The Smash Bros. community: An oral history

The competitive Super Smash Bros. community started in thousands of places. It started in a rinky-dink house in Southern California, where organizers scratched the walls of their parents’ house by carrying clunky CRT televisions through narrow hallways. It started in southern Osaka, where one of the eventual best players in the world won his first competition against five other locals in a tournament with just the six of them. It started in game stores, libraries, malls, and basements all over the world, from New Jersey to Gothenburg, Chillán to Gainesville. It started anywhere that people wanted to compete in Super Smash Bros.

Soon after those beginnings, a community began to form through patchwork organizing by unpaid and unsupported fans of the series. The competitions grew from 10-person events in basements to major tournaments held in places like the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California, with more than 100,000 fans tuning in on Twitch. Smash Bros. is unlike any other series in the fighting game community, as Nintendo has rarely put significant effort into helping its competitive scene grow. Where other games see publisher-sponsored leagues and circuits, the community that helped Smash get where it is today did so primarily on its own.

Over the past two decades, the community has gone through four games, thousands of tournaments, and countless gaffes. To look back on how it all happened, we recently spoke to some of the best Smash Bros. players in the world, organizers of major events, commentators behind hallmark moments, and others. They shared stories of competing in a major tournament inside a condemned building, creating identities in online forums that shaped how they grew up, and driving 13 hours through the night to a local tournament that barely had enough prize money to cover gas fare.

There is no linear timeline for how Smash evolved; no one’s been there for every big event and moment that shaped what we know today. But one thing holds true no matter who you talk to: Smash has never been about money, fame, or clout. Smash has been about passion.

Libraries and game stores

If you ask any player how they got started playing Smash, the answer will almost always be the same. They started playing with their friends before venturing out to events held at local game stores, libraries, or malls — or anywhere else that let them set up a GameCube.

Ken Hoang
(Team Liquid; MLG Anaheim, Dallas, and Chicago 2006 champion)

My first tournament was at a local game store. It was a free-for-all tournament with items on, which was crazy; you’d never see that today. The event itself was unusual back then. Since I hadn’t heard about any Super Smash Bros. tournaments happening in the wild, I didn’t even know they existed.

Once I went to my first one, it was like the first time I ate ice cream. It felt like home.

Christopher “Wife” Fabiszak
(Melee commentator; competitor)

My first tournament was a very crowded, tight-knit event at another player’s house. It wasn’t any fun — the community wasn’t there yet. It was kind of just whatever. We were outsiders, and everyone was young and awkward. Even the organizer was 13 at the time.

The addictive quality of Melee, though, kept me coming back. The second you caught a glimpse of the game, you were hooked. Eventually, the community pulled me in all the way.

Ryota “CaptainJack” Yoshida
(MLG San Francisco 2004 champion)

Well, it’s hard to remember. It was somewhere around the end of 1999, with Super Smash Bros. 64. Unlike many others, I started Smash competitively before Melee came out. But with that being said, there weren’t many tournaments in Japan, so I had to work with what was happening.

It was a local event in Southern Osaka with six people, including me. Fortunately, I won all my matches even though it was my first experience. But, looking back, it wasn’t even a tournament. It was tiny, and if I compare that to other tournaments in Australia, France, and Sweden, it just didn’t measure up.

Daniel “Chudat” Rodriguez
(MLG Nashville 2005 champion)

I was really good at the game when Melee first came out. I’d beat up on my cousins and friends after school. Eventually, I started looking for the competition. The first tournament I went to was this little thing in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

It wasn’t too different than what you’d imagine, like the other tournaments that started in someone’s basement or a game store. I hosted biweekly tournaments in my basement, too; I got, like, 20 to 40 people in there. It was really cool, really relaxed. We could hang out and talk about whatever. There was no pressure to perform, no pressure to impress the world. It’s just in my basement and not livestreamed to 50,000 people.

Adam “Armada” Lindgren
(Smash God, Evo 2015, 2017 Melee champion)

My first tournament was the first Renaissance of Smash. My older brother told me about [it], and I wanted to tag along.

I went there and I had super high expectations. I wasn’t even 12 at the time and I was super confident. There were eight people in my pool and only the top two advanced. I got fourth. I was technically top 16, but I didn’t advance and I was incredibly disappointed.

I remember sitting in the crowd after my loss thinking, “I wanna be the best.”

Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios
(Evo 2015 Wii U champion)

My first tournament was in Chile, where I grew up. It was in a local, tiny game store in my city. They had a regional tournament with like 10 CRTs, playing Melee singles. I played Falco and Fox. They were who I always played casually and I just stuck with it them. I was 10 or 11 and I didn’t really want to compete in Smash, but I stuck with it.

Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman
(Smash God, The Big House 3 Champion)

My first tournament was Valentine’s Day in 2005. There were 30 or 40 people at most and a bunch of CRT setups; it wasn’t too special. It was actually the first time I wrote my gamertag, Mew2King. None of this [was] recorded. I wasn’t nervous. I viewed it as a game.

I didn’t have a teammate for doubles, since I didn’t know there were doubles when I entered. There was someone else there who didn’t have a partner, so I played him to see how good he was. I four-stocked him, so I didn’t partner with him.

Super Smash boards

Ricky “Gideon” Tilton started smashboards.com (originally called Smash World Forums and renamed to Smashboards in 2011) as a companion site to Smash World, a site devoted to the franchise. It began as a community to talk about Super Smash Bros. and Super Smash Bros. Melee, which hadn’t been released yet. It became the premier place to discuss the game online, and it was the first step in uniting a scattered community.

Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby
(Smash 4 top player)

Smashboards was where we had drama, power rankings, tournament shoutouts, and all that stuff. It was different than other places; information and resources were so easy to find [on Smashboards]. That’s what Smashboards was all about, having conversations that were important to the community.

Jason “M3D” Rice
(Major League Gaming organizer)

It was much earlier in the internet world. People weren’t clustered on Twitter or Facebook yet. There were a ton of websites and forums that focused on niche communities that aren’t around today. I went to GameFAQs to ask a question about Smash, and most answers told me to go to Smashboards. Everyone was pointing me in that direction.

In the early days, we didn’t have a standard way to run tournaments. East Coast players played with a different amount of stocks than West Coast players. Some were three and others were five; East Coast played with a limited number of stages and no items. The rules were really varied. At that point, before people really dug into the game’s mechanics, people were still figuring out what type of game Melee was and what type of community this should be.

All of those discussions were happening on Smashboards.

When I first joined, I was already in college. I was running small tournaments, and a lot of the people who were playing were younger. I got made into a Smashboards moderator quickly ’cause I was a little more mature.

There was a [private] room called the Back Room that was full of intelligent, more focused discussion. It was the users that weren’t idiots, great players that could talk about rules, mechanics, problems, and such. It gradually morphed into a room where community leaders could talk. It was well known that it existed, too. People wanted to know what was going on back there.

Kris “Toph” Aldenderfer
(Commentator)

Facebook was good for real names, and it makes it easier to coordinate. Smashboards was cool because you were your gamertag, and not your real name. It wasn’t unusual for players to use the name they used in the forums to register for tournaments. Some identities were born on Smashboards.

All the top players were there and posting, and it was so easy to get access to them. On Twitter, you can read all the posts of top players, but on Smashboards it was easy to interact with them. On Twitter, you aren’t guaranteed a conversation.

Matthew “MattDotZeb” Zaborowski
(Shrine organizer)

Smashboards was your gateway into the community. Tournaments had a different vibe back then. No one really knew anything. We were all just trying to be nerds at a video game. We’re still that, but people know things now. Just like now, you had no idea what the future held; you were just going to an event. There wasn’t a lot of prestige. There were a lot of jokes.

I got suspended for trolling a lot.

After the results of Zero Challenge 2 came out, a bunch of people from New England decided to post a coordinated effort to congratulate Daniel “KoreanDJ” Jung even though he wasn’t at the tournament. Eventually everyone who wasn’t in on the same joke started posting the same thing.

Jason “M3D” Rice
(Major League Gaming organizer)

The rulesets stayed pretty varied until we brought Smash to the pro tour, the Major League Gaming series. There were a lot of discussions about items being on in pool play. We finally made a deal where items would stay on during pools and [we would] keep them off during bracket play. The last straw for me was the last Major League Gaming tournament in June of 2004; we had items on.

A Falco was charging a forward smash and a capsule dropped in front of him, exploded, and killed him, making him lose the set. It had a one-in-one-thousand chance of happening, but it did. Just the fact that it happened and affected the outcome made me never want to see items used again. I went to some thread on Smashboards and said I would never run items again.

Sheridan “Dr.Z” Zalewski
(Genesis organizer)

It was around 2008 when the transition started to happen. Facebook groups made it easier to organize with people in your scene. You didn’t need to go to Smashboards anymore. Like, the NorCal Smash [Facebook page] had more than 8,000 people. Discussion, organization, and sharing was so much easier that way. Smashboards started to decline in usage.

Tournament Go

Starting in 2002, Tournament Go was an underground tournament series in Northern California that became the foundation for the competitive Super Smash Bros. scene. It was one of the first tournaments to bring in players from across the country.

Matt “Deezie” Dahlgreen
(Tournament Go organizer)

When I organized the first Tournament Go, there weren’t really any tournaments happening at all. I actually came from the Tekken community. I was part of that for years, and I did my best to mimic their great scene in Smash. The problem came up in that whenever I announced a tournament on Smashboards, there would always be a ton of hesitation. People thought I was trying to lure children to my house or something. It just didn’t work. I didn’t know what to do.

I finally decided to create a different account on Smashboards claiming I was the best player in the world. That really riled people up. They actually came to my tournaments to prove me wrong. That kind of spread the word that I’m not up to no good. After the word of mouth spread, things kind of took off.

That was back in 2002, right before I started to put together the first Tournament Go.

Sheridan “Dr.Z” Zalewski
(Genesis organizer)

Matt was kind of the original tournament organizer, and as far as actually running a tournament, he was an incredibly hospitable host. He helped a lot of people get housing, picked people up at airports, and really just put the tournament first. His tournaments had a different scale compared to a 30-person local; it’s another set of skills that weren’t common back then.

Tournament Go 6 was the first tournament I went to; it was the biggest tournament ever at the time. It was hosted in some kind of clubhouse — like, at a golf course — and it had more CRTs than I’d ever seen in one place. It was still early days, so it was kind of a cramped room with a ton of people. Everyone was super friendly.

I remember that he had a giant paper bracket that went from ceiling to floor that they wrote all the matches on. Before the actual single matches bracket started, they wanted to separate people by region if you thought you should be seeded. That’s how they used to do seeding; they did pre-bracket matches.

Matt “Deezie” Dahlgreen
(Tournament Go organizer)

I was just copying what existed in other games. It was the first exposure to that sort of environment for a lot of people. We went out of our way to get people to travel to our tournament, and had at least 20 people crashing in my house. We put up pot bonuses for people that were out of state.

I think when people came over from out of state and experienced how we treated them, they started doing the same thing elsewhere. We even had international players come in.

It also just wrecked our house. We had tons of people over at a time. I didn’t know that my house’s circuits could not handle eight TVs running at the same time. I remember the early days; we had power constantly cutting it out.

Once it started doing actual damage, I had to move it out of the house. In the end, we had to rent out a school auditorium.

Ryota “CaptainJack” Yoshida
(MLG San Francisco 2004 champion)

Another Japanese player and I were the only foreigners who entered into Tournament Go 6, so that was a special opportunity. I was only 19 years old, too. I studied French at university in Japan, not English. That was interesting, since French isn’t spoken [at tournaments in the U.S. as much], obviously.

The biggest difference was people’s reactions and how people enjoyed the actual game. Generally speaking, Americans were loud. It was in a good way, though — like, they know how to enjoy life. I thought everyone was enjoying the tournament so much. People are so quiet in Japan, so shy. The atmosphere just surprised me so much. I prefer American events now.

Matt “Deezie” Dahlgreen
(Tournament Go organizer)

I do remember when we found Ken [Hoang]. He was down in LA, and that started with a challenge on the forums where he said he was really good. We didn’t believe him, like we did most people, because we didn’t think they had the infrastructure to get good. We ended up driving down to LA to challenge him to a money match, and he wiped the floor with us.

That really created the first rivalry we had, so the next few tournaments were really focused on him. In the beginning, it was just finding anyone that was good, anyone that wanted to get involved. Discovering new strategies was just interesting to us. It wasn’t about making it into this big thing. It was just about growth and getting people to play.

Ken Hoang
(Team Liquid; MLG Anaheim, Dallas, and Chicago 2006 champion)

I thought I was super good because I was beating all the kids in my region. So I came online thinking I was the best player in the world. People online had heard [people claim they were the best] so many times, it didn’t mean anything to them.

At the time, Matt “Deezie” Dahlgreen, one of the mods of Smashboards, and one of the early tournament organizers — they were also the best — when they heard me say that, they thought I was a joke. They private-messaged me about a money match. I challenged them and beat them.

Then they said, “Oh, just because you beat us in a money match doesn’t mean you’re better. You have to beat us in a tournament.” That’s how they got me to come out to one of their tournaments.

Matt “Deezie” Dahlgreen
(Tournament Go organizer)

We definitely set the tone for getting people to travel, but the tournaments still had a lot of room for growth. We only had about 100 people for the last one. It was all on Smashboards, too; we would just post in the forums. We were the only established community in Northern California, so we had a lot of confidence. People came out to try and knock us off our throne.

The golden age

In 2004, Major League Gaming began to host the biggest tournaments that the Smash community had then seen, starting with MLG New York. Events continued until 2006, eventually coming together to form the community’s first competitive circuit.

These events were more professional than anything the community had seen before. They featured other games like Halo, they hosted the first Smash streams on the MLG website, and they were some of the first tournaments to have commentators on certain matches.

Some of the best players in the world became well-known during this time period, including Ken Hoang, Daniel “Chudat” Rodriguez, Christopher “Azen” McMullen, Joel Isai “Isai” Alvarado, Christopher “PC Chris” Szygiel, Daniel “KoreanDJ” Jung, and Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman.

Jason “M3D” Rice
(Major League Gaming organizer)

I was going to school in the Midwest, and MLG held a tournament in Chicago. They had put on their website that you could email them about games they should put on the tour. We emailed them about Smash constantly. One of the MLG staff members eventually posted something to Smashboards about adding Smash to the tour. They asked about local tournament organizers in the Midwest, so me and a few others immediately reached out. I had run the most events so I kinda just fit in.

Eventually I got a DM from them saying, “You were the right fit. Let’s talk.” And that’s how I started working with them.

Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman
(Smash God, The Big House 3 Champion)

Major League gaming held the only tournaments with good money in Melee. A $2,500 prize pool for each event. You went there to prove yourself. It was at its peak in 2006, but they dropped Melee in 2008 before Brawl came out. I always got top 8 at every MLG, but I never won one. I always lost to ChuDat and PC Chris. I was just bad against Falco.

The events felt different. They had these bars behind each TV. It was like a wrestling ring-type thing that kept others a good distance away from you. I don’t know the word for it — just little barriers to keep people from touching you while [you’re] playing. It made it easier to play; people couldn’t yell in your ear.

The Major League Gaming events were the only series that had those bars. It was the only time it was the case.

Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma
(Smash God; Evo 2016 champion)

Crunch [Luis Rosias] and I downloaded the MLG matches from online, and it was what got us into competing. I remember watching them and thinking, I wanna be there someday. Daniel “The King” Hutchinson, the Jigglypuff player, was my inspiration. I had already thought I was a great Puff player, but it was hard to say. It felt like it was out of my grasp to be that good. It was the coolest thing to be at MLG, and I was watching from home.

Christopher “Wife” Fabiszak
(Melee commentator; competitor)

The Major League Gaming tournaments were fantastic. But they really didn’t bring the community together; it actually did the opposite. They divided the community. My crew and I went hard for MLG, and we weren’t welcome at all in our own community afterwards — we got booed.

We were the sellouts who valued competitiveness over community. We gave up the grassroots core for MLG. We definitely were douchebags, though: Our attitude was out there. It was the same 20 guys going to all the MLGs and winning money, too. You had a very small pocket of people who were traveling.

Jason “M3D” Rice
(Major League Gaming organizer)

The scene and tournaments back then were small. If I didn’t know your name, I could probably beat you with a low-tier character. It was very rare that someone showed up and upset someone at a tournament. I knew Smash was a tight game and the community was great, so I was ready to try and do something bigger.

I got an email from Alphazealot [Chris Brown], who manages organized play at The Pokémon Company in North America, after I got hired at MLG, to help establish their Smash tournaments. He just said, “Don’t screw this up.”

We knew that Smash should be taken as serious as other games like Street Fighter, and this was our chance.

Christopher “Wife” Fabiszak
(Melee commentator; competitor)

I remember someone walked over to me with a mic and just amped me up to commentate some team matches. I loved the attention. I loved the drama, so I just went for it. It’s how I got my commentating start.

There was nothing that came before us. There was no bar. I didn’t think I earned my spot as a commentator; I lucked into it. It was me with Husband [Kevin Dassing]. They said, “Here’s two headsets,” and we jumped in. I went for the real sports-type thing — mimicking what they said and trying to bring excitement to it.

No one ever told you that you were crap, either, because no one was watching and Twitter wasn’t around yet. It was also the first time anyone commentated any matches. It was also sanctioned off, so you felt like a real celebrity, a real athlete. MLG was the first, if I recall correctly, but no one was watching at home.

The rise of Mango

Major League Gaming moved on from Melee in 2007 after Super Smash Bros. Brawl was announced. Yet around the same time MLG moved on, Joseph “Mango” Marquez, one of the game’s best players, had his breakout tournament at Evo 2007.

This was the only appearance Melee made at Evo until the community helped raise money for breast cancer in order to get Melee a place in Evo 2013.

This was also the time period where the five “gods,” the Smash players considered the most skilled by the community, had their breakout tournaments. The five gods are Joseph “Mango” Marquez, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma, Adam “Armada” Lindgren, and Kevin “PPMD” Nanney. While new talent has achieved similar success since 2013, these players are still revered for the impact they’ve had on the Melee community.

Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman
(Smash God, The Big House 3 Champion)

There was Evo East, West, and World. I won Evo East and Evo West in 2007. For Evo World, they made a bad ruleset where it was best-of-one with no stage bans. I got Dream Land against Mango super early in pools, and they wouldn’t let me ban Dream Land.

When you play someone who’s a really good Jigglypuff, then you want to ban Dream Land, since Jigglypuff is really strong there. I couldn’t do anything about it. I was unlucky and I got knocked into [the] losers [bracket] early. It was the worst ruleset in the history of Smash.

Kris “Toph” Aldenderfer
(Commentator)

Mango probably had the fastest turnaround time from entering the scene and [winning] his first tournament. He really carried the scene. For the longest time it seemed like Mew2King was dominant. It felt like the robots had won. Mew2King solved Melee. That wasn’t true, though. Mango showed up and just beat his ass. He’d just show up and win the tournament with any character.

People were like, “Well, shit, how do we get that good?”

Mew2King’s execution and the way he played was very flowchart-y. He had every interaction planned out and he’d kill you in the most effective way possible. People know better now, but he would win in such a commanding way that it felt like it was the only way to win.

Mango’s play style was really interesting. If he was a poker player, then he would never play it safe. While Mew2King always knew what he was going to do, Mango improvised. He was essentially interacting with the way his opponents played. He’d force mix-ups. He’d take on matchups that went against the common logic and still come out on top.

Daniel “Tafokints” Lee
(Mango’s coach; analyst; commentator)

Mango had such a huge stretch where he won everything for two years.

He got bored with the game. That’s why he started to play different characters like Mario and Captain Falcon. I think what’s interesting is that there came a point in SoCal that a lot of people thought it was pointless to enter some tournaments when they knew Mango would win solos and doubles. He would sandbag or just wouldn’t play in SoCal tournaments because of that, to help the scene survive.

The Brawl break

Brawl came out in 2009 to a community that was hungry for more competition. Unfortunately, the game was very different from Melee, with slower mechanics and less depth.

The jarring change led to a lot of players, tournament organizers, and fans leaving the community. They didn’t enjoy playing Brawl, and there were fewer opportunities to play Melee now that its successor was the center of attention.

Christopher “Wife” Fabiszak
(Melee commentator; competitor)

Brawl was extremely hype at first. A few friends and I drove all the way to New Jersey because we thought we could get an early copy. We thought we could get a Japanese copy, which a lot of people got a few days ahead of the North American release. It was still very fun, but people knew almost right away. Little by little, people started to stop playing or go back to Melee.

It was very short-lived.

Sheridan “Dr.Z” Zalewski
(Genesis organizer)

People on Smashboards were hyped. We thought it was time to establish ourselves in the community. “What if Brawl sucks?” was not part of the conversation at all. There was a point where people were criticizing Melee ahead of Brawl, thinking they wouldn’t have to deal with the same issues Melee had once Brawl came out. People were following [Nintendo’s official] Smash Dojo updates very closely with speculation about everything. [Almost immediately], probably within the first three months after release […] you started to see people say that they were done with Brawl.

Daniel “Chudat” Rodriguez
(MLG Nashville 2005 champion)

I was really frustrated with Brawl when it first came out. Nintendo got rid of a lot of cool techniques that made the game so fast in Melee. They got rid of a lot of techniques like L-canceling and wave-dashing. They dumbed things down and made it really slow. You could grab the ledge so easily. The tripping was terrible.

When I first picked up the game, I tried Ice Climbers, and they were nothing like they were in Melee and I got destroyed whenever I tried to play them. I went into a character crisis where I could not choose a character to compete with at the top level. It took me eight months to finally find a character, and that ended up being Kirby.

It was dark times trying to get into Brawl. The game was enjoyable in some ways. But when it came to playing at the top level, it wasn’t worth it.

Zachary “SFAT” Cordoni
(Top Melee player)

Everyone thought it’d be similar to Melee and that Melee was going to die off once it came out. Tournaments happened less and less because of that. It went from 30 people to 15 people to 10 people in a short span at locals.

Sheridan “Dr.Z” Zalewski
(Genesis organizer)

There was a downtick because people were expecting Brawl. The trajectory of the scene wasn’t going that way at the end of 2007 and after Brawl. It was pretty much one year where Melee was languishing and not growing, but Brawl pushed the Melee community to grow beyond what it was before Brawl.

Zachary “SFAT” Cordoni
(Top Melee player)

One of the upsides of Brawl is that when it first came out, all these young people started playing Smash. Then they eventually discovered Melee through Brawl. It took a little bit of time, but Melee started to regrow. The Revival of Melee tournaments were really popular. They really did bring Melee back from that huge slump.

The Revival of Melee

As many fans began to realize that Brawl wasn’t the Melee 2.0 they wanted, players and tournament organizers started to refocus on Melee. This led to the scene struggling to find its footing.

Kris “Toph” Aldenderfer
(Commentator)

It was definitely the dark ages. Some locals would have only eight people there. It felt like Melee was going to die. The only reason people kept playing is that they loved the game. It was definitely not a chill time. You got the sense that it was a dying game.

Christopher “Wife” Fabiszak
(Melee commentator; competitor)

It died for me. Melee died from my perspective. It got a lot smaller on the whole. I still took seven-hour road trips to get to some tournaments, but there just wasn’t much to do. There weren’t a lot of tournaments that were happening.

Matthew “MattDotZeb” Zaborowski
(Shrine organizer)

Revival of Melee, the tournament, was literally that — a revival of Melee. It’s weird how much that tournament lives up to its name. I generally paid attention to the Brawl scene. I ran a tournament for the Brawl scene. The biggest tournament I ran was a Brawl tournament that had 137 people. I was definitely in the scene, but it wasn’t the game I wanted to play.

We’d try to run tournaments with both Melee and Brawl, but it felt like there was a lack of excitement in Melee because of this. Cue Revival of Melee. They announce the tournament; it was a cool New York regional with maybe 100 people coming. Then they said, “Mango’s [widely considered the best player in the world] coming.”

Everyone was like, I guess I’ll go. Revival of Melee energized the scene. There weren’t a whole lot of things in between, so it was a big deal.

The Genesis of Smash

There wasn’t a lot happening in the Melee community in 2008. Brawl had temporarily extinguished a fire that had driven thousands of people to train for, travel to, and take part in tournaments all over the world. A group of organizers in Northern California wanted to change that.

The group came together to organize the first Genesis, a major tournament held at the fairgrounds in Antioch, California. It was the biggest tournament in the history of Smash, bringing together players from all over the world to compete in Melee and Brawl.

Sheridan “Dr.Z” Zalewski
(Genesis organizer)

There was a downtick because people were expecting Brawl. The trajectory of the scene wasn’t going that way at the end of 2007 and after Brawl. It was pretty much one year where Melee was languishing and not growing, but Brawl pushed the Melee community to grow beyond what it was before Brawl.

Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma
(Smash God; Evo 2016 champion)

Genesis was my breakout tournament, and Armada’s breakout one. It was an iconic event. You had people from all over the world encountering play styles they had never seen. It was the first international gathering. Truly a genesis; it was an apt name for it.

The tournament was grassroots. They didn’t have a lot of sponsors. It was messy. People were running brackets on paper. It was very traditional in a lot of ways.

Adam “Armada” Lindgren
(Smash God, Evo 2015, 2017 Melee champion)

I had always wanted to go to the U.S. I wanted to be the best player ever. Melee was in a bad place, and I was worried that I wouldn’t get my chance. I decided to go to at least one. I remember going on a 12-game winning streak after winning my first major in Germany. I felt really good going into Genesis, but it was tough to say how good American players were. All I had was video; I thought my Falco needed work, based off them. But going into the tournament, I felt good.

Expectations were weird. The Europeans all thought I’d go really far, but the American players thought I’d get absolutely destroyed. A bunch of people thought I wasn’t a top-five Peach player. They thought their American Peaches were so much better.

Sheridan “Dr.Z” Zalewski
(Genesis organizer)

I don’t remember who signed the deal for the venue, but we released a trailer and had a website, which was a fairly big deal for a community-run tournament. We told players they couldn’t come unless they registered on the website, which was new at the time.

We couldn’t make PayPal work, so we couldn’t charge anyone beforehand. We still had to get an accurate headcount for the tournament, so registration was literally just putting your name down and not paying. Eventually, over a thousand names got put down, and we were kind of freaking out. We didn’t think we could handle it. Luckily, a lot of people put their name down since they didn’t have to pay, and only 600 people showed up. That was still huge.

Daniel “Tafokints” Lee
(Mango’s coach; analyst; commentator)

The scene was very fragmented. So many of the top honchos from the MLG era had left [the community]. The big question on the table was about who the best was. There was a lot of trash talk, but little footage or anything like that to back anyone up.

You knew who the top players were in each region, but we didn’t know how good they’d be across regions. It was a time where we didn’t know who would step up and fill in the top 10 spots. It was era-defining.

Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma
(Smash God; Evo 2016 champion)

The cool parts of it were the stuff between the tournament. I’ll never forget it. Every single room in the hotel I stayed at in Antioch was taken up by a Smasher. The hallways were outdoors, too, so you would walk through four stories and every single room was open. It was more of an international Smash conference than a tournament.

I remember walking from the hotel with a group from France, Canada, and the Middle East to go to the store to buy a beach ball to play Blitzball in the pool. Outside the venue, there was this aluminum can cut in half — like, this huge hangar — where we had a gigantic picnic. Sky Williams, before he was famous as a Brawl player, and I organized a huge game of Sharks and Minnows. It showed that people were there to do so much more than play Smash.

Adam “Armada” Lindgren
(Smash God, Evo 2015, 2017 Melee champion)

I was actually pretty nervous at Genesis. The crowds in Europe were so different. When I was in America, I automatically had a bunch of people against me, a whole segment of the crowd. I was 16 at the time, too.

When I beat Mew2King in the winners semifinals, I knew I had made Europe proud. It didn’t matter what happened after that. It felt like I had already won.

Daniel “Tafokints” Lee
(Mango’s coach; analyst; commentator)

The growth from Revival of Melee to Genesis kind of proved that larger events and venues were viable. No one, tournament organizers included, imagined more than 300 people for each game. It blew expectations out of the water and really put Melee in a good place.

The boom

The Smash community saw a growth spurt after Genesis, but it didn’t explode in popularity until 2013. Two major events fueled huge growth. The first was Melee’s exclusion from Evo 2013 — that year’s entry in the biggest fighting tournament series in the world — despite a passionate charity drive that won it a spot, due to a cease-and-desist order from Nintendo. The second was the release of The Smash Brothers, a documentary put together by Travis “Samox” Beauchamp.

Kris “Toph” Aldenderfer
(Commentator)

I remember dropping a lot of money since I had gotten my first real job in January of 2013. I remember the countdown for the charity. There was a live podcast, and people were dialing in constantly; it felt like a huge deal. It was neck and neck between Melee and Skullgirls for a spot at Evo for whoever raised the most money, and we ended up winning.

No one had any idea that Nintendo would try and shut Melee down, though.

The story was that Nintendo’s lawyers saw Melee win the charity drive, and sent a cease-and-desist without actually looking at what it was. The people at Nintendo who actually knew about Evo weren’t involved with that decision.

There was a huge outcry. Everyone who watches Evo and Smash, not just Melee fans, were up in arms on Twitter and the like. I had just made my Twitter [account], so I wasn’t too familiar with it, but I jumped right in.

It was a huge deal, just getting the spot at Evo. No one knew we would get it. At that point, the largest Melee tournament was Genesis. This would have been 10 times that in terms of viewership. After Evo, there were locals with 100 people. Those types of numbers used to be the turnout we’d see at a major.

Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada
(Smash 4 top player)

This was the first time we really dealt with Nintendo in a big way. Melee made it to Evo, and Nintendo tried to prevent it from happening. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was just wondering why they did that. It was a crazy thing to happen.

The Smash community never had anything to do with Nintendo. They didn’t want to be part of it. It was like, What’d we do? What went wrong? It’s not like this was our first tournament ever. It caused a lot of confusion.

Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma
(Smash God; Evo 2016 champion)

Nintendo ended up overturning the decision. I remember opening my computer and seeing that news and just jumping all over my room.

It was so emotional for everyone. We worked so hard. If we hadn’t won that charity drive, I probably wouldn’t be playing Melee. But the fact that we got it to work, and Melee could hop back into relevance, was huge for the community. It led to the diamond age of Melee, the entire era from 2013 to now. The idea that we could overturn Nintendo’s decision to try and ban Melee, the idea that we could have a major impact on the scene. It just spread like fire.

I think it was them being corporate and confused. Ever since then, they’ve taken us seriously.

D’Ron “D1” Maingrette
(Commentator)

It was the tournament that almost never happened.

We were in Caesar’s Palace — it was hard to believe that when we were stepping into the venue, at first. Everyone kept coming up to me asking for pictures and autographs. There were Smash people everywhere, and we were all homies. I saw someone in every direction I stepped in. I was like, What is going on?

That was the first time I actually got it. I felt like I was a personality.

Smash doc

A few months after Evo 2013, Travis Beauchamp put out his multipart documentary The Smash Brothers. It followed the paths of Ken Hoang, Jason Zimmerman, Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma, and other players, along with Melee’s entry into Evo 2013. It gathered millions of views across nine episodes.

Travis “Samox” Beauchamp
(Director, The Smash Brothers)

I came from outside the community. I wasn’t part of any of it, and that gave me a few advantages. I started in the dark ages, when Melee was in a tough spot. The entire game was a niche sort of thing, and it wasn’t anywhere [as big] as the scene is now. The first tournament that I covered was a Brawl tournament, but the very next one after that was Melee, which was a revelation for me. I met Mango and PPMD. I was just freaking out. I hadn’t seen that type of play firsthand; you can hear me on the tape going, “Oh my god.”

Ken Hoang
(Team Liquid; MLG Anaheim, Dallas, and Chicago 2006 champion)

The Smash documentary was one of the most important things that helped us grow. People were moving on to new games, and it just opened so many eyes to Melee and what was happening around it. They watched the movie and took notice of the history. Once they realized it had this rich history, they took notice of the player base.

Travis “Samox” Beauchamp
(Director, The Smash Brothers)

It took me two years to make with six months of planning, Kickstarters, shooting — and I still had a part-time job working as a floor manager at Patagonia. I had serendipitous appendicitis, which gave me the opportunity to edit a bunch of footage while I recovered. I realized how much time I would need to finish the documentary. If I didn’t have appendicitis, I probably wouldn’t have finished it.

The epitome of that time for me was a balancing act and shoestring budget. I didn’t make all that much money over those few years. At one point, I rented a car after getting a bus ride down to Washington, D.C., so I could live out of it. I was doing interviews with Wife and Chillindude, interviews that kind of defined the documentary. I was in this Yaris, sleeping in the back, no more than 300 yards away from the White House, curled up in a bag.

After those interviews, I did have some downtime to just explore that area, and it turned into a spiritual journey for me.

Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma
(Smash God; Evo 2016 champion)

I learned a lot myself while watching the documentary. It was informative, and gave you a bigger appreciation of what it meant to be part of the community. It also gave me a chance to see [myself] and how other people see me. How people see you and what do people think of you is important, and I hadn’t seen it from that type of perspective at that point.

It’s weird to think that people have a different perception of you. It all boils down to what you want people to see you as. It’s just a lesson to be honest as you can be. I took things more seriously after watching it.

Travis “Samox” Beauchamp
(Director, The Smash Brothers)

I wasn’t expecting a big reaction. I thought the community would appreciate it. I thought 100,000 views would be amazing. Artosis, the StarCraft player, even said that it reminded him of a lot of the early days of Brood War. I think the human stories resounded with people from all over more than anything.

Having people reference the documentary in everything was hugely surprising. My brother would be sitting in a bar after moving to New York, and he’d hear people talking about the documentary. Those sort of realizations, with people recognizing the documentary outside the community, made it clear the documentary reached a wider audience.

It was a slow boil. I always thought it would take some time to really have an impact. It did.

Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios
(Evo champion)

The Smash documentary actually brought Smash Bros. to the mainstream. It did at the cost of Brawl, though, since it made Brawl seem so uninteresting and helped establish its poor reputation. Even people that didn’t play it remember it as a bad game, because they think of the documentary when it comes up. Either way, it still played a huge role in the Smash community getting to where it is today.

I remember just being in my living room watching the first few minutes and was hooked. It was a movie. We were in a movie!

Travis “Samox” Beauchamp
(Director, The Smash Brothers)

I got mugged by some guy […] who tried to steal my camera before Apex 2012.

It was my first major. He came up to me and said he had a gun, took my equipment, and ran away. In the moment he was running away, I had this moment where I thought, This motherfucker has a file with all my footage. I can’t lose that.

I chased him, fought him, and got it back. He didn’t end up having a gun, but it was still the craziest thing I’ve ever done. It really matches up with what Prog [Wynton Smith] said at the end of his segment: “We’re all maniacs.”

It was nuts, but I wouldn’t change a thing, looking back.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

The competitive scene was buzzing following Evo 2013 and the release of the documentary. Nintendo followed that hype with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U in late 2014. It featured an expanded character roster, HD visuals, and a number of new features compared to the original game, Melee, and Brawl. It also had a version for the Nintendo 3DS, the franchise’s first venture onto a handheld platform. Many members of the community refer to the game on both Wii U and 3DS as Smash 4, as it was the fourth game in the series.

Nintendo also hosted its first Super Smash Bros. Invitational tournament at E3 that year, bringing top players from all over to try out its latest sequel, to showcase the game at the biggest convention in the game industry.

Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios
(Evo champion)

Well, at the time I was pretty new to the esports celebrity thing. We were just grassroots, and we didn’t think Nintendo, or anyone, paid attention to us. But getting to stay in a hotel, talk to Reggie, talk to Sakurai, and go up on stage — it was huge. The entire show was humongous. I couldn’t say yes any sooner.

Still, I don’t think it changed the idea that Nintendo will probably never approach the community in the way we want them to. We want tournaments. They want experiences that are unique and fun for everyone. They want to include everyone.

I remember walking out with the robe and trophy, and a sea of people just recognized me on the street. It was so new to me. I’m not just some random guy, although I wouldn’t say I felt like a celebrity. It was only my five minutes of fame, but it validated me. That entire tournament was just validation for me.

Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada
(Smash 4 top player)

I lived next to the NYC Nintendo Store, and the same week that they held the Smash Invitational at E3, they had the Smash 4 demo in New York too, so I was able to test it out. I played Zelda and Rosalina. I liked the game. I still felt good playing it.

I was excited every day until it came out. I got the Japanese version of Super Smash Bros. for 3DS on Sept. 13, even though school started on Sept 12. I stayed up all night with my brother. I was supposed to start school, but I was too focused on the game. Most other people didn’t get the game until it came out in October. We either played singles or doubles, and unlocked all the characters. We did the same thing and played all night with Brawl.

Adam “Armada” Lindgren
(Smash God, Evo 2015, 2017 Melee champion)

I feel like most Melee players didn’t care about Smash 4. We had already been burned by Brawl. It was clear it wasn’t meant for us. We play Melee because it does so many things that Brawl and Smash 4 simply cannot. Sakurai removed comboing, edge guards, a lot of the things that make Melee so deep.

Kelsey “SuperGirlKels” Medeiros
(Smash competitor)

I think people were mostly excited. Brawl was amazing in how it tested your patience, but it was slow in comparison to Melee. The tripping was no fun, and connecting combos weren’t always consistent. It wasn’t as fun.

When Smash 4 was coming out, we felt that Nintendo was trying to mix the satisfaction between both games. They tried to embrace the scene more by combining mechanics from Melee and Brawl. It made the game a lot quicker.

The new roster was exciting, too. I mean, we had Pac-Man inside the game.

Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma
(Smash God; Evo 2016 champion)

Nintendo invited me to their invitational at E3, although no one had any idea what the game would be like. We were hoping for something close to Melee, but when we went to play it there was more of a “whoa” moment. It was so different from what we were used to, different from both Brawl and Melee.

Apex 2015

After Super Smash Bros. for Wii U launched in 2014, the community was on the upswing. A surge of new fans came in alongside the 14 million copies of the game that flew off store shelves. The most prominent event in Smash 4’s history was Apex 2015 a major event that helped tournament organizers and community figures realize that they should work together more often. Four Apex events had been held since 2009, each hosting some of the largest Smash tournaments in the series’ history.

Adam “Armada” Lindgren
(Smash God, Evo 2015, 2017 Melee champion)

Apex was, like, the Olympics of Smash. It was the first tournament that brought all the Smash games together. Organizers had a vision of Smash on the international stage, but most of the tournaments were organized pretty poorly. Even with all the mistakes, Apex wouldn’t have fallen out of favor. There wasn’t much like it at the time. These days, even though we only have [a handful] of super majors, so many events are on that threshold [of becoming a super major]. You didn’t have much to pick from before.

Apex 2015 was probably one of the most important tournaments. We had this huge wave of momentum. Numbers kept going up and up.

D’Ron “D1” Maingrette
(Commentator)

Apex started in 2009 after we saw what happened with Evo 2007. There was a lot of excitement with those tournaments. But Evo 2007 had [a] ruleset that wasn’t for the community. We wanted to have a major like that with rules that reflected the community. It was a real East Coast major.

Matthew “MattDotZeb” Zaborowski
(Shrine organizer)

Apex 2015 was set up as this tournament that was going to be the first “good” Apex. The first on-time, well-oiled machine of its time. One of the biggest things the tournament was known for is the logistical efforts by Michael “Nintendude” Brancato. He was brought on board to run the bracket structure. It wasn’t something you’d seen in the Smash community before; the structure wasn’t standard. Everyone was excited about it.

I remember when we first walked in, I thought it was weird that there was this huge plastic curtain in one of the hallways. It turns out there was a truck that fell through the parking garage and into the hallway. The fire marshal showed up later on to shut us down.

Alex Jebailey bought everyone Dominos because it was so stressful.

Kelsey “SuperGirlKels” Medeiros
(Smash competitor)

The drama was real at Apex 2015. Apex had always been a tournament I go to every year. We got into that venue, and I remember seeing the walls around the pool area covered in thick blankets so you wouldn’t see the other side. I remember getting to my pool and something got delayed, and everything was silent. Then the alarm rang, and we eventually found out that the tournament might get canceled.

It was insane, but it was a really great move that we were able to move to another location [the Garden State Convention Center] so quickly.

D’Ron “D1” Maingrette
(Commentator)

We were sitting there on Friday, and police officers and the fire marshal came in and asked to talk to whoever was running the event. They started asking questions and wanted to know who approved an event at the [Clarion Hotel Empire Meadowlands]. A parking structure had recently collapsed.

We were going to the DoubleTree Hilton Convention Center in New Jersey, 200 Atreum Drive. I’ll never forget that address. That’s where everyone went after the madness at the original venue. The guy who came up with the game plan to save Apex was Nintendude.

Michael “Nintendude” Brancato
(Apex organizer)

When people talk about me being the “savior,” they really mean on the tournament logistics side of things. I don’t want to take credit for stuff like getting a new venue — Twitch did that — and the logistics of physically moving everything, since I’m not sure who exactly spearheaded that. After crunching some numbers in the “war room,” I concluded that it would be possible to run the entire thing in two days without canceling any events. That was the news that really resonated with the community. I jumped in one of the initial carpools to the new venue so that I could set up my computer [and] see what we were working with, and got to work.

Over the course of the rest of the day and night, I made a new schedule and communications plan with a lot of help from Chris “Alphazealot” Brown and Smashboards on the communications side. Keep in mind that this was before the days of smash.gg and centralized info on when your pool is, avoiding multi-game conflicts, and such. We redid the entire tournament by hand, and all pools were manually brought into spreadsheets and posted in a tournament attendees pdf packet.

There’s a lot of stuff that had to be done that I wasn’t directly involved in, such as organizing shuttle buses for all the attendees, booking new hotel rooms, and the physical setup of venue.

Matthew “MattDotZeb” Zaborowski
(Shrine organizer)

Everyone got into one room to talk about the structure and figure out what we were going to do with all these people. We got the venue. and we got trucks to get them there. All of a sudden, we were just like, Let’s do this.

That really was the first time that the heads of the scene really came together. That’s really the first time that happened. Everyone thought they had to work together, and that feeling has stuck in the community.

Michael “Nintendude” Brancato
(Apex organizer)

It really was the first time that a lot of the big tournament organizers and stakeholders first started collaborating. At the time, the folks that went on to found smash.gg were in attendance and I think that their firsthand experiences witnessing the events that were unfolding had a big influence on the early smash.gg product — especially in terms of what features were needed by the community.

I believe it was the first time the Smash community worked with Gaming Generations, where the majority of rentals come from. We all know that has taken off since that event. They were so blown away by the enthusiasm of the Smash community and our resilience to the situation that they were really hooked on Smash. It kicked off that relationship and kept it going for years to come.

Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios
(Evo champion)

Apex has always been a huge deal, and that was the last big one. At the time it was the biggest event in all of Smash — you won an Apex, nothing else mattered. It was validating to players. If you had an Apex on your resume, you were the real deal. For me, I came to the tournament really relaxed and I plowed through my whole bracket. The tournament itself was very special. It changed Smash — it sounds like such an exaggeration, but it really isn’t.

Michael “Nintendude” Brancato
(Apex organizer)

Everyone remembers Apex for being both saved and one of the greatest tournaments of all time, in terms of the actual matches and hype. They do forget that it still ended at 3 a.m. since Sunday’s schedule went terribly. Wii U doubles took unreasonably long to finish, since it was also the first Wii U major, and it just killed the schedule.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate & what’s ahead

On Dec. 7, 2018, Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on the Switch. It made an impact right away with huge sales and a positive critical reception. Melee players who weren’t satisfied with Brawl or Wii U jumped into Ultimate right away.

As of this story going live, it’s still early in Ultimate’s life span, with plenty of tournaments, players, and highlights still to come. But here’s where some community members think the community is headed.

Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada
(Smash 4 top player)

We need to decide which tournaments need to be a major. We’re at a spot right now where there have been a lot of tournaments happening constantly, with this S-tier event happening this week and the week after that. Not a lot of people can just by tickets for California, Ohio, and New Jersey; money doesn’t grow on trees. You can just tell that some of the tournament organizers aren’t communicating with each other.

I doubt we’ll get the chance to see a circuit from Nintendo, but we’ll have to wait and see. It doesn’t look likely, but I think we’re on a good path. We already know that Smash has this giant core audience. We just have to find a way to keep them interested.

Victoria “VikkiKitty” Perez
(Commentator)

One of the biggest moments recently was when they broadcasted Smash on ESPN for the first time at Evo 2017.

We had five huge lights beaming on us with huge screens around us. It was a little nerve-wracking, since we had a view of the entire auditorium where the top 8 [bracket] was happening behind us. We had [the] same microphones that ESPN broadcasters would hold. It was like, OK, we’re not on Twitch anymore. We’re going big here.

Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby
(Smash 4 top player)

I think we’ll see a lot of people come out of the woodwork. People need motivation to get back into competition, and Ultimate’s success has provided that. Everyone’s passion is reignited. Up until now, a lot of top international players had fallen off the map — so much so that 2018 has been devoid of international presence in America. I think that’ll change, looking at the rest of 2019 and onward.

Juan “Hungrybox” DeBiedma
(Smash God; Evo 2016 champion)

Whenever a new Super Smash Bros. game comes out, the Melee community always dies down a little bit, but it always comes back. I think Melee will have a renaissance come 2020, once the Ultimate hype dies down.

No matter what, Melee’s going to always be relevant.

Victoria “VikkiKitty” Perez
(Commentator)

Everyone, myself included, knows that a circuit would be insane for the community. It would build a relationship with Nintendo and help the scene reach places it’s never been, but I’ve ruled that out from happening. Nintendo doesn’t want the same things we do.

Ultimate will have a strong future no matter what, regardless of what Nintendo does. The game is special; Melee heads are getting involved with Smash 4 players. That’s what’s beautiful: the combination of both scenes. This one game is what’s bringing people together. There’s no sign that Melee heads want to stop, either.

Christopher “Wife” Fabiszak
(Melee commentator; competitor)

A circuit would be ideal. That’s the logical next step. Every circuit hosted in the community since the MLG days has been unsuccessful or a flat-out scam. I’d like to see the scene consolidate as well, Melee and Ultimate being the front-runners, since that would make it easier to run. As much as I hate to say it, I’d love to see Nintendo get more involved.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with Smash. We won’t get the circuit we want, but at the same time we can’t be grassroots forever. Something will change.

Editor’s note: A portion of the Smash Bros. community sometimes uses immature and offensive humor in its tags, team names, and online communication. We’ve edited some of this out of interviews.

Photo credits: Alliance, Audra Wrisely, Counter Logic Gaming, Daniel Lee, D’Ron Maingrette, Jason Rice, Jason Zimmerman, Lazarus, Matt Dahlgren, Matthew Zaborowski, Michael Brancato, NRG, Robert Paul, Ryota Yoshida, Sheridan Zalewski, Team Liquid, Tempo Storm, Travis Beauchamp, Victoria Perez

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