After years of neglect and in some cases outright hostility, Nintendo has finally admitted that competitive Smash Bros. Melee exists. On Thursday, Nintendo announced a series of all new tournaments for the 20-year-old GameCube game. They will be part of an official Smash Bros. championship series kicking off in 2022 that will also feature the latest game in the series on Switch, Smash Bros. Ultimate.
While the events will be licensed and backed by Nintendo, esports organization Panda Global will be the one running this new North American Championship Circuit. Players will first compete in online qualifying rounds, followed by in-person qualifiers “once large-scale events return.” Winners will then be invited to the grand finals later in the year.
Details like scheduling, rules, and prize pools, long a touchy subject for Nintendo, are still up in the air, and obviously any live events will have to grapple with the ongoing pandemic. Smash Bros. Ultimate’s online netcode being what it is, hopefully Nintendo and Panda Global are able to figure that out sooner than later. Smash Bros. Melee, meanwhile, isn’t even available on modern platforms, so go call up your childhood neighbor if you want to train for the event. Perhaps a buddy will still have their old GameCube.
In either case, it’s big news in part because of Nintendo’s long history of being super weird about the big competitive followings its games have. Past Nintendo-backed tournaments have been few and far between. And when they do happen they tend to make use of bizarre rulesets and restrictions that don’t mesh well with the existing communities.
“For everyone that doesn’t realize how big of a deal this is: Nintendo, along with finally providing prize pools, has just acknowledged the existence of competitive Melee for the first time in years & choosing to embrace it,” Juan Manuel “Hungrybox” DeBiedma, one of the best Melee players ever, tweeted today. “@PandaGlobal doing God’s work. Never imagined the day.”
On some occasions Nintendo has tried to resist the enthusiastic grassroots competitive scenes that have sprung up around the Smash Bros. series. The company initially fought to keep Smash Bros. Melee out of Evo, the biggest fighting game event of the year, back in 2013. The company has also prevented third-party tournament organizers from streaming the games in the past.
As a result, Nintendo’s newfound embrace of the competitive Smash Bros. scene also brings new concerns of whether it will try to exert too much control. The company has a history of aggressively shutting down fan mods which have been crucial to preserving the competitive viability of older Smash Bros. games. Just recently it cancelled entire tournaments over the use of modded versions of Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl, games that stopped being for sale long ago.