Nintendo isn’t exactly known for sticking with the crowd. Despite innovating with Joy-Cons or motion remotes to decimate living room valuables, they are stubbornly old fashioned in their refusal to offer online services and graphical capabilities up with modern standards.
As Nintendo’s continued success proves, this alternate approach isn’t detrimental to them. In fact, they’ve carved out a niche entirely their own. The Switch isn’t where you go to play Call of Duty or Overwatch, for many it’s a secondary machine for Nintendo exclusives and indies which can be easily enjoyed handheld while burning downtime on commutes.
The yearn for robust online functionality, while always present, hasn’t exactly been necessary to fulfil the ambitions of Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon 2, for example. The Super Smash Bros. series however has always been the outlier in the case for Nintendo pushing for better online; a game where the smallest dip in connections can throw an entire match.
It’s also the only Nintendo title which has cultivated an enormous esports presence. In 2020, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is the biggest fighting game in the world - attracting thousands of viewers and earning, originally, the headline spot at EVO 2020 over Tekken and Street Fighter.
It's pretty incredible then, in what’s become a trend for 2020, to see the script so dramatically flipped within the space of a few months. After a switch to an online tournament in light of the coronavirus pandemic, EVO has decided to drop Super Smash Bros. Ultimate altogether from the line-up, presumably due to the game’s painful and unreliable net play.
You might think the community would be up in arms but their response felt akin to the passing of a long-suffering relative - exhausted relief.
Months of online tournaments have seen top players like Leonardo “MkLeo” Lopez struggle to rank high due to the hurdles from online play. It’s even changed the approach from TO’s too, with rules recently adjusted in the Quarantine Series to emphasise fun over serious competitive bouts.
I can sleep in peace knowing that Smash is not at Evo online— eU Samsora (@Samsora_) May 14, 2020
Woke up to no Ultimate at EVO Online and to a new Paper Mario that looks really promising. What else could I ask for? pic.twitter.com/GmCRBYmhi1— SSG Maister (@Maister_SSB) May 14, 2020
0% surprised about no Smash at EVO. Probably was never gonna happen, but the way people were complaining about it probably didn’t help.— Armada | Spencer (@BestNess_) May 14, 2020
Luckily we have such a great community I’m sure someone will run a replacement event. Who knows, maybe I’ll do it 🤝🏆
While pro players might be relieved over the decision, it’s sad that it’s come to this at all. From 2020’s outset, there’s been a strong drive from the community to connect with Nintendo - with player Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma pleading for better support at Smash Summit 9, while a recent Twitter rally which trended worldwide asked them to #FixUltimateOnline.
Both of these cases yielded no response from Nintendo, who have explained previously how they don’t share the “worldview” of offering cash prizes at tournaments. Ultimate’s drop from EVO Online however feels like the loudest alarm bell Nintendo could ever receive from the Smash community, at a time when they’re fighting for sustained support.
Nintendo’s ambitions with Smash clearly never involved a competitive circuit, but ignoring its existence feels very short-sighted. The popularity of esports is growing year after year, and Smash Ultimate’s accessibility in mechanics, presentation and the viewing experience has all the potential to rival, and supersede, the biggest esport titans today.
Competitive Smash will continue to grow without Nintendo’s backing, but as it does, Nintendo will be ignoring an increasing portion of its fan base. We throw around words like “community” as shorthand for the hardcore audience, but these are simply devout fans who have taken Smash to a new level Nintendo never thought possible - why wouldn’t they reward or support that?
Will Nintendo ever listen to the Smash community? (Picture: Nintendo)
It doesn’t feel like anyone is holding out hope though, even with a bunch of new DLC fighters inbound. Nintendo is still primarily a toy company at heart, and nothing has changed behind-the-scenes to give reason they would start listening to the hardcore contingent of Ultimate’s huge consumer base.
There’s a sense the Smash pro community knows this too. Before the pandemic took hold, VGBootCamp took matters into their own hands by announcing the Smash World Tour 2020 which boasted the biggest prize pool Smash had ever seen. What was supposed to be a new beginning for competitive Smash has been washed with frustration due to the pandemic, with events up until June cancelled or postponed.
Depending if the company makes any attempt to salvage good will from EVO’s decision, 2020 might go down as the year the Smash community stops hoping for Nintendo’s support altogether. If what they’ve achieved against subpar online services and no financial backing proves anything though, the scene will find a way to survive without it.