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Smash World Tour organizers blame Nintendo for championship’s sudden shutdown

The Smash World Tour Championships was days away

a line of Smash Bros. characters stands at the edge of a cliff in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Image: Bandai Namco Studios, Sora Ltd./Nintendo
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

On Dec. 9, the best Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Super Smash Bros. Melee players planned to convene in Texas after a year’s worth of the competition circuit leading into the Smash World Tour Championships. But on Tuesday night, just over a week from the event’s kickoff, Smash World Tour organizers made a sudden announcement: The event is canceled, alongside the entire 2023 Smash World Tour.

Smash World Tour organizers published an official statement on Medium, blaming Nintendo for the event’s shutdown. “Without any warning, we received notice the night before Thanksgiving from Nintendo that we could no longer operate,” organizers said in a statement. “This was especially shocking given our discourse with Nintendo the past twelve months. Since then, we have been working around the clock to take the proper steps logistically, as well as to prepare this statement with proper legal guidance.”

Organizers said the Smash World Tour will lose “hundreds of thousands of dollars” due to the event’s sudden halt.

The group described a drawn-out licensing application with Nintendo — essentially applying for official permission to hold the event. Nintendo has targeted Smash Bros. tournaments in the past, largely events that use a modified version of Super Smash Bros. Melee that allows online play — necessary for an online event. Despite the sheer size of the competitive Smash Bros. scene, Nintendo hasn’t supported efforts in the past, and has downright restricted tournaments that use the modded version of the game. Nintendo surprised the community in 2021 when it partnered with esports company Panda Global in the first officially licensed tournament circuit.

Smash World Tour organizers said they were contacted by Nintendo to license their circuit and get official permission for their events. The process, however, left some things uncertain, leading into Tuesday’s abrupt cancellation announcement.

A Nintendo spokesperson disputed Smash World Tour’s characterization of the events in a statement to Polygon. Specifically, Nintendo said it did not ask Smash World Tour organizers to cancel the remaining events.

Unfortunately after continuous conversations with Smash World Tour, and after giving the same deep consideration we apply to any potential partner, we were unable to come to an agreement with SWT for a full circuit in 2023. Nintendo did not request any changes to or cancellation of remaining events in 2022, including the 2022 Championship event, considering the negative impact on the players who were already planning to participate.

In response, organizers published a notice they received from Nintendo in which the company stated that “an approved license” is expected to be secured to run a tournament like the Smash World Tour. The statement, however, does not explicitly call for the event to be canceled. Nintendo also said Smash World Tour has not met “expectations around health & safety guidelines and has not adhered to our internal partner guidelines.” The full statement from Nintendo, via Smash World Tour, is below:

It is Nintendo’s expectation that an approved license be secured in order to operate any commercial activity featuring Nintendo IP. It is also expected to secure such a license well in advance of any public announcement. After further review, we’ve found that the Smash World Tour has not met these expectations around health & safety guidelines and has not adhered to our internal partner guidelines. Nintendo will not be able to grant a license for the Smash World Tour Championship 2022 or any Smash World Tour activity in 2023.

Over the past year, Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate players have been qualifying for the main event, which offered a $250,000 prize — what organizers said would have been “the largest prize pool in Smash history.” There were more than 35 official stops on the Smash World Tour leading into the championships; players were required to attend these events to compete and earn points necessary for championship qualification. Players from across the world have invested a lot of time and money into attending these events in hopes of qualification.

Several players have tweeted about the investments they’ve made into the Smash World Tour. “I fucking took SWT seriously and traveled to 10 countries/3 continents just for this?,” Super Smash Bros. Ultimate pro player Santiago “Chag” Pérez Checchi tweeted. Enrique “Maister” Hernández Solís, a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate player from Mexico on pro team Luminosity, said he’s missed other events to prepare for the Smash World Tour.

Solís told Polygon that he sacrificed a lot to prepare, putting aside his regular streaming and YouTube schedule.

“It meant a lot to me specially considering the bad luck I had at the last tournament I tried to attend,” Solís said. “It felt like a chance to redeem myself from that situation and just use everything I have been preparing for throughout the year to secure at least a grand finals in the event. I felt extremely prepared and ready for it since long time ago.

“It definitely hurts to see it go, and it’s obvious I’m not the only one affected by the cancellation of this. People from Japan, Australia, Europe, literally all the world was coming to this event and it’s not happening anymore.”

On Tuesday, a second Smash Bros. tournament organizer, VGBootCamp, canceled two of its upcoming in-person events, according to a statement published to Google Docs. “At the moment, our future is uncertain in regards to running major tournaments — but as of right now, based on our recent communications with Nintendo, we would be putting ourselves at further risk if we continued forward with our current plans.”

Panda Global’s licensed Smash Bros. event, the Panda Cup Finale, is scheduled to begin Dec. 16 in Los Angeles. It’s offering a prize pool of $100,000. However, several players and community members have expressed contempt for the tournament and its organizers after Smash World Tour’s statement alleged Panda Global tried to hinder the competing circuit. Polygon has reached out to Panda Global for comment.

Update: This story has been updated to include comment from pro Smash player Enrique “Maister” Hernández Solís.

Update (Dec. 2): A Nintendo representative issued a second statement late Thursday night in an attempt to “explain to all Super Smash Bros. fans and interested parties” why it didn’t issue a license to Smash World Tour.

The full statement is reprinted below:

Nintendo would like to explain to all Super Smash Bros. fans and interested parties the background and rationale related to our decision to not grant a license to the Smash World Tour (SWT) for their upcoming activities.

Nintendo’s decision was solely based on our assessment of the proposals submitted by the SWT and our evaluation of their unlicensed activities. This decision was not influenced by any external parties such as Panda Global. Any partner that we grant a license to has to meet the high standards we require when it comes to the health and safety of our fans. It’s also important that a partner adheres to brand and IP guidelines and conducts itself according to professional and organizational best practices. We use this same approach to independently assess all partners. If we discover that a partner is doing something inappropriate, we will work to correct it.

When we notified the SWT that we would not license their 2022 or 2023 activities, we also let them know verbally that we were not requiring they cancel the 2022 finals event because of the impact it would have on players. Thus, the decision to cancel the SWT 2022 was, and still is, their own choice.

We are open to partnering with other organizations and will continue to offer licenses for major tournaments outside of the Panda Cup. Panda Global will continue to be a key partner and we look forward to receiving proposals from other groups for tournament licenses. In the meantime, Panda continues to advocate on behalf of the Super Smash Bros. community, even to the point that Panda has advocated for other organizations and tournaments to work with Nintendo, such as The Big House and the organizers of the SWT to benefit the larger Super Smash Bros. community.

Nintendo cares about Super Smash Bros. fans and its community very much, and we hope to continue to hear their passionate feedback. We are committed to working hard to bring joy and fun to the community through tournaments while also ensuring we and our partners are operating in a manner that is positive and responsible.

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