Canceled Super Smash Bros Tournament Fallout Grows

Publishers can't seem to get out of their own way, even for the largest Super Smash Bros tournament

The esports fighting games scene took a huge hit last week with the last minute cancellation of the largest Super Smash Bros tournament, the Smash World Tour. Both its upcoming championship and 2023 season were scrapped after accusations of sabotage from Nintendo partner Panda Global. Nintendo now finds itself doing damage control, while rival esports organizer Panda Global ditched its CEO for unethical behavior. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that the greatest roadblock to the growth of esports may sometimes be publishers themselves.

Benign Neglect
Nintendo’s stance on esports in recent years has ranged from indifference to tentative support. Despite competitive interest in an official Super Smash Bros tournament for decades, it was only last year that Nintendo signed Panda Global as its first licensed Super Smash Bros tournament. Previously, private organizers like Smash World Tour (SWT) filled in the gaps, often while running at a loss.

  • SWT's 2022 tour was not just the largest Super Smash Bros tournament, but the largest in esports
    • 6,400 live events in 2022, with 325,000 in-person competitors
  • 2022 championship prize pool would have been $250,000
    • 2023 championship prize pool was aiming for $350,000
Super Smash Skullduggery
SWT's unceremonious demise appears to have partly stemmed from a Panda Global whisper campaign. 
SWT accused Panda Global CEO Alan Bunney of telling sports sponsors that SWT was being shut down and threatening partners with being blacklisted from Panda's circuit. Bunney also allegedly tried to tamper with SWT's broadcast contracts. Panda ultimately fired its CEO and delayed its Dec 15 event after most of its roster resigned in protest. 
  • Nov 2021: Nintendo signs a non-exclusive deal with Panda Global
    • SWT claims that Nintendo was interested in signing a similar deal with SWT
  • Jan 2022: SWT applies for a license with Nintendo
  • Nov 23, 2022: Nintendo informs SWT it will not grant a license for the 2022 championship or 2023 season
  • Nov 29, 2022: SWT announces it's folding
What’s the Cost of Marketing?
That’s the real question that publishers like Nintendo or Activision are struggling to answer. For Nintendo, a Super Smash Bros tournament wasn’t worth spending money on, while Activision’s answer was that franchises should pay $25 million for the privilege of playing in its official Call of Duty League. Both approaches have been to the detriment of esports which, while not often profitable out of the gate, are great grassroots marketing. Unfortunately, this latest episode shows that the powers that be are still not ready to get out of their own way and nurture esports growth. 
Image courtesy of Nintendo