A title like this one is going to raise a lot of questions, especially from those who play Smash, so please allow me to establish a few things that will hopefully assuage the fears I’m sure some of you have. First, I have been participating in Smash competitions consistently since late 2015. I’m not exactly a veteran (or even really all that good), but I do speak from the perspective of a player. Second, I’m not judging you, your local scene, or any specific individuals other than the ones explicitly mentioned in this article. My goal is to hold a mirror to pro-Smash and contextualize the state our community has been left in following recent events while framing the impression we give of ourselves to others, how it hurts the scene and finish by discussing how we can improve.
I’m doing this because I firmly believe that correcting these issues will be essential to the state of competitive Smash in the long run. Please understand that although I will be critical and won’t pull any punches, my goal in doing so is not to dismiss the scene, but to help improve it. With all that out of the way, let’s take a look at the most recent major events to happen in this community.
The Scene Has a Problem with Women
You’re probably all familiar with the story of Bocchi. The 15-year-old girl who managed to defeat top-level player Ally, only to get swarmed by harassment and hate messages from male players who believed that the positive attention she received from her victory warranted driving the young player (who again, is 15 years old) out of Smash competitions because a girl being celebrated for an upset was apparently taking the limelight away from the male players. It was an unfair and cruel experience for poor Bocchi, but to many, it was a watershed moment, as this toxic facet of the community that had until now only been discussed through whispered anecdotes was brought to light for the first time, except it really wasn’t.
Sexist responses to women playing Smash have existed for years and have previously alienated numerous talented community members like Milktea and VikkiKitty. In fact, over 5 years ago pro-Melee player Neha Chhetri assembled comprehensive data on the sexism and harassment women among us have faced, which included photographic proof.
If you’ve heard little about these stories, it’s likely to be for the reason that despite how well documented these problems have been, they’ve been allowed to keep happening. The community has repeatedly ignored and forgotten the stories of women who went through the same thing as Bocchi, to the point where some organizers’ proposed plans to implement a code of conduct against such things at their events have been met with outcry and antagonism, more than the players bullying Bocchi ever received. Some even went as far as to make threats of litigation because their behavior being monitored at private events was apparently worse than harassing a high-schooler.
The good news is that things do seem to be getting better for now. Bocchi has arguably received more public support than any of the previous victims—including help from Smash 4 G.O.A.T. ZeRo—which is hopefully the start of a trend towards better treatment of women in the community. But having seen how others in the same boat have been treated before leads me to worry that people will forget all about the young prodigy and that her ordeal will happen all over again to someone else. It’s great seeing more and more people stand up for Bocchi and I would love to be proven wrong, but I still worry history will repeat itself.
We Had to Talk About Etika at Some Point
Smash Bros. YouTuber and Twitch streamer Desmond “Etika” Amofah was found dead in Manhattan on June 19th, 2019 after having committed suicide by drowning. His death came after months of his mental health visibly deteriorating on his streams, drawing concern from friends and fans alike. But at the same time, others treated his downward spiral as a joke, making memes and joking about his decline, not recognizing the signs of his illness and believing them to be an act. He was encouraged by a contingent of viewers to continue a pattern of self-destructive behavior, leading to several public breakdowns as his situation worsened, culminating in his suicide.
I’m not going to talk as much about this, partially because there’s too much to go over and partially because the issues that lead to this permeate all throughout the internet and are not limited to Smash Bros. but, with that said, what transpired shows a poor understanding of mental health within the community. I’m not blaming anyone in the scene for Etika’s death and I would argue that outside internet personalities like Keemstar had a far more negative influence on him, but I’d be lying if I told you that there wasn’t a noticeable trend of other players encouraging Etika’s antics, whether it was through attacks at him and his condition or because they thought enabling his meltdowns was all in good fun. There are countless people inside and outside the Smash community who have the same struggles as Etika, and my only hope is that we can recognize their pain from now on and help them get the assistance they need.
Yeah, Ally’s Here Too
If you were wondering earlier why Ally didn’t use his influence to help Bocchi, it was because he was going through his own issues, having been accused by fellow top-player tamim of having engaged in a relationship with fellow top-player CaptainZack, aged 16. Ally was 26 at the time and denied every part of the accusation for months until mounting evidence and a corroborating testimonial from Zack made it clear his façade couldn’t be maintained. Ally admitted tamim had been telling the truth on Independence Day and promptly announced his retirement, leaving Smash Bros. behind.
I don’t have a problem with the scene having had a predator in it, especially since he’s gone now and major tournament organizers have had the decency to issue lifetime bans against him anyway. My problem is how I’ve seen other players react to it. Remember all the vitriol that Bocchi received for beating Ally in a tournament? Well, Ally received only a minor fraction of outrage by comparison, despite having done something illegal. Ally actually gained quite the outpouring of support, as stans flooded to his twitter to beg him not to leave while lashing out at those calling him out. Some have gone as far as to attack tamim for having outed Ally, even after all parties involved confirmed he was correct. All this less than a month after the same community flamed a 15-year-old girl for beating the aforementioned predator in a videogame.
And to be honest, I don’t fully blame sexism for this double-standard. It would certainly be hard to deny that that was a factor, but I believe another motivator behind the wave of defense for Ally was top-player privilege. It’s no secret that high-level smashers have been given more leeway than pros in any other part of the FGC. We entirely exempt stars from certain rules, allowing them to show up over 30 minutes late with little to no penalty, skipping the first round of group stages and more. And while none of that is even remotely as bad as defending people like Ally, I believe it all comes from holding these individuals too far above the rest. Top-level Smash players are so deified that they will be defended from accusations of crimes they admit to doing, while newcomers struggle to be recognized for their accomplishments without being harassed based on their gender.
The past few months have seen issues in the Smash community surface that I am not okay with and you shouldn’t be either. I’m sure some will read this and think I’m doing this out of spite for the scene, but I encourage everyone to keep in mind that I only want what I assume we all want. I want to see competitive Smash grow, gain new participants in droves and have non-participants take us more seriously. But that won’t happen if we keep having problems like these, because other people are seeing what’s going on and it’s clear from just about any discussion online that what they see is driving them away, a trend that will only continue until we address these problems.
The good news is that all the issues highlighted here can be corrected in the same manner, because they all come from the same source: dehumanization. Bocchi was dehumanized because she was treated as inferior for her gender, Etika was dehumanized because people were too focused on him as an entertainer to see the problems that affected him as a person and Ally was dehumanized because he was put above everyone else to an unrealistic degree and nearly got away with being a predator. The way these individuals were treated reflects poorly on our scene, harming people within it and straining our public image. But the problem can be fixed simply by treating players as people and I hope that’s something we can all start doing from now on.