The annual schedule lineup announcement of the Evolution Championship Series elicited controversy and debate within the Smash community. For the first time in history, Super Smash Brothers for Wii U (Smash 4) would be featured on Sunday's finals day instead of Super Smash Brothers Melee.
People outside the community might be inclined to categorize Melee and Smash 4, the two most active games within the scene, as one collective entity: Smash. But people within the community will tell you that the games are loosely connected, with little crossover and few players playing both games competitively.
To understand the rivalry, animosity and camaraderie between the two communities, one must first understand their history.
Melee was released in 2001 for the Gamecube and quickly grew a niche grassroots competitive community. Seven years later in 2008, Super Smash Bros Brawl was released for the Wii, set at a different pace than Melee.
Players looking for a highly technical, combo-rich game were disappointed in what the new game had to offer, and many of these players either quit Smash completely, or slowly drifted back into Melee. Project M, a modification of Brawl that changed the game mechanics so that it resembled Melee, featured a smaller community within the Smash infrastructure.
At the same time, Brawl attracted a whole new subset of players. Some notable players dabbled in both games at a high level, such as Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman, but each game generally featured different pools of competitive players.
From an outsider's perspective, it's hard to recognize why there are distinct subcultures in a community that plays the "same" title game with similar characters. All the iterations feature iconic Nintendo characters such as Mario, Pikachu and Kirby. And yet, it wouldn't be surprising if you received a look of disdain if you asked a Melee player whether or not they played Brawl or vice versa.
The origin of a rivalry
Two-time Evo champion, Joseph "Mango" Marquez will tell you how important it is to win an Evo title as he aims for his third in 2017.
The Sunday finals of Evo is known for bringing together a massive audience, a passionate community known for chanting the letters "C-R-T" when a CRT TV appears on stage at the Mandalay Bay Event Center.
In 2016, Melee enjoyed a peak audience of over 200,000 viewers on Twitch, where Juan "Hungrybox" Debiedma defeated Adam "Armada" Lindgren in the grand finals for his first Evo victory. Hungrybox's clutch moment to reset the first set of grand finals won Moment of the Year on ESPN.
The night before, Elliot "Ally" Carroza-Oyarce duked it out against Takuto "Kamemushi" Ono in an exhilarating Mario vs. Mega Man finals for Smash 4. The matches were exciting, but the viewership peaked at roughly 71,000 viewers.
Melee generally does better in viewership compared to Smash 4, but it's undeniable that there is a large difference in exposure between a finals being hosted on Saturday versus a finals hosted on Sunday.
Between Evo 2013 and the Smash Brothers Documentary, Melee grew exponentially. As a growing majority, the Melee community developed an "elitist" reputation, often heckling players who played other Smash games. Disrespectful chants of "Melee" plagued the end of Brawl events. These chants overshadowed Nairoby "Nairo" Quesada's Brawl victory at Apex 2014, and ZeRo's Smash 4 victory at Apex 2015.
Along with the smaller Saturday finals, Smash 4 players competed in poor tournament conditions. The top players ended their Day 1 matches as late as 4 a.m. ET and started again at 8 a.m. the following day. The poor timing exhausted the players, and many questioned whether or not they wanted to attend Evo next year.
It wasn't always this divisive. In 2013, Evo announced a donation drive to fight against breast cancer and decide the eighth and final game in the lineup. Both Melee and Brawl enjoyed early momentum in the donation drive, but Brawl quickly fell behind Melee in donations.
Eventually, the Brawl and Project M communities decided to band together to support Melee, believing that Melee's appearance into Evo would benefit all Smash communities. Together, they formed the #oneunit movement, and contributed $94,683 for Melee to win the Breast Cancer donation drive and a slot into Evo 2013.
Where we are today
In 2017, Evo flipped the switch by giving Smash 4 the Sunday time slot instead of Melee. Smash 4 fans were elated to hear the announcement on Red Bull's stream. Their decision to include Smash 4 instead of Melee may have been to make up for last year's poor conditions.
The Smash community's reaction to the announcement was varied. Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, a top Smash 4 player, expressed the importance of supporting Evo 2017 with this opportunity. Meanwhile, Melee community leaders such as Arian "The Crimson Blur" Fathieh expressed disappointment, stating that both games deserved the Sunday stage. Other Melee players such as Hugo "HugS" Gonzalez were quick to express their disappointment, but also encouraged the community to let go of past wounds.
Over time, the Smash community has seen the benefits of working together. Leaders from all Smash games collaborate to host larger events at nicer venues. Viewership is synergistic, meaning that if Smash 4 continues to do well, then Melee also sees an increase in viewership. The communities are cordial and respectful to one another. While players carry their own preferences in which game is "better," there is a growing respect for the talent and skill required to be successful in each game. Smash 4 players can be seen rooting for their favorite Melee players during finals, while more Melee players are starting to pay more attention to the Smash 4 scene. If there are any proud takeaways, the general Melee sentiment was to encourage the Smash 4 scene for its opportunity, and to redirect discourse towards the Evo event itself for including only one Smash game on Sunday.