Press Play to Start: Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl shows who really has the power in esports

Now that we’re about halfway through our first in-person semester in a while, I feel compelled to say:

I’m so happy we’re getting a fall break. 

Was university life always this taxing? Did online classes put me out of shape? Regardless, I gladly welcome this four-day weekend. I can’t wait to just sit back and catch up on my sleep.

That and watching old and new professional Super Smash Bros. players duke it out Saturday in “Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl.”

Yeah, I know, more Smash Bros. I promise I’ll tone it down after this column. Still, while this event may just sound like a run-of-the-mill kind of deal, the thought process behind it is worth some consideration. After all, what are a bunch of professional Smash players doing playing a Nickelodeon game?

Short answer: To spite Nintendo. 

Nowadays, it’s extremely rare to find an esports community at odds with the company who developed the game that brought the community together. This is mostly because companies try to be an active part of the professional scene of their games, promoting and even sometimes organizing large scale events with bountiful prizes.

But anyone who knows the tiniest bit about the pro Smash scene knows that’s not the case for Nintendo. In fact, many may even describe their involvement as detrimental. After all, the company has tried to shut down tournaments, limit streaming of it’s content and make Evo, the largest fighting game tournament in the world, remove “Super Smash Bros. Melee” from its event roster in 2013. 

When you’re a pro faced with those actions, it’s only natural to feel angry. 

Still, there’s not much athletes can actually do about it. Sure, they might go on social media and rant to their followers about this injustice, but at the end of the day, they keep playing the same game. Part of the reason is because they have accumulated years of experience and developed a bond with the actual video game. But in the case of “Super Smash Bros.”, it’s mostly because there are not that many similar games to play. 

To quickly illustrate, if a “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” player was faced with the same dilemma, they could always just boot up “Valorant.” While there would be an adaptation phase, the overall skill set required to play the game is easily transferable, since the game is similar to “Counter-Strike.” 

It’s the same thing with “League of Legends” and “Dota 2.” In both cases, a professional athlete would be able to jump from one game to another and still do relatively well. Not only would their skills translate, but they would still participate in a thriving esports environment, as both alternatives have a deep (or at least, optimistically emerging) professional community. 

That is not the case for Smash players. Not only are there few platform fighting games overall, but there is virtually no other game of this genre with a professional scene. While there are a couple of possible explanations as to why, one of the main reasons is because no other game has the same amount of recognizable and widely adored characters as “Super Smash Bros.” Unless you are a huge media company with dozens of characters, odds are no one will want to watch your game being played. 

That is where Nickelodeon steps in.

Seemingly out of thin air, Nickelodeon announced it was making its own platform fighting game, filled with characters from its shows spanning all the way back to the ‘90s. Not only that, but Nickelodeon  also hired game company “Ludosity” to develop it, who already has experience with the technicalities of these types of games.

In an early proof of its skill, Nickelodeon announced that the game would have “rollback netcode,” a function that effectively minimizes online lag that even “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” does not have. 

So when the game finally came out last week, Smash players knew exactly what to do.

In what can only be described as a massive demonstration of willpower, various elements of the Smash community banded together to raise, from the ground up, “Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl’s” viability as an esports title. 

In just one week, professional team “Panda” had already held a charity tournament, featuring various famous streamers connected to the Smash Bros. scene. This Saturday, Twitch streamer Ludwig will be hosting his own championship, this time with actual professional athletes from both “Super Smash Bros. Melee” and “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” 

Is the game perfect? Definitely not. As it currently stands, characters do not even have voices. 

But there is something to be said about the colossal efforts that the Smash community is putting into making this game widely respected. While it is too early to properly judge the impact of their actions, we can still draw some conclusions simply because this is happening in the first place. 

For gaming companies, this serves as a cautionary tale that shows the importance of being aware of your fans’ needs. For athletes, it demonstrates how a community can go a long way in legitimizing new elements and making them common practice in the professional scene. For us viewers, it proves that, more than anything else, esports main driving force has and always will be its players. 

Guilherme Guerreiro is a junior writing about esports. His column, “Press Play to Start,” runs every other Wednesday.