Nintendo is finally creating officially-licensed esports tournaments for ‘Super Smash Bros.’

(Nintendo Photo)

After years of being indifferent at best to the Super Smash Bros. tournament scene, Nintendo of America has announced a new partnership that will see the debut of the first officially-licensed Smash tournament series.

The news came via a surprise press release on Thursday morning. Nintendo has teamed with Panda Global, a Detroit-based esports brand, to create an as-yet-unnamed championship circuit for players of both Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch and its 2001 GameCube predecessor Super Smash Bros. Melee.

“This partnership with Panda Global is the next step in Nintendo’s efforts to create a more consistent, fun and welcoming competitive environment for our players and fans,” wrote Bill Trinen, senior director of product marketing at Nintendo of America, in the press release. “We are proud to stand with an organization like Panda Global to celebrate and support the ever-growing competitive Super Smash Bros. community and create a space where all players can test and hone their competitive skills.”

The unnamed circuit is currently planned to be restricted to the U.S., with Canadian and Mexican players eligible to enter once “Panda Global and Nintendo have deemed international travel and attendance at in-person events to be permissible.” In the meantime, players from the USA will compete online in qualifying rounds.

Nintendo and Panda Global have yet to reveal the competitive circuit’s events, schedule, and potential prize pool, but promise to do so “in the future.”

This is a surprising about-face from Nintendo in general, which has traditionally held the Smash tournament circuit at arm’s length. At best, it’s largely ignored the scene; at worst, it’s shut down major tournaments with cease-and-desist orders, as it did to the Big House Online in Nov. 2020, reportedly due to its plans to use a fan-modified version of Super Smash Bros. Melee.

It’s a big about-face from what many of Nintendo’s contemporaries are doing. For example, WB Games, the publisher of the last three games in the Mortal Kombat series, was heavily involved in the tournament scene for both 2015’s MKX and 2019’s MK11, to the point where many stops along its circuit were endorsed if not organized by WB itself.

Smash, by comparison, has a huge competitive scene, but it’s one that uses a series of unofficial rules and modifications to play Smash very differently from what Nintendo originally intended. Smash‘s competitive ruleset is effectively the biggest user-created mod in gaming, which disables many of the game’s features, occasionally exploits glitches, and even deliberately damages the hardware to enable what might as well be an entirely different game.

That might explain Nintendo’s lack of interest in the pro Smash circuit, which has largely grown without Nintendo’s input. However, that in turn has created a culture with very little official oversight, which eventually resulted in a series of sexual misconduct allegations that rocked the scene in 2020.

With Smash Ultimate officially complete, this is a strange but apt time for Nintendo to step in and take a hand in organizing the scene. While Nintendo has yet to make any announcements regarding how its pro Smash circuit will work, it’s probably safe to assume that it will at least involve age restrictions on players and attendees.

Games Esports Nintendo Smash brothers