In a community-shaking move, Nintendo is partnering with Panda Global for the first officially licensed series of Super Smash Bros. eSports tournaments in North America. Nintendo is not only supporting official Super Smash Bros. tournaments but events for the GameCube fan-favorite Super Smash Bros. Melee, as well.
Nintendo of America announced the new Smash Bros tournament series today. In a tweet, the company said, “Ready your A-game, Super #SmashBros competitors. We’ve partnered with @PandaGlobal to launch the first officially licensed Super Smash Bros. championship circuit in North America, coming 2022!”
Confirmed. Ready your A-game, Super #SmashBros competitors. We’ve partnered with @PandaGlobal to launch the first officially licensed Super Smash Bros. championship circuit in North America, coming 2022! #SmashBrosUltimate #SmashBrosMelee https://t.co/3WKbEYrMH2
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) November 18, 2021
In a press release, Nintendo’s senior director of product marketing Bill Trinen called the partnership with Panda Global “the next step in Nintendo’s efforts to create a more consistent, fun and welcoming competitive environment for our players and fans.”
To call the Smash community’s relationship with Nintendo “shaky” would be an understatement. Professional players who devote their lives and careers to being the best at Smash have often been at odds with Nintendo over the years, making today’s announcement a huge step to healing those wounds.
The most famous example is back in 2013 when Nintendo attempted to shut down Melee from appearing at Evo. When that failed, Nintendo tried to block live streams of the event After fan outrage, Nintendo instantly reversed the decision, and the Melee event took place as planned. However, many players felt Nintendo had played their cards, and from that day forward much of the Smash community believed Nintendo was against them.
As the years went on, Nintendo dabbled in supporting Smash events in some official capacity. From the Smash invitational at E3, where pro players were invited to try out the new Smash game ahead of release, to Nintendo’s sponsorship of smaller tournaments and online events. However, the Smash community didn’t feel it was the support they were looking for.
“From the public looking in, we had some game demos or booths from Nintendo at a few events, and maybe a few tweets about the events. No huge prize pots or organization of any kind though,” Christina “Chia” Korsak, a longtime member of the Smash Bros. community, said in an interview with IGN last year.
Korsak went on to say Nintendo-sponsored events led to different problems, like not using popular modded versions of Smash, broadcast restrictions for licensed music tracks, and more.
In 2020, it seemed the divide between Nintendo and the Smash community was only widening, as the fighting game community dealt with allegations of sexual misconduct involving players, organizers, and commentators.
At the time, Nintendo issued a statement to IGN, saying, “At Nintendo, we are deeply disturbed by the allegations raised against certain members of the competitive gaming community. They are absolutely impermissible. We want to make it clear that we condemn all acts of violence, harassment, and exploitation against anyone and that we stand with the victims.”
Later in 2020, multiple Nintendo game communities spoke out against Nintendo, vocally criticizing the company’s approach to canceling events featuring games including Smash Bros. and Splatoon. The backlash came after Nintendo served a cease-and-desist to the Smash Bros. Melee ‘Big House’ tournament, which is one of the biggest events for the scene. The cease-and-desist focused on the tournament’s use of Melee’s unofficial Slippi mod, which lets players play Melee online. Eventually, The Big House canceled the event entirely. The cancelation led to the #freemelee movement, a social media movement protesting Nintendo’s decision.
As tensions continued to boil, it seemed some hardcore Smash players were gearing up to jump ship from Smash and latch onto Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl, a recently-released platform fighter inspired by Melee. The new game was attractive because it came with a fresh developer and publisher devoid of the baggage associated with Nintendo and the Smash community’s notoriously strained relationship.
It remains to be seen how this officially licensed circuit will differ from other events Nintendo has sponsored in the past, but the simple fact that Nintendo is acknowledging Melee at all is already a big change. Generally, Nintendo only supports the latest Smash game’s scene, which is currently 2018’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Panda Global is a professional eSports organization, and Nintendo’s choice to partner with them may represent a more serious attempt to support the competitive scene, rather than organizing everything on their own. In a press release, Nintendo and Panda Global announced that additional details including official rules, event dates, and prizing will be revealed in the future.
While we wait for official details on what this partnership will entail, Smash pros are already reacting to the bombshell announcement. Responding to Nintendo’s Tweet, Melee player Juan ‘hungrybox’ Debiedma called today, “the first day of a beautiful future.”
“Thank you for acknowledging competitive Melee and for providing support to both scenes,” hungrybox wrote. “I’m looking forward to what can be accomplished with both parties working together. This is gonna be something very special.”
Today is the first day of a beautiful future.
Thank you for acknowledging competitive Melee and for providing support to both scenes.
I’m looking forward to what can be accomplished with both parties working together.
This is gonna be something very special. 🙌
— hungrybox (@LiquidHbox) November 18, 2021
Still, some players are skeptical about the announcement, given Nintendo’s rocky relationship with the community over the years.
“I trust that Panda Global has the best interests for the community at heart,” Melee player Hugo ‘HugS’ Gonzalez wrote in a statement to IGN. “Nintendo has proven otherwise over the years. It’s good news if executed correctly, but I’ll be waiting on further details.”
We’ll have to wait and see how Nintendo’s officially licensed circuit pans out. For example, there could still be disagreements on Melee mods like Slippi and 20XX, or ruleset decisions the community may not agree with. Still, Nintendo is extending the olive branch to a community it has consistently clashed with, which will certainly turn into a fascinating chapter in Smash Bros. history.
Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN. You can find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.