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Smash United innovates with Clutch City Clash

Abadango, the winner for Smash for WiiU at Pound 2016, is in attendance at Clutch City Clash. Matt Demers for ESPN

Between both competitive Super Smash Bros. games, there have already been over 25 major tournaments to date, with hundreds of entrants or more and the world's best players in attendance. With so many tournaments vying for player and audience attention, it can be hard to differentiate yourself and stake a claim in the scene. But the organization Smash United is hoping to make its mark with Clutch City Clash on August 6-7, and is doing so by putting players first.

Clutch City Clash is Texas' latest tournament and is arguably the highest-profile one to come out of Houston. It's headed by Keith LaLonde, co-owner of Smash United, who has had his ear to the ground listening intently to what players want.

While Clutch City Clash isn't Texas' most prestigious tournament, it has attracted a lot of top talent in its freshman effort. The likes of Cloud9's Joseph "Mango" Marquez to Echo Fox's Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman made it out; international talent is present as well, such as mYinsanity's Mustafa "Ice" Akcakaya from Germany and Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura from Japan.

In a bid to attract these elite players, Smash United took some controversial steps to smooth over their experience in what many might consider top-player privilege. For Melee, Clutch City Clash will take the top 16 players and float them through to the second day of competition. And while this may seem unfair, for Smash United there's a justifiable reason behind it.

"We think that's a step in starting a conversation towards a national circuit," said LaLonde. "I'm watching players get burnt out over and over... being so exhausted from traveling to all these three-day big events where they have to play a bazillion matches." There are advantages to lifting some pressure off top players for the tournament itself, as well. "We can have a more established tournament schedule... and those players will still be able to maintain it."

Clutch City Clash is also one of the first tournaments to address the changing metagame in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the latest iteration in the Smash series. When the game first launched, playstyles were far more defensive, and, as a result, slower. But as the game has been updated and players have developed their skill, matches have started to move faster.

"Most tournaments scenes around the country use two stocks," or lives, said LaLonde. "But we value the players' opinions much more highly... especially around here, [they] really love three stocks. They feel it's more of a fair game."

Only playing with two stocks makes games a lot more volatile. Losing a stock early due to a small mistake greatly impacts a set. "We're noticing more players around the country think that way after all of the upsets that are occurring at CEO and EVO for this game," said LaLonde. "People want three stocks for a more consistent match, and we're willing to give it to them."

While Texas has always had a large Smash scene, it never commanded the same attention as other states. "I think that's because Texas doesn't have the same storied history in the Melee scene in particular," said LaLonde.

Texas did have a strong Brawl scene, the third game in the Smash series, and many of those top players have jumped over to Smash for Wii U. But Texas is seeing a major growth in Melee as well. "The Melee scene is growing significantly," said LaLonde, "especially in Houston."

Ultimately, Smash United wants to support all Smash scenes. LaLonde sees enough players and enough support for all major Smash games to survive. And as for a Clutch City Clash 2? "Heck yes there's going to be a CCC2," said LaLonde. "We want to make this a once-a-year tournament. This is only the beginning and we're in this for the long run."