Smash Pro League - It's Time

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It’s no secret that Smash Ultimate has been a rousing success. Selling 14 million copies and reviving the non-Melee Smash scene should be only the beginning! It’s time for Nintendo to fully embrace a dedicated Smash Pro League [SPL]. A centralized Tournament circuit would...

  • Provide a stable career for Tournament Organizers
  • Generate more viewers and participants
  • Establish a National ranking system
  • Drive more sales for Smash, Switch systems, and Smash DLC characters
  • Attract more sponsors
  • Produce massive hype

As you can see, everyone wins from adopting this competitive structure. But how exactly should this happen? Nintendo needs to bring together all of the pre-existing major tournaments under one umbrella as part of the SPL. There needs to be clear criteria for Tournament Organizers to apply so their tournaments are accepted as part of the SPL. The criteria should include a combination of number of entrants, stream viewers, total prize pool, and consistency in organization. For example, the following tournaments would be a great start to the SPL:

  • Glitch
  • Smash Conference United
  • Genesis
  • Frostbite
  • Pound
  • Get on my Level
  • MomoCon
  • Smash N’ Splash
  • EVO
  • Shine

Nintendo would provide support via advertising, generating sponsors, prize pools, and compensation for Tournament Organizers, Commentators, and other staff. In return, the tournaments would all be streamed through the official Nintendo SPL channel, centralizing viewing to one location, and subsequently boosting views. The revenue from the stream and tournaments would be split between Nintendo and the Tournament Organizers. A competitive ruleset for singles and doubles would need to be agreed on for all of the tournaments to keep it consistent.

Players who place well in each of the SPL tournaments will earn SPL Circuit Points in addition to the prize money. At the end of the year’s circuit, the top players (determined by Circuit Points) will be invited to the Nintendo sponsored “Super Smash Brothers Ultimate National Championship.” - A massive event with a big budget for advertising and production, a huge venue, and of course a substantial prize pool with the winner crowned the Smash Ultimate Champion for that year. Nintendo has dipped their toes in the water with their Regional Open Tournaments but there was a lot of disappointment when they announced that the rules would include items and random stages. The competitive community released a collective sigh and turned their attention back to their own tournaments. The random nature of items like Smash Balls, Pokéballs, and Assist Trophies can cause the better player to lose simply due to luck, which is obviously not what you want in a high level Smash tournament. The telltale moment was when one player picked up an Assist Trophy that spawned Nightmare, blacking out the entire screen…yeah, that was definitely not an ideal experience for viewers or players...

It’s no question that the competitive ruleset and community backed by Nintendo’s money and influence would be a powerful force in the global esports arena, putting Smash front and center as one of the premier esports games. The question remains, however, does Nintendo see the untapped potential here and will they ever play (Smash) ball with the competitive community? In the words of Nairo, “It hasn’t happened yet, but it doesn’t mean it can’t ever happen.”

Do you want to see the SPL? Would Nintendo ever even go along with something like this? Would you structure it any differently? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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Jonathan “Qualk” Martin

Comments

#2
I just want to throw in my two-cents on the items issue in particular. As someone who thoroughly enjoys playing without items, I don't think a league like this will ever happen unless some kind of compromise is reached on their handling in rulesets. As of now, Nintendo will likely insist on items until the end of time, and pro players will have none of it.

At the risk of presenting the anti-item side as a straw man, I find that most anti-item arguments fall under one of these patterns:
  • Other sports don't include random game changers, so Smash shouldn't either.
    • While perhaps true for outdoor sports (barring inclement weather or illness), random draws do exist in Poker and TCGs, as well as random effects in strategy games and MOBAs (and Smash itself, for that matter).
    • This also discounts the fact that no-item play is effectively a form of "house rules" as it is not the default, much like the common Free Parking bonuses in Monopoly.
  • You don't want a bob-omb dropping on your hard read, do you?
    • Every time I see this argument, it's almost always the same examples: Bob-ombs, Smash Balls, Hammers, Assist Trophies...
    • Individual disruptive items can be turned off for a reason, and the old excuse of being unable to disable explosive containers no longer applies - this isn't Melee anymore.
  • We tested items in previous games and they didn't work out, so they won't work here either.
    • While I don't have much experience with the Melee or Brawl scenes, I have yet to find any evidence that items were tested with any nuance beyond a global on/off toggle.
    • Items weren't really tested at all in Smash 4 largely out of tradition (besides the rare ISP side-event), and outside of Nintendo's tournaments, Ultimate seems to be following the same pattern.
To be fair, Nintendo chose to include the absolute worst items possible for their Ultimate Opens (Smash Balls, AT's, explosives? Really?), with the only acceptable ones being Mr. Saturn and the Banana Peel. There are so many better items they could have chosen instead (raccoon leaf, fire flower, boomerang, killer eye, etc).

As a rule of thumb, any item that activates on contact or hit should be banned on principle due to the random nature of item spawning (thus avoiding the bob-omb issue). Banning other items is more subjective (stuff like Hammers and AT's probably should be banned since they're so hard to play around for how strong they are, but others like the ray gun or boomerang are much better balanced in this regard).

I could make similar arguments for the (imo pitifully small) stage lists, but I won't waste my breath here (yet at least). My point is that a league like this will only happen if Nintendo and the TO's meet halfway; Nintendo has to do away with the jank stuff that clearly doesn't work, but the TO's also have to loosen up substantially on what they consider competitively acceptable.
 
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#3
I definitely agree something like this should be at least given a trial run. For the past few years I've been participating in a tradtional sports styled league for Smash, of course it's online but it's really fun and I always thought it would be cool to see something like that ran in real life. Speaking of, if anyone is interested in signing up for something like that, message me privately because the latest season is taking signups.
 
#4
I just want to throw in my two-cents on the items issue in particular. As someone who thoroughly enjoys playing without items, I don't think a league like this will ever happen unless some kind of compromise is reached on their handling in rulesets. As of now, Nintendo will likely insist on items until the end of time, and pro players will have none of it.

At the risk of presenting the anti-item side as a straw man, I find that most anti-item arguments fall under one of these patterns:
  • Other sports don't include random game changers, so Smash shouldn't either.
    • While perhaps true for outdoor sports (barring inclement weather or illness), random draws do exist in Poker and TCGs, as well as random effects in strategy games and MOBAs (and Smash itself, for that matter).
    • This also discounts the fact that no-item play is effectively a form of "house rules" as it is not the default, much like the common Free Parking bonuses in Monopoly.
  • You don't want a bob-omb dropping on your hard read, do you?
    • Every time I see this argument, it's almost always the same examples: Bob-ombs, Smash Balls, Hammers, Assist Trophies...
    • Individual disruptive items can be turned off for a reason, and the old excuse of being unable to disable explosive containers no longer applies - this isn't Melee anymore.
  • We tested items in previous games and they didn't work out, so they won't work here either.
    • While I don't have much experience with the Melee or Brawl scenes, I have yet to find any evidence that items were tested with any nuance beyond a global on/off toggle.
    • Items weren't really tested at all in Smash 4 largely out of tradition (besides the rare ISP side-event), and outside of Nintendo's tournaments, Ultimate seems to be following the same pattern.
To be fair, Nintendo chose to include the absolute worst items possible for their Ultimate Opens (Smash Balls, AT's, explosives? Really?), with the only acceptable ones being Mr. Saturn and the Banana Peel. There are so many better items they could have chosen instead (raccoon leaf, fire flower, boomerang, killer eye, etc).

As a rule of thumb, any item that activates on contact or hit should be banned on principle due to the random nature of item spawning (thus avoiding the bob-omb issue). Banning other items is more subjective (stuff like Hammers and AT's probably should be banned since they're so hard to play around for how strong they are, but others like the ray gun or boomerang are much better balanced in this regard).

I could make similar arguments for the (imo pitifully small) stage lists, but I won't waste my breath here (yet at least). My point is that a league like this will only happen if Nintendo and the TO's meet halfway; Nintendo has to do away with the jank stuff that clearly doesn't work, but the TO's also have to loosen up substantially on what they consider competitively acceptable.
There are two things I want to address here. You mention that the melee and brawl scene haven’t tried items in competition, but at the only Evo brawl was ever at, items were on and it couldn’t have gone worse. Literally some kid nobody ever heard of before won the whole thing. (Source:https://www.ssbwiki.com/Tournament:EVO_2008) I know your gonna mention that they had all items on and not a specific list of items, but I don’t think the community will ever be able to come to a consensus of what items would even be palatable for something like this. This happened with custom moves in smash 4. Really their was only 2 custom moves that everyone wanted banned: villagers trip sapling and exploding balloons. But lists of what custom moves should be legal were wildly varied from just banning trip sapling to banning every custom move that wasn’t just a side upgrade or trash, to allowing all of them. Eventually it became clear that banning only certain customs would prove impossible and that they would have to either ban them or allow all of them.

TLDR: Yes we tried items and it sucked. It would be impossible to get a consensus list of items that competitive players would stomach, similar to custom moves in smash 4.
 
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#5
There are two things I want to address here. You mention that the melee and brawl scene haven’t tried items in competition, but at the only Evo brawl was ever at, items were on and it couldn’t have gone worse. Literally some kid nobody ever heard of before won the whole thing. (Source:https://www.ssbwiki.com/Tournament:EVO_2008) I know your gonna mention that they had all items on and not a specific list of items, but I don’t think the community will ever be able to come to a consensus of what items would even be palatable for something like this. This happened with custom moves in smash 4. Really their was only 2 custom moves that everyone wanted banned: villagers trip sapling and exploding balloons. But lists of what custom moves should be legal were wildly varied from just banning trip sapling to banning every custom move that wasn’t just a side upgrade or trash, to allowing all of them. Eventually it became clear that banning only certain customs would prove impossible and that they would have to either ban them or allow all of them.

TLDR: Yes we tried items and it sucked. It would be impossible to get a consensus list of items that competitive players would stomach, similar to custom moves in smash 4.
Fair point, but the thing is, customs also had way more logistical and design issues than items ever will: having to unlock hundreds of moves with horrible RNG, narrowing down the roughly 80 movesets for each of the game's ~60 characters down to a still-ridiculous 10, not to mention the glaring inconsistencies with Palutena, Miis, and the DLC.

Items are a messy topic, I won't disagree there, but I think a better comparison would be to stage lists. There's only one list to worry about, no matter which characters you choose, and the total item and stage counts are rather comparable as of Ultimate (88 and 108 respectively, probably down to ~20 and ~10-15 after banning; much more manageable than 960 special moves). As well, unlike stages you don't have to strike down to just one, so the whole striking process is simply a non-factor - no need to keep an odd item count, or to whittle down the items to just 3-5 for the sake of time, or even worry about "counterpick items" (whatever that would be like).

As for EVO 2008 (thank you for pointing it out, btw), it also didn't help that Brawl itself was deliberately anti-competitive to begin with (tripping, ledge stalling, infinite locks/chain grabs due to lacking air combos, :metaknight:,...). Smash 4 and especially Ultimate are simply better built for handling high-level play, so cheese strats are much less likely to slip through even if items are used (assuming a well-balanced item list of course, no doubt easier said than done).

Overall, I do believe an item-based league is possible. Difficult? Absolutely, but it might be the only way to convince Nintendo to back a league at all, given that their own rulesets are so radically different from those of most TO's.
 
#6
b2jammer b2jammer , Any item-inclusive(?) league would probably do more harm than good for the Smash scene. Smash has fought hard for it's place as the black sheep of the FGC and items have never done anything except make Smash look like a joke to spectators. The competitive scene is in a good place and while it would undoubtedly enjoy a cash infusion from Nintendo, that also puts a countdown clock on the scene as a whole. The reason why Melee has survived for as long as it has is because it is grassroots. The community has determined the most honest set of rules that it can in order to reward the player that is playing with the most skill, and any RNG beyond what is built into a character's kit tarnishes that.

I find it a little curious that you didn't cite any example of another fighting game that embraces RNG. The reason for that is because there are not any with a large following akin to SF, Tekken, MK, etc.

The items that you listed as being potentially acceptable are already in the kits of certain characters in the game essentially. Giving everyone the ability to float, breathe fire, throw returning projectiles serves to homogenize the cast, and would stagnate the meta.

The reason items were not tested extensively in Smash 4 and now not in Ultimate is because the core competitive players have been playing since Brawl, and the scene has come to the consensus that item's make for a bad time from the player's and spectator's perspective.

I know that you aren't pushing for items at the tournaments that we currently have, but introducing a separate smash league would split viewership and participation especially if the prize pools were larger in the item tournaments. Personally, I would rather keep the gains that the community has made over the years than regress into a rabbit hole by bringing Nintendo into the fray as anything other than a sponsor. If they would only sponsor events that featured items then we are better off without them.
 
#7
b2jammer b2jammer , Any item-inclusive(?) league would probably do more harm than good for the Smash scene. Smash has fought hard for it's place as the black sheep of the FGC and items have never done anything except make Smash look like a joke to spectators. The competitive scene is in a good place and while it would undoubtedly enjoy a cash infusion from Nintendo, that also puts a countdown clock on the scene as a whole. The reason why Melee has survived for as long as it has is because it is grassroots. The community has determined the most honest set of rules that it can in order to reward the player that is playing with the most skill, and any RNG beyond what is built into a character's kit tarnishes that.

I find it a little curious that you didn't cite any example of another fighting game that embraces RNG. The reason for that is because there are not any with a large following akin to SF, Tekken, MK, etc.

The items that you listed as being potentially acceptable are already in the kits of certain characters in the game essentially. Giving everyone the ability to float, breathe fire, throw returning projectiles serves to homogenize the cast, and would stagnate the meta.

The reason items were not tested extensively in Smash 4 and now not in Ultimate is because the core competitive players have been playing since Brawl, and the scene has come to the consensus that item's make for a bad time from the player's and spectator's perspective.

I know that you aren't pushing for items at the tournaments that we currently have, but introducing a separate smash league would split viewership and participation especially if the prize pools were larger in the item tournaments. Personally, I would rather keep the gains that the community has made over the years than regress into a rabbit hole by bringing Nintendo into the fray as anything other than a sponsor. If they would only sponsor events that featured items then we are better off without them.
That's fair; I think we can agree that Nintendo and the current tournament scene are still light years apart (to put it mildly), even if Nintendo is trying to be more inclusive in recent years (in their own weird way, of course).
 
#8
That's fair; I think we can agree that Nintendo and the current tournament scene are still light years apart (to put it mildly), even if Nintendo is trying to be more inclusive in recent years (in their own weird way, of course).
Yea, it does make me sad though. Capcom supports the hell out of Street Fighter and it benefits everyone involved. Why can't Nintendo do the same with Smash? Boggles the mind.
 
#9
Yea, it does make me sad though. Capcom supports the hell out of Street Fighter and it benefits everyone involved. Why can't Nintendo do the same with Smash? Boggles the mind.
Well, Street Fighter was also designed from the ground up to target competitive players above all else. There's little focus on the casual audience beyond the raw spectacle, so there are no clashing design philosophies at play; Capcom can focus all their attention on one audience and everyone benefits.

Because Smash attempts to make the genre more casually accessible, it finds itself in a much more awkward position. The largely grassroots origin of the competitive scene often means that the games have to rely heavily on house rules just to function (the stage list debacle being the most long-running example). Even though the more recent Smash entries have made decent concessions towards the competitive audience (solid character balance, less exploitable mechanics, improved Training Mode), the devs can only go so far without alienating the much larger casual base.

It seems like Nintendo is going through a similar thought process when it comes to their handling of Smash tournaments; in their eyes, current rulesets are too different for newer players to comfortably jump into, so Nintendo wants to ease them in with something more familiar, even if that means spamming AT's and hammers on random stages.
 
#10
So basically an MLG Pro Circuit that Melee had?

Also, in competitive Smash: no items, legal tournament stages, 3 stocks, 8 minutes, PERIOD, Just adding one item makes it not competitive but casual. I already have enough torture watching kids on Nintendo commercials playing the game thinking that they're good.
 
#11
Another possibility to potentially bridge the gap between Nintendo catering to the casual audience and competitive players wanting their own rules is having fun side tournaments alongside the main event.

These side tournaments could be any number of things: Smash balls only, Pokéballs only, Assist Trophies only, 8-player FFA, Reverse Main, etc.
 
#12
I think that Smash really wouldn't accept an organized league. We really pride ourselves on being grassroots, community-led, etc. Especially right after Melee got kicked from EVO, I don't know how willing the Smash scene would be to organize like that. Having our own way of doing things has always been the Smash M.O.. This can really be seen in many players', most notably Leffen's, view of EVO. Traditionally, EVO games run FT2 , with FT3 reserved for Grand Finals. Smash typically plays FT3 for all tourney sets. Due to the more traditional FGC ruleset for EVO vs. Smash ruleset, many players don't take EVO as seriously as, say, Genesis. I doubt an attempt to organize Smash beyond what we have would be successful.
 
#13
The pride at being community-led grassroots organizers would pale in comparison when you tell TO's, Staff, and Commentators that they can quit their day jobs and do this full-time for a salary.
 
#14
The pride at being community-led grassroots organizers would pale in comparison when you tell TO's, Staff, and Commentators that they can quit their day jobs and do this full-time for a salary.
That is absolutely something to strive for. The lack of support bordering on disdain for the smash community on Nintendo's part is nothing short of tragic. I would hesitate to embrace corporate oversight though when that corporation has shown numerous times that it is not in touch with the hardcore fanbases' expectations of how the game should be played at a truly competitive level.
 
#15
I just want to say that while I am a newcomer into the competitive scene, I have to say that any item is random and that a match should never have items on unless it's casual. If it's a tournament or money match or anything like that then no items should be on ever but Nintendo will always want items on and the pro players will not do that so while I agree Nintendo should sponsor events and things like that, they won't because they see smash as a party game where items should be on but the pro players and us competitive try hards see it as something much more than a silly party game. So until one side relents their stance on the one main issue of this, I don't think Nintendo will embrace a smash pro league but I am on the side of us competitive players who see smash as more than just a mere party game.
 
#16
I just want to say that while I am a newcomer into the competitive scene, I have to say that any item is random and that a match should never have items on unless it's casual. If it's a tournament or money match or anything like that then no items should be on ever but Nintendo will always want items on and the pro players will not do that so while I agree Nintendo should sponsor events and things like that, they won't because they see smash as a party game where items should be on but the pro players and us competitive try hards see it as something much more than a silly party game. So until one side relents their stance on the one main issue of this, I don't think Nintendo will embrace a smash pro league but I am on the side of us competitive players who see smash as more than just a mere party game.
I think that Nintendo is fully aware of how deep this game can be when played competitively. The issue is that they have never marketed Smash like that; it has always been up to individual players to find their own way to the competitive scene. I think that Nintendo fears the potential alienation that the casuals would feel if the competitive scene was brought into mainstream notoriety.
 
#17
I just want to say that while I am a newcomer into the competitive scene, I have to say that any item is random and that a match should never have items on unless it's casual. If it's a tournament or money match or anything like that then no items should be on ever but Nintendo will always want items on and the pro players will not do that so while I agree Nintendo should sponsor events and things like that, they won't because they see smash as a party game where items should be on but the pro players and us competitive try hards see it as something much more than a silly party game. So until one side relents their stance on the one main issue of this, I don't think Nintendo will embrace a smash pro league but I am on the side of us competitive players who see smash as more than just a mere party game.
It also doesn't help that the competitive scene tends to rewrite rules for the sake of competitive integrity (just to expand on my "house rules" point from earlier). Even with the items debate, at least turning them off is an option the game gives you out of the box as early as Melee. That doesn't apply to stuff like Bo3, stage bans, stage striking, percent-based tiebreakers, or even the older things like technique bans or ledge grab limits that don't really get used anymore.

I understand why all of these rules were changed; Bo3 is easily the least offensive, since it takes care of any fluctuations that may still be present after the competitive strip down and doesn't really require any major enforcement. Banning and striking stages makes sure that players choose a fair stage, and end percent is a decently objective tiebreaker that avoids the degenerate factor of Sudden Death. At the end of the day though, these are still different from the rules established by the game, and no entry (not even Ultimate) has made any real effort to provide built-in enforcement for these custom rules (stage banning only applies to random selection, Ultimate's Best Of option doesn't let you change characters or stages between rounds, and there are no explicit stage striking procedures or alternative tiebreakers whatsoever). While these rules are simple enough for even mildly experienced players to understand (with the tiebreaker in particular only applying to niche situations), newer players will probably be confused as to why the changes were even necessary in the first place (rather than e.g. simply obeying Sudden Death or using Random selection on a small pool of stages). Again that's the crowd Nintendo doesn't want to alienate, and Nintendo accepting house rules for their own game would be an admission that it's deeply flawed, and I doubt Nintendo would ever want to go there.

This is where the competitive scene would most likely have to concede; Nintendo may possibly give in on the items issue, but if TO's are unwilling to budge even here, then Smash Pro League - It's Absolutely Not Time.
 
#18
Yeah I think just doing straight random on a small competitive stage list and agreeing to obey the results of the sudden death would be a compromise that I'd be okay with.
 
#19
I just want to throw in my two-cents on the items issue in particular. As someone who thoroughly enjoys playing without items, I don't think a league like this will ever happen unless some kind of compromise is reached on their handling in rulesets. As of now, Nintendo will likely insist on items until the end of time, and pro players will have none of it.

At the risk of presenting the anti-item side as a straw man, I find that most anti-item arguments fall under one of these patterns:
  • Other sports don't include random game changers, so Smash shouldn't either.
    • While perhaps true for outdoor sports (barring inclement weather or illness), random draws do exist in Poker and TCGs, as well as random effects in strategy games and MOBAs (and Smash itself, for that matter).
    • This also discounts the fact that no-item play is effectively a form of "house rules" as it is not the default, much like the common Free Parking bonuses in Monopoly.
  • You don't want a bob-omb dropping on your hard read, do you?
    • Every time I see this argument, it's almost always the same examples: Bob-ombs, Smash Balls, Hammers, Assist Trophies...
    • Individual disruptive items can be turned off for a reason, and the old excuse of being unable to disable explosive containers no longer applies - this isn't Melee anymore.
  • We tested items in previous games and they didn't work out, so they won't work here either.
    • While I don't have much experience with the Melee or Brawl scenes, I have yet to find any evidence that items were tested with any nuance beyond a global on/off toggle.
    • Items weren't really tested at all in Smash 4 largely out of tradition (besides the rare ISP side-event), and outside of Nintendo's tournaments, Ultimate seems to be following the same pattern.
To be fair, Nintendo chose to include the absolute worst items possible for their Ultimate Opens (Smash Balls, AT's, explosives? Really?), with the only acceptable ones being Mr. Saturn and the Banana Peel. There are so many better items they could have chosen instead (raccoon leaf, fire flower, boomerang, killer eye, etc).

As a rule of thumb, any item that activates on contact or hit should be banned on principle due to the random nature of item spawning (thus avoiding the bob-omb issue). Banning other items is more subjective (stuff like Hammers and AT's probably should be banned since they're so hard to play around for how strong they are, but others like the ray gun or boomerang are much better balanced in this regard).

I could make similar arguments for the (imo pitifully small) stage lists, but I won't waste my breath here (yet at least). My point is that a league like this will only happen if Nintendo and the TO's meet halfway; Nintendo has to do away with the jank stuff that clearly doesn't work, but the TO's also have to loosen up substantially on what they consider competitively acceptable.
I can pretty much get behind this. I'm not a big Pokemon player, but to my understanding, those official tournaments play by pretty different rules than the actual competitive Smogon rulesets. Not catastrophically different, but they're still around.

A Smash Pro League can gain a lot of traction if they put that the right marketing minds behind it. This community already has it's own convention.
 
#20
Qualk Qualk b2jammer b2jammer I know we are speaking hypothetically, but a huge amount of strategic depth comes out of stage selection. Randomizing a limited stage list is still not competitive and not something that the scene would likely compromise on.
 
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