Full disclosure: I was a Super Smash Bros. tournament organizer and competitor in the Western New York state region between the years 2004 and 2014. I stopped hosting tournaments and removed myself from the community shortly afterward.
In the years and months heading up to Brawl’s release, Melee was beginning to suffer competitively. The game had mostly been “figured out” and many players who weren’t already at the top of the game knew that they weren’t ever going to get there. CRTs, the main display of choice for Melee players, were becoming increasingly difficult to find and carry. What’s more, the players were beginning to hunger for something…bigger. There was a general feeling within the community that all the effort, all the hard work, all the coordination and planning…that it had to eventually go somewhere. After an on-and-off stint with Major League Gaming and EVO, Melee players got a taste of the spotlight–the elusive feeling of inclusion and praise from people who don’t necessarily belong to your group. In order to vault into the spotlight once again, Melee would have to reform itself, sometimes in spite of itself and its neighbors in the fighting game community, to attain that coveted prize.
Melee was at odds with the fighting game community for a very long time. To make an analogy of the situation, the FGC was the kid who was unpopular, but big enough in his own sandbox to be a bully while Melee was the kid that was a good guy, but got picked on and took it very personally, devoting its life to a perverse revenge motif. Of course, things weren’t always so one-sided. When Melee was reaching the height of its pre-Brawl success is when the FGC was undergoing what it commonly referred to as the dark ages of fighting games. It was during this time that the Melee community, through its own internal deliberations, decided it was a unique snowflake that was unlike any other community ever. The pristine Melee community could not be bothered to be seen with or compared to “those other (fighting) games” and it actually was quite satisfied with supporting itself and the game that was head-and-shoulders above the rest. Time marched on and for the FGC, picking on Melee players when the time came around was easy, fun and most importantly, distracting. The FGC was undergoing its own internal change to prepare for the stateside release of the critically-acclaimed Street Fighter IV. The veritable flood of new players, while bringing life into a fading genre, was causing the capacity of the Western community at that time to burst at the seams. The FGC didn’t care that it was specifically Melee that was the target of its built tensions; the FGC’s new culture just wanted a target. Why would the FGC want a target? The new influx of players combined with the early stages of social media to make a system where everyone’s voices could be heard; especially the ones that nobody else really wanted to hear. Whenever the FGC had its own internal troubles dealing with all these players and all these attitudes sounding off at the same time, the anonymous Internet culture (also mostly new to the FGC on this broad of a level) could band itself together and say, “At least we’re not those losers.”
The Melee community, however, took everything very personally. Melee players have had a chip on their shoulder that has only very recently been brushed off and they spared no expense to let everyone know their plight. “Yes,” the Melee players chanted all of a sudden, “this is a real fighting game.” In truth, despite the success that Melee enjoyed over the years, the scene was still something that would never give the players what they really desired; the scene was grassroots to the core. With no sponsors and no official recognition or support from the developers of their game, the Melee community strove constantly to govern themselves, their events and their game. Without any serious cash to bolster the celebrity of its players and events, however, the Melee scene knew it would have to resign itself to church basements, school cafeterias and libraries–the only people cheering for anything would be the very same players that already poured hours of time and energy into those same events. To the Melee community, there was no celebrity in this reality and there was no fame to construct there. They wanted what the FGC was building. They wanted to be one of the cool kids. The cool kids had support from their developers. The cool kids had sponsors lined up. The cool kids even had promotional events! Like children, the Melee community clamored to be let into the cool kids’ club and, like children, the FGC sought to deny the Melee community what they wanted specifically because the FGC knew that the Melee community wanted it.