A grand finals Super Smash Bros. Ultimate set between Marss and MkLeo from 2020, c/o Beyond the Summit (YouTube)

Several notable members of the Smash community, Perez and Garcia included, rushed to agree with Martins, but he was largely beset by criticism. Grassroots tournaments are known for their open-bracket policies, which place every player on even footing regardless of status. Giving someone preferential treatment due to their skill level or professional employment with an esports org is antithetical, dissenters argued, to the ethos of the Smash and traditional fighting game communities. The demand gets even weirder when taking into account the recent rise of invitational events that cater exclusively to those types of competitors.

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“As an active player and organizer, I try to be understanding of every situation CEO attendees may be in,” Community Effort Orlando organizer Alex Jebailey told Kotaku via email. “CEO 2021 is taking place during an unprecedented situation, with the return of fighting game events creating never before seen enthusiasm for registering early. I’m humbled and flattered that CEO sold 3,500 passes so quickly, but that response shouldn’t lead to CEO stepping away from open brackets and open registration. In my opinion those are the things that make our conventions great.”

The desire for major tournaments to feature only the best competitors around is understandable, but the argument surrounding Martins’ suggestion highlights the key difference between fighting games and esports. The fighting game community has sustained itself for decades as a place where anyone and everyone can come to compete, regardless of skill level or history. It’s not a place where monetization is easy to come by.

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And while that can result in negative things like tournaments living event to event and organizers relying on volunteer labor, it’s also imbued competition with a grassroots passion that can’t be replicated by bigger games like League of Legends or Overwatch. There’s simply nothing in esports like the fighting game community, and that continues to frustrate esports-minded interlopers who see its “untapped” or “squandered” potential as a means to benefit small groups of players and investors rather than the scene as a whole.

“I think as we get back to bigger events in the future, we will be better prepared to manage demand,” Jebailey added. “I also think that invitational opportunities will increase to better serve our most elite players. At CEO though, all our attendees are given the same opportunity to become a champion no matter their skill level. An opportunity that starts on the registration page.”

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