The prospect of a grassroots tour is exciting, but fans must consider the disadvantages
I put forth a disclaimer here that everything moving forward is based on initial reaction and careful reading of material that has only been available for the past seven days. Information about the Smash World Tour could change over the course of the year (though I’m sure much of it is set in stone given CEO Dreamland is happening this upcoming weekend.) While I think the existence of SWT or any equivalent is ultimately a good thing, it’s important to keep events and their organizers accountable. Given that SWT is a grassroots event, we have even more power to do so here than we might with an event like Capcom Pro Tour or Tekken World Tour.
A month ago (February 3rd, 2020 at the time of writing) I wrote a piece on how grassroots communities can run their games more effectively than first party devs can, and how Nintendo’s hands-off approach to the Smash esports scene is probably a good thing when you consider all of the mistakes other developers have made when managing their own games. At the time of writing, HugS still hasn’t written or mentioned his exposé on how Nintendo is allegedly sabotaging grassroots and third-party organizations that attempt to produce grand-scale Smash circuits on the level of other esports titles. Whether his claims are credible or not, I’m sure he was among many of the ecstatic people watching the VGBootCamp stream on March 1st.
On that day, VGBC GimR announced the production of the Smash World Tour, a Smash-oriented tournament series for Melee and Ultimate. Taking queues from the Tekken World Tour, SWT is comprised of 25 events across the two Gold and Platinum tiers, with a Silver tier that smaller, independent events can apply for and opt into. (There are currently ten Platinum events, nine of which have been announced; there are currently fifteen Gold events, ten of which have been announced; the TWT equivalent would be Master and Platinum, Challenger and Gold, and Dojo and Silver.) The players who earn the most points at these events get placed on a leaderboard, and the top 31 of these players are invited to the SWT Championships, where a last-chance qualifier bracket will also be held for the 32nd player. The SWT boasts a massive $250,000 prize pool ($125,000 for Melee, and $125,000 for Ultimate) where all 32 of the players competing in the Championships will be guaranteed a prize along with free travel and board.
VGBootCamp running the SWT is huge- it’s a grassroots circuit on the scale of other professional first-party events. The series also marks the return of the Apex series- prior to the popularity of the Genesis series, Apex was considered to be the ‘Evo of Smash’ before the organization fell apart. (No, really, the Apex 2015 venue collapsed in on itself during the tournament. This was the main catalyst for lead Apex TO Alex Strife being ousted from the organization, although the sexual abuse allegations certainly did him no favors either.) VGBC is a widely-renowned Smash production group, even running events for other fighting games out of the Xanadu venue in Laurel Park, Maryland. Their wealth of experience and their intimate knowledge of the Smash scene lends them a lot of credibility in assuring the community that the SWT will be run smoothly.
So that’s the Good. A global circuit, with a huge prize pool that will allow top players to earn a substantial living off the game. Several dozen events with the opportunity for other smaller events to opt-in. All of it run by a trusted name in the Smash scene, without any Nintendo involvement, so that means it can be run properly without having to run rulesets, regulations, and codes of conduct through a team of community managers. It also means the circuit can be run without fear that the developer will suddenly drop the title and cease support of it entirely. Seems, well, good, so far. It’s certainly shaken things up within the FGC.
Of course, the circuit isn’t perfect by any means- it’s the first year it’s being run, it’s incredibly ambitious, and it’s also lacking the resources that first-party developer support could still provide. But the fact remains that these problems are still there, and already several criticisms of the SWT have been leveled by concerned members of the community.
At the moment, SWT seems to be suffering from a moderate case of “2GG Syndrome.” 2GGaming is the other major Smash production org- where VGBC is centered around Midwest and East Coast events based in Maryland, 2GGaming is based in Southern California and produces several top-tier West Coast events. 2GG fell under major criticism when running its Smash Saga events due to all of them being run out of the Santa Ana Esports Arena location. The importance of these events in terms of prize pool and Power Rankings meant that anybody playing and working at these events would have to consistently travel to Southern California once a month, which caused a ton of player fatigue. For the moment, VGBC has somewhat averted this and only a few of the locations on the tour list are located in Laurel, but there are still some issues. A proper breakdown of the locations of the events on the SWT follows:
- Of the 26 locations in the SWT, including the Championships, 17 are in North America. Of those 17, 13 are in the US.
- The four NA tournaments that aren’t in the US are: Get On My Level 2020 in Toronto, Canada, Battle of BC 4 in British Columbia, Canada, Smash Factor 9 in Puebla, Mexico, and a TBD event in Mexico.
- Of the 13 US tournaments, four are in the MD/VA region that VGBC services the most, and three are held at Xanadu: Pound 2020, Glitch Infinite, and The Script Trilogy. (The fourth event, Super Smash Con, is held in Chantilly, Virginia.) It’s also fair to assume that the Championship event will be at Xanadu.
- Of the remaining eight US events, only three are West Coast- Double Down in Las Vegas, Port Priority 6 in Seattle, and a TBD West Coast event.
- The rest of the events are all East Coast tournaments with the exception of Low Tier City 2020 in Arlington, Texas.
- Of the remaining nine events not in the US, five are in the Oceania region and four are in Europe. Of the Oceanic events, all but one are in Japan- the exception being Battle Arena Melbourne 12.
- Of the four European events, two are in France, one is in the UK, and the last one has yet to be announced.
Europe and Australia are already regions in the Smash scene that are heavily underrepresented globally, and there already exists criticism of pro-Japan, anti-Europe bias when organizations like Melee it on Me and Panda Global organize the community Power Rankings. Furthermore, given that regions further south of Mexico have produced notable talent- ZeRo was originally a Brawl player from Chile- it seems like a misstep not hosting any events in these regions. Once again, the buffer of this criticism is that it’s hard for an American organization to run and collaborate with foreign events, especially when it’s their first year doing so and they’re operating on grassroots funding.
Still, this bias towards American events and a moderate focus on VGBC’s home venue is hard not to notice when European players like Glutonny have often struggled to make waves internationally due to a lack of spotlight on their events. While some tour events have obviously not been announced yet, the host regions already seem to be determined. Furthermore, even though Silver-tier events can opt-in to be part of the SWT, locals in some regions pull far more entrants than others, so the points values and opportunities to earn points are going to be less for European players than they might be for others. A 2GG-hosted Mega Smash Monday in Southern California, for instance, may pull 200 players, whereas a local in France or England may only have a fraction of those entrants. Likewise, if I were to suddenly sweep MSM, I would earn more points than someone at that French weekly event, even if the competition is just as fierce, and I would also have more opportunities for Gold and Platinum points in my own country than a British player might in theirs.
Beyond the logistics involved in running an event on this scale, holding events in particular regions and allocating points to players fairly, there are other concerns about the SWT that aren’t necessarily related to the circuit itself. Instead, these are criticisms of the tour that are inherited from criticisms of the organization that runs it- VGBootCamp.
In my previous article I mentioned that one of the theoretical advantages of running a grassroots Smash circuit would be that you could run whatever you wanted, however you wanted, at your own event. Nintendo’s presence at Smash events, however minimal, has often been criticized because it prevents quality-of-life fanmade enhancements for Melee to be run on tournament setups. Perhaps more controversially, Nintendo’s increased presence has also been attributed to the Project M fangame losing all of its support from the developer team and greater community. PM was removed from the Games category on Twitch, and in an attempt to sanitize the VGBC brand, Xanadu no longer hosted PM locals and all VODs of the game were removed from their YouTube channel.
Initially, it seemed as though PM would be a perfect fit for a circuit such as SWT- a disclaimer at the bottom of their website even says that they’re not partnered at all with Nintendo. However, in their FAQ, SWT makes it clear that the organization wants to look attractive to Nintendo in order to potentially partner with them in the future. Any attempt at a genuine PM circuit has been completely nipped in the bud by VGBC. This is not to discredit other smaller attempts at running events for PM or its derivatives, but a circuit on the scale of SWT would do wonders for revitalizing the game. (That being said, due to hardware limitations it would probably be difficult to run events for the game abroad anyway. PM was developed using NTSC software and hardware, and is incompatible with PAL or JP Wiis.)
On a separate note, I find it very difficult to trust VGBC with running events safely. Last year, on February 16th, 2019, VGBC hosted a tournament called The Script Episode 2, a Mafia-themed event featuring high-level video skit production that parodied Scorsese-style crime dramas. The Script Episode 2 boasted an event called Falco Mafia, where prominent Melee Falco mains would be invited to play at the tournament. One such player, promoted directly in the event’s trailer, was Bronson “DaShizWhiz” Layton, a Melee player from Florida. DaShizWiz is perhaps most infamous for being a violent homophobe, with several assault charges leveled against him over the course of the 2010s, including a (dropped) battery charge against a female housemate in 2013 and a 2016 assault against a gas station clerk.
Despite having completed anger management and substance abuse courses, DSW has still often taken to Twitter and posted homophobic or transphobic propaganda. Beyond that, women in the Smash community have generally expressed that they don’t feel safe with him in the scene given that he is a repeat violent offender who would often go after women. (I will not provide links to his tweets, but I’ll provide an article that goes further into his history.) If VGBC is prominently using such an individual’s likeness in their promotional material, it suggests that they are willing to condone such behavior or not punish it as long as the player is good at the game. Since Nintendo isn’t present enough to function as a governing body that can deter or ban players, the responsibility falls on VGBC to enforce codes of conduct as they deem fit. Hopefully, VGBC can learn from the mistakes made in other circuits like the Capcom Pro Tour, which has allowed Infiltration to continue attending events following a one-year suspension despite community outcry protesting this decision.
In the end, a grassroots circuit on the scale of the Smash World Tour could do a lot of good for the Smash community. The SWT will bring more spectators and players to the scene, bring it to the attention of Nintendo and potential investors, spur on the growth of events, and allow players who want to make a living off the game to actually do so. I believe that the excitement the community is feeling in the wake of the VGBC announcement is reasonable, but I also believe these concerns and criticisms are equally reasonable. Event planning should be run effectively and without bias, the disappointment at missed opportunities is already being felt, and there’s questions of player safety that should be addressed. With the first event of the SWT being so soon (CEO Dreamland takes place from March 13–15th,) it seems as though much of the infrastructure and planning for the circuit has been set in stone. It thusly falls onto the community that supports the events to also critique these events and hold them accountable, so that they can continue to grow and become better.