Today, Nintendo of America announced that they are partnering with Community Effort Orlando, aka CEO, to bring Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as well as Melee to the tournament.
CEO has been around since 2010, when Alex Jebailey, the head of the tournament, and a group of south Florida fighting game players salvaged a canceled tournament and threw an event that hosted 350 players. By 2015, CEO had over 40,000 attendees and over 3 million viewers on Twitch. CEO has become one of the largest tournaments in the world, with players from around the world and a heaping dose of personality in the form of a wrestling theme (the finals stage is a wrestling ring, complete with intros for the players). Jebailey himself is known for being a boisterous self-promoter – he appeared in 2013’s Divekick as “Jefailey”.
CEO has hosted Smash tournaments since 2014, and has actively pursued to promote and grow their Smash community. While it was founded as a traditional fighting game event, last year the top two events were Smash Wii U and Melee, with 512 and 483 players respectively, while Street Fighter 4 came in third with 408 entrants. In only its second year, CEO’s top events became Smash tournaments, and Jebailey has promised even more support this year.
Enter Nintendo. Nintendo in the past was infamously unsupportive of the Smash scene, even going as far as to shut down Melee from EVO, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, in 2013. Hours after the announcement, Nintendo reversed this decision due to the extreme backlash from the gaming community. Super Smash Bros. Brawl itself is often viewed as an “anti-competitive” Smash game, as the inclusion of elements like random tripping and the slower pace lead the Smash community to feel burned.
With the release of Smash Wii U and 3DS, aka Smash 4, Nintendo has been attempting to establish a true relationship with the community. Nintendo themselves put on an invitational tournament at E3 2014, bringing in some of the top Smash players and commentators to play on the then-unreleased Smash Wii U. Nintendo has gone on to sponsor a few other tournaments, including EVO in 2015 and 2016, APEX 2015 and Genesis 3 just this past January. Nintendo has made great moves to go from ignoring or even blocking community efforts to supporting them officially.
Today’s announcement of the CEO sponsorship feels like a huge step forward that feels like it might signal an even bigger push for Nintendo to get involved with eSports. Other than EVO, which is the biggest tournament in the world, CEO is traditionally a Street Fighter/Capcom dominated event. This year, however, CEO has Melee, Smash 4, and Pokkén Tournament. Three of the ten main games are Nintendo games, and this is something Nintendo seems to have taken notice of. Capcom and Sony have partnered up for the 2016 Capcom Cup, a year-long series of sponsored Street Fighter V events, culminating in a $500 thousand finale tournament. I’m not saying that Nintendo is going for the same idea, but it would certainly be an exciting prospect for Nintendo to sponsor events year round, as well as putting on their own.
Jebailey said on Twitter that the extent of the deal with Nintendo is classified, but that they are helping run a smooth event. Most likely, Nintendo is donating Wii U’s, GameCubes, copies of the games, and possibly even monitors. The Pokémon Company, meanwhile, has put an extra $5,000 into the prize pool for Pokkén Tournament at CEO, hoping to bring excitement to the new game. Pokkén Tournament currently has the fourth most number of entrants, behind only Street Fighter V and the two Smash games. It is unknown if Nintendo is providing any sort of pot bonus for Smash, but it is exciting regardless that they are taking notice of a large, yet non-traditional Smash tournament.
With this generation Nintendo has taken their biggest step yet into the growing world of eSports. Splatoon, Pokkén Tournament, Mario Kart 8 and Smash Bros. all have incredible potential as professional eSports games. While Nintendo still has a long way to go, an official partnership with a tournament that isn’t solely devoted to Nintendo’s products shows that the company is watching the community closely, and hopefully this signals even more involvement in terms of promotions and monetary assistance. It’s about time Nintendo embraced their games’ popularity and used them as a chance for free exposure and good press. I know a Nintendo Smash Bros. world championship tournament would be my personal favorite event of the year.