Smash Brothers Documentary: How Samox's film rescued an esport

The power of the documentary film can be considerable. The likes of Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock and Werner Herzog, to name but a few, have made films that have had a huge impact on the culture they examine and, in some cases, even the way the public perceives it, but one man has actually gone one step further and rescued an entire community from death.

Travis Beauchamp's contribution to the world of Smash Bros esports is arguably greater than any other individual to touch the game, outside of the creators themselves. You might know him as Samox, or you might not know who he is at all, but if you’ve heard of Melee or Smash 4 esports in the past five years it is because of the work Samox did on his magnum opus, simply titled The Smash Brothers Documentary.

Episode one, above, starts humbly enough, with the slightly curious, deliberate voiceover describing a couple of people sitting down to indulge in a bit of fun with a kids' party game. What unfolds over the course of the next four hours or so is not a complete history of Smash, or even a snapshot of the scene at that time, but the story of a game that changed lives and created history, in a way which was utterly impossible to ignore for so many people, including this writer.

Deep on detail

As for saving the scene, watching the series will teach you all about the state in which Smash found itself at the time, with a combination of apathy and Nintendo’s greed nearly killing the Melee scene altogether. While the Japanese giant is still beloved by the Smash scene, it was only a few years back that they actively tried to prevent Melee from succeeding, as Samox details in his film.

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Samox had advantages over other filmmakers, of course, with the Melee scene blessed with great orators such as Wynton ‘Prog’ Smith who were able to bring the stories to life for the viewer. Equally, few if any games have reached Melee’s level of complexity and brilliance from a mechanical point of view, making it not just a compelling game to play but an endlessly fascinating one to watch and learn about, with practically bottomless depth in that respect.

Samox the storyteller

Still, despite all of that, the series should be praised in its own right, as a CSGO Major in 2018 has proven even the best content can be turned into a bad show if you don’t do your job right. That is certainly not an accusation you can level at Samox, who spun the story of some of the people who came to define the scene, as well as inspiring the next generation.

That may be his greatest achievement, the players known today as ‘doc kids’, who started playing after seeing the series and today make an impact at the top level. Zain Naghmi got his first taste of competitive Smash thanks to Samox, and today he is considered among the top 6 worldwide, having already won a major title at Shine 2018.

We could write a thousand more words about the way the films inspired writers, players and many more to involve themselves in Smash, but the documentary speaks louder than any article could.

Few, if any, filmmakers manage to maintain that objective disconnection between their subject and their feelings and Samox never tried, which is the real triumph of his film. The love shines through, gets into your bones and it’s the sign of a real masterpiece.