Opinion: Nintendo’s Smash Bros. Invitational was really bad

We know everyone is excited for Smash Bros. Ultimate. I’m excited for it too. I tried to let that hype build in me and overshadow all the negative feelings I had toward Nintendo’s Smash Bros. Invitational, but it just didn’t happen. We are now a week out from E3 and I still can’t stop thinking of all the issues with Nintendo’s little pretend tournament.

Maybe it’s because I want to see the Smash side of e-sports taken more seriously. Maybe I want Nintendo to take pro gamers more seriously. Maybe it’s because I’m a pedantic Smash Bros. snob who can’t find joy in life and refuses to play in anything but the most balanced tournament friendly matches, no items, Fox only, Final Destination.

Regardless, Nintendo’s Smash Bros. Invitational was really bad, and here’s why.

It’s just a bad tournament

Nothing about the Smash Bros. invitational seemed like a serious tournament to me. The ruleset was awful. The types of matches that were played changed from round to round. Players had to choose one of three characters to play as rather than having their choice of picks and counterpicks. There wasn’t even any sensible method for choosing stages.

I know that more casual fans will argue that Nintendo wanted to show off items, and that’s fine. Nintendo totally should have showed off Smash Bros. Ultimate as much as they liked, but if they were going to do that they needed two separate tournaments. They needed one tournament with items, one tournament without, because fighting with and without items takes two completely different skill sets. They needed to keep match size and rules consistent from match to match, that’s what makes a tournament fair.

Of course, the next counter-argument is that Nintendo wouldn’t have time for multiple tournaments. Well, tough cookies! Nintendo literally had all of E3 to show off Smash Bros. Ultimate. Their Treehouse coverage was dominated by it! They had more than enough time to show off whatever they wanted to show off without doing it in a tournament setting.

The players weren’t at their best

I’ve followed professional level Smash and let me tell you, this wasn’t professional level Smash. Yes, the game is new and no one understands it yet and, as I said before, the tournament rules were bad and that likely threw everyone off their game. Even considering this, the gameplay was far below what we have come to expect from professional Smashers.

I first noticed this when I saw a few occasions where players would let their respawn invincibility run out before attacking. This seemed like a strange choice considering this invulnerability time immediately allows you to push an aggressive advantage. Simply letting it run out is a newbie mistake that I didn’t think happened in high level Smash.

I then noted that MKLeo, despite being new to the game, had already figured out that some of Bayonetta’s quick kill combos still exists in Smash 4. In his fight against Plup he very easily comboed Ridley off the top of the screen.

So you’d think that this would be what the finals match would come down to right? Wrong. The finals match ended up being Mario VS Sonic the whole time, a dream match for sure but… MKLeo had access to Bayonetta in his roster and ZeRo had access to Sheik, two characters commonly regarded as high-tier in Smash 4.

The finals match came down to the wire, resetting the bracket and then having Mario and Sonic trade matched until Mario finally won. It was a poetic tournament finish, a bit too poetic.

I’m not saying that the whole match was fixed, but I am saying there are a lot of questions to ask here. Why didn’t MKLeo choose a character who had already proven to have broken low%-death combos?

Why didn’t either competitor counter-pick? In Smash 4 Mario VS Sonic is a matchup that is greatly in Sonics favor’. Any pro would counter-pick that matchup. In fact, ZeRo had access to Sheik who is a good to even matchup against Sonic. Yet, he didn’t even TRY to counter-pick with her. In fact, this is exactly what we saw when MKLeo and ZeRo met each other in Winners Finals.

Once again, casual fans are going to argue that the game is new and that the mechanics are different from Smash 4, and I agree. However, if what the creator Masahiro Sakurai said was true, that the players had next to no time with the game before the tournament, then they should be leaning on knowledge that they have from the previous game. They should be trying out strategies from prior games (such as the aforementioned Bayonetta kill combo). In this case, there is absolutely no way that the finals came down to Mario VS Sonic, unless the players weren’t playing their hardest.

Unless, Mario VS Sonic was chosen to give the crowd something to go crazy over, not because they were the best matchup or the characters that these players were best at controlling.

All I’m saying is that it was obvious that none of the competitors were playing at an actual competitive level, even less so than you might expect from an invitational for a new game. You never want to have your players playing at anything but 100 percent in a serious tournament. It’s just bad form.

It could have a negative impact on Smash as an e-sport

Usually when a major publisher runs an invitational, they do so to give the best players in their game recognition. ZeRo certainly got recognition, along with a trophy,

However, let’s just assume that something made this tournament less than legit, even if it’s just because the rules set made the tournament more random. That could mean really bad things for Smash as an e-sport.

Smash is a fragile section of the e-sports world. It’s already very difficult for pro level players to find teams or sponsors. Wins or losses at tournaments can affect a player’s livelihood. If a tournament is set up to grant wins or losses based on anything but skill, then players’ futures are being decided not based on their performance, but on randomness, and as Sonic might say in a Sonic Sez segment “That’s no good!”

However, there is an impact beyond individual player futures to consider. When sponsors look to invest in an e-sport, they are looking for consistency. If game outcomes are too random, sponsors will shy away from getting involved. Sponsors are looking to get a return on their investments which means the players they invest in need to win consistently. They simply can’t win consistently if the game is fundamentally random.

So if Nintendo decides to put in items and stage hazards and varied team sizes and changing rules and all sorts of things that might reduce the consistency of a Smash tournament, then they will reduce the likelihood of sponsors to invest in Smash as an e-sport, which reduces the amount of pro players willing to play Smash for a living, which then, in turn, reduces its survivability when stacked up against other games with more consistency.

And the casual crowd might not care about this, but remember, e-sports drive people to games, which increases sales, which makes more games get made. So if you want your Waluigi DLC for Smash Bros. Ultimate, then you might want to cheer for Smash’s e-sports success.

Overall I think Nintendo can’t have their cake and eat it too. I think they have to make a decision: either the hold an exhibition for their new game, or they hold a tournament.

Exhibitions can be super fun. Have some of the best smashers play against Masahiro Sakurai or Reggie Fils-Aime. Let members of the audience come up and have their five minutes of fame on stage. There’s no better way to show off all the wacky options the game has.

But if you are going to run a tournament, then run an actual tournament. Do your research. Make the ruleset fair. Reach out to teams and sponsors that might want to get involved.

Because if you don’t treat your tournaments seriously, you gamble with your game’s future in e-sports, even if that tournament is just an invitational for a new game.