As Nintendo shuts down a tournament, Smash fans unite under the #FreeMelee

Reset the clock, because the Super Smash Bros. Melee community and Nintendo are at loggerheads again.

For those who follow the wider competitive fighting game eSports scene, that’s a semi-regular occurrence. Attempting to get going with the MLG, fighting over which Smash games are selected for Evo, even dealing with abuse within the community – the Smash scene always seems to be going to war over something. This time, Nintendo is the one at fault.

So, a bit of background. ‘The Big House’ has been a mainstay of the Smash tournament scene for many years. In the midst of a global pandemic the tournament organisers did what many have done with games like Street Fighter, Killer Instinct and their kin – they took the tournament online.

For Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, this is relatively simple. The game has online functionality, and while it is classic Nintendo-level online – that is to say, lacking features in places – it’s serviceable enough to run an online tournament with a bit of organizational jiggery-pokery. But the Smash Bros. community has always been split between the new games and the old – and so something had to be done about Melee.

This is where things get complicated. There’s an excellent fan-created mod for the GameCube emulator Dolphin allowing Melee to be played online with silky smooth rollback netcode. Anybody into fighters knows that rollback is the gold standard for online, and in truth the mod, Slippi, was really built with Super Smash Bros. Melee in mind. So the organizers of The Big House decided to put together an online pandemic-safe Melee tournament using the mod.

You can imagine what happened next. In a statement issued to Kotaku, Nintendo explained that it contacted the organizers of The Big House and asked them to cancel the Melee tournament due to its use of the Slippi mod framework, which requires an emulator and thus a ripped copy of Melee to use. The organizers refused, Nintendo says, so the company lawyers broke out a cease and desist letter, forcing the overall cancellation of the event – meaning the Melee issue took down the perfectly serviceable Smash Ultimate tournament also.

For someone like me, primarily a Street Fighter fan with a passing interest in competitive Smash Bros, the following outcry was predictable. I’ve seen it all before. When Evo announced that it would no longer host a Melee tournament in favor of just Smash Ultimate, to glance at Melee Twitter or Evo’s replies was as if the world was ending.

This is relatively alien to me – in Street Fighter, the new game comes out and we move on, unless the new game is so bad that it warrants rolling…

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