Earlier today, the official Twitter account for The Big House announced that they’ll be cancelling their upcoming online event after receiving a cease and desist letter from Nintendo of America. Traditionally held in Michigan, The Big House is one of only twelve tournament series ever to receive an S score in the Panda Global Rankings, making it one of the largest and most important events on the Smash calendar. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers had planned to take The Big House online this year with the help of Slippi, an emulated version of Super Smash Bros. Melee. But now, after Nintendo’s letter, players will have to wait at least another year to compete in this ultra-major tournament.
— The Big House (@TheBigHouseSSB) November 19, 2020
For those who are unfamiliar with the Fighting Game Community, Slippi may sound like an act of pure greed: why not just buy the game and play it on the original hardware? But those inside the FGC will know that it’s not that simple, especially during a pandemic. “Slippi’s online functionality allows for people to play Melee in a way where it feels nearly as if they were playing in person with someone,” says Fizzi, a longtime Smash player who’s also the creator and lead engineer on the project. After graduating with a degree in computer engineering and working at smash.gg, he began building Slippi in 2015 “with the goal of computing complex stats for the game and understanding the game in new ways.” From there, it evolved into something much larger – and something that took on extra importance with the spread of the coronavirus. “Given the pandemic,” he says, Slippi “is currently the only possible way for people to continue competing in Melee.” That’s because the game was released without any online mode at all. So in most countries, Smashers who want to play each other today have two choices: risk exposure to a deadly virus or play online using an emulated version of the game.
Indeed, Slippi is part of a larger trend of unofficial, community-run fighting game projects. From netcode patches to other emulator-based tournaments, fighting game fans have stepped up in the absence of corporate support to ensure that their favorite titles remain alive. Melee may have a more active scene than the average title from 2001, but nobody in the FGC is thriving in quarantine. “I’ve gotten a huge amount of tweets talking about how Slippi has really helped people’s lives during these hard times,” Fizzi says. That’s why this recent news is especially difficult for the community to bear. “Nintendo has proven over and over again that they are unwilling to support the scene in any meaningful way,” he adds. “They seem more interested in stunting the competitive Melee scene rather than supporting it. The best we can ask for is that they stop actively trying to hurt us.”
Of course, Nintendo retains full control over its game and is well within its legal rights to act against emulated content. We at toptier also understand the importance of supporting game developers; we endorse the use of emulators only when players have already legally purchased the relevant game. Still, none of that makes this news less painful for the Smash community, many of whom were looking forward to a bright spot in an otherwise challenging year. For the time being, Big House organizers plan to issue refunds to anyone who registered, and it’s safe to assume that they’ll continue to run their live events when it becomes safe to do so. And despite Nintendo’s action against the tournament, Slippi itself remains operational and accessible through its website. But Melee fans and competitors alike now find themselves back at the drawing board. With no help from Nintendo and no end to the pandemic in sight, all they can do is wait until their favorite game returns.