In this five-part series, we’ll go back to five of the oldest games that birthed esports, play them, and examine their relevance in esports today.
Almost every single person has played at least one game of Smash Brothers. Be it the N64 original, the titanic Melee, the underperforming Brawl, or the new Super Smash Brothers for Wii U and 3DS, the Super Smash Brothers series is a standing testament to the ability and creativity of Nintendo.
Unlike other fighting games, the Smash Brothers series does not use a health system. Instead, it uses a damage percentage system, with characters experiencing greater knockback as their damage percentage increases. This, in combination with the absence of complicated combos or button sequences, creates a style of gameplay focused on guarding the edges of a map to prevent players returning to the battlefield without undertaking additional damage.
The original Super Smash Brothers was released in 1999 to critical acclaim, going on to become the 5th best selling game on the Nintendo 64. The original Smash Brothers failed to create much of a tournament scene. However, the following years would see a drastic turnaround in the series’ fortunes. In late 2001, Super Smash Brothers Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube hit store shelves. In 2002, the creation of the Tournament Go series for Melee launched a tournament scene for the unique fighter, with Melee being featured in the championships of many grand-scale fighting game tournaments, such as Major League Gaming in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2014, and EVO in 2007, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.
In early 2008, the much anticipated Super Smash Brothers Brawl was released. Despite positive reviews, it fell flat in the tournament scene. This was because many changes from Melee likely intended to make Brawl more beginner-friendly resulted in a less dynamic metagame that gradually became less successful with players and spectators. Melee continued to be the main tournament scene of Smash Brothers.
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In 2014, Nintendo released the new Super Smash Brothers for Wii U and 3DS. It introduced several positive changes and brought many players to the modern games with a Gamecube controller port for Wii U. However, Melee remains the larger of the two scenes.
In addition, a game developer who worked on the series recently told players that they should stop playing Smash and start playing “real fighting games”. The community was, quite obviously, not so enthusiastic.
Overall, the Smash Brothers community, even if unloved by their makers, is a strong fighting game community that will run for many more years. Their games and their skills are different, but there is no denying that they are esports in their own right.