The organizers of a major Super Smash Bros. tournament series, the Smash World Tour, say that Nintendo has denied their request for an official license, cutting off months of negotiations “without any warning.” The decision has led to the cancellation of next year’s season and next month’s 2022 Smash World Tour Championships, though Nintendo now says that it “did not request” any changes for the championship. Either way, it’s an abrupt end for a massive tour that attracted 325,000 entrants across thousands of events in 2022, according to organizers.
“We are incredibly devastated that any of this happened, and given the trajectory of Nintendo, we were truly hopeful that significant, positive change was inbound,” Smash World Tour organizers said in a lengthy open letter detailing the factors that led to the cancellation. “However, the way the last few weeks have unfolded, we are extremely worried that all of that progress has been abruptly reversed.”
As we’ve discussed in the past, US copyright law gives Nintendo the right to shut down any and all Smash Bros. tournaments, which qualify as “public performances” of one of the company’s games. Nintendo has exercised this right a few times in the past, usually to shut down tournaments that use “unauthorized” mods for the base Smash Bros. games.
Last November, though, Nintendo started a new era of official tournament approval, announcing Panda Global as “the first officially licensed Super Smash Bros. championship circuit in North America.” In their open letter, Smash World Tour organizers said they originally assumed this move would lead to the cancellation of their planned 2021 championships. Instead, they say Nintendo told them Panda’s license was nonexclusive and began working to officially license the Smash World Tour as well.
Confirmed. Ready your A-game, Super #SmashBros competitors. We’ve partnered with @PandaGlobal to launch the first officially licensed Super Smash Bros. championship circuit in North America, coming 2022! #SmashBrosUltimate #SmashBrosMelee https://t.co/3WKbEYrMH2
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) November 18, 2021
While licensing discussions continued in early 2022, organizers say the 2022 Smash World Tour was launched without an official license, partly because “we did not have the full scope of our proposal sorted with Nintendo in advance.” But the organizers say they did seek a license for the December championships, submitting an application in April.
Meanwhile, Smash Tour organizers say the CEO of Panda Global started trying to undermine their tour by “tell[ing] organizers we were definitely not coming back in 2022, and if we did, we’d get shut down shortly after announcement.” After Panda Global initially demanded exclusivity for any individual events associated with them, many tournaments operated jointly as part of both the licensed Panda Cup and the unlicensed Smash World Tour in 2022 (Panda Global has not responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica).
A new era
After months of silence from Nintendo, Smash World Tour organizers said they were able to reconvene with representatives in September and again in November. Then, last Wednesday, they said Nintendo told them in no uncertain terms that they would not be getting a commercial license and that the days of Nintendo tolerating their operation without one “were now over.”
In a statement provided to Kotaku late Tuesday, Nintendo said that despite “continuous conversations” and “deep consideration,” the company was “unable to come to an agreement with SWT for a full circuit in 2023.” That said, Nintendo contends that it “did not request any changes to or cancelation of remaining events in 2022, including the 2022 Championship event, considering the negative impact on the players who were already planning to participate.”
In a follow-up statement, though, Smash World Tour cites a written statement from Nintendo saying that tournaments are “expected to secure such a license well in advance of any public announcement” and that the company “will not be able to grant a license for the Smash World Tour Championship 2022 or any Smash World Tour activity in 2023.”
Over the last few months, Smash World Tour organizers said they thought Nintendo was making progress in emulating other game makers’ “accessible and transparent” guidelines for tournament licensing. But they say the company has now “reverted back to being very secretive, with no clear guidelines, and a willingness to abruptly shut down community efforts even after giving many indications that would not happen.”
The news comes just weeks after Nintendo used DMCA request to take down fan-made Steam icons for some emulated Switch games from a popular online clearinghouse. And over the years, Nintendo has used copyright to halt everything from fan games to modern Game & Watch hacking videos to Mario-themed Minecraft videos.
“In the realm of corporations ruthlessly working to control their own narrative to the detriment of research and reference, Nintendo ranks up there with Monsanto, coal companies, and the mob,” the Internet Archive’s Jason Scott told Ars back in 2018. “You expect emotions when people talk about old video games, but one of them shouldn’t be fear.”