When Nintendo debuted Super Smash Bros. Ultimate at E3 last month, it did so with an invitational tournament featuring top players from both the Super Smash Bros. Melee and For Wii U scenes. The tournament was part of Nintendo’s growing acceptance for the competitive side of its fighting games, something it wasn’t always so keen on. The reason for the company’s reluctance in the past has been subject to much speculation, but Smash creator Masashiro Sakurai has shed some light on why that might be.

Speaking to The Washington Post in a recent interview, Sakurai opined about why the company was skittish about the idea of major Smash tournaments. “The philosophy behind them doesn’t go in line with Nintendo’s philosophy in that some of these players are playing for the prize money,” he told the Post. “It comes to a point where they’re playing the game for the money, and I feel that kind of direction doesn’t coincide with Nintendo’s view of what games should be.” Nintendo did not provide an official comment on its stance (Sakurai is not an employee of Nintendo; he is the founder of Sora Ltd., the developer contracted to create Ultimate).

While that position may sound strange at first glance, it’s actually fairly understandable  when you consider that until earlier this year, it was illegal to host paid tournaments for competitive games in Japan. As such, it makes sense that Nintendo hesitated to nurture the competitive scene. In America, however, this has lead to a few dust-ups between Nintendo and Smash players in the past, the most notable of which was a short-lived controversy in which Nintendo temporarily denied permission to the Evolution Championship Series tournament to broadcast Super Smash Bros. melee online ahead of its 2013 event.

In recent years, however, the company has grown more accustomed to the competitive crowd, though this has so far meant being hands-off about grassroots tournaments and not, say, hosting an official tournament circuit for any of its Smash games.

For his part, Sakurai has also been a bit hesitant about fully embracing full-on competitiveness and complexity. The third iteration of Smash, Brawl, featured an intentionally noncompetitive aspect called “tripping,” in which characters would randomly slip and fall, making high-level play prone to regular, unearned turnabouts.

While Ultimate doesn’t look to include something similar (as far as we know), Sakurai is still reticent about going into the deep end of complexity after seeing what happened with the series’ longest-running competitive entry, Melee. “I think a lot of Melee players love Melee,” he told the Post. “But at the same time, I think a lot of players, on the other hand, gave up on Melee because it’s too technical, because they can’t keep up with it. And I know there were players who got tendinitis from playing, and messing with the controller so much . . . that really is hard on the player. And I feel like a game should really focus on what the target audience is.”

While the invitational for Ultimate is a nod to the competitive crowd, it remains to be seen whether the company will further support the game competitively or abide by a philosophy of non-intervention.


I can easily see Nintendo leaning into a tournament circuit around the time Ultimate launches now that they don’t have legal hurdles in front of them, but that has its ups and downs. On the upside, Nintendo throwing money at tournaments could means players have a better chance of earning a living from playing the game. On the other, Nintendo’s increased presence in the scene could lead to them pushing Ultimate on tournaments over Melee, leading to that scene’s decline in the public eye over time.

Masashi Sakurai: Prize Money Competitions Not ‘In Line’ With Nintendo’s Philosophy