Chris 'SpookyWoobler' Taylor and the power of gamers

The power of esports is often highlighted in boardrooms and meetings, where people with expensive watches work out how to divide up the world between their personal bank accounts, but human stories about the positive side of the scene are less common. Recently, though, a community with a long history of philanthropy stepped up, not for the first time, with the assistance of one of the world’s biggest game developers.

Super Smash Bros Ultimate is the newest game in the Smash Bros franchise, Nintendo’s flagship console fighting title, and is due to release in December on the Switch. The hype around the game is as tremendous as ever and among the esports scene even more so, if that were possible. However, there was one fan facing the strong possibility he’d not only not get to play the game on release, but never get to play it at all.

That man was Chris Taylor, who went by the tag ‘SpookyWoobler’ in the Smash community. We say "was", as, sadly, he passed away on September 25th after a long battle with cancer. However, before he left us, he was able to achieve one ambition, thanks to the community rallying around him and a developer deciding to listen.

Weeks to live

In the second week of September, Taylor tweeted about one particular fear he was facing, in relation to the fact that his doctors had advised him he might only have weeks to live. Looking forward to things is something most of us take for granted, especially as younger people, but with the game release two months away Taylor knew his bone cancer could rob him of the chance to experience it. Smash and Devil May Cry 5, another of his favourite games, were on his mind as he no doubt tried to distract himself from the reality of his situation, something no decent person would begrudge a man in his shoes.

It was September 13th when he first expressed that fear, and unbeknown to Taylor, his friends decided to help himif they could. As word spread, bigger names on Twitter began to hit the RT button and, at some point, the noise penetrated the sphere of Nintendo themselves. While it is impossible to know exactly what got through to them, the fact is that the Smash community has never been shy about haranguing their favourite developers, and shouted from the rooftops in an effort to help one of their own.

A week or so later, Nintendo had delivered, bringing the E3 copy of Smash for Switch to Taylor’s bed, so he could enjoy the game with his close friends. It might only seem a small gesture, but the pictures from the event show just how happy he was to be enjoying the game as a fan, in the company of his friends, at a time when all normality had been torn from him. He died just days after those pictures were taken but did so knowing he was beloved by an entire community, which is something not many of us can hope to enjoy.

The story doesn't end there

That’s not where the story ends, though. The Smash scene came together to ensure the legacy Taylor left behind is one they can be proud of as a group. Most people would be happy to pat themselves on the back after one amazing gesture, but this is the community that raised more than $200,000 to be part of Evo 2013 and fight cancer, and it seems like above and beyond are just standard these days if you play Smash.

In combination with Panda Global, an org that has heavily supported the scene since it was created by Alan Bunney and David Wu, the community ran a 24-hour stream to raise money to fight cancer, in Taylor’s memory. By the end of the hastily-organised event, $15,000 had been raised to donate to the Zach Sobeich Osteosarcoma Fund, with another stream planned by the Devil May Cry community, due to take place on October 5th.

In all of this we must also not forget the work Nintendo of America did to make it happen. As a company, they face some criticism, at times legitimate, but here was a situation that they could have chosen to ignore, or play up for PR reasons, and they did neither. Instead, they made a man’s dream come true, and helped dispel some of his fears, if only for a while, and that is really what games do for everyone.

The difference is that for Chris ‘SpookyWoobler’ Taylor and his friends, this is one game that meant much more and showed the true value of the time we spend playing. To those who never experienced it, it may seem like idle hands wasting time, but the relationships we build online and on the couch are for life, and sometimes can mean more than you would ever expect.