“Today, a friend of the producer is coming over to play Smash Brothers Melee.”
It’s 2013. I hear these words as I sit skeptically on the couch of my college apartment. My friend has convinced me, with admittedly minimal effort, to watch a YouTube documentary he found over Christmas break. He knows I recently ran through some classic N64 games, and has concluded that I will enjoy this.
“He considers himself pretty good, having played the game for several years. What he doesn’t know is that he’s about to play Korean DJ, one of the greatest Melee players of all time.”
The excitement is mounting, I want to see how this guy methodically takes down his opponent, which I’m certain he does since the scene made it to the documentary.
“KDJ will lose 3 [stocks] on purpose.”
There’s no way he makes this comeback, right..?
“Now, he will try.”
Those four words ripple the water of my senses before the 10-ton boulder of professional-level Melee glory comes crashing through. KDJ moves effortlessly, faster than I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t just make a neat comeback, he dismantles his opponent with surgeon-like precision. What the hell did I just watch? How is that possible? I’ve played this game hundreds of times and never even come within 1% of what I just saw.
I need to know more.
The Smash Brothers is a documentary series created by Travis “Samox” Beauchamp that resides on YouTube. The 9-episode run is essential viewing for anyone looking to learn about Super Smash Bros. Melee’s competitive history. Specifically, the doc covers the players who dominantly conquered the scene up until the series was released in 2013. After its release, The Smash Brothers inspired a boom of new Melee players, a generation lovingly (and sometimes snarkily) referred to as “the doc kids”.
In terms of impact on the scene of the game it covers, The Smash Brothers is unrivaled. The success of this piece of FGC content is a shining example of what can be accomplished through a strong, well-crafted documentary or docu-series. There are a lot of things that The Smash Brothers does right, and upcoming FGC historians and content creators can learn a lot from this juggernaut of a documentary.
“Shallow End” Melee Information
This doc is a masterclass in presenting a wide array of information in a digestible way. You can come into The Smash Brothers having never touched a Nintendo console, and you’ll walk away knowing:
- Tech skills like wavedashing and dash dancing, their origins, and how to perform them
- 10 all-time great top players
- The highs and lows of Melee’s competitive history
- Smash-specific slang terms like “no Johns”, Ken combo, and more
- Which characters are popular top-tiers
- How the scene splintered with Super Smash Bros: Brawl
- The names of the major tournaments
That’s a ton of information for someone to take in, but because of the structure and presentation, you hardly even realize just how much you now know. The doc does an incredible job of putting you in the shallow end of Smash lore. It never forces you to bite off more than you can chew, instead presenting relevant information as it comes up. Someone mentions wavedashing, the doc takes a quick 60 second detour to explain it clearly. A new player appears in the narrative, their close Melee friends are interviewed alongside commentators and players to paint a full picture.
This approach allows the viewer to walk away feeling like an expert ready to play the game, yet leaves endless amounts of deeper information, tech, and lore to explore for themselves. There are still matchups to learn. There are classic moves like shinespikes or tech chasing to try. There’s history to catch up on, like Leffen’s systematic takedown of the 5 gods. There are diss tracks and salty suites and Summit tournaments, and you’re prepared to dive in thanks to 9 30-minute episodes.
The Episodic Approach
At first glance, 4.5 hours of Melee information may seem way more daunting than an hour-long standard documentary. What I’ve found, however, is that because it’s episodic, it is much easier to convince someone to sit through “just the first episode” to see if they like it.
Breaking the information up into episodic format makes the barrier to entry much lower. Spending 20 minutes of your life on something is inherently easier than spending an hour. Plus, being in episodes means you have a built-in out, right? You can simply choose to not watch the next one.
Well, yes, except The Smash Brothers’ first episode is a perfect ad for the rest of the series. It starts with a strong hook, ends with a cliffhanger, and closes with an absolute banger playing over an infectiously energetic montage (which becomes the intro after this point). It is carefully designed to ensure you watch episode 2.
I couldn’t help but binge the entire series my first time. I was in college and had the free time to do so, so I blasted through the series in a single day (and it was glorious). I also know plenty of people who spread it out over a week or two, but no matter how you choose to watch, there’s one consistency: viewers tend to finish the entire thing.
Because the hook is so effective, Samox gets away with spreading a lifetime’s worth of Melee information across 9 episodes, which prevents things from feeling too jam-packed or hard to follow. The episodic narrative allows the series to be extensive, but also to breathe where it needs to. It’s a stroke of genius that should be imitated more often.
Viewers Become Melee Fans
When you watch sports documentaries like 30 for 30, you tend to walk away feeling like a fan. That feeling is key to your attachment to the sport: you feel invested in it. You know where the athlete(s) covered came from, their motivations, and the trials they have overcome. Their success is your success, and you now have a stake in their story. This approach goes beyond sports, too. It’s a crucial component in getting the audience to care.
This doc does that. I know someone who watched this doc and is now a diehard Ken fan, despite him being long retired. I know others who walked away as Mang0 Nation members and went straight to his Twitch stream to sub. The beauty of the doc being told as a player-centric story is that everyone walks away with a favorite. It gives you something to emotionally invest in beyond the game. If wavedashing seems too hard to learn, you might just latch on to spectating because you love Mew2King’s eccentric personality.
Where other docs may choose to focus on a game itself and use players as perspective to explore that game, The Smash Brothers does the opposite. It uses the game to introduce the players and frames the structure around their stories. This approach does have the advantage of Super Smash Bros. being an extremely well-known title, but the concept of creating player fans by showing off personalities, career highs, and famously hype sets is something that can be adapted to other scenes.
Bonus: The Intro (and the Song)
If you’ve seen The Smash Brothers before, you likely have the intro song stuck in your head right now. That beat is infectious. After you finish the first episode, you’re treated to the song alongside a montage of hype moments and pop-offs. It’s a teaser for the series and a high-point for energy in the episode.
Then you start episode 2 and boom, there it is again. That song gets you excited right off the bat while the intro lays out all of the players you’ll meet over the course of the series. You get the instant 1-2 punch of energy and curiosity. Ken and Azen have been sick, so KDJ and Mang0 must be just as crazy if not even moreso, right?
Only one way to find out. (Hint: It involves hearing your new favorite song a few more times.)
We’re in a period right now where FGC content is getting produced more often and improving at exponential rates. YouTube channels like Hold Back to Block and The Score eSports are recording our history and sharing our stories, but there’s always room to grow. As more content comes, it’s crucial that we strive to take influence from the pieces that have succeeded at growing communities in the past. The Smash Bros. is a phenomenal place to start.
Ryan Farmer, aka KRCPinto, is a fighting game player and fan based in Austin, TX.