November 21st, 2001. A mere 16 days after the release of the Nintendo Gamecube, the game that would ultimately be the #1 best seller is released for the console, Super Smash Bros. Melee. The game was developed in a tight 13 month schedule, the developers would work with no weekends and no holidays off. The director of the game, Masahiro Sakurai, is known to be a perfectionist in every instillation of the Smash Bros. series. His vision is absolute.
The game instantly succeeded, Super Smash Bros. Melee was a critical and commercial success. It had improved upon everything that made the original game so great for the Nintendo 64. Melee offered more characters, more stages, more items, more ways to play. It accomplished everything a sequel should do by improving literally everything about its predecessor. The community full of avid Smash Bros. players essentially abandoned playing the original Smash Bros. as it didn’t make sense to continue playing what many felt was an inferior version of the same game. Melee was fast, exciting, and fun to play.
Though Masahiro Sakurai always envisioned Smash as a party game with 4-players running around whacky stages with items to the max, some people saw it as something more. Indeed, the majority of people to this day view Smash as something to turn on at a party or gathering. Other people wanted to know who the best in the world was. This meant tournaments that people could compete in for money and bragging rights. The earliest known records of tournaments note that back then the rules still included items and the majority of stages, but people generally played one-on-one, which is the standard today. Over the course of time, the ruleset for tournaments began to see change. Items were banned, as well as many of the stages, the most current legal ruleset only has 6 legal stages. Along with ruleset changes, the metagame began to change as well. People began to discover just how deep Melee is. Advanced techniques such as wavedashing and L-cancelling allow the characters to perform movements that allow for combos and movements that far exceed what the developers had in mind.
The competitive Melee scene continued to thrive. Tournaments were getting larger, and the game even earned a slot on the MLG Bracket. In 2007, Melee was featured as one of the games in the Evolution Championship Series, the most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world. At the time, it was probably not unusual that many would have thought this would have been the peak of Melee. Super Smash Bros. Brawl had been announced to be released in 2008. Just like when the community abandoned Smash 64 once Melee came out, it was safe to assume that the community would once again ditch the last smash game for the most recent one.
Brawl is released. Everything that made Melee fun and exciting was stripped away. The game was sluggish, defensive, and not at all technical. Masahiro Sakurai developed Brawl to intentionally shut down competitive play to appeal to more casual audiences, which was the target for demographic for the Wii. Nonetheless, people still made a competitive scene out of Brawl, despite the pace of the game being much slower and rewarding a more patient play style. There was no fast combo’s or swift movements like in Melee. The forecast for Melee was to be doom and gloom from here on out. The community split in two. Brawl players and Melee players. The two did not get along at all. The resentment stirred from the community being unable to agree on which game is better and should be the one played at tournaments. The majority of the community decided to go with Brawl, and Melee was fading away.
As a kind of a last hoorah, the Melee community decided to host one last Melee tournament. “Revival of Melee” was an ironic name, as people thought this would be the last big Melee tournament, but little did they know the amount of influence this tournament would have. Players from all over the country gathered for this tournaments. The best in the world at the time were all participants. Mango, Mew2King, Hungrybox, DaShizWiz, and many other pro players all made an appearance. The tournament was a hit. Some of the most iconic moments in Melee history took place at this stacked tournament.
Loser’s Finals, DaShizWiz vs. Mew2King. It’s game 4, Mew2King is up 2-1 in game points. He needs one more game to win. DaShizWiz is up 3 stocks to Mew2King’s one in this match. Anyone watching would bet that the set would end up going to game 5. In one of the most exhilarating comebacks in the history of the game, Mew2King trumps DaShizWiz with ease and claims his spot in grand finals. The comeback ends up being the most viewed Melee clip at the time, which ushered in buzz and new players for the game.
Melee fumbled it’s way around between the years 2009-2013. The game was in no means dead, but it wasn’t as big as other fighting games such as Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. As mentioned earlier, Evolution is the most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world. While Melee had a slot in 2007, it was kicked off in the later years due to Brawl taking its place. In 2013, the organizers of Evolution made a poll asking which game people wanted to see on the mainstage of Evo this year. Melee won by a landslide, leaving many people understandably skeptical. Many people were convinced the votes were botted. In response to this Evo decided to have the top five most voted game to donate to breast cancer. Whichever game generated the most money would get a slot in Evo 2013. In a tight race between Melee and Skullgirls, Melee prevailed by raising nearly 95k for breast cancer.
Evo 2013 was perhaps the most influential event to happen for Melee. Evo gave Melee exposure to new audience, and broke records for most watched fighting game. Tournaments blew up after that. Tournaments were now hosting brackets with over 2000 players entered. In year prior, 500 would be considered a good turnout. Alongside the publicity brought by Evo, filmmaker Samox released his Documentary, “The Smash Brothers” which details the history of the competitive Melee community. These two events were crucial the survival of the game.
Even with now three sequels released, Melee has been the most popular Smash game for people who want to play competitively. The game is widely considered to be the definitive version of the game, and continues to bring in new audience members yearly. Melee is truly remarkable in being one of the few games that can continue to thrive despite its age and having newer versions of the game still available. Not a single other fighting game community has stuck with an older game like the Melee community has. Whenever the new games out, the community jumps on it while abandoning the old one. Not the Melee community. The players recognized the Melee had more to offer from a competitive standpoint than the later sequels and stuck by it after 18 years.
In 2020, Melee is still alive and well. The skill ceiling continues to rise as players push the game further and further. After 18 year one would think that the game would become stagnant, but Melee has aged like fine wine.
Melee is timeless. The game will continue to thrive as long as the fire to be best is still there.