Geoffrey Niu takes a look at Birmingham’s burgeoning esports scene, and takes us through why competitive Smash is more than meets the eye
One of the best selling Wii titles of all time was Super Smash Bros. Brawl, released in 2008, and undoubtedly holds onto many of our fondest childhood gaming experiences. What was effectively the realisation of bashing your Mario and Link action figures together created the perfect storm of high-octane chaos, backed up by Nintendo’s exceptional franchise power. But for the competitive Esports community, those of us who take the game a little too seriously, it is the previous title in the franchise, Melee, that has stood the test of time. Released in 2001, it continues to be one of the most beloved competitive fighting games in history, with a rich narrative and history, beloved players and legendary storylines. Over the years the scene has been met with disapproval from Nintendo and even Smash Bros. series creator, Masahiro Sakurai, for taking what was meant to be a party game so seriously. But how has Melee lasted 17 years? It has a smaller roster and older graphics – why wouldn’t we just play Brawl, or the newest title, Smash for Wii U?
Well, it isn’t simple nostalgia. Due to several oversights in development, Melee has a plethora of advanced techniques that are regularly used in competitive play, which makes the game blindingly fast and mechanically demanding. This gameplay requires so many inputs a second that it requires old CRT TVs to play the game on, since the hardware is so outdated, for minimal lag. This kind of gameplay was removed in all future instalments by design, leaving Melee as the most complex and unique entry in the franchise by accident.
Here in Birmingham, the Melee scene was bolstered by some of our own at the University. In early 2017 a small team, including myself, began hosting tournaments at Selly Oak’s own Bristol Pear. On July 8th we held the seventh instalment of our series, Short Hop Pear, which reached 70 competitors travelling from around the country. The top talent of the Midlands was in attendance, in veteran players Hao and Willz, and also of the country – we had attracted the 5th ranked player in the UK, Frenzy, who was highly favoured to win.
The first event of the day was Doubles, a Double Elimination 2v2 format where each player has four lives, and must work together with their partner to take all eight of their oppositions. Frenzy, and his teammate Reb, were upset early by Kabs and FileSmile, who played the unusual combo of Zelda and Peach. Undeterred, Frenzy and Reb powered through Losers Side of the bracket all the way to Grand Finals, where London team Mordo and CptNebula awaited them. In two quick best-of-five sets, Frenzy and Reb reset the bracket and took First place, dropping only a single game to the London duo.
In Singles, every player enters one of eight Round Robin Pool, and the top four of each progress to a Top 32 Double Elimination bracket. Midlands veteran Willz, a Captain Falcon player, fought his way to Winners Final where he faced Frenzy’s Falco. In a one-sided bout, Frenzy knocked Willz into Losers Bracket with a blisteringly fast 3-0. There, Willz faced long time friend and rival Hao, a Fox player and best in the Midlands. Coming off of a tense 3-2 against Mordo, where Hao staged a long fought comeback after dropping the first two games, Hao knocked Willz out at 3rd to confront Frenzy from Losers Side. Despite his best attempts, Hao was completely shut out by Frenzy’s crisp and calculated play, resulting in a 3-0 and crowning Frenzy the winner, who dropped zero games for the entire Singles Bracket.
This event was our largest and most successful yet, and there are certainly more lined up for the future – if you’re interested in coming to a future tournament, feel free to find me on Facebook, or through the University of Birmingham Esports Society.
This entire event was streamed live on Twitch.tv by Team Phoenix, and if you’re interested in watching you can find the VODs here.
If you’re interested in learning more about Melee’s grassroots history, I highly recommend The Smash Brothers Documentary, available for free on YouTube, and this video essay on Melee as a Spectator Sport.