Super Smash Bros. Melee: Fifteen Years and Counting

Armada and Mango, two of the "Five Gods of Melee" and, arguably, the two greatest players of all time.
Super Smash Bros. Melee was first released in Japan on November 21st 2001. Just over fifteen years later, on January 22nd 2017, the Smash Melee singles event at Genesis 4 peaked at approximately 118,000 viewers. At Evo 2016, just under 233,00 people watched Juan 'HungryBox' Debiedma of Team Liquid take first place, winning $14,232. Compared to the mind blowing $20,000,000 prize-pool of Dota 2's The International 6, or the 36 million unique viewer count of League of Legends' Worlds finals in 2015, Melee's numbers may seem insignificant in comparison. They're not. Melee is special. There's nothing else quite like it in the world of eSports.  A party game, released fifteen years ago, is more popular than ever; Melee is only just hitting its stride.

When comparing Melee to other successful eSports titles it is clearly an anomaly; it has no online capabilities, there aren't continual balance patches, it's not updated, there have been two additional Smash Bros. titles since Melee was released. Gameplay wise, apart from a few regional differences, Melee hasn't changed since the day it was released. Fifteen years ago. To put that into perspective, the original Dota was released in 2003, two years after Melee. Imagine if people were still playing that version, with no updates today. Or another example: Imagine a scenario where 2015 was Quake 3 Arena's biggest year.

Even after fifteen years, Melee hasn't become stale. It's the opposite, new techniques and styles are constantly developing.

PPMD does the famous "Ken Combo" on Plup at Evo 2015.

The King, Five Gods, and a God-Slayer

The success of any video-game as an eSport is usually down to its fans and Melee is no different, but what sets it apart from its contemporaries is the social aspect of the competition. Melee isn't played online against someone you don't know and will probably never meet, it's played against the person sitting directly next to you and if they beat you, you'll be seeing them again at the next tournament. Melee didn't just have competition; it had beefs and disputes where titles were hotly contested; it had an East Coast v West Coast rivalry complete with diss-tracks; it had money matches and smack talk. Those fierce rivalries led to incredible story-lines, those story lines were documented by the community, written on smash boards and recorded on tape. Through those rivalries, story-lines, and documentation, the legends of the game were born.

The incredible The Smash Brothers documentary series is essential viewing:

First, there was Ken Hoang: The King of Smash. No one since has had as dominant a reign. He was the undisputed best player in the world between 2003-2007, from his first tournament until his retirement. He returned in 2014 and still attends tournaments, placing respectably a decade later. 

Ken retiring made way for the "Five Gods of Melee", Jason 'Mew2King' Zimmerman, Joeseph 'Mango' Marquez, Juan 'HungryBox' Debidema, Kevin 'PPMD' Nanney, and Adam 'Armada' Lindgren. No tournament has ever been won by a "Non-God" where all five gods have been in attendance, and they make up more than 90% of all major tournament victories in the modern era.

During the "Golden Age of Smash" where Ken dominated the scene, there were other great players such as Daniel 'ChuDat' Rodriguez, Joel 'Isai' Alvarado, and Azen. The "Reign of the Five Gods" was different. The "Gods" were untouchable, beating one in tournament was a huge accomplishment; only a handful of players have beaten multiple gods, but no one had beaten all five. That all changed at Apex 2015.

William 'Leffen' Hjelte became the first player to beat all five gods, becoming known as the "God-Slayer". Although seen as a villain by much of the community, Leffen's rise combined with PPMD's health issues has marked an end to the era of the "Five-Gods". How relevant the various names and titles are is questionable but the legacy of certain players, and the eras the game has gone through, are a testament to the strength of the game and the dedication of its fans.

The Modern Age and the Future of Melee

It's almost incomprehensible that 2016 or 2017 could turn out to be Melee's biggest year. The prize-pools are slowly increasing, as well as the interest from major eSports teams and other sponsors.

Third party sponsorship is taking Melee to new heights. 
Even with the increase in third party sponsorship, Melee still feels like it's in its infancy; even the super-majors have a DIY charm and warmth that sharply contrasts the sterile and suited presentation of other popular eSports. It may be preference, but there is something refreshing about seeing The Summit 3 being sponsored by Weedmaps, having a crew named TEAM BEER, or the tongue-in-cheek shout outs to sponsors.

Melee may feel like it's in its infancy because it still is, when considering the age of the game that seems like an insane thing to say, but eSports as a whole are still relatively young. I've attended local tournaments and met players who are younger than the game itself. With the introduction of NetPlay, emulation, and the (unlikely possibly) of a HD remake, it's likely that Melee can continue to grow, and there's no telling the heights the game could reach.

The year is 20XX...

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