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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Melee smashes its way into the present

Cult following of 17-year-old game finds footing locally, internationally

The video game industry is undeniably massive, producing plenty of games on the largest and smallest of scales throughout a calendar year. Typically, a game upon release will have a lifespan, depending on various factors like audience base and quality, that can last months or even years before the game is finally shelved and playerless.

While it sounds morbid, there are just too many games to keep each one relevant for all time. So what about a game that came out in late 2001? Shouldn’t it be shelved and dead? For most games, yes. If they were released 17 years ago, there usually aren’t many people playing it today. But there is an outlier: Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Commonly referred to as just “Smash” or “Melee,” this game not only has a fanatic fanbase, but a growing one. The game Melee is simple enough. Players choose from a roster of 26 characters and fight each other until, inevitably, one player is pushed off the playable map. The presence of Smash is commonly seen as a casual party game; it is what the game was made for after all, yet the growing community isn’t one of only friends on couches, but of competitors in tournaments.

In recent years, e-sports have become more and more relevant, yet mostly for the newest games and games being specifically designed with a competitive edge. Smash has neither of those prerequisites; it is neither new nor designed for competition.

So where is the appeal in this nearly 20-year-old game? Chris Do, an active member of the Smash community and a third-year English and political science double major, spoke about the unique aspects that may be convincing players to stick around and play.

“There’s always this drive that there’s someone who’s going to be better than you,” Do said. “There’s always a goal ascertainable through the action of play. That differs from a lot of other games […] Like if I’m playing Tetris, for example, the goal is just to keep playing. For Melee there is a goal, you have to get better everyday. You can see that […] in post tournament matches. You can figure out what you were doing wrong afterwards […] All the play is up for the player to decide.”

Michael Chase, a fourth-year English major, also shared his thoughts as to why Smash remains popular.

“I think Melee is a very complex game, you can never top out in skill,” Chase said. “Anything that is competitive just requires skill and a certain absence of randomness. [Melee] works on a competitive level because random elements are removed from the game and […] there’s so much opportunity for mastery in all the different areas of the game. Whether it’s like, having to know 20 plus different [character] matchups in the game, having to also outthink your opponent, being able to recognize patterns on the spot and also the technical aspect of like teaching your hands to move in a certain way and getting the internal timing of the game down.”

The most amazing part about Smash isn’t truly that it’s still played, but that its competitive scene is not only alive, but thriving with rankings ranging from local communities, like Davis, to the international level. Michael Chase spoke about his experience in the more local competitive scene.

“I probably went to about two tournaments a month my first year [competing], just like local tournaments in Salinas, Monterey or San Jose,” Chase said. “There was a point where I was like six months into competitive smash, and there was a player in my local community. I lived in Salinas at the time, in the Monterey area. He had been playing for about 10 years and I remember the first time I beat him in a tournament. It was like the best feeling ever.”

The smaller tournaments can be found in the back of comic book stores or even in dedicated players’ homes, yet at the national level larger venues are required. GENESIS, one of the largest Smash tournament series, just wrapped up its 5th event on Jan. 21 of this year.

The event, properly called GENESIS 5, attracted an attendance of just over 2,900 people, awarded the winner of the Melee bracket over $6,000, and filled the Oakland Convention Center. Naturally, with the event so close, many from the Davis community made their way down for the event.

Brian Chen, a second-year biological sciences major, played Super Smash Bros. 4, a newer sequel to Melee, at GENESIS 5. While Melee and Smash 4 are sequels, they boast enough differences to earn their own tournament brackets. Chen placed 129th in the tournament out of 674.

“I beat some ranked people from other regions,” Chen said. “[I] almost took a set from one of the best SoCal players, and SoCal is known as the best region. There was a lot on the line for my pride and my region, and I think I represented it really well.”

While the Smash community is hyper-competitive, the game is classified as a “fighting game”; the real joy isn’t to be found in the often stressful tournament matches.

“In the end, we all come together for a common passion,” Chen said. “That is the love of video games and the love of Smash […] A lot of people are building bonds over just such a simple game.”  

Chase’s enthusiasm similarly promoted interest in seeing the community grow and adding potential new players.

“I have never met anyone that puts me off in this community. Everyone is so friendly,” Chase said. “We usually offer about two tournaments a week [in Davis] […] The best way to start would be to follow the [Davis Melee] Club’s Facebook page because then you can find out when the events are and choose for yourself whether you want to go to a tournament, which might have a more competitive mindset, or just go meet some people and hangout.”

The 17-year-old game seems to be one of the sweetest fruits the video game industry has to offer. It may be focused on beating the life out of friends, family or strangers’ characters, yet the power it has to bring people together isn’t malicious. What you’ll see at tournaments and at home on a couch are not grudges or hard feelings, but a community of like-interested individuals hoping to have a good time playing a game they love. The Davis Melee Club meets frequently for any would-be competitors.



Written by: Nicolas Rago — arts@theaggie.org


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