The Smash Divide

Monday, Dec 01 2014  -   Brendan Viloria

Look at the picture below. It's a community of people enjoying theirselves and playing Super Smash Bros. With all the hate going around between fans of each different Smash game, would you want this picture to portray the "good ol' days of Smash" rather than the exclusivity and toxicity now?

Most people that play Smash are familiar with the Smash Community Divide. Not many people have an explanation for where it comes from, and not many people have ever tried to “fix” it or deal with it upfront. I am going to set out to do just that. For those of you that are not familiar with this Divide, let me give THE monumental example.

The utmost Smash Community Divide for the past numerous years has been a rift between players of Super Smash Bros. Brawl and players of Super Smash Bros. Melee. This has been one of the most heated divides in gaming, and is reminiscent of many other divides that have occurred (StarCraft 1 & 2, Street Fighters 3 & 4, etc.), but far more potent because it has lasted an agonizing 5 + years!

Symptoms of this Smash Community Divide have included: Streams of one smash game getting hate comments regularly if not at all times by players from another smash game, venues hosting tournaments for multiple smash games having to deal with a toxic social environment where players deride each other for the games they play, schools having polarized smash communities to the point where only one smash game is the game played in their “smash clubs”, and the all too common case of groups of friends splitting into two distinct groups because they both play the “better” game.

Before I get into explaining why this Smash Community Divide exists, let me preface with why the Smash games are even different enough for such a Divide to occur. At the surface, all smash games are built on the same premise. You win a neutral standoff to push the other player into a disadvantageous situation (e.g. offstage or landing blows to rack %). You push that situation into a more advantageous situation for yourself until you take a stock (e.g. edgeguard or setup a killing move) or you get outplayed and lose it (e.g. dropping a combo or letting them back into a neutral standoff).  The skill gap between players therefore arises from (1) precision of character control in various situations, (2) the familiarity with how to create and ruin advantageous situations on the opposing player given the character matchup, and (3) the ability of the player to simply outthink the opponent which can come from various things such as wit, experience, reactions, and creativity.

The graphics get better with each game, but what about the mechanics?

However, the difficulty and level of implementation that becomes standard to each of these components differs between smash games. For instance, in Melee, the advantage pressed on an opponent when landing a hit on them is huge. The opponent is in hit stun for a decent while (cannot attack or dodge) and movement options are very agile (can literally chase the opponent and combo them further usually). Each hit landed creates a situation where it is likely another hit will follow in succession. The little victory the Melee player will focus on achieving when in a disadvantageous situation is generally (1) ending the combo on themselves by using Directional Influence on the way their character flies around when hit and then (2) achieving a more neutral standoff to earn back the right into trying to land their own hits.  In contrast, Brawl advantages are generally accumulated through a series of smaller confrontations. Being hit in neutral is generally not followed up with a direct combo due to lack of hit stun and movement speed, but this makes the smaller advantages like displacing the opponent further toward offstage and taking their footing from the ground more emphasized. Each hit landed creates a situation where the opponent is playing from a slightly worse footing, not from trying to escape a combo. There are exceptions to this rule that came about in both games due to specifically developed techniques, but the point stands that Smash games can all be deeply complex and have very different values.

Why then the Smash Community Divide? Well, people lose sight of the complexities of the different smash games because they tend to pick one and stick with it. After all, why not play your favorite Smash game all the time? Then comes the issue. Your friend plays one Smash game, and you play another. What do you do? Well you play together and perhaps trade off time between both games! But that’s kind of like taking turns eating each others’ favorite ice cream flavors… so it gets old. So you find friends that play your game. Fast forward a month or so, and you talk to your friend that plays the other game and try to understand why they don’t play your game. That way you guys could hang out more, right? Well, after five conversations on the matter, you both give up and stick to different smash games. Why? Because for some reason people just tend to like the smash game they play more and more, and they lose sight of why the other Smash games are cool too. Now fast forward a year, and one of you is bound to actually despise people who play the other game. What? Why? Well, it gets frustrating having to “pick a Smash” because it means less time with certain friends and it means more debating on why your Smash game is the better one that your friends should play. You want to play with all your Smash friends! But that’s just the issue right there. Everyone wants to play Smash with all their Smash friends. Nobody really often can.  

All Smash games at a competitive level emphasize knowledge of very fine details

Nowadays, if you log into Twitch and go to any Smash game livestream for a tournament event you will probably see frustrated comments from people trying to understand why anyone would play the Smash game that is on the stream. Melee people will log into Smash 4 streams and ask “Why play this game, there’s no advanced technical skills?”, and Smash 4 people will go “Why play this game it’s old and looks terrible?”. Regardless of what they’re saying in the twitch chat, what these players are actually doing is simply conveying their frustration for there being people that don’t play “their Smash”. How it gets interpreted, however, is that there is a community of Melee players that hates Smash 4, a community of Smash 4 players that hates Melee, and even a community of Project M players that hates both. But don’t get caught up in that, it’s not true. It’s all just frustrated individuals venting once in a while that the game they played isn’t “THE Smash”. And that’s because there is no single Smash above the rest, and there are different kinds of Smash players.

So what do you do? Well, you’re already well off for reading this article. Understanding that no one really hates another Smash game for the game is important. There’s a reason most people don’t hate on chess openly all the time.  Most people don’t have friends playing chess rather than spending time with them. Furthermore, most people aren’t classified together with the friends of theirs that prefer different activities. The term “smasher” is often used, because some people play multiple Smash games enthusiastically. However this is not for everyone, and most people prefer to identify with only one. This breeds a sense of people being very close to convincing their friends to play their game, which incites them to try and debate it into happening. “I’m a smasher and you’re a smasher so let’s play Smash together!” But the games are very different, and convincing a friend to switch smash games is actually quite akin to a StarCraft 2 player convincing a League of Legends player into dropping their game for his.

Fight each other in game, not in real life

Just accept that people prefer the games they prefer, and feel free to explore why without getting heated about it. Opinions don’t change in arguments, they change with experience. And if your friend wants to try Smash 4 but is a Melee player, let him. But if he starts explaining why Smash 4 is the lesser game, just understand that all he is thinking is that he wishes you were a Melee player too.


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John Zobac is an experienced Tournament Organizer, University Smash Club Coordinator, and Smashfest host that has run events for every smash game to date.

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