Nintendo’s contentious relationship with esports surrounding its games has reached a new level after last weekend’s impromptu Splatoon 2 invitational raised $28K USD through fan donations. $25K was distributed to teams in the largest prize pool in Splatoon history, with the other $3K going to charity.
The invitational was the latest development in a weeks-long struggle between video game publisher Nintendo and the grassroots esports community surrounding its games – primarily Super Smash Bros. Melee.
On Nov. 19, long-running Smash tournament The Big House received a cease and desist order from Nintendo of America largely due to the event using a fan-created program called Slippi which allows Melee, a 15-year-old game, to be played online with minimal lag.
Immediately, the hashtag #FreeMelee was trending on Twitter, and over the next few weeks tournament organizers, pro players, and other community leaders would express their frustrations with the company that has routinely held Melee back as an esport. Anonymous Twitter posts came to light revealing ways that Nintendo had actively prevented companies like Twitch and HTC from hosting large-scale Melee circuits.
Last weekend, the Splatoon 2 community attempted to show solidarity for its fellow Nintendo esports brethren, but would suffer a similar fate. Nintendo had planned to hold an official open tournament for the game, but canceled the event’s livestream after many teams entered the tournament with #FreeMelee-inspired names.
Then, on Sunday a tweet went out from Splatoon 2 organizer EndGameTV that rallied both the Splatoon and Smash communities to action – the top four Splatoon teams in North America would drop out of Nintendo’s official tournament to compete in a grassroots invitational. Melee commentator and personality Vish donated the initial prize pool of $1K, but other community leaders including Cloud9 player Joseph “Mang0” Marquez and TSM’s William “Leffen” Hjelte quickly took to social media to drive others to donate.
Before a single game had been played, the tournament had already raised $6K, ultimately raising $28K in less than 24 hours.
Raising money is nothing new for the Melee community. The first major public battle between the Melee community and Nintendo came in 2013 after fans of the game had raised nearly $100K for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation in order to earn a spot at the largest annual fighting game tournament, Evo. Nintendo told Evo that its game could not be streamed, but received such overwhelming backlash that the publisher eventually caved, leading to the tournament many credit with pushing Melee into its place of esports prominence today.
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