The last week hasn’t been a rosy one for Nintendo. The company has run into issues with several fan communities surrounding its games over its approach to events and other situations. It came to a head this weekend over two key moments: the cancellation of a Splatoon finals broadcast, and blocking sales of an unofficial charity Joy-Con design.
This didn’t all start with angry squids and frustrated controller creators, though. It’s been part of a simmering frustration between fan-centric communities for games and the company that owns those games. It’s easy enough to mark the start at Slippi.
Slippi is an online service that launched earlier this year which allows Super Smash Bros. Melee to be played online with improved netcode. By using an adapted rollback netcode, Melee players have been able to compete in an environment they say is more conducive to high-level play; high-level player Leffen posted a video around Slippi’s public release praising the client.
In the current global climate, the health of a game’s online community has relied on how smooth it is to play against other people. Without tournaments to travel to, players have had to rely on netcode, as have competitive events that have moved online. This is the issue The Big House ran into, as it was organizing both its Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Super Smash Bros. Melee competitions for online play.
On Nov. 19, The Big House tweeted it had received a cease and desist from Nintendo of America, cancelling the upcoming tournament. “We were informed we do not have permission to host or broadcast the event, primarily due to the usage of Slippi,” the statement reads. “Sadly, all our competitions are affected.”
In a statement sent to Kotaku, Nintendo confirmed it sent a letter to The Big House. “We have partnered with numerous Super Smash Bros. tournaments in the past and have hosted our own online and offline tournaments for the game, and we plan to continue that support in the future,” the company told Kotaku. “Unfortunately, the upcoming Big House tournament announced plans to host an online tournament for Super Smash Bros. Melee that requires use of illegally copied versions of the game in conjunction with a mod called ‘Slippi’ during their online event.”
Nintendo says it contacted the organizers to ask them to stop, but when the organizers refused, Nintendo said it had “no choice but to step” to protect its intellectual property. It’s in line with Nintendo’s treatment of many other projects, on both mods and fan projects in general. There was no way Nintendo was going to greenlight this, but that sentiment wasn’t going to soothe anyone anyways.
Smash fans and players, as well as people within the general fighting game community, were up in arms about the decision and the effect it could have on future Super Smash Bros. Melee events. They piled into the hashtag “#freemelee” to start a movement, but when it came to hosting the competition, their hands were tied, though. Then last weekend’s Splatoon 2 North American Open arrived.
Several teams competing in the Splatoon NA Open entered under team names that supported the push for Slippi and Super Smash Bros. Melee, putting the Free Melee hashtag in their names. As the finals neared, there was an announcement that the finals would no longer be broadcast due to “unexpected executional challenges.”
Nintendo has not released an official statement on the matter, and we’ve reached out for clarification. The Splatoon community, meanwhile, was fast to act: the top four teams dropped out, and EndGameTV quickly organized The Squid House, a grassroots invitational between the top four North American Splatoon teams with “no unexpected executional challenges.” (The rest of the top eight teams also reportedly dropped out.) With a starting prize pool of $1,000, the pot was open to donations and swiftly rose to a cap of $25,000, with all additional donations going to charity.
At the same time, an issue from earlier in the year cropped back up. Controller designer CptnAlex had created custom Joy-Cons to commemorate Etika, a popular Nintendo YouTuber who died by suicide in 2019. Proceeds were set to go to the JED Foundation, a suicide prevention charity. The effort received a cease and desist in September though, and CptnAlex implied the issue was surrounding the use of the term “Joy-Con.” The story was quickly subsumed into the growing frustrations with Nintendo.
These issues, as a whole, serve to highlight the ongoing frustration many fan communities feel with Nintendo at the moment. Players are attempting to organize events around games, but they’re hitting logistical walls that mirror frustrations the Smash Bros. scene experienced when it tried to get Melee into the massive fighting game tournament Evo. It’s not like Nintendo isn’t known for vehemently defending its properties.
Yet in the case of events like The Squid House, communities have shown up to make some good out of the rubble. It’s by no means an ideal situation, but this weekend has shown one thing: even in the midst of an intellectual property standoff, a few good squids can make things happen.