Though generations of competitive gamers and fans can rejoice in the industry they’ve collectively helped build today, a sad reality is that esports titles (for the most part) come and go like passing fads.
With the exception of a few, such as Dota and League of Legends whom still frequently patch and update their games to keep up with developing competitive meta, earlier instalments of games fade away as newer editions are created.
In this fast-moving landscape, there is one illuminating anomaly to the notion of obsolete esports, though: Super Smash Bros. Melee.
As of November, Melee will be 17-years-old and have had two descendants: Brawl & Smash 4. Yet, the Nintendo title sports a thriving competitive community, one that packed the Mandalay Bay Arena during the EVO 2018 Finals in August.
Through Melee’s extended career, it has engineered one of the most storied and incredible accounts in esports today; while staying true to its stock components without the use of patches, updates or mods, the game has evolved remarkably since its release.
Melee is simply not the game it was 17 years ago, nor is it the same game it was two years ago – but how? With esports on the minds of game developers today more than ever, the paradox of Melee’s longstanding tournament presence can be credited to one discovery that would change the way the game was played forever – the wavedash.
The “wavedash”, as it came to be known, is a physics engine exploit that allows a player’s character to slide across the stage while maintaining complete control of their moveset. We’ll spare you much of the technical details as its dissection would be far too exhaustive to cover entirely – SmashWiki has a complete breakdown, if interested.
In short, the wavedash considerably enhanced movement and manoeuvring in Melee while simultaneously spawning a cache of new approaches and techniques in link with the exploit. There’s an extensive list of these advanced tactics that originated from the wavedash such as wavelanding and edge-hogging more efficiently – all of which helped advance Melee’s competitive state.
In all truth though, the wavedash was only one part of many small technical nuances that allowed the game to be played in a way that developers never thought was possible through its engine.
At first, the technique was brushed-off by most players, thought to have little-to-no practical uses in Melee. That was until early professionals such as Azen “Azen” Zagenite began exhibiting the true capacity of wavedashing.
These pioneers showcased that the technique could be used to fine-tune spacing, extend hitboxes, and introduce a number of offensive and defensive options that made the exploit not only competitively viable but essential. The sustained uncovering of these advanced techniques as well as their integration in competitive Melee continued to increase the skill ceiling of the game, year after year.
The competence obligatory in surviving the rapidly changing competitive meta in Melee quickly weeded out those that were anything less of unabridged artisans in the latest and greatest technical strategies.
There’s an old saying that “no one knows everything, but everyone knows something” and this expression happens to exemplify how the Melee community, as well as other esports, are able to elevate the competitive meta of a game well after its release.
Casual and competitive gamers alike all participate in exhaustingly understanding their favourite games; the discovery of new tactics and exploits such as those in Melee often surface first on wikis, forums, and subreddits where they are discussed and experimented with by the thousands.
Although its actual origin is slightly ambiguous, the earliest documented discovery of the wavedash was in 2002 on SmashBoards, an online Super Smash forum.
From there, the many applications of the wavedash and other advanced techniques were explored in-depth, and then later implemented in competitions where professionals could apply these strategies and further develop them for tournament usage. Thus, these competitive gaming communities are engaged in an extraordinary and widely successful collective intelligence.
The cycle of discovery and further understanding Melee would continue, for 17 years, to be exact; astonishingly, new techniques in the game are still being discovered to this day.
The game’s debug menu coupled with diligent contributors is one of the driving forces behind Melee’s staying power; essentially, the debug menu is a component of development that was left in the game and only accessible through a cheating device called Action Replay.
Through the device, you can inspect the game in a presentation which shows hitboxes, hurtboxes and allows frame advance, among other utility. Through this facility, an individual can very carefully breakdown mechanics in the game and draw valuable insights and information; these tools are also used to recreate contentious moments seen in Melee that perhaps have hints of something more – such as new technique.
All in all, none of this would be possible without Melee’s basic designs of being a sandbox fighter; in Melee, there are no set combos or prescribed ruleset rather players create their own unique cocktail of manoeuvres. This has led to the professionals having distinctive playstyles that enables a viewer to distinguish whether a Peach is being operated by Adam “Armada” Lindgren or McCain “MacD” LaVelle.
The sovereignty inclusive and encouraged by a fighting-game like Melee is the catalyst of its competitive longevity; without it, tournaments results would become stale, communities would disperse and its esports district would dissolve.
To the players, analysts, fans, and those finding new ways to enhance the technicality of this nearly two-decade-old game – this one’s for you.