In Solidarity with Melee & PM: How Nintendo Has Hurt the Competitive ARMS Scene
Hi, my name is HanukkahJamboree and I'm a prominent ARMS player and TO who has been playing the game from day 1 of its launch. After reading the anonymoussmasher TwitLonger, I felt the need to write out a lengthy piece on how Nintendo of America has detrimentally affected the competitive ARMS scene, especially after seeing a handful of comments regarding Nintendo's support for it versus Melee or Ultimate. That said, this is specifically how Nintendo's attempts at support amounted to pretty much nothing in the long run and was even detrimental at certain points.
To start, a small portion of this TwitLonger, especially the early stuff directly after the game's release, has already been covered in a video by Akshon Esports, which can be found here, for those that are a bit more visual: https://youtu.be/iZI-UxXXv7A
Additionally worth noting: the damage Nintendo of America has done to ARMS is *minuscule* compared to the damage that the Melee and PM scene have endured. This is not intended to punch down on either of those scenes, but provide a similar perspective from the eyes of the grassroots competitive scene that worked hard just to build up what we could. We stand in solidarity with the melee scene at every step of the way and hope this provides a perspective about what actual developer support for a Nintendo game looks like when it isn't the latest Smash game.
There's a summary section at the bottom for those looking for the quick answers.
THE EARLY DAYS:
Beyond just directly impacting competitive ARMS events, Nintendo of America initially advertised the game based entirely around motion controls. To this day, there are still a number of people that think ARMS cannot be played with a standard controller, immensely detracting from sales. The game's actual representation during pre-release advertising was incredibly unclear from Nintendo of America, whereas Nintendo of Japan had a larger variety of ads and pre-release gameplay clips.
As the game's release neared, Nintendo of America hosted their first official event: the ARMS Open Invitational at E3 in June of 2017. 4 competitors were pre-selected for their notoriety within the FGC or the competitive Smash scene (Alex Valle and SuperGirlKels, for example), while 4 others were selected from those that visited Nintendo's booth during the same day. All competitors were put in a single elimination bracket and required to use motion controls.This further hardened the idea that ARMS could only be played with motion controls.
Once the game had actually released, it was near impossible for the grassroots scene to actually succeed in running events, as the game was built around customization of loadouts for the player's character of choice. Acquiring every single arm combination for every single character took most average players anywhere from a few weeks of dedicated play to months of casual play, as the initial in-game currency to acquire ARMS was difficult to grind. With no dedicated tournament support, grassroots ARMS events had to choose between locking characters to their default ARMS, or encouraging people to bring their own Switch consoles to events, something that was difficult to do at the time as the console was still brand new. Meanwhile, Nintendo of Japan had officially started a competitive circuit where they provided switches with fully unlocked arms at every event in the circuit. From an American perspective, it looked like the game dropped and we just lost all developer support. It wouldn't be until 8 month after release that a tournament mode, where all arms are unlocked for local play, was added to the game in a balance patch. At that point, months of potential momentum was lost as people had either moved on to Splatoon or just lost interest in ARMS.
Beyond that initial event, there were a handful of NoA official ARMS events, such as the 2017 Comic-Con International: San Diego bracket or the tournament hosted at the New York Nintendo store. All of this was fairly small in comparison to the NoJ ARMS circuit and quickly died out after a month or two following the game's release.
The most damning evidence of Nintendo's mindest regarding competitive games, and how that mindset damaged our community, came during the first year after launch. A top player (intentionally left anonymous to protect their identity) that was invited to dinner with a representative from Nintendo (intentionally left anonymous to protect their identity) was told that Nintendo of America was afraid that prospective customers, especially children, would see competitive play and become discouraged. They were fearful that a competitive scene would scare away a casual scene. Knowing this information, it makes sense that official Nintendo events dropped off pretty quick after release. The initial idea appears to have been: market the game as a competitive fighter that was highly accessible, run a few events, and then all competitive support would be dropped in favor of party style gameplay modes rolled out once every month or so. Leaving the competitive community to form itself while still attempting to profit off their success felt disheartening, and many recognized it as something that was done to Sm4sh, as well.
COMPETITIVE SCENE HEIGHT:
Japan continued to receive official tournaments in the form of an officially hosted online bracket and multiple tournaments that were part of the offline tournament bracket called "ARMS Japan Grand Prix" (mentioned above). During this time, NoA had no official online or offline events. The grassroots competitive community did continue to grow despite the initial fumbling of whether to have events feature full arms customization or not. Thanks to 2GG's early efforts, as well as that of scattered local communities in America and Canada, the scene had representation at various regionals and majors. There was also a number of large online tournaments for the game, all community run, of course. However, the announcement of ARMS being in the official lineup of EVO Japan 2018 left people wondering why Nintendo of America seemed resilient to push the game as a competitive fighting game in America when Nintendo of Japan had clearly targeted it as such.
However, Nintendo of Japan's support at EVO Japan 2018 was fairly hollow when push came to shove. Come time for the event, the official rules weren't released until 2 weeks before the bracket was to start, with specific details on match rules being released around 1 week in advance. With a number of players already having traveled to Japan, either from somewhere in the country or overseas in the case of European and American competitors, they learned that the bracket would be utilizing Best of 1 format for all tournaments sets until the bracket's Top 8, where the format would switch to Best of 3 for all sets, even Grand Finals. Not only that, but competitors were restricted from using their own controllers (wired joy cons and pro controllers were available at each setup), and stage selection would be randomized from a large pool of stages, where players could strike a handful ahead of time (apologies, I was actually there but forget the total amount of stages that were allowed to be struck). After backlash from international players *and* Japanese players, they updated the event's rules to allow Top 16 and on to use Best of 3.
When the day of the event arrived, players competing in their pools found out seeding was largely random, as most people running the event at EVO had no clue about how ARMS worked, much less about the competitive scene. Pools, despite being filled with disqualifications due to EVO Japan having free registration, began to run over on time as TOs figured out how to set up the game. As bracket advanced, players learned that the game was not being played splitscreen, but instead it was being played over two consoles connected via bluetooth, despite LAN mode being added 2 weeks after release in 2017. This led to tournament sets actually experiencing networking lag at an offline event. Pools with a large number of people or a table in the middle of a large number of setups seemed to experience the worst lag out of the whole event. Frustration regarding bluetooth connectivity and best of 1 sets was abound among players, especially those traveling from overseas. Once the event hit Top 16, all sets were to be played on setups that appeared to be connected via LAN, while the switches that were spectating as a third player for stream setups seemed to be experiencing lag. Players in top 16 didn't note any major issues while playing, at least. At the summation of the event, the winner, Pega, was awarded no prize money as the event was free to enter and Nintendo was the only published to deny a sponsored pot bonus. Instead, Pega was given a large champion belt, an exclusive ARMS jacket, and a handful of other small trinkets.
The event was great for bringing the international ARMS players together to drunk at a bar, but beyond that it was messy, poorly run, and largely felt like an indicator that Nintendo was out of touch with what the competitive community wants in a esports tournament. Nintendo of America's follow up to EVO Japan 2018 came in the form of the ARMS US & Canada Online Open in March of 2018. Players had to qualify via their rate of wins in Ranked Mode during a 1 and a half week period. 8 total players were invited to an online, single elimination bracket with a stagelist selected by Nintendo. With commentators specifically picked by Nintendo who lacked a large chunk of game information compared to community casters and a single elimination bracket using stages the competitive community banned, it seemed like this event was following suit to EVO Japan where Nintendo of America ran a bracket without much knowledge about how the competitive community actually preferred them to be run. Following that, grassroots events continued to grow while Nintendo of America continued to stay radio silent on any sort of official ARMS events. The competitive community seemed content with this scenario after what had occurred at EVO Japan 2018.
With official game updates having dropped off after April of 2018, grassroots TOs worked to get ARMS at majors, such as Winter Brawl, EVO 2018, and Smash n' Splash 4. These events succeeded purely on the backs of the teams that ran them, as Nintendo provided no support for these brackets (NOTE: EVO 2018 had official Nintendo sponsorship as a whole, but the ARMS bracket was a side event. EVO staff did not communicate that ARMS would be present, so the Nintendo representatives on the ground did not prepare anything for them. Upon the actual day of the tournaments, the Nintendo representatives approached the ARMS bracket organizers and mentioned they were surprised to see ARMS there. They gave the organizers a box of leftover ARMS merchandise they had in their truck).
As official Nintendo support for the Japanese scene died off, the community as a whole internationally also began to settle into the role of playing an "outdated" game. Casual players weren't entering brackets and Nintendo's only official support came in the form of "Party Crashes," an in-game event that occurred once a month that would pit 2 playable characters against each other until, eventually, the conclusion of a single elimination bracket proving who the most popular character. That said, it didn't amount to much outside of filling the unranked netplay game modes with some more players for a few days at a time.
The only sign of recognition the competitive community got actually came from Nintendo UK, as they not only hosted multiple offline European ARMS Invitationals, but continued to recognize the game and its players on their Twitter. Beyond that, it was the same radio silence on competitive events that Smash faced for ages. People felt distraught that Nintendo seemed to completely forget ARMS, while others were pleased that they were leaving tournaments alone completely. The grassroots competitive community was able to run brackets with the rules and stages that they pleased.
In April of 2020, Nintendo announced the ARMS North American Online Open, a single elimination bracket run via Battlefy. The competitive community was excited to see new developer support, only to be blindsided with rules consisting of single elimination, random stages, and limited seeding. It felt like EVO Japan 2018 all over again, but from the comfort of our homes during quarantine. This coincided with a sale on the game for the first time since launch (in America), so it seemed to be a surface level cash grab rather than an attempt to assist the community. A similar event was run again in August with an equal bad setup, and then another in October with, what appeared to be, the community ruleset and a swiss ladder phase to replace seeding. This was obviously a major improvement, but it took almost 3 years and TOs from the competitive community on staff for multiple events before we were FINALLY able to reach a point where Nintendo of America actually made use of a tournament format we enjoyed. Prizing was limited to Gold Coins for the Nintendo eShop.
Here's a quick review of the major issues the scene faced on launch and throughout the game's lifespan:
-Impossible to play the way Nintendo envisioned at launch when running the game at grassroots offline events.
-Nintendo never wanted to the game's competitive scene to be popular, as they thought it would discourage customers.
-Official Nintendo events were anywhere between "okayish" and "total disaster" due to things like poor bracket formats, bad tournaments rules, and outright non-functioning tournament consoles.
-Official Nintendo events were dropped within 1 month of launch in America, and didn't return until the game had lost a considerable chunk of its player base.
-Nintendo of America offered no support once the game ran out of patches until quarantine hit. From there, they ran 3 online brackets (with no rules regarding lag) while running a sale.
-Official tournament rules have been on their terms up until literally a month ago when a godlike community TO was able to convince them to alter it.
-Prizing available to players has been in the form of Nintendo Gold Coins or physical trinkets.
-Sponsorship of community run ARMS events has never occurred.
As with every game Nintendo seems to release, they want passionate players and a large community to inject life into the game, but they want to keep constant control over the image of the game while exerting as little energy as possible. So, the way the ARMS scene looks on a competitive scale compared to other fighting games or just even other Nintendo games? This is what developer support from Nintendo looks like. It kind of blows.