By Esther Minor
With a long and storied history, the competitive Smash Bros scene is known for the passionate, grassroots community at its heart. This is especially true for fans of the 2001 entry in the Smash Bros series: Super Smash Bros Melee, released on the Nintendo GameCube and commonly referred to more simply as Melee.
Smash Bros players from all over the Panhandle met up this past summer break for Slamhandle, a tournament event held in the Aruba Ballroom at The Islander Resort at Fort Walton Beach on Saturday, July 9. Upon entering the venue, attendees were greeted by the sight of several rows of tables divided into sections to accommodate the various tournament brackets that attendees were competing in. Even before the official tournament commenced, attendees at the venue were seen engaging in friendly matches with other players. The section devoted to Melee stands out due to the use of older, bulkier CRT televisions, compared to the sleeker flatscreen monitors used by competitors in other games.
Providing the outdated hardware required to run the game is one of many challenges involved while organizing a tournament for a game as old as Melee. Due to the game’s age, the competitive community gets no support from Nintendo, the original publisher of the Smash Bros series.
Garrett Robinson, who goes by the alias X-9, was the tournament organizer in charge of Melee at Slamhandle. Describing the challenges of organizing a Melee tournament, X-9 said, “I had never helped with an official tournament before, I created the bracket and directed matches while competing myself, which was exhausting to take on.”
With a bracket of sixteen players competing in Melee, only two competitors advanced to play in the grand finals. At the end of the match, the winner turned out to be a player named Zion, who goes by the alias Big Z. Her opponent was none other than her close friend, X-9, who had originally defeated Big Z in an earlier match of the double elimination bracket. Big Z described her tournament run as “a nail-biting dredge through the losers side of the bracket up to grand finals of the tournament,” where she faced X-9 in a rematch.
Tournaments often have emotional moments following grand finals matches, and Slamhandle was no exception. On her tournament win, Big Z said, “It’s funny; even though this is the first sizable tournament that I’ve won in my seven years of competitive play, getting to grand finals together with the person who’s been with me at every step of my journey as a Melee player felt like the sweetest triumph of my Melee career. Getting that 80-something bucks from winning did feel pretty good, though.”
Melee has kept a steady momentum of attracting fresh players despite being released over twenty years ago on a gaming console that most gamers have abandoned in favor of newer systems. The success of the Melee community, even decades after the game’s release, can be largely attributed to passionate individuals like X-9 who are devoted to the game and its community. The continuing success of the local Melee scene was not always apparent, however. Attendance numbers at tournaments had been steadily declining for a couple of years, even before the pandemic dealt a heavy blow to the scene in 2020. Due to the nature of tournaments happening in person, often in smaller venues, some competitors decided that attending was not worth the risk of infection.
However, attendance now appears to be rising. Outside of running the Melee bracket at Slamhandle, X-9 also helps with Downtown Throwdown, a weekly tournament in downtown Pensacola. While speaking of community attendance at local smash events, X-9 said, “We haven’t slowed down yet so hopefully the scene is here to stay.” Downtown Throwdown is a weekly event hosted on Mondays at O’Riley’s Irish Pub on Palafox Street at 4:30pm, with Melee brackets held monthly on every third Monday. The venue fee is $5 and the prices for entering tournament brackets range from $3 to $5. Setups are provided, but attendees are asked to bring their own controllers.