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The Incredible Fall of Smash Bros.

Nikhil Kalro

Late in November, Nintendo sent the Super Smash Bros. community into a frenzy when they canceled Smash World Tours’ (SWT) license to operate Smash Bros. events in its name.

smash bros swt 2021

Image Credit: Smash World Tour/Robert Paul

Super Smash Bros. is one of Nintendo’s flagship video game titles, and there has been a tournament scene involving Smash Bros. games for around 20 years.  However, Nintendo was never a big part of the tournament scene.

Most of the tournaments were organized by independent organizations like SWT. A strong grassroots community powered all the interactions between members, and this community was responsible for setting up most of the events and tournaments. Because of this camaraderie, the community didn’t need Nintendo’s help to organize these events, but needed Nintendo’s permission to operate these events, and could use the funds from Nintendo to help sustain these events.

Nintendo Seemed to Have Changed

Nintendo took a big u-turn in 2021 when they decided to provide licenses for these events. Smash Bros. could now officially be considered an esport. This came as a big shock to the Smash community, not only because Nintendo had been indifferent to the Smash Bros. community and tournament scene in the past, but because they had also made cease-and-desist orders that would lead to the shutting down of tournaments.

What was also noticeable here was Nintendo’s public approval of Panda Global, who are one of the popular organizations in the Smash Bros. tournament scene. They organize the Panda Cup, which is one of the most highly-anticipated tournaments in the community calendar. At the time, SWT were expecting another cease-and-desist order, but to the surprise of the Smash Bros. community, it looked like they were actually advocating for an esport scene.

Nintendo would argue that the game, as they are played by those in the Smash Bros. tournament scene, was not being played as the company had intended. The game, as played in these tournaments, encourages the exploitation of glitches, deliberate damage of hardware for advantages, and disabling of the many available features.

There was clearly a fundamental difference in how the games were perceived by the creators and consumers. The Smash Bros. community’s ideological differences and informal setting also led to a lack of oversight within the scene, leading to repeated instances of sexual misconduct.

In 2020, there was a larger dive into sexual misconduct within the video game industry as part of the broader #SpeakingOut and #MeToo movements, and the Smash Bros. community was not excluded from this. Cinnamon “Cinnpie” Dunson, a popular member of the Smash community, was alleged to have participated in a sexual relationship with 14-year-old Puppeh when she was 24 years old.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if Nintendo wanted to distance themselves from all the baggage that comes with a community that have run things in their own way for two decades. Whatever the case may be, Nintendo’s decision to finally integrate themselves into this scene was received by everyone who belonged to this community as a big win. This didn’t last for long, of course.

Nintendo’s Decision Was Shocking, But Not a Surprise

When Nintendo sent SWT a cease-and-desist order towards the end of November, it was sent without any warning. SWT put out a long blog post suggesting that they believed that the two were finally starting to reconcile their relationship prior to this latest cease-and-desist.

Connecting over 6,400 live events worldwide, with over 325,000 in-person entrants, was seen as a sign of the progress made by SWT since entering into a partnership with Nintendo. According to SWT, the prize pool of $250,000 for the championship and a proposed prize pool of $350,000 for the same in 2023 was also apparently on the cards.

For SWT, the biggest issue since has been the financial implications of this cancellation. This won’t just affect the staff who help organize this tournament, but the players who were expected to take part in these tours as well.

According to the blog post, Nintendo had promised SWT that the license offered to Panda last year was not exclusive to them. In fact, the blog post states that Nintendo were aware of SWT’s efforts to not infringe on Nintendo’s rules regarding game modifications.

Since the announcement, one SWT spokesperson, Aiden Calvin, declared that he will never attend an event organized by Panda and Nintendo. He also suggested that Nintendo was looking to control the esports scene through Panda. Panda, of course, is the other big stakeholder in this drama.

Panda’s CEO Resigns

Dr. Alan Bunney, who was the Panda Cup CEO, resigned from his position in early December, and he isn’t the only one to have left the organization. The Panda Cup final has also been postponed in the aftermath of the shutting down of SWT.

Popular support has been directed towards SWT from within the community, which is why there was little sympathy for Dr. Bunney when he tweeted: “I’ve stepped down as CEO of Panda to protect the safety and wellbeing of the team. My statement (with evidence) is coming.” The caption for this tweet came along with a photo suggesting that SWT had lied to him and that BTS leadership had jeopardized the community.

With no CEO, players leaving the tournament, and others leaving the organization, Nintendo’s decision to back Panda during all of this seems to have backfired. To settle things down, Panda have since consulted externally and formed an Interim Management Committee. One of the things that doesn’t quite add up is Dr. Bunney’s tweet and Panda’s tweet from their official Twitter account.

Where Dr. Bunney has had no trouble alleging that the SWT had lied, Panda have taken a more diplomatic stance. Panda have stated that they were surprised by Nintendo’s cancellation of SWT, that there have been a lot of accusations leveled against Dr. Bunney that don’t paint the correct picture, and that they’re doing everything in their power to rectify the situation. In a sense, Panda haven’t taken any stance in their statement, and are just hoping for the storm to pass before any big decisions are taken.  One person that isn’t helping them rectify the situation smoothly is popular YouTuber and streamer Ludwig Ahgren.

Picking Up the Pieces

One person who seems to have benefited from all of this is Ahgren. A bit of a knight in shining armor throughout this entire episode, Ahgren has never felt more loved by the Smash community.

“Genuinely looking forward to see your evidence,” responded Ahgren to Dr. Bunney’s tweet. His response was clearly sarcastic, and he announced the Scuffed World Tour, also known as SWT, event taking place on Dec 18, 2022– the same day the Panda Cup finale was supposed to take place.

All of the proceeds from the event went to the SWT organizers, and many Smash Bros. players who were supposed to take part in the Panda Cup instead decided to join the Scuffed World Tour. Ahgren’s stance is clearly in opposition to Nintendo’s and Panda’s.

In many ways, he represents the fans that form this community. He is one of the few people within this community who has the power to retaliate against the cancellation of SWT, and he’s exercised that option. As long as Nintendo remain as vague as they have about their reasons, fans are unlikely to believe anything they have to say on this matter.

Nintendo’s statement mentioned the health of the players and how playing standards are of great significance. None of this tackled the heart of the matter, which is typical of Nintendo as far as Smash Bros. esports is concerned.

Nintendo might just be regretting that they ever got involved in the first place. Unless something drastic happens, Panda will take a while to recover. Panda was supposed to be the conduit through whom Nintendo could control the Smash Bros. esports operation. SWT was mostly doing fine for many years before Nintendo’s help.

All SWT asked for was Nintendo’s support and permission to go along with their tournaments. As long as Smash Bros. exists as a game, so will the community that has formed around SWT. As long as this community exists, their support will almost always be directed towards SWT over any other stakeholder in this situation.