When a group of Michigan Super Smash Bros. tournament organizers started the Frostbite series in early 2016, they were more concerned about finding a usable venue than expanding the tournament beyond its regional scope. But since then, the series has grown into one of the Smash scene's most popular and enduring events. This weekend, over a thousand Smash Ultimate players will travel to Detroit for Frostbite 2019, the fourth and largest-yet iteration of the series.
Founded as part of the Chicago-based 2016 Smash 4 Midwest Circuit, the first Frostbite featured brackets for both Smash 4 and Melee. The organizers' decision to remove Melee -- and its requisite cathode-ray tube (CRT) televisions -- from the lineups of future events gave them the economic flexibility they needed to bring Frostbite to the next level.
"CRTs create an extremely difficult logistical challenge," head organizer Alex "Vayseth" Varga said. "Not only are they hard to get, but they're expensive. ... When we focus on a monitor-based only game, we can ship things with vans as opposed to trucks, so putting Melee into an event actually would at least double, if not more, our equipment costs."
Frostbite's singular focus on the post-Brawl Smash titles has made the event's staffers a hot commodity for Ultimate tournaments across the United States.
"A lot of our staff are going to Summit, and after that, we're looking at Get On My Level, we're looking at Combo Breaker, we're going to CEO, and some of us even work EVO ... we all started from Frostbite," Vayseth said.
This dedicated staff is not the only trait that sets Frostbite apart from other major tournaments; the series is also known as a jumping-off point for low-tier heroes and relatively unknown Japanese players.
"I moved back to Japan after Frostbite 2016, because that's where I spent the majority of my adult life," Vayseth said. "And I spent it working with all the smashers over there ... I felt like I was the one who could bridge this gap."
Armed with a strong grasp of the Japanese language and considerable tournament-organizing experience, Vayseth used his connections within the Japanese scene to fly out top competitors such as Isami "T" Ikeda and Shuto "Shuton" Moriya for Frostbite 2017. His gamble paid off: In one of Smash 4's legendary sets, top Japanese Lucario main Tsubasa "Tsu" Takuma and then-world-No. 1 competitor Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios electrified the audience during an epic back-and-forth grand final showdown. The excitement of Frostbite 2017 brought considerable attention to the series, securing its position as a perennial major event.
Frostbite's Japanese connection remains a hallmark of the series to this day. This year, top players Sota "Zackray" Okada and Takuma "Tea" Hirooka are among the tournament's top seeds. They're joined by a plethora of high-level American players with roots in both Melee and Smash 4, such as Leonardo "MkLeo" Lopez Perez, Gavin "Tweek" Dempsey, Justin "Plup" McGrath and Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman.
For good reason, MkLeo is Frostbite's first seed. The 18-year-old Mexican phenom has demonstrated his Smash Ultimate skill with a number of characters, primarily using Lucina to win Genesis 6 earlier this month. In doing so, he snatched Ultimate's top-dog spot out of the hands of Tweek, who finished at a disappointing ninth at Genesis following a run of good results at East Coast majors. At Frostbite, Tweek will look to turn the tables on MkLeo and regain the lead in the race for year-end No. 1.
MkLeo and Tweek are far from the only players in contention for victory at Frostbite 2019. Though Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada, Samuel "Dabuz" Buzby and Ezra "Samsora" Morris have not yet won major titles in Smash Ultimate, each of these competitors has proven his mettle in the post-Brawl Smash titles and cannot be counted out this weekend.
"I'm constantly learning, so at some point I'm going to win a national," Dabuz said. "It's a matter of, when is the right day, when is the right bracket."
Dabuz's confidence is backed up by his results, which include a second-place finish at Let's Make Moves and a fourth-place finish at Genesis 6. Last weekend, he defeated Paris "Light" Ramirez and Tyler "Marss" Martins to win Overclocked II, a New England regional.
In Ultimate, Dabuz has eschewed his Smash 4 main, Rosalina. "They kind of gutted a lot of the character's biggest strengths," said the New Yorker, who has chosen to use both Olimar and Palutena for tournament play.
"I am a dual main because I want to always have at least an even matchup with my opponent," Dabuz added. "I never want to be in a situation where I feel like I lose despite being a better player because my character is limited."
With its Smash Ultimate focus, unpredictable outcome and internationally diverse talent, Frostbite 2019 promises to be one of the most exciting events of the year.
"We understand that we started small, and we've been growing almost exponentially every year," Vayseth said, "but once we got to this stage, we knew that all the work would pay off."