people are making money with their stuff without them getting a profit, too.

When it comes to Smash, you can imagine that they view these tournaments like one would view a mother wolf spider with a nursery on her back. If you try to squash it, thousands of little babies would scuttle away and hide until their full-grown with babies of their own. As a result, you don’t squash it – you look around the house for a Tupperware container to trap it in so you can take it outside.

Nintendo knows that they can’t kill other tournaments right now with the way things are, but it’s very likely that they would do it if they introduced their own tournament series. With lawyers as their Tupperware, Nintendo would scoop up other tournaments and throw them away.

Nintendo has a reputation for maintaining a very my-way-or-the-highway attitude, and not just in the realm of competitive gaming. Nintendo has also been harsh in the treatment of content creators on YouTube, issuing copyright claims and strikes on channels that featured their content. This was not an action restricted to Let’s Players, who have been drifting in a legal grey area since PewDiePie led the genre into the spotlight, but it also occurred with YouTubers whose content explicitly fell under Fair Use protections. The company eventually went on to introduce a poorly-designed network called Nintendo Direct, which proved that they were continuing to fail at understanding the situation as they all but declared “Fine, if you want to use our games for your content, you have to do it our way.”

To use League of Legends as an example, Riot Games has made it very clear where they stand on some of their rulings but have not proven themselves to be unwilling to listen to criticisms. Riot is constantly making changes to their rules, repealing some if need be, and is willing take into consideration the concerns of both pros and casual players when making major decisions. Riot is a company that is willing to admit when they are wrong and are capable of taking that in stride.

Nintendo, on the other hand, doesn’t have that kind of track record – in fact, it’s the total opposite.

As mentioned earlier, Nintendo has actually already made attempts to put together eSports circuits. The problem is that they all were more or less failures, as Nintendo provided little to no advertisement for either, and the tournaments’ infrastructures suffered greatly due to a pressing need to preserve the games’ casual spirit. With little to no experience in large-scale tournaments, and a seeming refusal to use other established circuits as examples, Nintendo can’t promise the kind of quality in events that we have all become accustomed to. If they produce a total disaster, like the Dota 2 Shanghai Major, there’s no guarantee that Nintendo will even so much as apologize, never mind actually rectify the problem. Why should they? If there’s no competition on the market that’s keeping them on their toes, they can do whatever they want. Nintendo’s made it pretty clear that they don’t care about the culture or community of eSports, just profit.

Photo by The Pokémon Company International

Photo by The Pokémon Company International

But what if eSports doesn’t bring them a profit? League of Legends eSports has actually been reported to be not all that profitable for Riot Games, who advertises the crap out of both LCSs (though, they have a somewhat annoying habit of letting the LPL get swept under the rug) and makes a big enough deal of their events to completely sell out venues like the Staples Center. When hardly anyone even heard about the Splatoon and Pokkén tournaments, and nothing came after those tournaments, I don’t hold a lot of faith in the idea of Nintendo making much profit off of an eSports scene. If they did monopolize the industry, shutting down other events until they’re the only ones left standing, what happens if they don’t stay in the black? It’s likely that they would abandon their pursuit in eSports, which would devastate the community. Not because the FGC would have a broken heart over Nintendo, but because it would be exceedingly difficult for it to recover and start all over again – assuming Nintendo would even allow they to exist which, if they did, it would be nigh impossible to find a sponsor willing to take that kind of risk. Smash have to build from the ground up, which might not be possible.

Outside of Smash, that kind of treatment would ruin a title’s scene before it could even take off. A game unfit for competition like Splatoon, or an already underrepresented scene like Pokkén, would be run into the ground without ever being able to pick up any sort of speed.

Of course, this is all entirely speculation. And maybe I’m just a Smash fan that feels like our abusive ex is about to come back to ask us for a second chance, so I can only see how things can go horribly wrong. Either way,  it’s worth keeping our ears to the ground for any updates on both the rumor of Melee coming to the Switch, and Nintendo’s implication of becoming more invested in eSports.

About The Author

Connor
Sr. Esports Writer

Connor is a self-proclaimed Star Wars historian, Fatal Frame enthusiast and crazy cat lady that's fascinated by the Kpop mashups on YouTube. Professional gaming is something that's fascinated him ever since he was a wee lad, especially when it came to fighting games, so now he rambles on about it in the form of articles that use way too many commas.