On a Wednesday night in Back Bay at Capital One 360 Café, gamers crushed free sandwiches and sodas and hollered as players kicked, grappled and slashed Nintendo avatars on three TV’s, while the theme from Zelda played overhead through ceiling speakers.
It was the third and final night of a Boston tournament for the blockbuster video game Super Smash Bros., the colorful fighter that’s been among the most popular ever since its first title release in 1999.
In Boston and around the country, at a time when video games have morphed into spectator sports and gamer culture in some form is near universal for Americans of any age, Super Smash Bros. is king.
“Just the demographics, the age group gets between younger and older people. It just appeals to more people and it’s casual and competitive. I think that’s why everybody loves it,” said Dan Lanza, organizer and host of Double Tap, a two-person gaming event planning company. Double Tap hosted the tournament at the cafe – free to all thanks to sponsorship from the bank and its marketing-outpost-slash-coffee shop.
Since if first appeared in living rooms everywhere via the N64 console, Smash has been the ultimate in one-size-fits-all gaming, gamers told Metro. One big reason behind its staying power, they said, is it’s even fun when you aren’t any good.
“That guy, he hit me like three times and he had a lot of fun doing it,” said Marc Maggiore, 19, whose Ness character had just finished stomping over his challenger’s Charizard.
For Maggiore, it’s the easy-going community that is most attractive about the game. He bonded over hours and hours playing the game with college friends at Colgate University in upstate New York, and said he’s gotten involved in the Massachusetts tournament scene while home for the summer.
He met another Smash enthusiast on Facebook just a few days before the tournament, he said. They lived near by, so met up and played for three hours.
“He whooped my ass for three hours, but it was good,” he said.
The obsession with the game, for many, starts early.
The Boston tournament was the first for Max Hopkins, a 19-year-old Harvard undergrad from Seattle. But Hopkins said he’s been playing since the second grade, crafting his skills casually over a decade and developing strategy for the deceptively simple fighter.
“It’s just your skill – what you can do in the moment, how fast you are, how you can read the other player. It’s just a really in-the-moment experience,” he said. “We’re stilling seeing new things in Melee and it’s been years.”
The Boston tournament was for Smash 4, the latest iteration of the game, but the most popular version is probably Melee, the now-vintage GameCube release from 2001.
“Hardcore,” was how contestants described the Melee loyalists.
Smash culture, and Melee culture in particular, thrives on college campuses.There have been high-profile face-offs between schools, like last year’s battle that featured Harvard, MIT, BU, Northeastern, UMass, UConn and WPI duking it out in Kendall Square.
Year-round, though, there are plenty of regular tournaments around the Greater Boston Area to keep enthusiasts busy, including weekly battles in Coolidge Corner and at the Natick Mall, and periodic monthlies, all of them logged and promoted on a network of Facebook pages and a subreddit.
Smash’s popularity, and the sheer volume of tournaments available to players, may be seeing a boost as the popularity of gamer streaming platform Twitch rises, and Major League Gaming, among gaming’s answers to pro sports, continues gaining mass appeal.
Gamers, though, said Super Smash Bros. is just well-designed, and a draw for players who might not sign up for tournaments otherwise.
“You can have fun if you just pick a controller up, but if you like to be competitive about it you can,” Maggiore said. “There’s that aspect and it’s there for you.”