<
>

Is Nintendo finally embracing esports?

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto takes the stage during an Apple media event in San Francisco, California. Provided by REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach

Earlier this month, Nintendo unveiled its next gaming system, Switch. At the end of the trailer, a shot appeared of a massive esports arena filled with thousands of screaming Splatoon fans. Considering Nintendo's complicated history with esports, this is the first time the company has directly acknowledged the scene. After years of neglect, Nintendo may finally be paying attention to esports.

Evan "Rocketek" Towne, captain of Panda Global's Splatoon team, was surprised by the inclusion of a massive theoretical esports event at the end of the trailer. "I think it definitely brings a lot of excitement and promise for Nintendo esports," he said. "Splatoon is a game that with the right support can become even more competitive and just as fun to watch as it is to play."

With Switch, it seems like gamers will more easily be able to take their systems on the go. If Nintendo can implement a proper spectator mode, then Splatoon could have a vibrant esports future.

But the de facto Nintendo esports game has always been the Super Smash Bros. franchise. After Nintendo tried to remove Melee from Evolution 2013, the company has been mostly hands-off.

Since the Evolution 2013 incident, Nintendo has been changing its tune. In 2014, it held the a Smash Bros. for Wii U invitational at E3, inviting top players like Evil Geniuses Kevin "PPMD" Nanney and Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios to compete on stage. It has also sponsored tournaments like Apex and Community Effort Orlando, providing event support. These actions caught the community off guard and led many to speculate that Nintendo may have grander esports aspirations. If it truly does, all signs point to how it plans to support Splatoon, the older Melee scene, and the more recent Smash 4 scene.

Hungrybox, a competitive Melee player, has a closer relationship with Nintendo compared to other esports athletes. He was invited for the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U invitational in 2014, and played against Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime the following year in a trash-talk filled grudge match. Because he plays the older iteration of the game, he thinks whatever new Smash game Nintendo puts out will be the unquestionable competitive title. "The dream would be a re-release of [Melee HD], but there's a lot of difficulty in porting such a complex game from 2001 and making it identical on a brand new console with a brand new engine and visual output," he said.

The difficulties arise in the speed and complexity of Melee's gameplay. Even today, players will lug around large CRT televisions because it affords higher refresh rates and lower input delay. High end gaming monitors still can't reach the refresh rates of CRT's. Even with the stubbornness of the Melee scene, there's potential for a new Smash game that appeals to both scenes. "When [Project M] came out, it was truly an interesting time for the Smash Community. You'd have top Brawl players and top Melee players meeting each other in high level bracket matches," Hungrybox said.

Project M was a fan mod of the third Smash game, Brawl. It removed many of the gripes the Melee community had with Brawl, and created a game that was faster and more competitive. While not a perfect game, it was the only one that was able to bring together both Smash scenes. But Hungrybox isn't as optimistic. "An all-encompassing 'Smash 5' title does sound like a dream, but realistically it just seems impossible," he said.

The real potential of an invested Nintendo would mean a proper circuits for Super Smash Bros. and Splatoon. For example, game dev Capcom has the Pro Tour, a tournament circuit in which Street Fighter V players can compete and earn points. The players with the most points will meet at the Capcom Cup, fighting it out over the lion's share of $250,000. Nintendo has no such series, but if it wants the same kinds of crowds and excitement, it may need to look in that direction.