With 2021 Melee wrapped up, things are looking up compared to the quarantine era that, while it had some upsides, was largely brushed aside with the sentiment of online not truly mattering.
Once events actually came back starting with Smash Summit 11, excitement for LAN Melee was higher than it’s ever been, and concluded with a bang with Smash Summit 12 and Smash World Tour 2021, seeing the return of international talent like Leffen and aMSa as well as rising stars like Polish and myself (humble brag).
As 2021 concludes, 2022 Melee is looking to shape up big time for its biggest year yet. Genesis at the time of writing is sitting pretty with over 1550 attendees, breaking records with still a month left of registration. Ludwig announced his secret $1M tournament run by reputable TO’s like Aiden. The Nintendo circuit is a thing. Big House is announced. Possible Slippi Ranked release (don’t harass Fizzi btw). Storylines are being developed for the potential greatest Melee ever showcased.
Surely, nothing can get in the way of 2022 Melee?
…Ok you got me, there are absolutely a lot of variables that can stifle 2022 Melee. The threat of the Omicron COVID variant running rampant (GET YOUR BOOSTER SHOT IF YOU HAVEN’T), the Nintendo circuit possibly being the biggest threat to Melee’s potential, and other minor factors such as the relative decline of Melee locals makes it hard to determine if 2022 will be the greatest year yet, or yet another unglamorous year of purgatory for Melee.
Let’s talk about the positives first, shall we?
2022 Melee: What's going for it
The two big tournaments for next January are The Function 2 and Genesis 8, both of which have extremely impressive numbers. The Function 2 is a New York regional that fulfilled its cap in less than 10 hours, with several top players confirmed and reserved. Most notably, if Mang0, Zain, and iBDW fulfill their personal stream’s sub goals (which seems likely), they will attend.
When was the last time we’ve seen a regional that insanely stacked? If all the top players confirm, it is highkey more stacked than every non-Summit major that occurred last year. And that’s just merely an appetizer.
Two weeks later, we have Genesis, which has more Melee entrants than the previous three iterations, with roughly around a MONTH left for registration! It has the potential to be the biggest Genesis yet, which will naturally create an unbelievably stacked tournament. And that’s just simply January — there are other events to look forward to such as Double Down, another potential SWT, Smash Summits, Big House, etc that have been the lifeblood of Melee for so long.
The secret Ludwig tournament
While Ludwig has been moving on to bigger and greater things, he has never forgotten his roots with the Melee scene. While he’s busy signing multi-million dollar contracts streaming on YouTube, he has plans to give back some of his earnings with the $1M funded tournament organized by reputable TO’s like Aiden.
This isn’t Ludwig’s first rodeo supporting the Melee scene, as he has ran tournaments like LACS 3 with a $30k prize pool to support the #FreeMelee movement. However, this is by far the biggest contribution not only from Ludwig, but also from any tournament ever. For sure we have had massive support from tournaments like EVO and Summit, but operating from a million-dollar budget?
I’m not gonna lie, I don’t know behind the scenes of every big Melee tournament, but it’s merely common sense to know that the Ludwig tournament will be one of the biggest tournaments possibly of all time, enjoyed by many.
Possibility of 2022 Slippi Ranked
I want to once again preface that I absolutely do NOT know that it will certainly be released by 2022. Fizzi already did God’s work doing all he did, and this is certainly a cherry on top should it be released by then.
But my goodness, if it were to be released, the content and skill level will SPIKE sometime after its release. One of Melee’s greatest weaknesses is the ambiguity of skill level outside of top level, and ranked mode basically solves that problem. Should it happen by next year, people will be far more motivated to grind and naturally multiply the scene’s interest than ever before.
The Nintendo X-factor
Say we live in the timeline where the Nintendo circuit not only awards just some Pro Controller, but also millions of dollars?
Partnered with Panda Global, Nintendo has made an abrupt announcement in November that they will be premiering an Ultimate and a surprise Melee circuit that should span throughout 2022. No other details.
If we take the most benevolent interpretation of this news, this can change everything for the Melee landscape. A big reason why Melee is held back is due to lack of developer support and approval, with other sponsors either afraid of joining or cannot legally support Melee to the extent they wish. With Big N possibly funding the prize pool and operations — as well as being open to other giant sponsors and big names supporting the Melee infrastructure — this extreme benevolent timeline can see the greatest, brightest future Melee can ever see, breaking numbers over LoL, Dota, CS:GO, and every esport giant that we would’ve never even fathomed of ever toppling in our dreams.
While I doubt it will quite go that far, the fact that this is legitimately on the table makes what was once an unfathomable possibility to a cautiously optimistic outlook.
2022 Melee: What it's up against
The looming Omicron variant
While writing this article’s first draft, it’s already announced that The Function 2 is postponed due to the dangers of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant. What was supposed to kick off 2022 with an exciting bang as a Genesis appetizer will no longer happen. As for Genesis, already there are multiple attendees that are expressing doubts and dropping out for their safety and stricter travel laws.
SWT has had several notable figureheads that caught COVID, and other majors like Genesis could easily fall suit as a superspreader event, especially if proper protocols aren’t strictly followed. That’s not even mentioning the possibility of another covid variant being introduced in the distant future, delaying international travel and the safety of general attendees.
Already, the new variant of covid is affecting our early events of 2022, and the problems of covid is not even close to being solved it seems. This may force us back to our quarantine ways where instead of exciting tournaments of Genesis, Big House, and the Ludwig Tournament, we’re stuck back to online tournaments in another quarantine era which let’s be honest: Nobody cares and will definitely be viewed as a downgrade to LAN Melee.
However, despite the pessimism regarding the Omicron variant, steps can be taken to ensure that the attendees’ safety isn’t compromised. For one, stricter protocols must be enforced such as requiring booster shots, a negative covid test at least a week before the event, and masks being worn at all times. Attendees being responsible with social distancing, not eating out with large gatherings, and constantly sanitizing is a big plus.
Smash has already hosted several events with only minimal COVID spread of 1% or less, whereas SWT had significantly more than that. Florida being very lax with their view of COVID, protocols at the event not being enforced, and attendees getting too comfortable may be the greater contributing factor than simply a new covid strain. While the new strain of COVID must be rightfully taken very cautiously, taking responsibility with all measures possible against it shouldn’t ruin the majority of our events…unless?
The decline of Melee locals
Count with your two hands and think: What are the current biggest locals you can think of?
Back then especially in 2016’s heyday, the answer was far more than 10. And among the top 10, it would be normal to see those locals break over 100 entrants in most iterations. Locals were the lifeblood of the Melee scene and what many attribute to why they love the Melee community.
Now? I can only really think of a couple. Such as Verdugo West and Pizza Time in SoCal, and The Nightclub in New York. And while I might’ve missed some here and there, that’s waaay less than 10 unfortunately. And if you compare the quality and entrants of 2016 Melee, it’s laughably not even a contest. Aside from the few locals I listed, virtually every other locals struggle to hit 20 entrants, if even 10 consistently. What happened?
It’s unfortunately a complex, multi-faceted issue that’s not just one particular reason, but I can think of a couple. For one, COVID has seriously put a ceiling on our growth, requiring to put attendee caps in every local as well as the natural fear of attending events.
Another is because securing venues especially in California and New York is a supreme pain in the ass (trust me I tried), so that doesn’t help. Churning out TO’s who are unpaid, unfairly criticized, relatively inexperienced, and long time commitments is certainly not doing us any favors, which is why so few step up. Also with rollback being so good, making the commitment to drive to locals becomes more and more of an opportunity cost when previously we had no other choice.
If Slippi Ranked comes out, it would also spell death to a lot of locals. Why go 1-2 at a local when you can grind Ranked all day? The problem is that not everyone is blessed with the perfect setup, location, and internet, and those people are left biting the dust of what was once the lifeblood of the scene fading away. As 2022 rolls around, I honestly think our local scene will continue to shrink.
On the bright side however, regionals are popping off. While our local base is declining, I do believe our overall playerbase have grown thanks to rollback. The Function 2 capping so soon is proof of this, and there are several regionals that boast impressive numbers. While locals may ultimately be replaced by Slippi Ranked mode, I think regionals will remain stronger than ever. As such, there will be tradeoffs as locals gradually disappear.
The Nintendo negative X-factor
Say we live in the timeline where Nintendo circuit not only awards just some Pro Controller, but also a million dollars worth of Nintendo eShop credits?
What could liberate Melee to the greatest growth yet can also be its greatest downfall with how much Nintendo can hold us back. Time and time again, Nintendo demonstrates that they simply do not understand our ways, from minor things like not allowing UCF and Frozen Stadium to major events like nuking Big House Online and not having a prize pool at all such as their past invitationals. While they are working with Panda Global, Nintendo ultimately has the final say. and needless to say, they have sullied the Melee community’s trust dozens of times.
The worry here isn’t even their circuit itself, where it could be a complete joke of FFA with items on with no monetary prizepool. The real problem is Nintendo, finally having a vested interest in running Melee tournaments, can effectively shut down their competitors within their legal rights. Now that it’s a conflict of interest, Nintendo can very easily in the background threaten Summit, Genesis, Ludwig, Big House, etc. to stand down and let them take complete monopoly.
For the first time since Brawl’s release, Melee has a real possibility of straight-up dying.
Should this timeline occur, even if they’re covert about their takedown, rumors will certainly trace down to them and cause extremely bad PR. We were MAD when Big House Online was taken down, and we will make even greater noise if they take down even more iconic Melee tournaments. I don’t think it’s in their best interest to make such a move, but they’ve made more questionable decisions before. We will certainly make noise if that possibility occurs.
While 2022 Melee has the potential to be the greatest year yet, the negatives have a real possibility to halt or even kill our scene. Given our developments, we are due for an explosive 2022, but we may have to wait yet another year, or maybe even never.
My pragmatic prediction
My take of what will occur? I wish Melee had everything coming for it in 2022. Unfortunately with our obstacles, there will be some stipulations.
International travels will continue to be strict, especially as new variants keep creeping up. Until we somehow solve the problem completely, I don’t think international talent will be consistent throughout the year. Unfortunately, that means Leffen and aMSa will likely not make our Melee storylines especially spicy, as well as several other international talents. This greatly limits our competition and storylines.
I think big events like Genesis will still occur, if only because they are at an ultimatum to either run the event or go bankrupt with thousands of dollars unpaid for. I think with strict COVID policies, they should be fine, but what should be all-time, record-breaking numbers are going to be more like decent numbers but not 2016 heights. This also goes for the Ludwig tournament.
The Nintendo Circuit will likely be respectable, with some shaky rulesets like no UCF and unfrozen Stadium, but at least have a decent prize pool. I don’t think they will kill Melee, but I have a feeling they’re going to pull some strings in the background that we won’t like, such as enforcing unfrozen Stadium at all future events. I think it will be a net positive but we won’t appreciate the rippling effects they will naturally produce.
If Slippi Ranked releases this year, I think it will release sometime late Summer, and Melee will see yet another spike of growth and skill increase. While unfortunately locals will bite the dust, the net positives of Ranked far outweighs the negatives in my opinion.
Overall, I don’t think 2022 Melee will see its peak or downfall. I think it will see incremental growth, but it won’t feel like it because we could’ve been so much bigger had we not been held back, once again.
Player for FlyQuest, coaches on https://metafy.gg/@kodorin
Player for FlyQuest, coaches on https://metafy.gg/@kodorin