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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nintendo Sponsors APEX 2015; Becomes Largest Melee and Smash 4 Tournament Ever

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - So about Super Smash Bros. Melee dying...

According to the APEX 2015 registration website, the registered member totals are as follows (as of publishing):

Super Smash Bros. Melee 1v1 Total: 1025
Super Smash Bros. Brawl 1v1 Total: 174
Super Smash Bros. 4 1v1 Total: 828
Super Smash Bros. 64 1v1 Total: 188
Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire VGC total: 83
Ultra Street Fighter IV 1v1 Total: 101
Guilty Gear Xrd 1v1 Total: 50
Killer Instinct 1v1 Total: 24
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 1v1 Total: 39
For those who don't know what the APEX tournament is, it started as a dedicated Super Smash Bros. tournament that expanded to include other games. Obviously from what you can see from those numbers, it still has a very strong Smash Bros. bent. As you can imagine, those are huge numbers. You can thank some of those numbers, no doubt, to the high pot bonuses. You can also thank Nintendo for officially sponsoring it.

This is, of course, after Nintendo sponsored another fighting game tournament, EVO 2014. This is continuing Nintendo's stance of approving of the competitive Super Smash Bros. community.

So is all swell in the world of competitive players?

That 1,024 player number (well it's somehow one above that now) is actually the maximum cap for the tournament, as you can imagine a 1v1 tournament bracket wants to have numbers that are a power of 2. (It's 2 to the 10th power, to be exact.) Already, Super Smash Bros. 4 is breaking tournament registration records held by its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Brawl. As for Brawl, well, it kind of... fell apart, having numbers even below Smash 64. The reasons I gave for being done with Brawl are common among players, you know.

Nintendo sponsors APEX 2015, Super Smash Bros. tournament
Sponsorship is a powerful thing.

Unfortunately, there continues to be a disconnect between the competitive community, Nintendo of America, and revered series creator Masahiro Sakurai. Nintendo of America is fine with feeding the competitive community all sorts of marketing lines to get them enthusiastic about Super Smash Bros. 4. However, Nintendo of America does not do the game development: Sakurai does. And Sakurai says things like,

"If people want to play seriously 1v1, they should do that, and if people simply want to enjoy the game, they should do so. There might even be people who only like to play with their amiibo. I think it's good that there are so many different ways to enjoy this game. [...] Personally, I feel that if you want to play a fighting game seriously, there are other competitive fighting games that are more suited to that, and people like that could have fun playing those. If you only play Smash Brothers seriously as a competitive game, the game itself has no future. If I wanted to, I'm sure I could make a more hardcore Smash Brothers game. I could make the game speed much faster, increase the number of inputs...but then, beginners would no longer be able to play the game."
Sakurai then proceeds to talk about the simple fact that making a game less accessible to the median audience basically results in less people interested in the game, and less sales. That's why games designed to be really hard are for niche markets and might have a lesser budget than mainstream games for everyone like Super Smash Bros. 4 or Mario Kart 8. That's fine, and it's consistent with classic Sakurai beliefs in having many options in gameplay.

However, Masahiro Sakurai puts Nintendo of America's marketing under the bus when he states that competitive players are better off playing other games (that are not available on Nintendo consoles) if they want to put that much dedication into it. To Sakurai (and KoopaTV staff member Rawk), seeing APEX 2015's registration numbers achieve new records for a game that came out in 2001 and is obviously showing no signs of stopping is a bit... distressing, I guess. Well, maybe Sakurai isn't stressed out by it, but I doubt he has any pride in it.

Sakurai does not understand what the competitive community really wants, though. Having an "increased number of inputs" for the sake of complexity is not what they want. What people want are simple-to-execute techniques that keep the technical barrier low so players can focus on strategy, tactics, and knowing when to execute techniques.

Since Pokémon is also at APEX, I'll compare it to that. At competitive Pokémon and non-competitive Pokémon alike, you have the same number of options in any given turn: You can pick a move (out of four), or you can switch out to another Pokémon depending on how many are in your party (starting at five, or less in the case of VGC rules). If you are playing VGC rules (doubles) there is another layer of complexity in determining which opponent you want to use the move on. But otherwise, that's it. Very low number of inputs and very easy-to-execute inputs at that: Just use your touch screen or control pad and the A button.

At the same time, the mindgames, strategy, and skill in Pokémon games is quite high. You need to not only have knowledge on your opponent's Pokémon and what they are capable of, but you need to map out your strategy from turn 0 when you see your opponent's team (as of the Team Preview era). You need to figure out what key Pokémon you need to win ("win condition"), and what Pokémon on your opponent's side you absolutely must eliminate.

Well? What should I do here?
If you look at the above screenshot, you can see two sets of teams. My Weezing has Toxic Spikes, and my opponent's entire team is grounded and weak to Toxic Spikes, with no way of removing them. Magmortar, unless I have Sticky Web set up, can outspeed and knock out almost everyone on my team in one hit except for Raichu, who is ultimately my win condition. So I must set up Toxic Spikes and play around Cacturne, who can end my Raichu with a Sucker Punch. Toxic Spikes allows Cacturne to take damage while it fails with a Sucker Punch, and Trevenant exists to take any Fake Out from Ambipom. Raichu is only able to outspeed Ambipom with Sticky Web up.

It turns out that my opponent was concealing Aqua Jet on Samurott, which was enough to knock out Raichu after it took enough Life Orb recoil and cause me to lose the game, but hey, it was close.

The point of that exercise was to demonstrate that you can have a competitive game without technical inputs. All I had to do was think and click. It's a bit different in a real-time fighting game than a turn-based RPG, but the same principles apply. What people want is not what Super Smash Bros. Melee has, especially with technical Fox and Falco play that has you inputting so many things that it breaks your hands. That is self-destructive and players don't want to destroy themselves!

They want options that matter (frequently movement options) that are easy to execute. They want options that favour offense as well as defense, and many players feel that Brawl has a huge defense-bias and Melee and 64 a huge offense-bias. As for Smash 4? We'll see when that further develops. It's certainly possible that Super Smash Bros. 4, especially with over 800 entrants, will go on to have a long competitive life, like Nintendo of America wants. ...It could even save the Wii U!

And for the future? Well, Sakurai's thoughts on Smash Bros.'s future won't even matter if he takes his "day off" from Super Smash Bros. from now on.

APEX 2015 starts January 30. Ludwig looks forward to watching Super Smash Bros. 4 and Super Smash Bros. Melee. You can see the schedule here. Look forward to the games being streamed somewhere on Twitch.

The streaming schedule is available, and also news on Splatoon's arrival!
The event happened, and... it sure was interesting.

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