After a run of half a decade, Super Smash Bros Melee has been removed from the Evo 2019 line-up, sparking a degree of backlash online against the organisers of the event. The move comes at a time when the game, released in 2001, is under pressure with the advent of Super Smash Bros Ultimate, but also see Joey ‘MrWiz’ Cuellar drop one of the most popular games run at the event from a viewership point of view, demonstrating the fragility of FGC esports. As consolation though, they did show an entirely awkward and inappropriate 'tribute' to the game, which fell flat with most viewers.
In 2018, Melee was third in viewership behind only Street Fighter 5 and Dragon Ball Z, two titles with massive developer support that had released relatively recently. 2017 saw it fourth on the list despite being demoted to a Saturday finish, while it was the most watched game in 2016 by some margin. The fact MrWiz is able to drop one of the best performing titles year-on-year may be a result of a variety of factors, but it does demonstrate that viewership alone is relatively unimportant compared to other forms of funding.
That is not necessarily a dig at any specific game in the 2019 line-up, which is sadly what much of the Twitter conversation has devolved into, but a reflection of the lack of support Nintendo have given to the game down the years. Whether or not they influenced the decision this year is more debateable, as the inclusion of Ultimate and their support for that game does raise the question, especially if you know the lengths the company has gone to in efforts to suppress Melee’s success historically.
Backlash from the pros
Professional players were obviously disappointed, although Evo is far from the top event in the Smash calendar, with best-of threes way too long into the event a constant complaint. Equally, the gods of Melee, including the likes of TSM’s Leffen, Cloud9’s Mango, Panda Global’s Plup and Echo Fox Mew2King have all pretty much hard dropped Melee in pursuit of viewers for Ultimate since the new game released, making it hard for them to occupy too much of the moral high ground.
How Melee recovers will be interesting, as the scene has lain dormant for the most part since the release of Ultimate, and has never been as robust as tier one esports, but it is unlikely this is the end of the competitive scene. That will come when events like Smash and Splash, CEO, and The Big House close their doors, but 2019 is a pivotal year for the greatest competitive title in Nintendo’s history.