Smash Ultimate headlines at Don't Park on the Grass

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate made waves at winter major Don't Park on the Grass 2018. Photo by Mike Nelson/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Winter is competitive Super Smash Bros.' de facto offseason. Between super-majors, The Big House in October and Genesis in late January/early February, large tournaments are few and far between, allowing professionals to return home, practice, and take a break from their grueling travel schedules.

Two years ago, esports organization EndgameTV bucked this trend by hosting Don't Park On The Grass, a December major and the second-largest two-day event in Smash history. In a few days, over a thousand Smash players will travel to Seattle for the second iteration of the Don't Park series, an event made historic by the recent release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

Don't Park On The Grass 2018 will showcase high-level play in both Melee and Ultimate. The event's Melee tournament will be competitors' last opportunity to make a splash before the eligibility period for the year-end Melee Panda Global Rankings ends. Though no Melee "gods" will be in attendance, Don't Park's list of prospective champions includes a number of players in the next echelon, such as top seeds Zain "Zain" Naghmi, Zachary "SFAT" Cordoni and James "Swedish Delight" Liu. All in all, 28 internationally ranked Melee players will be competing in Seattle this weekend, along with a host of skillful newcomers who will likely be ranked in the coming year.

Despite this stacked bracket, Melee is not the largest event at Don't Park On The Grass. That distinction goes to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the fast-paced Smash sequel released for the Nintendo Switch last weekend. Boasting a number of mechanical changes tailored to competitive play, Ultimate has drawn the interest of top competitors from both the Melee and Smash 4 scenes.

"The way it was branded, it seems like the biggest, possibly the last, possibly the one that has everything possible put into it," says Hugo "HugS" Gonzalez, a Melee veteran who plans to compete in Smash Ultimate this weekend.

Don't Park On The Grass will be the world's first major-level Smash Ultimate tournament, and its bracket will be a showdown between Melee professionals like HugS, Zain, SFAT and Swedish Delight and top Smash 4 competitors such as Eric "ESAM" Lew, Jestise "MVD" Negron, Calib "Konga" Byers and Landon "Captain L" Trybuch.

ESAM -- a jack-of-all-Smash-trades who has been ranked nationally in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Melee, and Wii U -- makes no secret of his enthusiasm for Smash Ultimate.

"It's significantly faster than Smash 4," says ESAM. "A big thing that happened in this game is the fact that they pretty much universally lowered landing lag, which makes shield pressure exist. ... So generally offense is going to be a lot better when it comes to hitting people's shields, unlike Smash 4."

According to the Pikachu main, this reduction of landing lag is only one of several mechanical changes that have made Smash Ultimate's gameplay more competitive.

"Disadvantage [state] is really, really rough in this game, even though you have the directional air dodge," he says. "It's more like Melee's disadvantage, but now with the option to also air dodge neutrally and B-reverse and stuff. It's really good."

That said, says ESAM, Smash Ultimate is "still slower than Melee, mostly because they took out what I consider degenerate things about Melee, such as chain-grabs and edge-hogging. People have to actually go out and edgeguard now."

Though Smash Ultimate resides in the middle ground between Melee and Smash 4, ESAM believes that its greater similarity to Smash 4 will favor players of that title in Smash Ultimate competition.

"Obviously, my training partner MVD [and I], I assume we're going to be one and two," predicts the Panda Global member about the weekend's results. But due to the unexplored nature of Smash Ultimate, he says, "it is very possible that I just play someone and I lose because I didn't understand that character enough. ... There's going to be so many silly things."

HugS, who enjoys Smash Ultimate and plans to continue competing in Ultimate tournaments after Don't Park On The Grass, doesn't think it will displace Melee as his primary game.

"Once I started playing it, it definitely feels like the closest to Melee since the Brawl iterations of Smash -- not that it's that similar, but it is the fastest after Melee," he says. "A lot of the mechanics -- you can do foxtrotting, though I don't feel like it's legitimate dash dancing but you get more movement options -- and the ability to edgeguard is something that wasn't really present as much in other versions of the game. I feel that this one brings us back to Melee in that regard."

But in the end, proclaims HugS, "I'm not worried about Melee dying or anything."

Though the Dignitas member agrees that Smash 4 players will have an advantage over Melee players in the early Smash Ultimate metagame -- "It's closer to home for them than it is for us," HugS says -- he believes that there are some Melee players who will perform well in Ultimate from the start. "Leffen, for example, or Rishi, Melee players who have always been big students of the game. They're going to do the same for Ultimate, and it seems they're willing to invest time into getting good at the game."

William "Leffen" Hjelte will not be in Seattle for Don't Park On The Grass, but Rishi "Rishi" Malhotra will be a player to watch as he makes his way through this weekend's Smash Ultimate bracket. The Melee Marth main, formerly known by the tag "SmashG0D," is one of few competitors to have been power ranked in both Melee and Smash 4 within his region.

Featuring top talent from all corners of the Smash scene, Don't Park On The Grass 2018 is a fitting way for the year of competitive Smash to come to a close. And with the season's end comes the birth of a new esport, a Smash title fine-tuned for competitive play. By the end of this weekend, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will have its first champion.