Nintendo will return to this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, in Los Angeles with a new Super Smash Bros. game in tow. And to showcase the much-anticipated arena fighter, Nintendo will once again host an invitational tournament, much like it did in 2014 for the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. But unlike the last Super Smash Bros. invitational, this time only top Smash players will be in attendance.
ESPN sat down with Nintendo of America's director of product marketing, Bill Trinen, to discuss Nintendo's philosophy toward this year's event.
"One of the things that we wanted to do with this tournament was we really wanted to showcase world class game play in Smash Bros.," Trinen said. "We wanted to bring [top players] in to let them showcase both their skills as well as what the game has to offer."
This year's invitational will feature some of the best talent from both Melee and Smash 4. Attendees include Alliance's Adam "Armada" Lindgren, Panda Global's Justin "Plup" McGrath, Team Dignitas' Joey "Lucky" Aldama, Cloud9's Joseph "Mang0" Marquez, Echo Fox's Leonardo "MKLeo" Perez, Japan's Yuta "Abadango" Kawamura, Beastcoast's Ramin "Mr.R" Delshad, and the 2014 invitational champion, Team SoloMid's Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios.
"Both games have incredibly strong communities, and we really want this event to be a representation of the players and the communities that have supported Smash Bros.," Trinen said. "A part of that was really a desire to a) showcase the community, and b) try to end up with some matchups and some competitions that really you can't see at any other tournament."
Trinen did confirm that there would be a few exhibition matches with "friends of Nintendo," ensuring that the invitational will not only be for the most hardcore of competitive Smash fans. Nintendo of America has taken a far more active approach with the competitive community in the past few years. Not only has it created the Nintendo Versus Twitter account to showcase the best in competitive Nintendo games, whether it be Smash, Splatoon or Arms, but Nintendo has also helped sponsor major tournaments like the Evolution Championship Series, Get On My Level and Genesis. This is a major shift for a company that tried to prevent Evolution from broadcasting Melee in 2013 (Nintendo reversed the decision after a massive fan outcry).
But for the Japanese Smash community, things have been different. Nintendo has refused to sponsor any tournaments and has rejected the idea of giving small prizes to the winners. The company has hosted its own tournaments in Japan for Smash, but those have been few and far between. But for the Smash Bros. Invitational, this will not be a solo Nintendo of America initiative.
"Actually, it's a very collaborative process. We've been working with a bunch of different teams internally at Nintendo of America as well as teams in Japan, including the development team in Japan as well," Trinen said. "I think overall Nintendo globally is very excited, and our partners at Nintendo of Europe are excited to have a couple of representatives from their territory as well."
Smash Bros. is by far one of Nintendo's biggest properties. According to VGChartz, the series has sold 38 million units across five platforms. And going into E3, it's definitely Nintendo's most anticipated unveiling. But the invitational will not be the only tournament Nintendo will be hosting at E3 -- it will also host the Splatoon 2 World Championships.
"As we posted some of those online [Splatoon 2] tournaments, we've really started to see the tournament scene sort of grow," Trinen said. "In fact, for this year's Inkling Open, we had over 500 teams participate online."
Nintendo has taken a far more proactive approach with Splatoon 2. The game was built from the ground up with multiplayer in mind. It's been a massive success in Japan, with Nintendo hosting many in-person tournaments. Because Splatoon didn't have an established community like the Smash Bros. scene, the company could help support and facilitate its growth early on. The biggest indication of Nintendo's excitement was the trailer for the Switch, which featured esports teams practicing and chalkboarding for a Splatoon 2 grand final. It closed with two teams entering a massive arena with thousands of screaming fans. It had been the company's biggest acknowledgement of esports to date.
"One of the things we're hoping with E3 this year is that more people will tune in and see the grand finals of the 2018 World Championships for Splatoon 2 and really get a sense of how watchable Splatoon 2 is [and] how fun Splatoon 2 is," Trinen said.
Nobody outside of Nintendo has had a chance to play the new Smash Bros. game. From a competitive angle, the big question is if it will help bridge the Melee and Smash 4 communities, which combined would be a major force in the esports space. According to Newzoo, in 2017 Melee and Smash 4 came in 11th and 12th, respectively, in esports viewership. The Smash scene could generate 16.8 million hours of viewed content, putting it safely at ninth, just behind Rocket League and well ahead of Street Fighter V.
If Nintendo doesn't bring forward a highly technical and speedy Smash game, it's unlikely that the Melee community, which has persisted for 17 years after the game's initial release in 2001, will make the jump. And it's still unknown how far Nintendo will go in supporting the upcoming competitive scene. Will it -- like Capcom has done with Street Fighter V -- organize a circuit, dole out large cash prizes and secure TV deals?
At least according to Trinen, Nintendo does have a positive outlook toward competitive gaming.
"I think Nintendo overall does look at competitive play as an area of opportunity for us, and certainly what we think is really great about it is that it really brings players together -- it gives them a place to enjoy the games together."