All year, professional Super Smash Bros. Melee and Ultimate players have been competing in events across the globe to earn a spot in the Smash World Tour Championships, where the top players were supposed to compete with $250,000 on the line.
But on November 29, a year of buildup and hype came crashing down. The organizers of the Smash World Tour posted an article on Medium saying that the 2022 Smash World Tour Championships and the 2023 Smash World Tour events must be canceled. As professional Smash player Axe tells IGN, this event meant a lot to the Smash community.
“So, the Smash World Tour was almost like the Super Bowl of Smash tournaments,” Axe said. “[The finals were] going to happen this upcoming weekend, and a lot of players — including myself — planned on attending specific events throughout the entire year to try to get enough points just to qualify for this one event.”
Pro football players don’t worry about the Super Bowl getting canceled. Generally, esports players don’t have to worry about their events getting scrapped, either. But if you’re a pro-Super Smash Bros. player, worrying about event cancellations is basically a job requirement.
“I would say that there is a kind of deep-seated and long-burning fear, I suppose, of Nintendo shutting down events,” said Toph, a Smash Bros. commentator and player who’s been around for much of the pro Smash community and Nintendo’s long history of butting heads.
Toph’s reservations aren’t unfounded, as there are multiple instances of Smash players setting up an event, only for Nintendo to send a “nasty letter” that brings a stop to the whole thing. Nintendo infamously pulled Smash Melee from EVO 2013 just days before the tournament. But community outrage caused Nintendo to retract the ban a few hours later.
More recently, the company canceled a tournament during the height of the pandemic in 2020 when players tried to keep their events going by using online mods for Melee — a game with no legal online mode.
The latest casualty in the battle between professional Smash players and Nintendo is the Smash World Tour — and this cancellation is hitting the community hard.
‘The Super Bowl’ of Competitive Smash Bros.
The Smash World Tour was designed to give the Melee and Ultimate communities an annual tournament circuit to compete in. Different affiliated events throughout the year were worth qualifying points for the Tour’s championship event at the end of the year. The Tour gave a feeling of continuity and importance to each event across the calendar.
But points, standings, and qualifications quickly lose meaning when the event players were working toward disappears. The SWT organizers say they received notice from Nintendo in late November that they would no longer be allowed to operate. The Smash World Tour was an unlicensed event — essentially meaning it didn’t have Nintendo’s stamp of approval. The organizers of Smash World Tour had apparently been working with Nintendo to earn a license throughout the entirety of 2022, but Nintendo never granted them one.
“Everything seemed pretty good throughout the year, besides [Nintendo] taking a long time to respond for getting [SWT] officially licensed, but representatives from Nintendo were saying that it should be fine to run even without a license… it’s been happening plenty of times before and everything sounded good,” Axe said. “But then last minute Nintendo’s like, ‘We’re just gonna shut it down,’ you know?”
Nintendo’s official statement said its “decision was solely based on our assessment of the proposals submitted by the SWT and our evaluation of their unlicensed activities.” Nintendo added, “Any partner that we grant a license to has to meet the high standards we require when it comes to the health and safety of our fans.” However, much of the Smash community believes there’s something else going on behind the scenes.
SWT Organizers Accuse Panda of Unfair Play
In 2021, Nintendo did grant a license to and enter a formal partnership with Panda Global for the first officially licensed Super Smash Bros. Circuit. A series of tournaments throughout this year has been leading up to the Panda Cup Finale, which was originally scheduled for December 16 to 18. But the Smash World Tour article was full of accusations aimed at Panda, and specifically, Panda CEO Dr. Alan Bunney.
“There’s been talk for a good amount of time now behind the scenes that basically all of the major tournament organizers have been very upset with Panda and in particular to the CEO Allen for behaving this way,” Toph said.
Smash World Tour’s accusations allege that Bunney was pressuring specific tournament organizers throughout the community to either join the Panda Circuit or face the consequences of being canceled.
Players from around the community blamed Smash World Tour’s cancellation on Panda and Bunney in particular. Many in the community believe Panda didn’t want a competing Smash circuit, causing them to leverage their relationship with Nintendo to shut down the Smash World Tour.
“And obviously as a community, all we have is each other. So if there’s a bad actor that’s basically saying, ‘Hey, now I’m the bully now and it’s just gonna be my way or the highway,’ then the way our community works, obviously we just can’t survive if that’s gonna happen,” Toph said.
This caused high-profile Panda players like Plup — who actually won the Smash World Tour championships for Melee in 2021 — to leave Panda altogether. Many other employees at Panda have also announced their departure on Twitter, and players announced their intentions to pull out of the Panda Cup Finale.
I’m quitting panda.
I’ve truly enjoyed my time there, and they treated me well.
I know that, at a certain point, they had the community’s best interests in mind. I just don’t think I can support them anymore.
Now I must sleep for 1000 years in preparation for da next tournament
— Plub (@Plup_Club) December 3, 2022
“So I decided for myself to not attend the Panda Cup Finale,” Axe said. “They did invite me… They were going to fly me out there, I was going to compete for the weekend. I know there’s a lot of money on the line, but I cannot… I do not feel good about that.”
Eventually, Panda revealed that Bunney was removed from his role as CEO, and the Panda Cup Finale was postponed. Bunney released his own statement on Medium on December 6, disputing claims that he and his company wished to shut down the Smash World Tour. Bunney also said he has faced, “extreme harassment, death threats, and fleeing my own home due to doxxing” since the announcement of Smash World Tour’s cancellation.
Shortly after Bunney’s statement was released, the SWT organizers released another statement saying they are “incredibly disappointed at the loose claims directed at us” by Bunney. SWT also wrote they do not “condone any harassment or doxxing of anyone”, and expect better from the Smash community. High-profile players from the Smash community have already taken to Twitter to dispute some parts of Bunney’s lengthy post.
For Nintendo’s part, the company released a statement saying it was the Smash World Tour organizer’s own choice to cancel the 2022 finals, with the statement saying in part, “When we notified the SWT that we would not license their 2022 or 2023 activities, we also let them know verbally that we were not requiring they cancel the 2022 finals event because of the impact it would have on players. Thus, the decision to cancel the SWT 2022 was, and still is, their own choice.”
Nintendo also said it is open to offering licenses to major tournaments outside of the Panda Cup. And, earlier this year, Nintendo told IGN it wants to see the grassroots community thrive.
Toph said he doesn’t necessarily think the SWT situation will make it impossible for unlicensed events to take place in the future, this one just stings right now.
“I just think that it’s tough because what we could have had was we could have had something really beautiful. And I think that unfortunately, the way that things happened, it just shook out in the worst possible way.”
SWT’s Cancellation Takes a Toll on the Smash Community
It’s a messy situation, with SWT, Nintendo, Panda, and Bunney all saying their piece — and the Smash community largely standing in support of the Smash World Tour organizers. But when you look past all of the official statements and accusations, the one fact at the center of this whole situation is that the Smash World Tour’s cancellation is having a huge impact on the Smash community.
“This time in particular with the Smash World Tour, it felt the worst that it’s ever felt, I would say, over any event,” Axe said. “Just because people have been planning this the whole year, not just in America, but throughout the entire world. Like there’s people coming from all sorts of different countries from everywhere, planning on going to this, and for it to be canceled last minute, just really hits hard. Like I would say this is probably the worst feeling [cancellation] in Smash history, if you ask me.”
One player coming from another country is Ferps. He’s one of the top Ultimate players in Brazil and wants to be the top player in the world. In pursuit of that goal, the Smash World Tour was a great way for him to test his mettle against some of the strongest players from outside of Brazil.
Smash Bros Switch Every Fighter Revealed
“I love this game so much, like, I don’t give a damn how long it takes me to be the best player in the world. I will be the best player in the world, and I am super committed to this game,” Ferps said. “So [SWT] was super, super life-changing for me because I don’t have the same type of… Chances like [players in] Mexico, the U.S., or Japan have.”
Ferps was on a seven-tournament win streak in Brazil and was planning to head to the Smash World Tour championships. But the road to the top got significantly harder for Ferps after the event got canceled.
“And when the news got down, I was just so sad… Because everything was for nothing,” Ferps said. “It’s a lot of money to travel, and I also don’t have a fight scene in my region, so I have to travel inside Brazil too and Brazil is super huge. So there’s also that and… I was really sad.”
Stories like this can be seen all over the Smash community right now. Zain — regarded as one of the top players in the world — tweeted that the cancellation of Smash World Tour did a number on his mental health and that he’s reconsidering his relationship with the game.
But the competitive Smash Bros. scene has almost died before — and the players we talked to aren’t worried about Smash coming to an end.
“I mean, I wish things could have gone differently, but this isn’t going to be the thing that stops Smash players from playing Smash. We’ve been around for 20 years… We’re gonna be doing it for much longer than that.”
For now, Smash players are looking ahead to an uncertain 2023. With the Smash World Tour off the calendar, the players we spoke to aren’t sure what events will and won’t end up happening. But even with an uncertain schedule, one thing’s for sure: these players are just going to keep playing.
“So there is nothing anyone can do, at least I don’t believe, that can make me stop playing the game,” Axe said. “I’m a Smash Bros. Melee player, and I love Melee, and I’m never gonna stop playing it. That’s just me and I just want to share how awesome the game is with everyone. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do and I’m not going to let anyone stop me… That’s just what I want to do.”
Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN covering video game and entertainment news. He has over six years of experience in the gaming industry with bylines at IGN, Nintendo Wire, Switch Player Magazine, and Lifewire. Find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.
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