Welcome back to Brick and Mortar, Retroware’s series on all things cultural in gaming – from mom and pop retro shops to community events, tournaments, conventions, and overall trends in gaming culture. I took a month away to recharge, but I’m back and ready for action! It’s been a blazing-hot summer, but as Florence Welch once said, “the dog days are (almost) over!” For kids, teens, college students and parents, it’s back-to-school time. For me, it’s back to plaid-and-sweaters time! There’s going to be a lot of this soon…
… but not just yet! As nearly the entire freaking state of Massachusetts crammed itself onto Cape Cod for one last weekend in the sun, those in Eastern Mass who follow competitive gaming got their own final weekend of summer bliss. Thousands were drawn to the Seaport District in Boston not to sit in those weird hoop chairs at The Lawn on D (or pay too much for seafood), but to witness the dawn of a new annual Smash major – New England’s first, in fact – Shine 2016!
As this was an official major, supported fully by the Smash.gg community, nearly all of the biggest names in competitive Super Smash Bros were present – Hungrybox, Mew2King, Mango, Plup, ZeRo, SuperBoomFan, SFAT, Swedish Delight, Shroomed, and a multitude of others. Hungrybox in particular had a lot to live up to, after coming off of his dramatic victory in Melee Singles at Evo 2016. With Armada (Hungrybox’s finals opponent at Evo) a notable absence at Shine, could Hungrybox even more easily claim victory this time? Or would another take his place?
Ok, here’s where I come clean – I must admit that I cannot speak with a lot of authority about competitive Smash Bros. I began following competitive Melee casually about a year ago, and Smash U even more recently. I hadn’t even seen competitive Smash 64 previous to attending Shine. But while I suck at the game myself, I have deeply fond memories of the first two Smash games, which were a huge part of my childhood.
Smash Melee was the killer app that convinced me to go with a Gamecube in November 2001 over that other unproven green and black box with that weird space marine game. And it was Smash 64 that made me do something I’ve never done again – trade in and sell some of my video game collection. I sold my childhood Game Gear too, dammit! The one with the carrying case and TV tuner… Ugh… Too painful!
But if there was one game that was entirely worth it at the time, it was Super Smash Bros. There was nothing quite like it before, and my friends and I couldn’t get enough. It was the most visceral, manic four-player brawler we had ever seen, and rather than a bunch of generic muscle-bound men and women as fighters, they were classic Nintendo properties we had fallen in love with over the years, in glorious 3D!
For the first time, you could have Mario beat the crap out of Luigi, just because. Nintendo felt particularly bothered by this fact, a point I find humorous today, so they apparently only approved Smash Bros in the first place after creating a back-story that these were just puppets, like a kid playing with his toys, rather than the actual characters themselves facing off. But it was epic playground wish fulfillment, being able to decide definitively who would beat who amongst your favorite video game characters. It instantly became the hottest competitive game on the N64 (sorry Mario Kart… and Goldeneye…), and thanks to the damn good mechanics it was built on, as well as the pick-up-and-play nature of the matches, Super Smash Bros had staying power like few other Nintendo games.
And if Smash 64 was a proof of concept, then Melee was the fully realized vision. The game was beautiful for the time, as well as fast, twitchy and responsive, with a stunning frame-rate. It was designed around a far-better controller, and the the c-stick pretty much DEFINED Smash play from there on out. The roster was expanded in intelligent ways and felt full without being overwhelming. It helped that the Nintendo Gamecube quickly became the cheapest home console on market – at $99 for years – and was easily portable due to its compact size. Smash Melee went on to sell over 7 Million copies, and was the most successful game on the Gamecube. In that era just before online play became king, when couch multiplayer reigned supreme still for most gamers, Smash became THE competitive staple. When many of my peers generally moved on from most “colorful kiddie games”, they kept Smash Melee with them.
I could tell during my college days that Super Smash Bros had become a cult classic. Without any participation or encouragement from Nintendo, Smash was a mainstay in nearly every college dorm.
And that enthusiasm spawned communities on campus that began holding tournaments every weekend.
And it’s from this era, circa 2006, that the competitive Smash community we know today was born. And it’s come a LONG way from those humble beginnings…
Sadly, that’s around the time I fell off! As my peers got good, I increasingly felt like just playing Smash for fun was no longer welcome. That’s when the counter-cultural memes of “FINAL DESTINATION, NO ITEMS, FOX ONLY” began too, and I related to that. I spent about a month with Brawl after it was released in 2008, and that was it for me with Smash for a very long time…
But it’s 2016, and I’ve let bygones be bygones. While I still suck, I absolutely love Smash U, and feel a warm fondness for Melee and 64, and it brings me such joy to see these games elevated to such an impressive status, performed at such insanely high levels of play. I love how established the Smash Community has become. Even if I’m admittedly on the outside looking in, it still feels like coming home. Of the small handful of games that have become professionally competitive on a grand scale, it’s really the only one I have personal experience playing myself. It’s the only one where I have any sort of attachment to the characters. And with few exceptions, it’s the only one that is colorful and upbeat in nature while still being competitive and structurally deep as all hell. It makes for a great spectator sport, full of twists and turns, and David vs Goliath match-ups, epic falls from grace and equally epic resurrections. And I for one am a sucker for a good story.
Like I said, I’ve been casually following the Smash competitive scene for about a year now, but Shine 2016 took me completely by surprise. It was Friday afternoon, and I didn’t have any plans for the weekend. I was contemplating how to fill my time when I got my weekly Twitch spam-mail, telling me what to watch that weekend. Shine was listed, talking about how it’s the “first Smash major in New England”. I got curious, and sure enough, it was in Boston! Weekend plans officially MADE!
Friday and Saturday were primarily elimination pools, so I decided to hold off until Sunday, when the big guns come out. There would be three Top 8 Finals in a row: Smash 64, followed by Smash U, followed by Smash Melee. I got to the Seaport bright and early, before the Smash 64 tournament had even begun, I had no way to gauge how packed it would be, and I wanted to snag a good seat!
Here’s my friend Owen checking in at the front desk. Admission for Sunday was $25. While that may seem somewhat steep, Shine 2016 is a Major, meaning that most of the biggest names in Smash would be playing that day, so that in itself made it a marquee event well worth the entry fee. Additionally, unlike something like the Capcom Pro Tour or the Pokemon World Championships, the Smash Majors are entirely DIY, fan-run and fan-funded events. If it wasn’t for those entry fees, there might not even be a Shine in the first place!
Upon entry, I immediately came up on the event merch table. Lots of sky-blue shirts, hoodies and wristbands were for sale. The merch guy saw me snapping a picture of him and smiled. I probably looked like a giddy tourist.
Behind the official event merch booth were a few more vendors. Gaming Generations is a retro-leaning regional chain based out of Wisconsin, one that has a sizable online storefront as well. They were one of the sponsors of Shine 2016… But what brought them all the way to Boston?
Twinny Shoppe is an Etsy storefront based out of New Jersey. The knit caps and draw-string bags you see were all lovingly hand-crafted.
I didn’t actually catch the name of this last storefront, but I loved the look of those cubes. The Game & Watch one in particular looks excellent, as does the Master Ball. And is that one above Charmander supposed to be R.O.B.?
Past the merch hub was a sea of folding tables and chairs, small LED screens and bulky CRTs, and dozens of N64, Gamecube and Wii U consoles, all playing some form of Super Smash Bros. This area gave me instant nostalgia for the massive console freeplay areas at MAGFest and PAX East, except this was far more focused around three particular games of the same series. Considering that there were over 1000 entrants at Shine, these stations were clearly where the paring down occurred on Friday and Saturday, down to the 24 players remaining across the three finals. With things narrowed down by Sunday, these stations had become freeplay areas. Even still, the people playing at these stations for fun were damn good, and left me wondering how far some of them made it before getting eliminated. Some of the top-tier players that would be facing off later in the day headed back here to practice. In particular, i remember Mew2King being unable to accept his Smash Wii U medal on stage because he was out here practicing for Melee. But we’ll get to that soon.
Strangely enough, Pokken Tournament had a small presence at Shine, despite obviously not being a Smash game. There was apparently a small tournament for it on Saturday, but by Sunday it was just an open station, and Owen and I were able to walk right up and play a few rounds. Owen kicked my butt as Lucario, but then I switched to Garchomp and absolutely turned the tables on his Gengar. Oh, and did you know that the arcade controllers for Pokken are available separately as USB controllers for the Wii U? Until that day, I certainly didn’t!
Some dudes playing Melee in Final Destination (Definitely no items… but Fox only? Hard to tell haha). Mango’s crew, Cloud 6, seemed to be getting a lot of rep at Shine. You can see two guys with Cloud 6 shirts in this picture alone, and perhaps a third with tank-top guy in the front. Also, how adorable is that CRT?
When Owen and I arrived, just before the Smash 64 tournament at 11 AM, the place felt mostly empty. The walls and pillars were all draped in black, making the whole place feel cavernous and dark, even with the blinding lights above. I suppose that’s a bit ironic, considering it’s called Shine! The crowds would absolutely come, but for the time being, it made it easy for Owen and I to get a spot close to the front for the Smash 64 Finals.
The Smash 64 finals were a lot of fun to watch, as I had never seen the top talent for this nostalgic gem before, but nearly every match-up was a 3-0 sweep. Also, every single match was played on Dream Land… I swear, it took me hours to get that stage’s theme out of my head. One positive thing I really liked about competitive Smash 64 is that people don’t seem to as rigidly glue themselves to just a primary character and an alt. Out of a roster of 8, SuperBoomFan played as three different characters. Hell, Tacos played as four – Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Cpt. Falcon and Pikachu! There were no clear character favorites, but I did notice a prevalence of Yoshi’s.
I went into this one knowing nothing about any of the competitors, but decided early on that I really liked Tacos, and wanted to see him go all the way. And he had a wild ride! First, SuperBoomFan used Fox to send Fireblaster’s Yoshi down to the Losers Bracket, and Tacos used a combo of Yoshi and DK to do the same to BarkSanchez’s Pikachu. Fireblaster and BarkSanchez would go on to absolutely clean up the Losers Bracket, and then go on to face one another. As soon as Fireblaster got on stage for Losers Semis, the up-to-this-point muted crowd went absolutely bonkers! Perhaps he’s local, because he clearly had fans in the audience. Fireblaster took the first round with a devastating doan-kick, but then BarkSanchez came back and absolutely swept the next three rounds to pull off a win, crushing the hopes and dreams of the Fireblaster fanbase.
In the Winners Finals, SuperBoomFan swept Tacos, three games to none. Tacos’ pink Captain Falcon got absolutely leveled in the first round. While switching to Pikachu stemmed the bleeding, it wasn’t enough. This turn of events sent Tacos down to the Losers Bracket for a rematch with BarkSanchez from the round of 8! Would Tacos be able to hold BS off a second time? Sanchez started with his signature Pikachu, and Tacos returned yet again to his unlucky pink Falcon. Why did Tacos keep going back to Falcon if he kept losing spectacularly with him? Owen and I joked that he must have lost a bet. Whenever Tacos had a second to breathe, he’d spam the “show me your moves” taunt, which got an audible chuckle out of the audience. Tacos tried to set up a repeated up-kick into his explosive grab-throw, but couldn’t capitalize. Lost round 1 to Sanchez. From there, Tacos switched to Yoshi, which made for a tight round 2, which Tacos won. From there, Tacos was firmly in control, and was able to knock out BarkSanchez with a 3-1 victory.
And so, Tacos got his own revenge rematch with the guy who sent him to Losers, SuperBoomFan, for all of the marbles. It was SBF’s Kirby vs Tacos Pikachu. Here are my actual notes from round 1: “crazy dance on left ledge, Pika recovery into Kirby down left drill kick, over and over. Pika recovers. Kirby down right drill kick to try and kill shield fails. On last stock, cautious dance. Pika jumps in, three kicks to the right and doesn’t complete, Kirby kick up wins 1-0.” Then things started to get crazy. After talking things over, both competitors switched to Donkey Kong (“such Harambe”, someone shouted), which sent the crowd into a frenzy. It elicited a lot of laughter, so obviously this was meant as a bit of a joke, and they were both just going to have fun with it. Tacos kept ending up on the outside, and DK’s arm-swinging recovery left him super vulnerable to attack. Tacos lost again… And then both players switched to Link, who you almost never see in competitive play. SBF got Tacos back on the outside again, and Link’s recovery again left him vulnerable to attack. SBF repeatedly spammed bombs and just bounced them off of Tacos to interrupt his recovery.
Ultimately, SuperBoomFan took it. It was well-earned too! He swept every series he was in 3-0. There was never really any question who was going to win this…
An hour later, the Wii U Top 8 Singles began. By this point, the crowd had swelled to a much more impressive size. [And there’s another Cloud 6 shirt!]
Evo 2016 Melee Champion Hungrybox was in attendance to watch this one too…
Now, I recognized the names in this bracket a little more than I did with Smash 64. ZeRo is always, by far, considered the favorite to win any Smash U singles tournament. And that is precisely why the crowd rooted against him constantly throughout the Top 8. Pretty much anybody playing against ZeRo would become the new crowd favorite. In general, the Shine Smash U Top 8 had some excellent story lines. Dath lost to ZeRo immediately, only to almost make his way all the way back to a rematch in the Grand Finals. Mew2King experienced an unexpectedly early knockout. ESAM had an impressive and equally unexpected showing that took him all the way to the finish. And then 6WX wrecked with Sonic… SONIC! When do you ever see a Sonic in the Top 4!?
During the Craftis v. 6WX match, in which both players played as Sonic (seriously, what!?), I became aware of a Smash Community in-joke, where the crowd claps over their heads and shouts “AYY!” whenever Sonic does his Up-A. This reached a fever pitch at one point, and both players stopped fighting and started hamming it up for the crowd with a bunch of Up-As in a row. Craftis, a New England local, got swept out of the tournament 3-0, but got a standing ovation.
In the ZeRo v. Dath match, ZeRo absolutely dominated (no surprise), sending Dath to the Losers Bracket. Mew2King, a Smash Melee staple for years, has been playing Smash U recently, and he currently mains as Cloud! In the Mew2King v. ESAM match, ESAM kept it close and ultimately won, sending Mew2King down to the losers, where he would ultimately face off against 6WX’s Sonic, only to lose again. That said, the matches were close, and round 4 was close to leading to a 2-2 tie after a devastating Cross-slash from M2K that shocked everyone when it didn’t result in a KO.
Back in Winners Finals, ZeRo’s Diddy Kong took on ESAM’s Pikachu. ESAM had the crowd on his side, looking for an upset. ESAM won the first round while up one stock! The second round saw both down to one stock, but a missed thunderbolt led to a successful Diddy Up-A and gave ZeRo the win. 1-1. From there, ZeRo grew more confident, and eaily knocked out two more wins, sending him down to the Losers.
Losers Semis saw Dath return as Robin (not considered by many to be competitive) in his match with 6WX’s unstoppable Sonic. I’ve been told that both characters are best at picking people off from a distance, and neither have a good inside game. Dath was able to stay distant, while 6WX got lured in and started playing more aggressively. That ultimately cost him, although this was a damn close match-up! This was the first match of the day to come to a Game 5 decision.
Losers Finals saw ESAM’s Pikachu face off against Dath’s Robin in a fight to see who gets to rematch the guy who put them in Losers in the first place. And it was yet another series that came down to a Game 5 decision! ESAM played amazingly in the last round. He used thunderbolt from below the stage, and then quickly used his Up-B and zapped up in time to diagonal-kick Dath off the map. ESAM took it, despite the “energy” of the crowd backing a Dath (the crowd was literally shouting “GIB HIM UR ENERGY!”). All around, it was an excellent performance, and the victory was well-earned. ESAM out-played Dath in the last two games. Such a shame though… would have been fun to see Dath climb all the way out of the Losers Bracket for a re-match against ZeRo.
But of course, yesterday’s enemies can be today’s friends, and the crowd switched allegiances immediately to ESAM in his Grand Finals match with ZeRo. ESAM did not get off to a good start… he lost zero stocks to two in the first round. Second round was just as bad. But then, with his back against the wall, he decided to go for a crowd-pleaser and changed from Pikachu to Samus!
It’s easy to see why people love ESAM. He’s so playful that down two games, he still had room to goof around. He climbed the tree in Duck Hunt stage, and began playing around up top for a good ten seconds, just swinging at ducks as they came by… while Zero sat at the bottom waiting for him, keeping his distance. ESAM ultimately got wrecked, but he was a wonderful sport, to balance out Zero’s stoic, serious approach.Regardless, ZeRo ultimately earned the win, having only lost a single game in the entire Top 8.
After another hour break came the moment the Smash Community had been waiting for… the Melee Top 8 Finals! But sadly, I wasn’t present in person for those. I seemed to have gotten sick from some of the 7-Eleven I’d eaten next store, and ended up heading home before the Melee festivities began. Sad!
However, I watched from home, and the big stories from Melee Top 8 were:
The epic upset in Winners Semis, as Hungrybox, winner of the 2016 Evo Melee champsionship, lost to SFAT, a player he’d faced and defeated six times in 2016. That sent Hungrybox to the Losers Bracket, where he handily defeated Axe 3-0 in the Losers Quarters, but then lost to Mango in a nail-biter 3-2 Losers Semis, ending his run in 4th place.
Mew2King’s nearly flawless performance, only losing a single game the entire Top 8. Unlike the Epic Losers Semis and Losers Finals, the Grand Finals were a clean sweep, with Mew2King winning three games in a row to take 1st place.
And with that, Shine 2016 came to a close, the first Smash Major in New England. I absolutely loved my time there, and plan on spending the whole weekend on site next year!
This is also my first time ever covering a live event, and my approach on how to document it shifted in the midst of me writing this, so bear with me if it’s a little all over the place. I’m still finding my voice, and I appreciate you all coming on this ride with me as I get better at covering not only local shops and barcades, but conventions, fan events and tournaments as well. I’m open to any and all advice and criticism, so please let me know what you think! Sound off in the comments below.
And if you plan on going to MAGFest Laboratories in Alexandria VA next weekend, come say hi! I won’t be doing any panels, but I’ll be walking the floors, doing my best to figure out how one effectively “covers” a convention.
For the rest of you, I’ll see you all next time on Brick & Mortar!