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Feature: Nintendo's Smash Bros. Invitational Could Be Just The Beginning For Contests and eSports

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Isaiah TriForce Johnson tells us about Nintendo's competitive thinking

When Nintendo revealed its plans for E3 2014, much attention was unsurprisingly paid to its decision — for the second year running — to forego a live presentation in favour of a "Digital Event". Yet only a narrow focus would lead to a conclusion that Nintendo won't be running exciting live events this year, and the Super Smash Bros. Invitational is undoubtedly an exciting prospect; thousands of fans are set to fill the NOKIA Theatre in LA and some top players will put the Wii U version through its paces in a "celebration of all things Super Smash Bros."

It's a fresh approach to providing a live show during the famous event, and along with other activities means Nintendo is showing positive intent for this year's festivities. The decision to stage a tournament in this manner is an intriguing one, however, as it shows a willingness from the big N to tap into the competitive gaming scene that still has much love for the Smash Bros. franchise, and brings to mind promotions and contests of Nintendo in its 8- and 16-bit pomp — let's not forget events of that period such as Nintendo World Championships. To do so at the most high-profile games industry event of the year is a bold move, but does it mean Nintendo is ready to get back into the competitive gaming scene in a big way and draw out its fans to more major public events?

With assistance from Empire Arcadia CEO and Founder Isaiah TriForce Johnson and some exclusive excerpts from an interview he conducted with Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime, we consider whether we could be on the cusp of a new era of competitive Nintendo gaming and moves into eSports.

Nintendo, whether through its own fault or otherwise, endured some negative publicity last year when it briefly blocked the inclusion of Super Smash Bros. Melee at Evo 2013, with the likely cause being a crossing of wires and Nintendo being initially cautious. A storm online did play a role, along with common sense and gamers — including Johnson — getting in touch with Nintendo, in a reversal of that decision; this was especially important as the event was raising money for charity, and it was a roaring success. In a sign of Nintendo embracing such events, however, there has been no such hitch this time with Melee already confirmed for EVO 2014.

Isaiah TriForce Johnson, as you may know from our interview earlier this year, heads up his own development company and competitive eSports team called Empire Arcadia, including a strong focus on Super Smash Bros. competition through players such as Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman. Johnson has a solid relationship with Nintendo of America, meanwhile, and took the opportunity to speak to Reggie Fils-Aime at E3 last year. In an excerpt of that interview that he's provided to us, he raised the question of Nintendo doing more to support dedicated fans and those involved in competitive gaming.

We still do competitive gaming events. New York residents are familiar with the competitive events we have at our flagship Nintendo World store. We also hold competitions at events like PAX and Comic Con, where attendees compete to be the best at one particular game. Three years ago, we ran the Wii Games Summer 2010 event, which challenged a variety of different players to compete across a number of different games. We had individual age groups as well as families competing. We’re always looking for opportunities to engage with Nintendo fans.

That is, perhaps, a rather safe answer taken on its own. On 28th October 2013, however, Johnson spoke with Fils-Aime once again at a #ImwithReggie event at the Nintendo World Store in New York. The topic of competitive gaming — and Smash Bros. — came up again, and Fils-Aime diverted to talk of what games would fit a current day Nintendo World Championship, subsequently hitting up Twitter for feedback.

Johnson has told us that he made clear that re-entering the competitive scene in a meaningful way would be a valuable activity for Nintendo in fostering a stronger relationship with fans. After Fils-Aime stated then that the company would "look into it" we're now gearing up for a Smash Bros. event to be streamed worldwide during E3; whether related to this conversation or not, it shows one thing — Nintendo is exploring these options.

Johnson, for his part, has highlighted to us that in a competitive gaming context an 'Invitational' is typically a warm-up for bigger things. Dreams of a World Championship in 2015, for example, shouldn't be casually dismissed.

For those that follow competitive gaming and eSports closely, and also happen to be Nintendo fans, the E3 event will undoubtedly be a highlight. Importantly, however, it provides an opportunity for a wider audience to see and become involved in competitive gaming, which is clearly part of Nintendo's goal in arranging this competition. Some may hear the term eSports and be scared away by footage of teams playing titles such as Call of Duty and screaming abuse at each other, yet that doesn't have to be the only representation of the field. Tournaments of fighting games can have a different feel, depending on the game and its participants, and there's little doubt that if any company and its games can bridge the gap between old-school open-entry competitions such as the old Nintendo World Championships and the paid competitive scene, it's Nintendo.

As a figure heavily involved in the current eSports scene, with a focus on fighting games, we asked Johnson about what he'd like Nintendo to do in future beyond the Smash Bros. Invitational, and what it would mean to gamers such as those in his Empire Arcadia team; a key message, again, is that Nintendo is already taking steps to embrace the competitive gaming scene.

If you look closely throughout the last 25 years Nintendo has always supported competitive gaming for their games. It may not have been in the capacity of what other eSports platforms provide but when have you ever known Nintendo for following other standards? Now that they've made it apparent that they are interested during the latest developments, I would really like to see Nintendo support new and current eSports ventures like the MVG Open (Most Valuable Gaming League) which is creating a new entry level platform for competitors and teams that are looking to go the professional route in eSports. I would also like to see Nintendo continue their support with existing staple eSports leagues like MLG (Major League Gaming) who has supported the Super Smash Bros. Community when none of the other platforms gave the game a good look.

The opportunity for my Team Empire Arcadia and most importantly its Super Smash Bros. Players Mew2King and Armada is a dream that we've all been waiting for. We even have veteran traditional Street Fighter 4 Players like Dieminion who use to play Melee wanting to return to Smash when the new game comes out. Ever since Nintendo granted permission for Leagues and Competitive Circuits to use their game, you've started to see other eSports teams beside Empire Arcadia, like Team Liquid, Cloud 9, Curse etc. pick up top Smash Bros. Champions. "This is just the beginning, mark my words it will be Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series that will open the flood gates for fighting games in eSports.

If Nintendo is to support competitive gaming and eSports, it should perhaps take the opportunity to unite those from that scene with gamers at home. If the E3 event brings us all together in celebrating the series and enjoying seeing the new Wii U version in action, the possibilities for connected online experiences in the future are evident. In recent games Nintendo has embraced online communities and allowed gamers to setup their own tournaments — Mario Golf: World Tour and Mario Kart 8 are examples — so the opportunity for players around the world to take on eSports champions seems too good to miss. Activities such as these could drive social networking and online buzz around the Nintendo name, and Johnson agrees that it's an area full of promise.

The potential for Nintendo to expand in the online realm via eSport for things such as DLC is immense. Competition has been a strategic formula for giving video games longer shelf life. Proof to that is Super Smash Bros. Melee is still here after a decade and is considered the standard competition until the new instalment launches. MLG has a existing platform on Gamebattles that allows for online play and I can see that in a better environment for the upcoming instalment to the Super Smash Bros. series. I think Nintendo also have their own agenda and will go big with this for sure.

We will see, once E3 is finished, how far Nintendo is keen to take its support for the competitive gaming and eSports scene, not just in North America but around the world. Other regional teams do their parts, too, with Nintendo UK running its own Pokémon X & Y tournaments recently. It's a way to promote brands, yes, but to also bring gamers together to share their common hobby and passion.

That, in a nutshell, is an area that Nintendo can utilise to reach gamers of all kinds. There are opportunities, through its key franchises and events such as the Smash Bros. Invitational, to excite gamers not just through major reveals, but simply by providing a common platform in which we can enjoy gaming at its best. The upcoming event will give us all a chance to watch some of the best Smash players duke it out, and allows gamers to revel in the skills of other gamers. There's a possibility, with the modern connected era and online functionality in games, to go further and truly bring the world's gamers together in competition for all levels. The pros should be playing Nintendo games in streams watched by thousands, but alongside that we should all be playing each other, and Nintendo can provide the banner and infrastructure to give this play more life than random online matches with strangers.

Perhaps it's idealistic to think we can return to an era where millions of gamers can get excited about competitions that support players of all levels. Yet Pokémon seems to pull it off, and we'd bet there'll be plenty of excited viewers when the Smash Bros. battle goes down in LA. These are areas ripe for expansion, and events of all kinds can help bring Nintendo the hype and attention that its games deserve.

We know it's listening and open to ideas, so perhaps fans can use the E3 Invitational to show the company that it's not only a much-wanted event, but that it should just be the beginning.

We'd like to thank Isaiah TriForce Johnson for his assistance with this article. He'll be chatting about these topics on Twitter via @emp_triforce_gm

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User Comments (35)



Jazzer94 said:

There is so much potential in Nintendo having tournaments for Mario Kart and Smash Bros it does seem like they are taking their first steps towards this.



Hy8ogen said:

I was never a fan a smash bros. The inclusion of Megaman sold me on it.



Dark-Link73 said:

I'm so excited about the tournament feature on Mario Kart, I just wish the Wii version would've had such features (or my site were to be active still). When I used to have my own Nintendo website I used to have Brawl and MK Wii tournaments where I would give out real games as prices via the Wii Shop.

Good times, good times.



Nintenjoe64 said:

They really need to make some of their own games more competition friendly. MK8 looks like it is getting everything it needs but things like Wii Sports Club are limited to just random matches. Golf is perfect for a huge stroke play tournament where nobody has to wait for their opponents turn and Tennis needs the option for round robin tournaments because there is almost no reason to play Tennis once you've got to level 10*.

Can't wait to terrorise the NL community when MK8 is released.



Meaty-cheeky said:

This is a really good thing Nintendo is doing, and I agree with you @Jazzer94 that if Nintendo promotes tournaments for hardcore players for Super Smash & Mario Kart this will hopefully really please and attract Core gamers to Wii U, and create a positive media buzz for Wii U as well.



Starchaser02 said:

This is what i have been waiting for mario kart seems more competitive before and smash is going back to it's roots it will only be a fun times if they keep this up for other games.



Peach64 said:

More official tournaments are great, but is this really a fit for E3? E3 is not a convention, it's a press event. It should be getting websites and magazines to write about your products, and I doubt many are going to be filling pages with news about a Smash Bros tournament at the same time games are being announced right, left and centre. This sort of thing would make more sense to me a few weeks before the game's release.



NintyMan said:

Nintendo really is appealing to the competitive side and I approve of the Smash Bros. Invitational. It would be nice if Mario Kart 8 got something like this down the road.

@Nintendojoe64: Well, there is Mario Golf: World Tour on 3DS, and Nintendo is planning on making online tournaments for that game for a long time. You also don't have to wait on your opponent's turn in that game.



Yorumi said:

I would like to see them supporting it more but they're going to need to rethink their design goals if they want to get serious. Many times they do things specifically to handicap casual players. The problem is it ends up watering down the game and narrowing the gap between skill and luck. So competitions then mostly come down to luck. Smash brawl was made specifically with that in mind, they felt melee rewarded skill too much.

Mario kart is similar, they way items are rewarded and the super powers many of the items the back of the pack get are specifically designed to punish skilled drivers. They've made little effort to allow for the widest pokemon selection possible. Often times things are so unbalanced that in a serious competition there's realistically 20-25 pokemon to choose from for team selection.

So if they really want to embrace esports then they need to go all out, make the games easy to play difficult to master, and balance them as best as possible. Stop pretending people who casually play the game should be anywhere near the same level as those who dedicate their lives to it.



unrandomsam said:

@Peach64 I suspect they will get lots of coverage about how they are not doing what they are supposed to. (Using the old marketing principle that is there is no such thing as bad publicity).



Hortencio said:

Agreed. Since Nintendo sometimes/always misses their advertisement opportunities for big games (as least here in NA), these small, hardcore tourneys could be a great way to drum up interest via word-of-mouth, youtube, and even Nintendo's Miiverse (or whatever the second screen of the U is all about). Kart and Smash are the staples right now and for arguably the next year, hopefully Nintendo can ride them through the storm!



MeloMan said:

It's about time Nintendo is promoting the tourney love potential of SSB... it's LONG overdue.



therealmario101 said:

If this DOES open the flood gates for Nintendo hosted Smash Tournaments, I'll be the happiest Smasher on the face of the Earth. Can NOT wait to try out Rock, Greninja, and Mac!



DualWielding said:

Question is, what are they going to be playing in the tournament.... I don't know SSB but my undesrtanding is that competitive fans hate Brawl, so if they play Melee Nintendo would be accepting Brawl was inferior, but top competitive players may refuse to play Brawl (or the match end up decided by random tripping which would anger people) if they play the soon to be released 3DS version it may not be too excited for viewers due to small resolution of graphics...... if they play the Wii U it may look bad since the game sounds like its far from finished



JaxonH said:

Been seeing alot of positive changes from Nintendo lately. More than I can count actually. I'm cautious to say this but, I actually think they're listening and getting in touch. I'm very optimistic for what forward movements we'll be seeing from Nintendo in the coming years.



TwilightOniAngel said:

@Fireninjastar Wow did you just tell @Hy8ogen to rethink his choices as a gamer just because he is not a fan of smash bros. Wow not everyone is going to love every game that you like. Thats life i dont like the last of us or CoD that does not mean im not a gamer.



bobbypaycheque said:

I would love to have the opportunity to compete at more than just smaller tournaments held and organized by local stores.



Genesaur said:

This isn't exactly on-topic, but I wonder if they might bundle the new Smash with a Pro Controller, maybe in a special edition, of sorts. I occurred to me that I'm gonna need to get more for four-player Smash. No one plays with the Wii remote. Is that even a selectable control option in the new one?



luke88 said:

I don't play COD online anymore, I gave up after the first Black ops, but I am playing a fair bit of Battlefield 4 online at the moment; when I'm not playing wiiu or 3ds. I find the negative representation of fps online components on this site mildly irritating and not at all accurate. Several times I've seen comments from contributors focusing on people that get a bit carried away when they play fps games online.I haven't seen the footage of COD players mentioned in this article. No doubt stuff like that happens a lot and it is annoying but that is what the mute button is for, and there are also loads of normal, cool, people playing online that are up for talking tactics, working together etc. It can be a great experience, one of gaming's best, in fact.

Sorry for the rant, I do love this site; honest!



ICHIkatakuri said:

Being in a competitive game of smash or mario kart broadcast live would be awful. I would have to think of nice (swear) words. Esports is a good way of Nintendo getting their hardcore crowd back, they just need to make more games which can be used that way going forward.



neohopeSTF said:

to be honest this is nothing special Nintendo already does tours for Pokemon so tournaments aren't new to them.



ericwithcheese2 said:

Looking back a year later, I think the Smash Bros Invitational was a success. It got a lot of press, gave Nintendo a live presence at the event that they didn't have since they didn't do a traditional press conference, and generated a lot of buzz.



Pandaman said:

I disagree with triforce that this is a sign of competitive gaming to come from Nintendo. While this new event seems like an about face at a glance, how is it realistically different than anything Nintendo typically does to promote their products?

Mall events, pokemon mall tournaments, best buy play in's, smash invitational....nintendo does these things ALL the time, and they have never, ever resulted in a multi-tiered, organized expenditure that the e-sports community truly desires and necessitates to operate. This is more of just a cool promotion that Nintendo is using to solidify their brand and promote some new stuff. Not an unwise move, still cool, but hardly a sign of things to come.

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