The Melee community needs to patch up its transphobia and misogyny problem before it’s too late.
The competitive scene for Super Smash Bros. Melee, the second game in the popular series produced by Nintendo, has remained one of the most popular fighting games in the current eSports landscape despite being nearly two decades old. However, if the dedicated community behind the game hopes to keep it alive and healthy moving forward, they’ll have to confront and alleviate a problem that the community has perpetuated since its inception: the prevalence of transphobia and misogyny.
My introduction to the Melee community at large came last year with The Smash Brothers, a 2013 documentary series on the community’s history. While I fell in love with the series’ ability to capture captivating narratives of the game’s different eras and was amazed with the players who defined them, I felt that something was off regarding how the competitive scene was presented.
The series focused primarily on the journeys of seven players — all cisgender males — who rose to the top of the mountain during the scene’s first decade. It’s precisely in the name: The Smash Brothers. On the surface, this is completely fine; however, the documentary soon began to reveal to me that not only was it a dated product of its time, it also represented a community held back by its exclusion.
The documentary was riddled with not-so-subtle jokes about sexual harassment, painfully uncomfortable stories about players getting “raped” (losing badly in a game), as well as a general attitude that girls couldn’t make it anywhere in the competitive scene, and that to lose to one would be an embarrassment.
I feel so strongly about The Smash Brothers not because I dislike it — I revisit all four hours of it rather often — but because I’m far from the only person who it introduced to Melee. In fact, the documentary was so popular upon its release that it birthed an entire generation of “doc kids,” players who discovered the game through the documentary — plenty of whom have gone on to great success in the competitive scene. The series was a major factor in bringing the community to heights that the old-school players featured in it would’ve never imagined were possible, given how small and grassroots the community was during its formative years.
Seven years later, The Smash Brothers remains a massively influential entry point for many modern players, but the impression that some of its content leaves becomes less forgivable with each passing year, especially as some members of the community continue to perpetuate the same faults that make the documentary an asterisked recommendation.
These faults have revealed themselves again over the past couple months, as several Tweets made by members of the Super Smash Bros. community — most being prominent players — have caused controversy for their transphobic or misogynistic tones. These Tweets demonstrated that the “rape” misusage of yesteryear has evolved into “getting hoes” and “I don’t respect their lifestyle.” In response, many leaders within the community denounced the Tweets, asserting that such bigoted attitudes are not welcome, nor are they representative of the community at large.
I reached out to several members of the LGBTQ+ Melee community in the latest controversy’s wake to assess their opinions on the matter, and they expressed a general appreciation for the passionate messages shared by these leaders, but felt that the cisgender men who dominate the game’s player base should do more to call out these occurrences and punish offending players accordingly.
“If you are the biggest benefactor of the system, it is your job to use this to help others,” Trinity Schaeffer said.
Schaeffer has been a part of the community for four years and has faced transmisogyny that led her to stop attending Melee tournaments outright.
“It is hard to trust people after people I trusted blatantly began to do this out of nowhere,” she explained.
A striking commonality between the responses I received was a focus on Twitch livestream chats as a hotbed for misogyny and transphobia, both in personal streams and major tournaments.
Schaeffer’s first impression of the Smash community came during Evolution 2013, the tournament that put competitive Melee in the global spotlight for the first time. She recalls there being rampant misogyny in the chat and likened it to the nature of modern Twitch chat.
“Nowadays, when a woman is on stream, they still face the same remarks. This needs to be addressed because this could be another woman’s first impression of the scene as well,” she added.
Sasha “Magi” Sullivan, the only woman or trans person to ever crack the game’s Top 100 ranking established in 2013, has plenty of experience with the toxicity of the faceless keyboard warriors of Twitch chat, who come in droves to harass her at any opportune moment during tournament streams.
“Twitch chat does not represent the community at large… That being said, I do believe that there should still be stronger moderation and more condemning of that group outside of saying “they aren’t us,” because that’s how some of those people may feel accepted into our community,” Sullivan said.
Fortunately, Twitch recently gave their once-laughably weak banning system more teeth, as the platform will now prevent users who are banned from a chat from seeing the chat or posting in it under a different account, as it tracks the user’s IP address.
This could be a necessary change for the Melee community, but this isn’t automatically going to save the platform or eliminate the threat of bigotry in Melee streams. For a user to be banned from a chat, not only is it up to the discretion of a moderator, there must also be enough moderators to control the chat, which, in streams that can get hundreds of comments per minute, is no simple task.
“Aggressively shutting down misogyny instead of just brushing it off as “Twitch chat, we can’t control that” is probably what I would advocate most for right now,” Sullivan added.
Given the current state of quarantine, whether this new policy will be effective in a tournament setting remains to be seen. However, as the discussions about inclusivity continue, the community should take the time to assess their role in perpetuating transphobia and misogyny.
One quote that stuck out to me upon revisiting the documentary came from Landon “DoH” Cox, who said that “Gamers as a whole are generally more progressive because we’re all sort of weird.”
I both agree and disagree with this sentiment when applied to the Melee community. On one hand, it is a grassroots community that has been forced to stick together in solidarity in order to stay alive, which has certainly helped players have more positive interactions and forge more relationships. However, it’d be impossible to ignore just how white cis male-dominated the community is.
My friend Mars put it best when they explained that “I tend to find that in groups where the majority is male and white, then sexism, racism and transphobia are usually more pervasive and unaccounted for.”
Getting involved with the scene and starting to play the game can be a steep mountain to climb for many at first, so it is imperative that the community makes it as easy and painless as possible for prospective players to join.
Thankfully, there are other avenues besides the documentary for new players to check out that promote inclusivity in the community.
A notable example is Smash Sisters, a community-ran event held at various major tournaments which hosts crew battles and competitions for women and non-binary people in the Smash community. It was founded in 2016 by Emily “emilywaves” Sun and Lil “Milktea” Chen.
Regarding Smash Sisters, Sullivan explained that “it’s not streamed, and it’s meant to be a space where [women and non-binary people] can go to not worry about some of the usual problems they face at tourneys.”
Additionally, the “Gaylee” Discord server is a dedicated online community for LGBTQ+ Smash players, where members have a safe and comfortable space to freely express themselves without fear of judgement or bigotry.
There is a strong, passionate fanbase of women and LGBTQ+ people within Melee, and spaces like Smash Sisters and the “Gaylee” server help to provide a comforting environment for them.
Charley told me that “Finding a queer and trans community [in Melee] saved me, and I know for others too.”
By no means is the Melee community a cesspool of transmisogyny, however, it is certainly not perfect. There are so many stories of women and LGBTQ+ people who have been welcomed with open arms, but there remain instances of bigotry that are deeply troubling to those who care so much about the game and want to see it live on.
If the community ever has another tournament as influential as Evolution 2013, it needs to ensure that the members are presenting the scene without vitriol towards women and trans players and commentators, so that those watching for the first time can have a pleasant first impression free of discouragement. Travis “Samox” Beauchamp, the director of the original Smash Brothers documentary, is set to release a followup documentary hopefully by the end of 2020, which I can only hope will cover the more diverse nature of the community this time around.
These problems have existed in the community for almost 20 years, and with the future marred by uncertainty due to a litany of other problems outside of the community’s control (financial struggles, restrictions from Nintendo and global quarantine, just to name a few), it would be in the community’s best interest to get their act together before the gaming world passes them by.