It was three years ago that Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman, Joseph "Mang0" Marquez, Kevin "PPMD" Nanney, and Adam "Armada" Lindgren, four of the five fabled Smash Gods, all sat together on a couch to commentate a handful of Super Smash Bros. Melee matches. You'd think that four competitors of that pedigree would provide intuitive insight on the game they've dedicated their lives to, but in reality they just goofed off for majority of their time on the mic.
That was the highlight of the first Smash Summit in 2015, the special invitational hosted by Beyond the Summit. Sixteen of the most notable players, as well as a number of commentators, were flown out for a week of competition and comradery. It's an event that prioritizes personality over gameplay; it focuses on the players themselves and how they interact with one another.
"Smash is a game that's a lot like DOTA, where [Beyond the Summit] started. It's a community that has stood on it's own for a long time," Beyond the Summit head of creative Ken Chen tells ESPN. "Smash is different in that its personalities were built long before tournaments started. People that genuinely play smash were friends first, then they became Smash players. It makes the storylines in Smash stand out."
Chen added: "Everyone's origin story is playing with their friends after school or while at college, it's organic. That moment with the gods on the couch is something we had never really seen before."
Over seven iterations, Smash Summit has become one of the most impactful events in the community. It regularly brings in high viewership numbers, provides some of the largest prize pools in the community, and shows a side of Smash's top players that is rarely shown.
"Most other events you see are just gameplay and a few interviews," Chen said. "We think it's a missed opportunity to not have these players interact and showcase their personalities. We want people to feel like their in the room. The vibe in general is different, you can't just tell people to act casual and have fun. It's built up."
Outside double elimination single and doubles tournaments, Summit events feature players, ten of which are invited directly and the rest are voted in by the community, participating in Slap City tournaments, Mafia (the party game), pre-produced comedy bits and other side events that regular tournaments may not have the time or budget to do. It's held in a house in Los Angeles to help provide that behind-the-scenes feel (you can even see top players eating and hanging out in the background of each stream).
Beyond the Summit started out as a production company in the DOTA scene. They modelled their summit series, which hosts everything from Dragon Ball FighterZ to Counter Strike, after TaKeTV's HomeStory Cup, a StarCraft II invitational that also focuses on player personalities. Chen, who worked for Team Liquid before becoming a producer on Smash Summit, pitched the idea for the group to do a Smash event and the rest is history.
"Smash is one of the best communities for this because they don't have these huge prize pools that other games do," Chen said. "It's not just about the money. You can tell these guys care because they've been doing it so long."
After three years of Melee events, Beyond the Summit is extending its innovative invitational to cover Nintendo's latest fighter, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. The event starts this weekend with 16 attendants including heavyweights like Leonardo "MkLeo" Perez, Nairoby "Nairo" Quezada, and Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios. It features a $10,000 prize pool which is higher than most other events in the community.
"Beyond the Summit is already a strong production company. They get a lot of viewers with or without Smash," Barrios tells ESPN. "It's unique because its grassroots and we don't have invitationals like that. If you make all the content about interactions between top players it only makes sense that it does well."
Beyond the Summit didn't host any Super Smash Bros. Wii U tournaments during its 4 year lifespan, but it's jumping into Ultimate early. "We didn't have someone that was a huge Smash 4 advocate with us. We didn't have anyone that was passionate about running a tournament for it," Chen said. "Ultimate is a game on the uptick right now and if we're excited about it we're going to run an event for it."
Like every tournament in Super Smash Bros. issues have come up around how the event is organized. One of most notable one being that Gavin "Tweek" Dempsey, who is considered one of the top Ultimate players after winning Frostbite last month, wasn't invited. "Our process can be improved, our selection and the way that we do qualifiers isn't perfect," Chen said. "We're not sure if we're doing more Ultimate Summits yet, but if we do future invitees will be straight up and down, which we weren't able to do before the game was fully settled."
There's also a growing perception in the scene that Beyond the Summit is merely profiting off the community since the voting process has fans making donations to help their favorite player get in. "I think the perception is inaccurate. Anything that involves money with a community that may not understand the inner workings of an event is never simple," Chen said. "We are successful, we wouldn't run the event otherwise, but there are a lot of costs tied to running an something like this. We have camera crews running 24/7, we're shooting more than five content pieces in one day ... it's intensive.
"All of the donations and voting are optional," he continued. "If you wanna support the event and help us out then great, if not then we'll still do a good job."
That influx of donations is for good reason though. Viewers love the job Beyond the Summit does. Smash Summit has been a major success in the Smash community with viewers flocking to the stream with some changing their entire schedules to watch the entire event.
Beyond the Summit organizers aren't taking that support for granted, either. They partnered with Shine 2018 to produce their event last December, held their first open Melee tournament The Roast of Hugo Gonzalez last September, and are hosting their first traditional Smash major this later year where they plan to bring some elements of Summit to a Genesis-like event.
"The success of events like Smash Summit and The Roast of Hugo are helping people realize that there are other ways to draw people to the scene. They're great experiments that try new things," said popular Smash commentator Kris "Toph" Aldenderfer. "It's a sign of good things to come."