Smash Bros. competitive history tends to stem from obscure origins. Take for example Trinity Church, a medium-sized evangelical church based in South Bend, Indiana. On the other side of the street, there is only wheat, grass and trees. Almost 20 years ago, a SmashBoards article announced that a regional tournament would be held in this unassuming venue.
The tournament itself went largely as planned. Eddie Howells, the legendary Ganon player, took first place ahead of local talents such as Daniel “KishCubed” Kish and Josh “Joshu” Ingram. In addition to the standard singles format, the tournament organizers, the Kish family, decided to experiment with a team tournament as a side event. Despite a lackluster turnout, a crew battle still managed to take place, resulting in The Ship of Fools claiming victory over a fierce team from Ohio.
The crew fight format at that time was flawed. The rules were confusing and unintuitive. Yet in 2003, it set the stage for countless Smash Bros. crew battles. coming.
- Both crews will submit their player order in secret.
- The #1 players (in order, not quality) will fight first.
- Each member of a crew is eliminated after two defeats. Losses carry over from fight to fight.
- As players are eliminated, the next player sequentially takes their place.
- Each team can swap the current player with one of their remaining players ONCE per Crew Match. This trade can be used before any game, and the other team may not respond to it until the next game
- A crew wins when all members of the opposing crew are eliminated.
Over time, the Crew Battle format has become much clearer and more consistent from event to event. Two opposing teams each send a player to start the event. Once a player from one team has lost all of their stocks, another player from their team enters to face the opposing player who has just defeated their teammate. This process repeats until one team has seen all of its players defeated, crowning the opposing team as the winner.
For years after this event, Crew Battles became a staple of melee tournaments across the country. In a time before Slippi or any other form of online gaming, Crew Battles were the primary way to test the relative strength of different regions. This idea of regional rivalries settled by crew battles was seen at MELEE-FC3 where the East Coast proved its dominance over the West. All-time greats such as Ken “Ken” Hoang, Joel “Isai” Alvarado, Christopher “PC Chris” Szygiel and Kashan “Chillin” Khan have all competed to represent their coast and fight for nothing but the right. to boast. At a time when Nintendo didn’t support competitive tournaments, Crew Battles allowed players to fight for something meaningful despite the lack of funds in the community.
The tradition has continued to this day through each successive Smash Bros title, from Brawl to Project M to Ultimate. In 2022 alone, at least six Smash Ultimate majors have featured Crew Battles in one way or another.
More and more tournaments have worked to innovate on the now aging format. Instead of changing the established format of Crew Battles themselves, tournament organizers have changed how these events play out and who can participate.
Traditionally, players participating in Crew Battles are the best competing in that given tournament. Allowing anyone to play would take far too long. For comparison, imagine that instead of a dodgeball team consisting of a dozen players, it instead consisted of 100. None of the basic rules changed, but the time needed to walk through the game has increased exponentially.
While this prevented many players from participating in Crew Battles, it also preserved how special they were. Smash Bros. fans. Competitive players could name dozens of their favorite sets in over twenty years of competitive play while struggling to name more than a few Crew Battles that really captivated them. It’s not a failure in format; it is a success in its prestige.
Those days have largely fallen by the wayside. Half a dozen Crew Battles have already taken place this year, and that number is only growing.
The newest variation of the Crew Battle format is the Open Support Crew Battle Tournaments. Despite the aforementioned impossibility of having a dodgeball team with 100 players, dodgeball tournaments with dozens of teams happen all the time. Anyone can compete, and events only take a few hours instead of days.
This happened recently at the Smash major Rise ‘N Grind in Waco, Texas. Over 100 players in total participated in a single elimination bracket that lasted approximately four to five hours. Players of all skill levels had the opportunity to compete in teams against some of the best players in the world. In the end, a team of top players, including Antony “MuteAce” Hoo and Luis “Lui$” Ramos, came out on top.
The event took place without any notable problems. The only “problem” was the lack of visibility. Comparing the 1,100 viewers the Rise ‘N Grind Crew Battle Finals received on YouTube to the One Crew Battle at Delfino Maza RETA which garnered 158,000 views – there’s a stark difference. While the notoriety of players participating in Crew Battles in Rise ‘N Grind was significantly lower, that difference isn’t enough to cover the huge viewership gap.
Ultimately, more Crew Battles at the expense of notoriety for those Crew Battles is a trade off most are willing to make, myself included. The nature of the fighting game community (FGC) has always leaned toward democracy. While other esports such as League of Legends and now Valorant have pushed to franchise their professional leagues, the FGC has always encouraged everyone to participate and play against the best in the world. Even though it reduces viewership, people who pay to attend Smash majors have a better experience than they otherwise would have.
With the current trend for crew battles becoming rarer, the format finds itself at a crossroads: stay the same or evolve. While casual Smash fans might not notice the shift that’s happening with crew battles right now, it’s happening, just at the college level.
College esports has been a growing trend for nearly a decade now. Companies such as CSL and NECC have sprung up with the goal of becoming the esports version of the NCAA: the organization that dominates traditional collegiate athletics. In comparison to all other major esports such as League of Legends, Valorant and Call of Duty, Super Smash Bros. is one of the only esports to offer 1-on-1 competition. This creates a problem for college organizers since they are used to registering students in teams by school rather than as individual competitors.
The solution? Adjust the pre-existing Crew Battle format to fit collegiate competition.
“Within the NSL [NACE StarLeague] – we always want to create an environment around teamwork and team competitions when we can. said Kyle DeFrancisco, Director of Operations at Playfly Esports. “Seeing the appetite for Crew Battles with our community of smash players has allowed us to make this transition smoothly and has seen an increase in our player base for SSBU [Super Smash Bros. Ultimate].”
Recreational sports are about teamwork and community. Most college esports competitors do not aspire to play professionally. Unlike traditional sports, most professional esports competitors have already turned pro before reaching college. The average age in the NBA is 26 while in the Overwatch League it’s a measly 20. Collegiate esports is currently not a pipeline for professional gaming in the same way collegiate competition is in the NCAA.
In addition to the positive impact of Crew Battle on the player experience at the college level, it also certainly affects the spectator experience. As Greg Adler, former manager of the Online Collegiate Smash Circuit, notes, “I like that team battles allow for a natural audience because the other party members from each school are watching 1 person play. It’s a great combination of team and simple environments and makes things really exciting.
The spectator experience is one that college esports has consistently fallen short of its mainstream esports counterpart for years now. While college football and basketball games get millions of viewers on pay-TV channels, college esports struggles to attract a few dozen viewers on free online streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube. .
While the team battle format doesn’t solve the total viewership issue, it does create a more interactive experience for those watching in person. As Greg Adler mentioned, a natural crowd forms following teammates, waiting to play their games, cheering on their teammates. Even if you don’t normally stand behind a Smash setup and watch two players compete, you’re more likely to join an already existing group of spectators to see what happens. The result is intense in-game moments made even more exciting by a sea of onlookers, some of whom might not fully understand what they are witnessing, cheering players on.
The community aspect created by this format has not gone unnoticed by tournament organizers. As Kyle DeFrancisco notes, “He [NSL] always felt that Smash had the strongest community within Collegiate…so it was only natural for us to continue to run competitions for that and see where we can grow in the space.
With the emergence of COVID-19 in March 2020, these Crew Battle events have gone live extensively alongside all other college esports. While it worked well for most other competitive titles, Smash Ultimate in particular struggled online due to its below-average netcode. Still, online events for the platform fighter released in December 2018 continue to hold, and as COVID restrictions continue to ease across the United States, offline events will surely follow.