What's next for Smash at Evo?

Juan "Hungrybox"€ Debiedma heads off stage during the Evolution Championship Series in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. Caitlin O'Hara for ESPN

LAS VEGAS -- Between the controversial Bayonetta-laden Super Smash Bros. Wii U finals and the first Evolution Championship Series Melee title for William "Leffen" Hjelte, the two Smash tournaments at Evo 2018 couldn't have been more different.

One was soured with boos, walkouts and a meagre 67,000 viewers on Twitch while the other featured nearly 200,000 viewers and one of the most exciting Top 8 showcases in recent memory, even at the unideal 11 a.m. Sunday morning time slot. Yet, regardless of performance, neither game is guaranteed a spot at next year's Evo. With Smash Ultimate on the horizon, both communities are looking at what's next in the big picture for Melee and Smash 4.

"I can't talk about Evo in relation to their game lineup for next year, but I believe Ultimate is going to be the biggest game at almost every event that has it as part of their lineup in 2019," said Evo tournament director Bassem "Bear" Dahdouh. "It's looking to be the fighting world's most ambitious crossover in history."

Right now, most members of the Smash community believe that Super Smash Bros. Wii U has seen its last year at Evo. There won't be room for three Smash games at next year's tournament, and it makes sense to focus on the games with the biggest viewership -- and Melee easily outshined Wii U this year with almost four times the audience.

It's worth noting that Melee was on the main stage during championship Sunday while Wii U took place on the main stage inside the Mandalay Bay Convention Center the day before. A large difference was expected, although the Wii U grand finals viewer count dropped down to 48,000 after two Bayonetta mains ended up taking the stage. Both games featured a nearly identical number of registrants, with Wii U bringing 1,303 and Melee bringing 1,302.

Despite the impressive registration numbers, viewer count and performances that Melee brought to this year's tournament, most members of the community think that Melee will take a backseat to Ultimate next year.

"If I had to guess, I would think that 2019 Evo has both Melee and Ultimate with Ultimate on the main stage and Melee on Saturday," said Genesis organizer Sheridan Zalewski. "Because Ultimate is the new thing and it deserves its chance, Nintendo might even ask for it to be featured."

Most community members ESPN spoke with at Evo believed that Ultimate would be the Smash game that draws the most attention from the general public. More people would tune in to see its wide cast of characters rather than Melee's limited roster, despite how wild a Fox vs. Fox final could be.

Melee has a complicated history with Evo. Its first appearance at the tournament was in 2007 at Evo World -- though interest had formed several years earlier, it was then replaced by Brawl in 2008 as organizers wanted to showcase the latest game in the series. No Smash game was featured at the event after 2009 until the Smash community raised $94,000 for breast cancer research and became the eighth featured game at Evo 2013. It's been a part of the tournament ever since.

While most eyes are on the release of Ultimate in December and what sort of effect that will have on the Super Smash Bros. Wii U community, some believe that Melee will grow while in the shadow of Ultimate and possibly return to Evo main stage in 2019.

"I think Melee will have a smaller presence initially once Ultimate comes out," said Daniel "tafokints" Lee, Mang0's former coach and current business development manager at Counter Logic Gaming. "But then it'll go back to normal and it might grow if people leave Ultimate to play Melee. A lot of people found Melee after they first started playing Brawl and Smash 4."

Ultimate will undoubtedly bring more players and viewers to the general Smash community, and it's possible that many will find their way to Melee once they taste the passion and staying power that the community and game showcases. But this will be the first time a new Smash entry is greeted by both a successful console and a welcoming community, since Brawl was disliked by many competitive players due to its slower nature and the fact that the Wii U sold fewer than 14 million lifetime units.

"2017 was the strongest year for Melee ever in terms of viewership and total attendance," Zalewski said. "Some of the major events declined in attendance but many regional events had strong growth and locals weren't bad either."

Since its initial debut at E3 this year, many competitive players have gotten their hands on Ultimate and have been ecstatic about the changes and new characters that Nintendo has worked into the game. But it's clear that Ultimate -- or any future Smash iteration -- won't be able to unite the communities across Smash. Melee might find itself off the main stage next year in favor of the newest fighting flavor, but that doesn't mean it won't come back stronger than ever the year after.

"There's no way Melee dies post-Ultimate," Zalewski added. "If anything it will help bring new people into the competitive scene and expose people to Melee."