The tournament scene is in a bit of a standstill.
With Genesis 8 being postponed to April and COVID-19 cases still making it a challenge to organize a safe event, TOs continue to deal with these unprecedented obstacles. Inven Global had the opportunity to sit down with Arian "TheCrimsonBlur" Fathieh — one of the most experienced TOs in history — to get his thoughts on the current tournament scene, investing in Smash, and what can be done to make the community stronger.
What are your thoughts on the makeup of Melee tournaments? There aren't big tournaments really until April. Obviously, the pandemic has continued to limit things but Ultimate has faced the same problems and seems to be having a lot more events still. Why do you think this is?
Well, because many of them got postponed. Just from the calendar side, there were going to be some events around this time LAN-wise. And they never announced and privately talked to their venues and moved in — things like that. So a lot of that stuff is happening behind the scenes that people aren't saying. And TOs are just really scared of COVID and have been for a while.
Do you think having more consistent online majors is a necessity at this point — or at least more standout weeklies?
I think so. It's hard to make those stand out compared to the weeklies. Because really, what's the difference? If they're both going to be free to enter — from a TOing standpoint, in order to make them stand out, you have to have a prize pool.
And for the most part, online events are free. So how are you recouping that cost? It's been tough to make those things happen, especially when a lot of the players don't enter the online events the same, partially because they don't like coast to coast online. But also because it's just less hype and exciting, and less meaningful for ranking.
How do you think we can incentivize top players to compete in more online events?
Unfortunately, other than the stuff like TMT is doing — basically throwing some money towards production value — or having a name like Summit behind it, I think it's gonna be hard for most TOs. It's hard to bridge that gap.
I think the unfortunate thing is on a macro level, we'd have to do something about making those online results mean something and count for something. And we haven't really done a great job at that. So I think certain organizers and certain people with connections can pull it off. But for your average TO, I think I think it's gonna be pretty tough.
How much do you think online results should count for players?
Well, I think this is part of my criticism of subjective rankings — is that no one really knows what counts or for how much. And so players kind of fill in the blanks for themselves. They kind of make assumptions.
Some of them think, "If I go to this local and I lose, people are gonna think that I'm bad." Similarly, they think, "If I go to this online tournament and I face a laggy opponent and lose, people are going to criticize me."
And since we live in this objective world that ends up being really tough.
I've long time stated that the scene is more than overdue to move into what actually the rest of the FGC is doing. We're like the only FGC scene that's not doing this at this point — some sort of point system where things are predetermined and players can know their own schedule a lot better. And that will pretty much alleviate it, because then they could look at it like, "This online tournament counts for exactly this much."
And they'd be able to be incentivized to enter to get those points.
Recently you discussed how you think Smash, dollar for dollar, is the best investment opportunity a team can make. For someone like Hungrybox, that seems understandable. Not sure as much, though, for younger players. If you were trying to sell that idea to an organization, what would be your pitch?
If you just look at the esports market — Smash is a complete outlier by far in terms of the viewership it has for the amount of money you have to spend. It really is not a close comparison. For most games you're talking budget in the millions. With Smash, you can do a great job with $100,000 or $200,000 per year. Even less honestly — if you spend $50,000, you actually have a decent presence. And that's just numbers that you can't say for another game.
And the funnel to becoming big is really proven in Smash — more than any other game. So obviously Mang0's big. Hungrybox was the number one creator for Team Liquid — literally the biggest for one of the three or four biggest North American teams. That's crazy. Ludwig, Atrioc, Stanz — a lot of these names that are big on Twitch are actually part of the Smash ecosystem. And it's because Smash is such a great funnel for people and for new talent.
The reason it happens is because Smash is illogically positioned. It takes so little money to make such a big impact. And I think teams just need to put down roots here and actually try to play the long game. Because if you pick someone up, you work with them and work on growing them — it's proven to work out for almost anyone who's tried.
Besides signing players, what type of big investments would you like to see from teams making in Smash?
There's a ton! The main thing is they could invest into our infrastructure — whether that means investing into our tournaments (they could be running the tournament or could have the tournaments on their channels). They could probably buy out a ton of organizers if they wanted to. They could invest into Slippi, and into organizations that really matter, and help that become a sustainable project which is tied to their brand. They could do things like they're doing with TMT — make the biggest online weekly bigger. Make it a mainstay.
Basically, I think that the stuff that's proven to be really, really good investments for long-term, are the stuff that can stick around for a very long time. And also can be used as a formula for other games. Once you have a really good reputation and brand in event organizing, league operations, production, etc., you can use that to get business elsewhere. And Smash has the bar so low, it can be your testing ground.
What's been your opinion of Smash streaming causing some teams to focus less on competition?
Honestly, it doesn't really concern me very much. I think most of the players know that streaming is the thing that makes you the most money, but you use the tournaments as a way to grow that platform. What's tough is for the second tier of event organizers — there's not going to be really a problem for Genesis or Summit to convince players to go — they're gonna have to work to basically get the players out. It's gonna be pretty tough.
But the first tier events, at least, I think the players will go. So I think it's mostly a problem for the second tier, in which case, I think it's less about the fact that they're not streaming instead, but more so that there's just very little reason based on how the rankings are formed for them to go to anything outside the top tier. I think people are misattributing it to streaming in particular, when it's just that these other second-tier events are just not a good use of their time based on our communal infrastructure at the moment.
Regarding tournaments allowing you to build your brand, across the board — KoDoRiN, Polish, Aklo — these players don't seem to be gaining the social media presence that we've seen from players in the past with similar results. Why is this?
I don't think they're really trying. I think the people who are trying like the Mokys and iBDWs of the world — they've been able to get a following. Like you mentioned Polish; I don't think Polish has done much of anything to try. And that's not their fault. It's just more that it's just not been their thing. So I think it's mostly about an effort and priority thing, but I think if most of them tried they would do well.
You've obviously been someone quite skeptical of Nintendo, even with the announcement of the Nintendo Panda Smash Bros circuit. Many fans wanted Nick All-Star Brawl to provide some competition, but the game is currently averaging 20 viewers a day. What do you think went wrong, and do you think there’s anything to save it?
I'm never going to say never — I personally am really, really rooting for new developers that continue investing into the platform fighter scene. I think most of us clearly want to get out of the shadow of Nintendo at all costs. And we just haven't had the perfect game for that.
All-Star was a good attempt; I think the hard part is that their Metacritic, OpenCritic, and Steam review rating is not something they can readily change. And I think that you're gonna have a hard time building a casual base when they're going to get scared away by that alone — pretty much to the end of time.
No matter how many patches you do. And that's just been true of gaming for a long time. And if you have those type of numbers, it's gonna be really hard. So I'm not going to say it's impossible — some games like No Man's Sky were able to turn around the reputation through basically revitalizing their game. But that's the kind of thing they would have to do. They would have to completely rehabilitate their game, and it's just there's so few examples in gaming history of that being able to be done, but truth is I'm rooting for them.
With NASB failing — a game with a decent IP — can any brand compete with Smash?
Oh, absolutely. And they don't even have to be very creative. The biggest idea that has been just sitting there as a potential billion-dollar idea in the scene is just Dota 2 Melee. Which is to say: take the mechanics, don't really do much to them, add a new skin to them, have all the trappings of a modern game and all the things that we really want, and I'm pretty sure the community would come over. If you do it really, really well. But we've all been waiting for that.
And we don't as a community have the resources to make that happen, but if someone was smart enough to not try to reinvent the wheel... I think it's that people are afraid of being labeled as copycats. But the story on this one, I think most people would understand. I think this is one of those times where everyone's like, "Yeah, good idea, just like they did with Valve!"
Dota was stuck under the Blizzard umbrella, and it sucked for them. That community was suffering. And then Valve just took it, and now no one even thinks that it wasn't originally a Valve property to begin with. And it became one of the biggest esports. We've been waiting for that for so long. But we just haven't been able to make it happen, and the opportunity's just been sitting there.
What do you want to see happening in Melee that currently isn’t?
I'd like to see the TOs talk to each other. I think there are people like me that sometimes will sometimes talk and stuff, but they pretty much are siloed off at this point. Moreso than any time in Smash history — we were pretty unified in the MIOM and Twitch eras where there was a little bit of organization from us as a collective.
But they straight up don't talk to each other at this point. There's no collaboration, no thoughtfulness, as far as that's concerned. And I don't think it's good for the scene. I think this is as disparate as we've ever been. And so mostly, I just wish that we get to a point where people can stop viewing each other as competitors, and kind of collaborate to some better future. But yeah, I've been pretty disappointed by that for a long time.
Why do you think that is — the competition aspect?
Yeah, it's pretty much that I think. There's also a lot of stuff that's happened that made us not like each other [laughs]. Basically, through competition, and through all these other things, a lot of distrust and stuff like that. So now they're just not talking to each other like period.
I think last year there was a total of three TO meetings, where the bigger TOs got together. I was on those calls. And there hasn't been any since. And basically, I'm in literally every Discord chat — where these sorts of conversations would happen — and the big name TOs are just not coordinating at all. And for my money, like most of Smash history, they have been. Almost all of it. But the last few years, it's not been the case.
What do you see potentially fixing this?
Hopefully offline events coming back will help — but one thing that hurts is that they're not going to each other's events like they used to either. So maybe it won't happen. I think that the TOs sometimes are just running their event, and not coming to anyone else's at this point. So I think that doesn't help.
The truth is, the answer might be a new crop of TOs coming around and just supplanting these guys, I'm not sure. Or if one of these TOs just becomes the king and beats out all the others. But at the moment, there's just been no appetite for collaboration. And they've even been butting heads in very notable ways.
Why has the perspective changed?
They focus on their own stuff, and they don't see the value in it. They're not like attendees and competitors, and that part of it has kind of left them a long time ago. And so they're just focused on their own stuff. And, again, because a lot of them aren't friends anymore, they're not going to each other's events just to support. That used to be what we did.
Looking at your career and involvement in the Smash community, what would you say you're most proud of or look back upon most fondly?
I'm not sure. There's been a lot of stuff that I've done over the years. In general — this is not something I've personally — but I think the thing that I'm most proud of overall is seeing people that I came up with burgeon on and have great careers in the industry and grow as people.
So when I see guys like Aiden and Slime go on to do Mogul Moves along with Ludwig and Nick — that's awesome to me. When I see Nintendude become the VP of Esports at Chess.com from his Twitch career, when I see RagingCherry (Director of Smash The Record) work at Twitch — the list goes on. It's actually a really long list. But for me, I just really like seeing the success of my friends and seeing them all grow as people. That's been particularly enjoyable. Every time I see a big W for one of our own, that's great.
Because the truth is that a lot of us didn't come from much. We just did it for the love. And to see love actually rewarded by the universe — it kind of goes against a lot of the negativity you see sometimes on the internet. It's not so bad sometimes.
What is a personal lesson that you've learned recently that you think would be of benefit to other people?
This is super personal in terms of the way I think right now, but maybe it'll help someone: my greatest fear is losing my parents — that general thought. And the thing that I've learned helps my anxiety with that has been finding new and good ways of basically easing them into being older. I know a lot of Smash players are getting into their thirties now. And all of our parents are getting older — learning how to deal with that, basically transferring the keys and taking care of them a little bit.
That's been on my mind a lot. And I think it helps a lot in terms of knowing that they're taken care of and knowing that they're doing all right. And I recommend to anyone out there: call your parents, take an active role in their life. If you have a good relationship with your parents, I encourage you to not let how society in American culture deals with that sometimes. Spend the time that you can while you have it, and take care of them as they get older. Because they're going to need it.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.