Max Ketchum: "I really don't see Ultimate surpassing Melee in terms of absolute peak viewership"

Source: Todd Gutierrez for Beyond the Summit

 

The tournament director of Let’s Make Big Moves is once again living up to his namesake. Maximillian “Max Ketchum” Krchmar has continued to be not only one of the highest-profile Super Smash Bros. Ultimate commentators in the world, but organized some of the largest events in the Smash scene.

 

Inven Global had the chance to speak with Max Ketchum, to discuss his thoughts on TOing, the health of the Ultimate scene, and the valuable lessons he’s learned over the past few years.

 


 

Patch 1.00: The state of Smash

 

We're a few majors deep now in the "post-quarantine" era. As someone involved in one of the big upcoming majors, how much more challenging has it been for your guys' team to organize compared to in the past?

 

I actually think we haven't really been meeting too many obstacles. The thing we were stressed about is, would we be able to mandate vaccinations. And New York is very friendly toward that. And it's a private event, so you're legally allowed to do whatever you want. You could do it for a wedding, so why not for a tournament? I think that was really our number one concern, and it was pretty much immediately eased when New York announced that they're going really hard on requiring vaccinations in general, but also allowing private events to check.

 

We also are very, very close to capacity for Let's Make Big Moves. We don't really want to even put an extra 100 people, because we want to be sure that we're within the limit of the venue, just to make sure we're safe and all that.

 

Do you think anything has been learned from the post-pandemic era that we'll benefit from?

 

I wouldn't even say it's so much new practices as just people really keen on being as efficient as possible now. We know we don't want bodies in the room, so let's blast through this tournament. We've optimized and refined the process more so, than taking in new steps or whatever.

 

So I think people are just trying to run a tighter ship in general. And even the attendees are a lot better about listening now. Because I think everyone just knows. We don't want to be in a fucking hotbox of Smashers all day if we don't have to be. 

 

 

I've seen a lot of people concerned about where the state of Smash is right now. We recently had 2GG say that they're going on hiatus, and other organizations have shut down. How do you feel about the state of things right now?

 

I mean from what I know, I think 2GG just wanted a little time off. Regain some motivation and stuff. So I don't think it was anything drastic or to do with the time, so to speak. I think we're in a pretty good place. It's hard for organizers to get back on their feet right now, just because everything fell apart and we're kind of resetting.

 

But I think the future is still bright for Smash, for sure. I think it's just like a learning curve for everyone right now, but we'll be good.

 

What's insane to me but also kind of frustrating is how sales for tournaments just explode. It seems every event sells out at 1,000 in a matter of hours. Hypothetically if nothing else changes and we lift the cap, what do you expect to see for average attendance figures at majors?

 

That's a really good question. I think the best case study would be Genesis, right? Because there is no cap, and it has shitload of people in it. So I don't know. There was kind of like that gold rush period when Riptide, Let's Make Big Moves, and CEO all kind of announced within the same two weeks, and they all sold out immediately. I think that's kind of dying down, just because we have the sense that events are back now right. It's less of like, "Oh my god.  Finally a tournament. I need to get in right now." And that urgency has dwindled for sure.

 

But yeah, I think we're gonna be very close, if not even maybe higher than pre-COVID numbers. Just because the scene has grown a lot in that time. A lot of Wi-Fi players got activated from home, and now they are going to be going out to stuff. More people know about the scene. But that said, who's to say we wouldn't have grown twice as much if we had live events the whole time. So it's very hard to call, but I think it'll be comparable. At the very least, I would say not much of a change in either direction.

 

Patch 1.01: Ultimate vs. Melee

 

What's your opinion of Smash Ultimate viewership right now? It seems to have great attendance figures, but doesn't reach the heights of Melee.

 

So I think in terms of live attendance, yeah, Ultimate definitely dwarfs Melee quite significantly now. Especially at locals, but even majors. And then I'd say on average, Ultimate probably does have higher viewership for tournaments.

 

But when the top dogs are all in the same building for Melee, it's incontestable. Like Summit for Melee, we're never gonna get that kind of viewership. I think it's just because those players are icons and they're all huge personalities on Twitch in their own right. And you get them all together, so everyone's gonna watch.

 

But yeah, I think Ultimate's viewership is in quite a good place honestly. It has higher viewership than pretty much every other fighting game. Peak viewership belongs to Melee, of course, but it just makes sense. You know that's like when you're watching the Super Bowl. It's all these players who have been at it for 10-15 years in the same building.

 

We've seen a lot of Ultimate players build up their brands and personalities over the last two years. Does Ultimate have any chance of overtaking Melee's peaks?

 

I really don't see Ultimate surpassing Melee in terms of absolute peak. A Genesis Top 8 or Summit—I don't think Ultimate can reach that. It's just not as good of a spectator sport. I'm gonna be honest. Melee is more high-octane, more-exciting, you know? But like Ultimate's still a good spectator sport for sure. And I think because it's newer and like, "Oh, any guy can win this tournament right now, let's watch," that keeps that average viewership very high for the game. But I don't think it'll reach Melee's, no.

 

Do you think invitationals are going to continue being a more and more regular thing?

 

I would like to see more stuff like that because it's just free extra-high level programming to watch and shit. I don't know how many people have access to a whole house to themselves like Nairo has, where you can just do that. But...I don't know. I'm not sure if we'll see more of it or not, it would be very cool too.

 

 

Patch 2.0: Let's Make Big Moves

 

Let's Make Big Moves is also going to have a lot of international competition. From what you've observed, how much parity do you see between United States and the rest of the world (besides Mexico) in comparison to Smash 4?

 

Excluding Mexico? Well, obviously I think Mexico is looking like the strongest foreign entity for sure. I think Europe has really leveled up in a big way. I think Japan is around the same skill level if not slightly lower than they were in Smash 4, but that's probably just because they're sending way fewer people now in the COVID era as well.

 

But we saw a huge Japanese presence in the Smash 4 days—largely in part due to 2GG and Frostbite which now both are on hiatus. I'd say on the whole it is more powerful international competition. Japan is just lagging behind compared to their presence in Smash 4, but probably just because they're not here as much.

 

What's been your opinion of Nick All-Stars Brawl? Are you optimistic?

 

Game's fucking fire. It's better than all the Smash games. The best platform fighter I've ever played. Most fun I've ever had with a fighting game. I think it has a very bright future, especially if the developers continue to support it. I think the most important part of any game is if you want to keep the community alive, just play. Be part of it. Don't sit there and speculate, "Oh, is this game gonna die?" No, just play that shit, run tournies, do what you really want to do.

 

 

Do you see Nick having a lot of separate events, or will Smash TOs be doing it mostly?

 

I think because it's a newer game, having the crutch of being at Smash tournaments is going to be really important for it to get off the ground. I think at the local and regional level, we could definitely see a lot of solo Nick events. Solo Nick major, not so sure. But the Smash community has tons of resources: TOs, setups, whatever the fuck. So I think at the very least in the short term, it'll be mostly at Smash majors, if not exclusively.

 

But I think it's a good thing for the game anyway, because it'll just be more people in the room who play a similar game and want to enter and watch. For now, I would definitely like to see it conjoined, but who knows. If Nickelodeon wants to throw like a $1 million tournament with just Nick, fuck yeah. But it's a little hard because there's not really a solo Nick TO out there yet.

 

Who would you say is your favorite person to commentate with?

 

It's very hard to pick one because these guys have been my homies for over a decade. I mean, Rod is my roommate, so we have a great rapport and naturally get along very well on the mic and very easy. EE, TK, Coney, Charles—those guys are like butter to work with.

 

I commentated with this dude named Arbiter (ArbiterSkyward) from Seattle last weekend—dude was insane on the mic. He had the highest energy of anyone I've ever fucking seen in my life bro. He was seriously...it's worth watching the VOD just for this guy. There's not a commentator like him out there right now, where he's spazzing the fuck out, completely naturally too. So he gets a shoutout from me for being very unique to work with. But yeah, pretty much the old guard I love working with them all, just because it's effortless and we don't really have to think about it

 

As a TO, if there is one aspect that you think could make majors better, what would it be?

 

I think we've kind of maxed out on the "run a fast tournament" thing. That's kind of a tired gimmick. I know one of the big selling points for The Big House for a couple years is, "Yeah we run the tightest ship. It's a very efficient tournament." I think anyone can do that now. We have all the tools and the know-how.

 

So I think a lot of it would be experiential atmospheric stuff. Like Smash Con having live music, a beer tasting, all the character banners in the front—shit like that goes a long way. Just having a personality to the event. Glitch had the whole Dracula Throne and all that stuff. I think improving the atmosphere is huge. Having experiential shit to do outside of the tournament is also nice.

 

We're thinking about doing a food tour for Let's Make Big Moves because we're in the heart of Manhattan, so if we had a tour guide to take 20 people around and sample a bunch of different restaurants and bars and shit, I would really like that. Yeah, I think just building on things that aren't how fast can you run a pool or whatever, has a lot to do with it. And also maybe more stadium-like venues. Have like the MSG League of Legends Finals kind of thing. Some shit like that would be really cool as well.

 

 

Ideally, where do you see yourself in five years and where do you want to see EMG in five years?

 

I would like to do a lot for EMG in the backend kind of way—perhaps selling sponsorships and bringing in big deals for the company so we can up the production value of our events. I think that's really important for us. Joe kind of does the logistics, I kind of do the branding and personality for our events—Let's Make Moves particularly.

 

So it'd be really nice to just bring some money into the company into our events, make it pop, and do those kinds of things that I was talking about—the experiential atmosphere that kind of stuff.

 

And you'll continue on commentating and organizing tournaments?

 

Yeah, I think so. Our goal is to have four majors a year, just so we're not oversaturating things, but we're also still always on the map and just having a definitive once per quarter major that we plan for, grind it out, and do the event. And yeah, I still love freelancing and commentary and shit. So I'd love to still be doing what I do all over the place.

 

Source: VGBootcamp

 

What's a personal lesson you've learned in the last few years that you think would be of benefit to other people?

 

I think probably the biggest lesson I learned, is if you want something, you can build it yourself. Back in 2018, Let's Make Moves was founded because me and Joe were waiting for our friends to get out of the E3 Invitational rehearsal, and we just went to a hookah lounge and we were chilling. And we were like, "Man, just like the Smash 4 one four years ago, we're on the outside looking in. We've put our lives into this and it sucks that we're not a part of it. We've put in the work and shit, but whatever. We have to do it ourselves. We have to find something to put us on the map and really solidify our names in the history books."

 

And Joe's like, "Dude, why don't we run a major on the East Coast, and expand EMG into the US?"

 

I'm like, "Yo, I'm with that. But I don't know, it's hard to run a tournament."

 

He's like, "Come on, dude. Let's make some moves!" 

 

I'm like "Holy fuck! That's the name of the tournament."

 

And that's all it takes for me sometimes. The name of something or one big picture idea to spark me into full "let's fucking do it" mood. And that's what happened. I was like, "Yeah, let's name the tournament that, let's do it." Six months later we had the first Ultimate major when the game came out. Then we had another one the year later. And yeah I think we really put the Tri-state area on the map, we got our first S-tier—stuff like that really helped both me and Joe advance EMG and advance ourselves.

 

And even last night I was just in the venue brooding over bustering out in the Nick bracket. I was like, "Fuck dude. I want to compete ASAP. I wish there was another tournament right now. We'll run it back." I look around and I see a couple people and a couple setups. I thought, "What if we just ran a bracket right here, right now?" So I went and got my laptop and we got 30 people for a bracket. And I fucking won that shit too, so let's go. [laughs]

 

But yeah, if you want to see it, make it. If you know the right people, and you know what you're doing, you can definitely make it happen. Even if you're on the outside looking in, or you feel like they ain't doing you any favors out there—you could definitely carve your own way out.

 

Patch 2.01: JID

 

Who is the most underrated rapper in the game right now besides yourself?

 

I think JID is really fucking good and I don't see him getting enough love. Yeah, let's go with JID.

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