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Smash Bros esports in chaos: Nintendo quashes unaffiliated events

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The Smash World Tour (SWT), a grassroots Super Smash Bros. circuit organized by VGBootCamp, announced that Nintendo is shutting down its finale less than two weeks before the event. This has major implications for both the grassroots esports scene and its relationship with Nintendo.

Smash World Tour background and allegations

Over the last year, Super Smash Bros. community figures have launched two major circuits to help unify the community: the SWT and the Panda Cup. Both of these events were structurally similar. Players could earn points at participating independently run events to earn their way into a year-end finale. However, Panda Global’s Panda Cup was working with Nintendo in an official capacity.

In an open letter, VGBootCamp alleges that problems started when Panda Global attempted to get tournaments to join the Panda Cup exclusively instead of participating in both circuits. In the document, they claim that tournaments were nervous about joining the SWT because Dr. Alan Bunney, CEO of Panda Global, told them that the SWT was “going to get shut down and [was] not coming back in 2022.”

These statements have been corroborated by Beyond the Summit — another prominent broadcaster in Super Smash Bros. among other titles.

David Gorman, managing partner at Beyond the Summit, backs Smash World Tour’s statement

Despite being unlicensed, VGBootCamp also claims they had positive conversations with Nintendo. According to VGBootCamp, Nintendo said that “Panda’s partnership was not exclusive” and that the SWT was in good standing because it “had not infringed on their IP regarding game modifications and had represented Nintendo’s values well.” They went so far as to indicate they wanted to work with and license the SWT per the organizer’s statment.

VGBootCamp applied for a license from Nintendo for their event in April 2022. The organizer asserted that despite reminding Nintendo for months about the pending license, the developer did not respond until the night before Thanksgiving. This was mere weeks before the planned finale on December 9-11 and eight months after submitting the application.

However, in a statement to Kotaku, Nintendo disputed some of these claims: “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.”

SWT also responded to Nintendo’s statement including the company’s response shutting down the SWT Finale and confirming that licenses will be required for all Smash Bros. tournaments going forward.

“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.”

Smash World Tour’s reproduction of Nintendo’s emails quashing the event

VGBootCamp has shut down most operations for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately for them, it seems like legal action is not likely to remedy the situation.

According to Richard Hoeg, corporate lawyer and host of Virtual Legality, the lack of formal contract between SWT and Nintendo makes legal action difficult. If the relationship between two parties is not formalized and only prospective, a third party has much more leeway to interfere.

“It’s possible that there could be some kind of detrimental reliance or even defamation claim against Nintendo based on some of the later statements, but it would be a longshot,” Hoeg confirmed.

These developments have thrown both the SWT and the Super Smash Bros. community into disarray.

VGBootCamp is one of top organizers for the Smash Bros. scene and has been over a decade. They are one of the central hubs for the disparate community. The fallout for the company appears to be catastrophic. The organizers stated that they “will be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars due to Nintendo’s actions.” VGBootCamp has also canceled most of their future engagements.

If Nintendo shuts down all unlicensed events, this would be is a fundamental shift is how the ecosystem operates. The competitive Super Smash Bros. community has always had a rocky relationship with Nintendo. Typically, most event organizers were able to run events without Nintendo’s input or legal threats. However, this was always a grey area and Nintendo would sometimes take action — particularly against events that featured mods like Project M.

Now, it seems like Nintendo is taking a stronger stance. It seems like the developer is using Panda Global as an intermediary to manage Smash Bros. esports events.

However, tensions have reached a new boiling point within the community. Many prominent players and community figures are boycotting Panda Cup events or reevaluating their relationships with Panda.

This has major implications depending on how far Panda’s influence extends with Nintendo. If they have a say in which events can secure licenses, they will be the most important power broker in the community. Additionally, Panda operated PG Stats — one of the most widely used player rankings for both Melee and Ultimate. This could impact players and tournaments who are seeking legitimacy for sponsorships.

Panda has not responded to a request for comment.

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