I got the opportunity today to talk with PG | Luis "suar" Suarez, the head of the Panda Global Ranking team. What the PGR did for the smash community is unprecedented. The PGR changed the entire outlook for Smash 4 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as an esport, legitimizing the scene with validated rankings that outsiders could view for information about the players within. So I reached out to see if he had any free time to talk, with the new PGR releasing shortly, to discuss the PGR and smash community.
What got you involved with esports initially?
I was in Connecticut for grad school, having started in University of Florida in Gainesville. Smash 4 was my first Smash Bros. game. My roommate was a big brawl player. I was into Blazblue and MvC, you know, those "real" FGC games. I made friends with Tommy "Ryo" Janky, an Ike player and brawl veteran. I started TO’ing more, like university stuff, and started leading in my community. I started ranking and the PR. I graduated and moved to New England with my girlfriend, who was at UCONN in a PhD program, then started getting involved in the New England scene. Facebook was the central hub of Smash Bros., and that's when it started moving to Twitter. *laughs* Jason "ANTi" Bates only had 500 followers back then.
I was playing, TO’ing, and doing community work. Then, Genesis 3 happened. I messaged Bassem "Bear" Dahdouh, (main TO of the biggest Smash Bros Ultimate/Smash 4 tournaments) congratulating him and such. I emailed Panda Global, and they responded. One of the co-founders and CEO responded after I messaged him trying to get involved, and told him it (Smash 4) needed a ranking. The scene needed it. He humored it, and told me he had other people interested. Then he put me in contact with the other people he'd mentioned. (Zeyan “Zan” Nizami, from Socal, and PG|Dominique “Dom” Moore from New Jersey.)
A couple spreadsheets later all three of us created the first PGR. We got brought into Panda Global, and now we were all working under the same umbrella. The questions of how should we start it, what should we call it, and when should we release it arose. I started taking a leadership as well as mentee role. We would work out ideas that we generated. Area 51 and X-factor are some ideas that came to fruition. We’d execute based off of these type of ideas.
In the beginning we wrote and did everything. We were like a start up. Like the month of the first PGR, we were covering, doing so much work, and fact-checking. Fyazko was doing the videos (He's now inactive) and we were working across six different time zones. People all over were working diligently to prepare for the release. If there was a typo in the video, it had to be redone. Back then, it was videos with articles, but Reddit started to rise. As a result, less of the people were reading, more were just looking for the videos. So essentially, we had to make videos similar in a way to Vine, where it's more about the sensationalism. The general feel is just videos and social media when it comes to things like this. PGRv5 didn’t have any write ups.
What is the season format or start/end times when it comes to the PGR?
We always try to end it before EVO. We want them (players) coming into EVO ranked. We always try to end it before Christmas. Before Genesis, a newly minted ranking always is the goal. It sets up storylines for the tourney. Pre-evo, pre-genesis. Nothing counted in smash until the weekend of February 3rd this year because that's when Genesis was. That is how we decide the seasons.
What do you think is next in the progression of Ultimate as an esport?
*sigh* I think for Ultimate, that until there’s full acknowledgment from Nintendo and we have publisher support, it’ll never reach the tier 1 esports status. 2GG did a great circuit, but featured essentially same players, and talent on the mic, and had insane production. It was a valiant effort. The magic of it, was that the circuit had everyone on the same page. Every month you had a different saga, and it gave us expectations for storylines, and something to look forward to. Like DBFZ, or Capcom Pro Tour, you know this is a major, this is a regional etc (we have in S-tier and A-tier etc). We’ve essentially done the same thing. You know Genesis, Evo, and CEO are big deals, and a S-tier doesn't reach that status unless the entire world is coming (Europe, Japan, Mexico etc). The 2GG circuit happened, and it was good from what we saw, but we don’t know how well it did, because it wasn't renewed this year. For the most part, something didn’t work out and we saw that happened despite the partnerships and sponsorships it had (Progressive, Cup O' Noodles, etc). Nintendo only gets involved for what they want. Until the community joins together as one, folks will always be getting into competition. This could be between TO's, streams and more. VGBC, Smash Studios, 2GG, Unrivaled, would clamor for streaming rights, but if everything was on Nintendo, nobody would want to give up what they’ve got. Nintendo (the adult) must come into the room of kids, (the Smash Ultimate community) and say it’s being done THIS way etc. Insanely big tournaments and attendance is a staple of the community, and that would only increase. Until Nintendo is in the room, it’ll stay where it’s at.
Why do you think Nintendo hasn’t or wanted to get involved in Ultimate?
Look at all the publishers: Square Enix, Netherrealms, EA, Bandai Namco, Sega, Ubisoft, all of that compared to the clout that Nintendo has….you see it at E3 every time, “Nintendo wins” because they are so clean. No dirt, etc. The reason they don’t get involved come from sales. 14 million copies sold, and with one wave of DLC, they've already made their money back plus some. Add in what's going on with Elliot Bastien "Ally" Carroza-Oyarce and PolarAce|Zack "Captain Zack" Lauth, all of that and more ...the public relations we take flack for, that's why I believe Nintendo has no interest. There are so many questions the community isn’t ready to face. It would be more like having an outside telecaster or something when it came to commentary. Production and streaming would also come straight from Nintendo. No more people just walking up to the mic. More Hollywood, drier and neater, and being done a certain way that bucks the current trends in the scene.
Would you talk about teams coming to you guys about players and the rankings?
Announcements happen whenever they happen. The DLC could be at any time. Announcements with teams are just as random. Nobody anticipated T1|ANTi, and T1| Larry "Larry Lurr" Holland getting announced . I’ve had teams ask us things. If they don’t know much about the scene they come to us. They make take other channels to look into smash, but it always comes back to the rankings. The 35-50 ranking players get tremendous help too. Tournaments start talking to you, compendiums start up for PGR players, a tournament becomes more desirable when they can announce PGR ranked so-and-so is coming. It’s turned into a marketing thing so quickly. We didn’t expect it. When we made the TTS and ranking tournaments tournaments, organizers now had a blueprint. They knew what to hit in terms of attendance, and PGR players to reach a certain level of tournament. Our characters are so balanced. People see that there is so much diversity in top eights. Rosalina, Olimar, Palu, Ness, Joker, Falcon, Snake, and Pokemon trainer at one tournament in the top eight! It’s so balanced. It’s so new even in terms of skill.
If there was an ESPN article, it would feature the rankings of players. We aren’t the reason the scene is what it is, but we captured the momentum and helped to make it realer. It’s just smash has different games. If you’re in esports you know there are different smash games, but know nothing else. And because we have no developer support, it’s harder to watch and keep up with. By us coming in with the rankings, we’ve made it easier for outsiders to digest and chew on it. You can look and see this person is seventh in the world on THIS game. The game the player is seventh in the world at, is a hot selling title on the switch, and said player will be at EVO. It prevents the whole, “What is Nairo" (NRG| Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada), what is ZSS, and they won what and streams who?”
It is a big responsibility. So much goes into it. Some tournaments run different formats, we must deal with DQ’s of top players, and more. We try to be as equitable as we can be, and extended to international level, so everyone can be a part of the community. As soon as smash was announced for Switch, people were saying, “I'm gonna make PGR in Ultimate”, which showed the impact we have had. We weren’t even in Ultimate yet, no new smash game had been released yet. We brought something to the people they didn’t realize they wanted. We stayed patient, and people realized that it was wanted very much. Everything culminated into this ranking. Pros are conscientious about their ranking, talking wins, losses, results, and they know it goes on their report card for the season.
Would you talk about the PGR team taking over MIOM and that?
Andrew "PracticalTAS" Nestico who’s also behind our rankings, has always been behind the MIOM rankings as well. CLG| Daniel "Tafokints" Lee was over that too, and I deferred and talked to him often about the rankings and his vision. He worked for NASA, now CLG, and his life has changed; Smash couldn’t be a big part of his life anymore. So as a result, we took on the responsibility, and then decided to combine forces on it. It took about three years of Wii U rankings to get to the level to be able to do the MPGR. It happened naturally, and the compromise was to maintain how Melee does it currently, with balloting and it being validated. Because it uses more player opinion, it leaves a little more grey area with rankings. Since we do algorithms with PGR, everything affects everyone. Like MVG|Rasheen "Dark Wizzy" Rose, got double DQ’d at a 202 person tournament which had him tied for 193rd. He didn’t attend, so the TO disqualified him. We had to account for that. You have to look at single elimination, double elimination, and challonge for Japan sometimes. Everyone does their tournament a little different. For Melee, since it is a panel, sets are more so used for reference to help panelists make better, more informed decisions. The added responsibilities have been sizeable, but TAS was already doing it. When we announced we were doing MPGR, everyone was like “cool.” Three years ago that wouldn’t have been possible. But they saw what we did for Smash 4. They are now beginning to be interested in an algorithm in Melee, so that it’s just facts, not opinion. MPGR has been a very good and positive thing for the team. We like it, they (melee community) like it, and we’re chilling.
Can you give us a hint or taste of what’s coming in this PGR?
This PGR is definitely the new-school. It’s not gonna be what you’re used to. If you look at the all-time PGR 100, it’s not the same game. Legacies are out the door. Obviously, there are folks who were good at smash 4, and it has carried over, but some pros aren't necessarily doing well. For instance, T1| Larry Lurr, a well-seasoned, perennial top 10 Smash 4 player and brawl legend, said himself he hasn’t done too well, and would rather not be on the rankings. He'd rather that, than be low in the rankings. The craziest story so far is GW| Sota "Zackray" Okada. He was a Corrin in Smash 4, and then the picture of him at Genesis, where his feet didn’t touch the floor, yet was destroying Rogue | Paris "Light" Ramirez. He was leaned back in his chair, with no headphones, playing it casually. It’s crazy we are in a world where Tempo Storm | Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios is a top streamer, and not playing competitively. These rankings don’t upset the balance, but they have created a new one. There are new winners and new losers. Look at who was on the initial Smash 4 PGR, and who fell off afterwards. These were household names in the beginning, and they fell off. FOX | Leonardo "Mkleo" Perez was #19 on the first ever PGR, and now he’s a perennial number one. A lot of players moved from the second row into the first row. The top doesn’t have room for everyone, but a lot of new folks moved into it. The biggest thing is we moved from a theoretical top 50, into an absolute top 50. It changes the game. Locals get newly revitalized, streamers who get ranked will see their stuff blow up, and it changes things up for all parties involved. The flavor is now new-school.