COVID-19 has affected all parts of daily life, including video game tournaments. Adjustments made to Melee‘s online system lets players compete easier than ever.
With COVID-19 suspending in-person video game tournaments indefinitely, players and organizers had to change the nature of their competitive play. Few games faced the challenges of the Super Smash Brothers Melee community; traditionally played in-person with participants bringing their TVs, controllers, and GameCubes. Players relied on tight-knit local scenes with occasional regional tournaments and rare national competitions.
Luckily, software developments in the last two years have made long-distance play a reality. Released by Melee player and software engineer Fizzi in June 2018, Project Slippi revolutionized how people play Melee together. Using Dolphin, a GameCube emulator developed for Windows in 2003, Slippi is a carbon copy of the original Melee game — complete with all the quirks that make it the endlessly deep fighting game still played nearly 20 years after its release.
An update to Slippi this June made it more efficient than ever. Introducing rollback netcode, a system complicated enough to warrant its own article, allows Melee to run online with virtually no lag. Because of the split-second inputs the game requires, this update lets users play competitive Melee reliably through the internet for the first time.
Many of Melee’s top players, such as Leffen, Hungrybox, and Mang0, have already been streaming Slippi games to thousands of viewers. More importantly, high-level national tournaments have been able to continue. The Ludwig Ahgren Championship Series 2 and Get On My Line 2020: Melee saw just as many elite players as they would in any other year.
Outside of the pro scene, the Slippi update lets local scenes continue their smaller tournaments — usually less than 25 players — and makes national tournaments more accessible. The Rona Rumble, a nation-wide 306 participant tournament held on July 12, didn’t feature the big names characteristic of many national competitions. However, it allowed participants to get a taste of players from hundreds, even thousands of miles away. That kind of gameplay wouldn’t have been possible two months ago without Slippi.
Like how The Smash Bros documentary grew the game scene years after the game’s release, top level players are hopeful the updates to Slippi will do the same. With the alternative possibilities Slippi provides, a Melee renaissance may be upon us.