Will compendiums sustain the future of Smash?

Juan "Hungrybox" DeBiedma, left, and Joseph "Mang0" Marquez duel in the grand finals at Pound 2016 for Super Smash Bros. Melee. Matt Demers

The growth of Smash events has provided unique challenges for event coordinators. Within the past five years alone, viewership has blossomed from the hundreds to the thousands. Although this is a boon for the Smash community, this also raises concerns about the stability of the scene. How will coordinators, for example, sustain the ecosystem while nurturing the growth of scene?

In lieu of these challenges, the Smash community launched its own compendium for events utilizing Smash.gg as a platform. The compendium store sells merchandise and content provided by community members in order to raise funds for events. Events like Genesis and The Big House use these profits to fund extra perks, such as all-day friendly rooms, flights and accommodations for top players, as well as larger prize pots for the winners. Over the past two years, the compendium has quickly grown as the fundraising platform for Smash events.

The necessity of crowdfunding

For many players, the compendium has been integral to helping them travel to major events. Many esports teams have added top Smash players, but there are still many players that have to cover their own travel costs. Mustafa "Ice" Akcakaya, a top-15 player from Germany, reflects on the compendium:

"The compendiums have been a great help to me," he said. "And I thank the community for supporting me to go to events that I would have not been able to otherwise."

In previous years, events were much more manageable for grassroots Smash organizers. Robin Harn, the event coordinator of The Big House series, ran the first Big House tournament in 2011 by hosting115 players in a University of Michigan ballroom. Since then -- thanks in part to the Smash Documentary that ignited the growing interest in Smash -- attendance has skyrocketed.

Unfortunately, scalability becomes a larger concern. Smash events have grown beyond card shops and college classrooms, as organizers now have to turn to hotel ballrooms and convention centers. Production costs have also skyrocketed, now that high-quality streams, videos and peripheral content become essential to events. Harn and several others have realized that crowdfunding remains a popular option for other industries.

Through a collaborative effort with other organizers and Smash.gg, Harn helped launch The Big House compendium, an online store and content platform that supports community goals and provides more resources for events. Last year, The Big House 5 compendium added $12,000 to the prize pool, funded the regional crew battles and provided flights for international players.

"Overall, the goal is to empower, whether it's a top player needing help to attend or a content creator who wants more eyes on their work. Tournaments such as Big House are so big yet grassroots. There is still no financial support from Nintendo, which is why the compendium style efforts are so valuable," said Harn.

As Shantanu Talapatra, the CEO of Smash.gg, explained, "Most other organizations focus on a top-down approach. We want to enable the esports market from a bottoms-up standpoint, where tournament organizers, content creators and players can use our platform as a resource to grow their tournaments, sales and branding."

Improvements to the compendium

The compendium hasn't been without issues, as many complained about how the earlier compendium operated. In older iterations, the event organizers predetermined the reward levels of compendiums and many community members complained that their money was going toward rewards they had no interest in. Others have complained about compendium fatigue, which is when the novelty of the compendium quickly wears off as the community becomes less enthused about buying similar items.

In regard to the long term sustainability of compendiums, Harn stated, "Sustaining Smash majors is still going to require eventual investment from sponsors or developers. Even if compendiums are not the answer long term, they're a big help for now. As long as organizers create a compendium platform that empowers the free market of the Smash community, then we can get buy-in from all parties, whether it's the players, spectators or content creators."

While the compendium might not last forever, the community feedback helped Talapatra redesign several aspects of the compendium. Now, the community votes via Twitter to determine which players are supported with funding. Reward levels are no longer predetermined, as buyers can now allocate profits to a specific reward. The compendium continues to improve its store with unique items. The Big House 6 compendium, for example, offers top player lessons, customized GameCubes, signed controllers and top player trading cards.

The benefits of the compendium

The compendium has enabled many stakeholders of the Smash community. Aspiring content creators have an avenue to connect with a large fan base to sell their items and increase their exposure. Top players have opportunities to travel to events that they previously could not afford. Event coordinators have larger budgets to provide extra benefits for attendees. And viewers at home are treated to a much greater experience. Although the format isn't perfect yet, it's a step in the right direction.