The Renaissance of Smash 64

Joel “Isai” Alvarado, a Smash 64 legend, took fourth place at Genesis 3. Provided by Robert Paul

For years, Super Smash Brothers Melee has been touted as an esports anomaly. Its competitive community has managed to thrive despite being superseded by two sequels and, in its 15th year, Melee continues to grow in viewership and entrants for large events. Just as impressive is the fact that another game in a similar situation is quietly gathering momentum of its own: Super Smash Brothers for the original Nintendo 64 (Smash 64).

Unlike Melee, the Smash 64 community never had early bearings in the form of tournaments and official competitions. Once in a while the top players hosted small meetups at homes or on the side at larger Smash events. Primarily, the Smash 64 community congregated online via emulators.

If you have loosely followed Smash 64, then you probably know of Joel "Isai" Alvarado, a legend in Melee in his own right for pioneering Captain Falcon; you have probably watched many of his mesmerizing Smash 64 videos full of zero-to-death combos that led into five or six-stock victories. He's rightfully garnered a reputation in outside circles as an "untouchable god" in Smash 64, but the competition in both population and overall skill has developed considerably over recent years.

In the past, Isai sandbagged opponents at Smash 64 events, preferring to pick lower tier characters such as Link, Jigglypuff or Mario to test the competition. He won Apex 2014 as Jigglypuff over one of the best Japanese players at the time, and showed how far ahead of everyone else he was.

Catching up to Isai

Over the years, the game evolved. Advanced movement and combos once only accessible to Isai became much more commonplace among the current top players. Online resources and dedicated figureheads have promoted a larger interest into Smash 64. Now, several regions include the game in tournament rotation along with Melee and Smash 4.

Earlier in the year, Genesis 3 brought in record-breaking numbers for Smash 64 with a total of 238 entrants. Isai himself returned after a significant hiatus, and the big question was whether he could still win a major despite the years of inactivity. General fans thought Isai was a considerable favorite, but Smash 64 enthusiasts viewed him as an underdog. Fans tuned into the Genesis 3 stream to see if Isai could repeat his Apex 2014 run to win another major, but his run fell quickly short as even his top-tier Fox and Pikachu were not enough to win. He landed in fourth place as Keisuke "Wangera" Satou double-eliminated him. The competition had progressed to surpass Isai.

Even with the apparent increase in numbers and higher overall skill, there are questions that remain about the true nature of the Smash 64 scene. Peru and Japan are heralded as some of the best Smash 64 regions, but due to the cost of travel, they have never competed against each other. While Japan brings a small handful of players to Apex or Genesis, they have never come in full force. The only encounters with Peru are when top North American players such as Daniel "SuperBoomFan" Hoyt travel to play against them in their homeland.

Smash 64 history in the making

On August 12-14, Super Smash Con will assemble all of the Smash 64 community in arguably the most stacked event ever. At 314 entrants, it is now the biggest Smash 64 tournament in the history of the game, 76 entrants over Genesis 3. The numbers continue to show that the scene is growing at a sustained and unprecedented rate. Furthermore, this is the first competition that brings together the top Japanese and Peruvian players. To put this in perspective, this is hockey's equivalent of pitting Canada and Russia against each other for the first time.

The talent pool is unbelievably deep, with 47 out of the top 50 North American players competing alongside the slew of international heavy-hitters. Making it out of bracket will be insanely difficult and predicting the top eight will be nigh impossible.

Who will reach the top eight? How do each region's top players measure up? Will the international competition overrun North America like it does in other esports such as League of Legends? Can fabled legends such as SuperBoomFan or Isai defend North America?

While the Smash 4 and Melee viewership numbers reign supreme in Smash, you will do yourself a disservice if you don't tune in to witness Smash 64 history at Super Smash Con.