Will shutting down Online Melee backfire on Nintendo?

The last few months have seen Super Smash Bros Melee thrive in the online world. The Slippi Champions League was a great tournament that managed to bring stable online play to a very old game. Unfortunately it seems it might have been the last of its kind.

The news of a Nintendo shut down for online Melee has made news last week. The Big House organizers and tournament received a cease and desist letter from Nintendo America. The conditions of which seem to imply that any future online Melee tournaments will meet the same fate.

Nintendo is pretty well known for their overactive legal department. Fan games, fan content in general, and even other developers using their platform have been met with lawsuits from the gaming giant. The history of video games can be effectively told by looking at the history of people and companies that Nintendo has sued to shut down. When it comes to Esports though, Nintendo had seemed to have a turned a corner. The cease and desist happy side of them, hasn’t reared its head for competitive tournaments in a while, so what happened?

Smash Melee Online Slippi

© Smash Bros

The Big House Melee Tournament

It is a terrible shame for the players and organizers of the event, as well as fans who where hoping to watch it. It seems Nintendo is shutting down online Melee tournaments in general.

The problems stems from the Slippi Add on. This is the program that allows Melee to be played online in 2020. It has been used all summer, including in other broadcast tournaments. This time around though Nintendo have stepped in. They are shutting it down due to the involvement of a third-party modification to a ROM being used.

The Big house has been ran for a while without any problems. While Nintendo a history of ignoring their Esports events for Melee, they’ve rarely actually taken steps to shut them down. The specific use of Slippi is what bothers Nintendo specifically. While this starts with a major tournament they may broaden that net if you continue to feel that they can’t get a handle on use of the mod.

Any Future of Online Melee Esports?

Holding a Melee tournament with original equipment is completely impossible right now. The organizer of the tournament’s statement goes into more detail on this.

Since the tournament can only be held with Slippi, Nintendo aren’t leaving an alternative for Melee tournaments. This probably doesn’t matter to them though.

Nintendo has recently softened towards Esports, but for a long time they refused to entertain the idea that Melee was being played professionally after release. If anything, the Smash title released immediately after seemed deliberately designed to spite professional players, with luck mechanics thrown in just for the sake of it.

They have came around on that lately, now encouraging competitive events and keeping players in mind when developing the game. Smash isn’t just a party game anymore, it actually does the work to stay competitive. Unfortunately it seems like Nintendo’s new appreciation for Esports doesn’t outweigh their hatred for players modifying their games.

This does look like the end of the road for online competitive Melee, at least until in-person events can be held again. This is a shame as a lot of hard work went into Slippi, with no intention of stepping on Nintendo’s toes. It is ultimately players and fans that are losing out with this decision.

Will this decision backfire on Nintendo?

Nintendo is having an amazing year sales wise across the board. Then again, almost every company in the industry is seeing similar success during this pandemic.

What is different however, is the treatment of competitive play and esports. While esports was never a strong focus with Nintendo titles, it did have a spot in their arsenal. In 2020, the company has almost completely downsized support for competitive play and this latest move is set to further harm athletes and their livelihoods.

Killing off Melee via Slippi is just adding bad press to animosity to a scene that is barely hanging on this year. The long-term implications are yet to be witnessed, especially if the pandemic lockdowns continue well into 2021.

For those wondering, here is some useful information about ROM’s, if you are wondering about Nintendo’s latest decisions impacting you personally.

Are Mods and ROMs Legal to Use?

One big question that is raised in all this is how Nintendo actually has the power to cancel the event just for using a third party mod? Nintendo has never looked too kindly on ROMs in general, but specifically disliking modifications or alterations made to ROMs. This is why they so active in taking down ROM and emulation sites, and immediately jump on ROM hacks and fan games. In the case of Slippi, things gets tricky.

ROMs are actually legal to use in the US. As long as you own a copy of the game yourself, it is fine to make a digital backup to play. Equally, you’re allowed to use software like Slippi alongside of it for yourself. When it comes to broadcasting it though, Nintendo has some more ground to stand on and is within their rights to stop this. Streaming is only really allowed as far as it is tolerated by developers. Streamers and events give their games PR, and typically the companies behind them let them go ahead because of it.

Can You Modify Your ROMs?

Nintendo’s beef with modifying games goes back a long way though. They sued Game Genie, third party developers on their systems, and even Blockbuster to make sure they retained complete control of the way that you play their games. You might have purchased it, but Nintendo doesn’t want you to have the power to decide how to play it.

They can’t stop you making a backup of a game you bought or using Slippi, but they can stop streams of it from taking place. Even if Nintendo was overstepping with their cease and desists, they have great resources to fight it. A tournament or organizer would go bankrupt attempting to fight them, so a cease and desist really is the end of the line. Nintendo shutting down online Melee can go ahead, since it would be far too costly to fight against this.

Read more: Can Smash Ultimate Recover from 2020?