Nintendo and the Super Smash Bros. community have always had a weird relationship. A lot of this stems from the awkward history the company has with canceling various tournaments and big events related to their Super Smash Bros. game releases. Often these events would get shut down by Nintendo for reasons such as hosting tournaments with modded versions of games, failure of events to achieve Nintendo’s brand standards, and more. The most recent controversy regarding this now comes from the cancelation of the Smash World Tour, which was at one point set to have over $250,000 is prize money for the 2022 season, while the planned 2023 season would have pushed this prize pool to $350,000 total.
The Smash World Tour was hosted by a collection of tournament organizers that put on a series of events where the best players in the world could compete against each other for massive cash prizes. In 2022, the Smash World Tour connected over 6,400 live events hosted around the world, with over 350,000 in-person participants. This massive turnout and response made the Smash World Tour among the largest esports event tour in history, as well as the holder of the largest prize pool in history for a Super Smash Bros. competition.
With events that use Nintendo-licensed games, organizers need to reach out to Nintendo and get approval to host their event, especially if the event involves monetary exchange such as cash prizes or profit. In 2021, esports company Panda Global announced that it was partnering up with Nintendo to host events with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as part of its circuit. As of now, without any license given, no events can be held with approval by Nintendo.
For the Smash World Tour, the event organizers had been talking with Nintendo since 2021, hoping to obtain an official license to host their events. According to organizers, the process for doing so was heavily delayed and continued to drag throughout the first half of 2022, causing their application to miss deadlines and eventually go into limbo.
In a statement published in November 2022, SWT organizers stated, “Nintendo’s response to our application came slowly, which did not surprise us. They reached out in March, a few days before our announcement — and we went back and forth on the feasibility of the scope, especially since our Tour was global and Nintendo of America would have to coordinate with other Nintendo teams. We kept Nintendo in the loop of our announcement plans, but we understandably ran out of time for the formal license… This caused our application to go into limbo, and a “decision could not be made at this time,” since we did not have the full scope of our proposal sorted with Nintendo in advance. Again, we knew timelines were going to be difficult and that we were building something very long-term…”
While this was going on, chatter about Panda Global and the Panda Cup was shared around, including statements being told to organizers by Alan Bunney, CEO, and co-founder of Panda Global. According to many, Alan had been going around to tournament organizers and telling them that the Smash World Tour was going to get shut down and not come back in 2022.
“They told us that they had been told by Alan, the CEO, and co-founder of Panda, that we were going to get shut down and were not coming back in 2022… this directly contradicted our conversations with Nintendo, but we felt we could not defend ourselves properly to organizers because we felt that our conversations with Nintendo should be kept private until we had our seemingly imminent licensing deal. So, we decided to approach Nintendo with this very issue directly, explaining the attempted sabotage that was going on and our inability to speak freely.”
While Nintendo expressed concern and assured organizers that nobody spoke for the company on such matters, this didn’t seem to quell many people’s fears about everything. The CEO of Panda continued making statements throughout the year about Smash World Tour getting shut down. Over a period of months, lots of back & forth communication between Nintendo and Smash World Tour continued, until there was a full stop of communication from Nintendo. After months of no response, the Smash World Tour made their announcement and convened with Nintendo once more to discuss the licensing issues, along with everything else. This was the last meeting held with the big game company before November arrived.
On November 23rd just before Thanksgiving, Smash World Tour organizers were told by a Nintendo representative that not only would they not be approved for a license to operate their events but wouldn’t be granted one for any 2023 activities as well. The bad news was also delivered to them formally in writing as well. This caught everyone by surprise after speaking with Nintendo directly for months and they wanted a thorough explanation.
“We asked if they could clarify the reasoning for their decision. Initially, Nintendo gave us a reason that seemed to be misinformed, and when we pushed back to ask for more details, Nintendo said they were unable to give any specifics and had to speak in generalities moving forward. This was very frustrating given everything we had been told all year regarding accessibility and transparency in requirements. It felt as though Nintendo simply did not want the Smash World Tour to continue to exist. At this point, we now felt we had been strung along this entire time…”
Since the news came out about the cancellation, anger has sparked among the entire Super Smash Bros. community of players and tournament organizers, as well as fans of the game. The sudden change from Nintendo also put the organizers of the Smash World Tour in a very difficult position to deal with the financial hardship of bookings and travel plans, including refunds for those who paid for attending the planned competitions. According to them, all attendees would be issued full refunds.
After Smash World Tour’s statement on the entire debacle, Nintendo themselves made two official announcements regarding Smash World Tour. The first came from a Nintendo representative with a statement to Kotaku saying “Unfortunately after continuous conversations with Smash World Tour, and after giving the same deep consideration we apply to any potential partner, we were unable to come to an agreement with SWT for a full circuit in 2023. Nintendo did not request any changes to or cancellation of remaining events in 2022, including the 2022 Championship event, considering the negative impact on the players who were already planning to participate.”
A second longer statement made by Nintendo to media outlets also circulated around, including extra details about the company’s outlook on communicating with Smash World Tour organizers. “Nintendo would like to explain to all Super Smash Bros. fans and interested parties the background and rationale related to our decision to not grant a license to the Smash World Tour (SWT) for their upcoming activities. Nintendo’s decision was solely based on our assessment of the proposals submitted by the SWT and our evaluation of their unlicensed activities.
This decision was not influenced by any external parties such as Panda Global. Any partner that we grant a license to has to meet the high standards we require when it comes to the health and safety of our fans. It’s also important that a partner adheres to brand and IP guidelines and conducts itself according to professional and organizational best practices. We use this same approach to independently assess all partners. If we discover that a partner is doing something inappropriate, we will work to correct it.
When we notified the SWT that we would not license their 2022 or 2023 activities, we also let them know verbally that we were not requiring they cancel the 2022 finals event because of the impact it would have on players. Thus, the decision to cancel the SWT 2022 was, and still is, their own choice.”
The entire situation has been a mess for both Smash World Tour and fans of competitive Super Smash Bros. events. However, the one entity that looks far worse is Panda Global, who many point to as the benefactor of the Smash World Tour being canceled. Many pro-players and community figureheads expressed their anger and opinions over social media, including a few claiming to boycott all future Panda Global events. While Nintendo has taken a lot of heat from their fans over this, there’s no denying that the outcome of this debacle has been terrible for everyone involved.
What are your thoughts about the Smash World Tour being canceled? Do you think Nintendo or anyone else could’ve handled things better overall? Post a comment down below and let us know what you think!