“Come on”: Saskatoon campus Smash scene set to show their moves in new league

By in Features/Sports & Health

In the genre of fighting games, the Super Smash Bros. franchise stands out. Health bars are replaced with percentage meters, and the gameplay is unlike anything else that came before it. Alongside their game of choice, the community around the game also stands out. The Super Smash Bros. series began on the Nintendo 64 in 1999 and has since released Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube in 2001, Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii in 2008, and most recently, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS / Wii U in 2014, which was dubbed Smash 4 by the community in order to distinguish it from the first instalment.

The game boasts a roster of mainly Nintendo-owned characters to chose from. Each character has their own set of attacks that, when used on an opponent, will cause their damage percentage to increase. Having a higher damage percentage means that the knockback of your opponent’s attacks will affect your character more.

This knock-back effect is important, too, because unlike in most other fighting games, the only way to take out your opponent in Smash is to knock them out of the stage boundaries. This mechanic creates excitement and tension, as it is possible to take out your opponent at any time in the game, using strategic attacks from your chosen character rather than having to deplete your opponent’s health bar to eliminate them.

It wasn’t until well into the internet age that Smash had online play, so the game’s following was built on basement couches with friends and rivals sitting side by side as they played. With many other popular e-sports, it’s long been possible to compete against players from all across the globe without leaving home, but this was not the case in the early days of the competitive Smash community.

The fact that all Smash tournaments require players to be physically present has certainly shaped the e-sport. Any competitor looking to climb the ranks will likely have to travel in order to attend tournaments — be it to the next town over, across the country or abroad for an international tournament.

The localizing effect of the game has also helped shape the Smash scene here at the University of Saskatchewan. John “Jcreans” Reaney — a fourth-year arts and science student at the U of S who has been organizing and running many of the Super Smash Bros. events on campus lately — speaks on the difference that a lack of online play makes to a gaming community.

“The big difference is you gotta show up. You gotta interact with all these people. You gotta talk to them. You have to sit next to them and play for hours and hours, and it’s very personal, … which is cool, because it’s another added level of interaction and all that,” Reaney said.

Personal is the perfect word for the experience, which I discovered when I attended one of the weekly events that Reaney helped organize. These events entitled “Improving Grounds” start at 3:30 p.m. and run late into the evening every Wednesday in the International Student and Study Abroad Centre located in Lower Place Riel.

The first portion of these several- hours-long events consists of friendly games — what some might call “warm-ups.” Following these more casual games comes a tournament-style bracket that takes up the remainder of the time. Players trickle in during the casual-play period, and by the time the bracket comes around, the room is nearly full.

With nothing but pride on the line at these weekly events, the competition is fierce but not uncivil. Players are cordial to one another, and most appear to be having fun. The majority of the set-ups players bring are running Melee, be it with the original GameCube version or the Wii variant, but there are set-ups running the latest installments in the series as well.

Watching players who are very skilled and serious about the game compete at Smash Bros. made it seem like a whole different game than the version that’s played casually between friends. Ryan “Short Hoppe” Hoppe, a fourth-year computer science major, talks about the differences between casual play and competitive play in Super Smash Bros.

“First of all, I’d say the [biggest] factor is you gotta play with the rule set. Casuals — a lot of people — just do free-for-all. [They] use items and stuff like that,” Hoppe said. “We don’t like having fun, so we turn items off. Then, another component of pro-play, if you’re playing Melee, [is that] you want to learn the tech skill.”

Not using items may seem counterintuitive to some — they’re flashy and part of the game, so why not use them? Hoppe explains, however, that items can take away some of the skill-based aspects of the game.

“There’s a thing called ‘variance,’ basically, and items can add that random chance. They spawn randomly. They do different things. Some of them are really broken, and stuff like that, so it’s just for the best to have no items,” Hoppe said.

Another thing that may seem confusing to those outside the competitive scene is the persistence of Melee despite the fact that there have been two subsequent official releases in the franchise since Melee’s release in 2001. Reaney explains that this phenomenon comes from the amount of enthusiasm that the fan base has for this iteration in the series.

“They love the game, and the reason they love the game is that it’s very nuanced. Melee in particular has a lot of weird nuances that make it very fast,” Reaney said.

Reaney notes that these speed-inducing nuances allow players to pull off various actions that are mechanically difficult. However, this excitement for Melee has not totally eclipsed the rest of the series, as there is still a large fan base for the latest game.

Dylan “Pink” Voysey, a recent U of S student who attends the weekly Improving Grounds events, speaks about the community that he sees forming around the latest Smash game.

“The thing about Smash 4 is that it is so open to everyone. Our scene — we have twelve-year-olds in our scene, and we have thirty-year-olds in our scene. There’s just such a wide array of people across any spectrum [who play],” Voysey said.

The Smash 4 scene is about to expand, as SKL eSports recently announced Smash Circuit, a series of recurring events meant to bring a unified competitive Smash league to Saskatchewan.

Dylan “Edge” Edgar, the marketing and sales representative and a caster with SKL, discusses the two types of events that their circuit will consist of.

“Basically, … an A-Tier event … is going to provide points for the SKL circuit, and those points affect your standings at S-Tier events — or Smashfests,” Edgar said.

The first of these events is Smashkatoon 23, an A-Tier event that will be the first opportunity for Smash 4 players to gather points. The event is scheduled for Nov. 11 at the Sandman Hotel, and while only Smash 4 players will be able to accrue SKL points, the event will also feature Melee and a community- built mod of Brawl entitled Project M.

“At the end of the day, it’s just the Smash community that we’re looking to grow. We’re hoping that this Smash Circuit allows the better players to travel to both events,” Edgar said. “So, we might have some players travelling from Regina to Saskatoon a lot more often, because they want those A-Tier points.”

While Edgar explains that their current focus is to create a league for Saskatchewan, they do have their eyes set on potentially expanding this league to all of Western Canada. These moves by SKL represent big changes for the Smash community in Saskatchewan, and as Edgar says, SKL will be bringing a degree of polish to the events.

“We provide services that aren’t seen anywhere else. We provide the professional casting — we dress up in suits, and we have the professional equipment… We’re taking tournament organization in Western Canada to a whole new level.”

Jack Thompson / Sports & Health Editor

Graphics: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor