The debate over controller legality may not have the fire and fury of the Steve in Ult discourse, but the future of Melee may depend on it. That’s probably a bit more hysterical than you’d expect from a piece about the potential value and harm of being able to jump by pressing a different button than Sakurai intended, but there is an argument to say controller remapping has the potential to hurt the greatest Smash game ever made.
This isn’t an argument about the fairness of remapping, or whether doing so is an advantage, for one simple reason. If there were no advantage to remapping, there would be no debate in the first place, and the likes of lloD and iBDW would never have gone to all the effort required to change their button layouts. Results also show that for those that have remapped, there is a significant benefit, so we can put that to rest and move on.
It’s fair to say that Melee has never been the most accessible esport. Even at the time of the Smash Bros documentary, when the scene was blowing up, there were issues with new players trying to find good controllers, or copies of the game. Nintendo, for their part, are known as one of the worst developers ever to have a game become an esport, and consistently failed to help the community by selling new copies of Melee, or high-quality GameCube controllers.
As a result of this, a sort of weird arms race was born, with players snapping up boxes of controllers at yard sales, on eBay, or wherever else they could, in the hopes of cannibalizing the parts to create one perfect playing device. This led to advances in controller modding, with basic changes like spring modifications in the shoulder buttons and notches for firefox angles becoming more common, which the community did largely accept, but things have moved on now.
Slipperly slope to turbo-shine buttons?
Today, players have begun to remap their GameCube controllers entirely, or rather modders have managed to do so. This means you are no longer constrained by the button layout Nintendo envisioned, and can move inputs onto different buttons, which in practice is normally used to reposition your jump input onto a shoulder button. This, in turn, makes many movement options far easier, and creates advantages for players that have such modded controllers.
Some, like Melee's GOAT above, have argued this could create a slippery slope, with macros or turbo-button type shenanigans, but the more immediate problem it creates is simply the barrier to entry for new players. It’s hard enough finding a legal copy of Melee, and even a single GameCube controller, but if you do manage that now you’re still behind in an arms race that has ramped up hugely in the past few years.
Likewise, Melee is not in the same place it was a few years back, with top players having walked away and the scene lacking some of the annual highlights like Evo, or the ‘Smash Majors’ that fell by the wayside. New players are a incredibly valuable asset to any game, but when you’re playing an esport that the developer is trying to kill against people who have been doing it for years, it can be tough to convince yourself that taking up Melee is a good option, especially when games like Fortnite are so accessible, and make the transition to competition easy.
With this in mind, asking players to use the standard GameCube controller setup in terms of button layout would not only make for a fairer, more level playing field, but also make it easier for new players to get into the game, and emulate what they see on stream. Access to modded controllers is not universal or cheap, which puts sponsored players at an even greater advantage than is already the case, and by banning remapping you can remove the extremes while still allowing for improvements to existing inputs that make for quality of life improvements.
If we continue on the current path, there will come a point where the average spectator is watching a game on stream that is, for all intents and purposes, not the same as the one they can play at home. We are already reaching this point with things like the universal controller fix, and modding controllers has created situations that are not attainable to those with a standard setup, so creating some boundaries before the issue reaches the point of no return makes the most sense with the future of the game in mind, as well as the present-day.