Classic Nintendo characters Mario, Link and Donkey Kong fight in the next Super Smash Bros. title -- Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.
Super Smash Bros. was never meant to be an eSport.
For many, the Nintendo fighting game was nothing more than a fun party diversion where friends could fight each other with classic Nintendo characters — Mario, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Princess Peach and friends.
But the dedicated community that formed around the game has turned the second and most popular title in the franchise, Super Smash Bros. Melee, into a professional game (or eSport) for the last 13 years.
With its small community, Melee has always been an underdog. But in a new era of gaming where players can much more readily earn a living from streaming video games or compete in professional leagues, Melee has become an eSports darling and has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years.
Major League Gaming, an established competitive gaming tournament, recently picked up Melee for its 2014 season after dropping it from the professional circuit in 2006. Even Nintendo, which initially inhibited Melee's use at tournaments, announced its plans for a 16-player invitational tournament at E3 2014.
The community calls this current upward trend "the Platinum Age" of Melee. It could be due to Nintendo's announcement of the fourth Super Smash Bros. title, set for release this summer, or because eSports companies are sponsoring remarkably talented players in the Melee scene.
But, more commonly, those invested in the Smash scene, or eSports in general, point to a nine-episode YouTube documentary series about the early competitive Melee scene called The Smash Brothers. Created by Travis Beauchamp, a 29-year-old filmmaker from Boston, it very well could be the lynchpin of the game's new life.
Since its release last October, Beauchamp's The Smash Brothers has amassed more than one million views across all nine episodes, with each individual episode netting at least 100,000 views.
The documentary series was immediately well-received by both the Smash and general gaming communities. A visit to any popular Super Smash Bros. forum reveals fans heaping praise on Beauchamp's work:
"This documentary is absolutely why I got back intoMelee,""This documentary is absolutely why I got back into Melee," they say.
Now, Beauchamp wants to return to the passionate Super Smash Bros. community and make a second documentary.
A smashing release
Beauchamp premiered his first documentary at a Melee tournament on Oct. 11, 2013. Immediately following the premiere, he remembers positive and enthusiastic comments pouring in from fans.
"There was a point where I was waiting for someone to say something bad about it," said Beauchamp. "[A]ll of the messages that I would get from people were 100% positive so I knew I hit well."
He hit well in part because of the relatable gaming experiences featured in the documentary, which follows the lives of seven respected professional "Smashers."
Every gamer has that one game that they played during the formative years of their childhood. For the seven pro Smashers involved, Meleewas that game. The documentary capitalizes on that nostalgic, universal gaming experience, making it appealing not just to other Smashers but to gamers in general.
"One of the big things I wanted to do was preserve in amber the stories of these people so that they will always be there," said Beauchamp. "This passion is real and I wanted to show people [that] you can be an eSports champion."
The next documentary
In the midst of this Super Smash Bros. surge that he helped to ignite, Beauchamp is making another documentary, titled The Smash Brothers: Armada, which he recently announced he's crowdfunding on Kickstarter. It will feature one professional player in particular: Adam "Armada" Lindgren, a Swedish legend in the competitive Smash scene known for "maining" (or perfecting one particular character) an exceptional Princess Peach.
Beauchamp wants to distribute the film as a feature-length documentary via Netflix — one that would be completely accessible to the general public, even if they know nothing about the Smash community.
With 10 days left, Beauchamp had raised more than the initial $26,000 amount — the campaign clocked in at just under $30,000 at time of writing.
Past gaming documentaries about the history of eSports and other competitive games were all released pre-2008 — in an era of gaming where dreams of being a professional gamer were left unrealized because chances were so scarce.
But today, eSports is a different beast. Aided by the fact that streaming platforms like Twitch can easily broadcast tournaments to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, the professional gaming experience is on the rise, as are opportunities to become a professional gamer.
In this new era of gaming, as eSports viewership grows rapidly, Beauchamp's work reminded the general gaming community about a little party game turned intensely competitive eSport at just the right time.
"It kind of baffles me that people still to this day don’t know that you can play these games for money and that there is a professional scene," said Beauchamp. "It says to me that we’re still fighting the fight — that ... you can be a mental athlete."
The second installment of Smash Brothers is Beauchamp's way of fighting that fight for the Smasher, the gamer and the mental athlete. And, if successful, it could extend the reach of the little game that could even further — to people who have never touched a controller in their lives.