Is Melee A Dead esport?

Photograph taken by: Robert Paul

Melee is an interesting esport. With 15 years under its belt, Melee has one of the longest lasting competitive scenes, starting in 2004 and continuing still today. No one can debate the growing popularity and inherently competitive nature, but some call Melee a “dead esport”. However, what defines a dead esport? Well there’s no dictionary definition to work off of, but the general consensus is that an esport is dead if all of these traits apply to it at least to an extent:Melee is an interesting esport. With 15 years under its belt, Melee has one of the longest lasting competitive scenes, starting in 2004 and continuing still today. No one can debate the growing popularity and inherently competitive nature, but some call Melee a “dead esport”. However, what defines a dead esport? Well there’s no dictionary definition to work off of, but the general consensus is that an esport is dead if all of these traits apply to it at least to an extent:

  1. Dying fanbase, or lower viewership
  2. Lack of patches, leading to dominance of certain players
  3. The game being replaced by a newer edition

Viewership has been steadily increasing over the past years, with extremely impressive numbers in 2016. LCS averages 100k-150k every week, while huge Melee tournaments like Genesis peaked at over 200 000 unique viewers. In 2015, EVO peaked at 200k as well, which was a massive increase from the 130 000 cap in 2014. While smaller tournaments net anywhere from 10 to 30 thousand, it doesn’t detract from the overall numbers, numbers that compete with Hearthstone, minor League scenes, CS:GO tournaments and Heroes of the Storm world series.

In terms of the metagame, Melee’s criticisms mostly fall under the “Lack of updates” section, although the community has few problems with the state of Melee’s roster. The number one criticism is the apparently unbreachable Top 4. While it is true the Top 4 has a “No Vacancy” feel from first glance, upon further inspection the Top 4 can be varied, with the Top 8 being fairly unpredictable.

For those of you less versed in the Melee community, there are an elite group of players know as “The Five Gods”. In no particular order, the five are Armada, Mang0, Hungrybox, Mew2King and PPMD. Due to mental health issues, PPMD no longer regularly attends tournaments (we miss you). Who are these other four Gods the Melee community knows and loves so much? Most people know Mang0, Cloud 9’s first Smash pickup and All-American favorite. Mang0 can be found tearing up the Winners brackets at any major or just chilling at home, streaming to thousands of viewers. If you’re in for a more serious approach, Mew2King is right up your alley. Not only compiling frame data in his hay day (helping him win his first set of tourneys in 2007), Mew2King tends to take a very analytical approach to his matches, past and future. While a quiet, reserved person, Mew2King has a lot of passion, especially towards Melee. You like betting on the winning side? Armada has more championship titles than you and I have fingers, giving this Swedish superstar an almost three-year global Rank 1 spot in every Power Rankings for Melee. Just looking for someone nice to try their hardest? Hungrybox, the Jigglypuff God, is the resident Hufflepuff resident, a positive player, who’s not afraid to show how he feels, or pair it with his cold, calculated movements as Jigglypuff. Mang0 took his first major in 2008 at Pound 3 (playing Jigglypuff), with Armada, Hungrybox and PPMD (was then known as “Dr. PeePee”) making waves in the scene in 2009. Since then, they’ve been at the top of their, and the game.

With Armada and Mango regularly taking first or second place, it seems obvious Mew2King and Hungrybox would take third and fourth. Except, the Gods can’t attend every major, and some don’t always live up to their hype. Players like Leffen, Plup , SFAT, Axe, Ice and many others take first, or make multiple appearances in the Top 4 throughout 2016. One could argue: “The wins are variance!”, or “not all four Gods were in attendance!”, “just a bad set!”, except we see these consistent Top 4 players only reach Top 8/Top 16, or are decisively beaten in the brackets, and lag behind other Gods? While the above standings can be interpreted in a few different ways, it’s evident that Armada and Mango don’t always win. That being said, what makes Armada, Mango, Mew2King and Hungrybox so consistent in their placings? Ignoring their respective personas, years of practice and muscle memory have mostly helped these players achieve “God” status, yet that’s not exactly a fair argument.

The earliest “gods” of Melee were players known as Ken, Azen and ChuDat. Being pioneers of modern mechanics, their impact on today’s and past metagame is undeniable. These three pioneers all share one thing, and that’s early retirement. ChuDat played less and less after 2007, building up to a short hiatus and infrequent competitive play. Azen had a similar route, and only made a full return in 2015. Ken, Survivor contestant and one of the first worldwide gaming celebrities, sports a 7-year hiatus (2007-2014) along with using his unstoppable streak in 2003-2005 to pay through college. While their comebacks have been less than spectacular, it’s impossible to determine how the competitive scene would look in the past few years, let alone now, if the three never took the backseat in competitive Melee.

So where does that leave our current Gods? They’ve been dominating the scene for years, but that hasn’t stopped new talent from rising and contesting their spots. Starting to play Melee competitively in 2011, and beginning a serious tournament streak in 2014, Leffen and his Fox took only until 2015 before being one of the few players to take a set off of every God. Axe, TempoStorm’s poster child for Melee and top Pikachu player in the world, also had his competitive breakout in 2014, consistently providing trouble for the Top 16 and Top 8 alike, with some Top 4 performances. Plup, tearing up doubles with Samus back in 2012, has already solidified himself as a Top 10 worldwide player, sporting 3rd and 4th place finishes at notable tournaments like EVO and CEO 2016. With these three up and comers showing a consistent rise in worldwide rankings, play and achievements, along with wavering performances from Mew2King, are the Gods truly immortal?

Now, that doesn’t mean the lack of patches isn’t an issue. Melee is the same game it was since the first Major in 2004, and it’s release in 2002, but strategies and tech are constantly evolving. For example, players like Chillindude revolutionized the way we see Fox played today, and really helped start push Melee towards its limits. Now we are the only esport with no patches, balancing or anything, but the only “OP” character have advantages only truly impactful towards the higher levels of competitive play. Even at the Top 8 level, we see multiple Fox, Marth, Falco and Sheik players, with Peach, Pikachu, Jigglypuff and Captain Falcon one-tricks fairly often. Throughout Melee history, mid-tier characters have made it to Top 8 as well, like Samus, Ice Climbers and even Ganondorf. It’s undeniable that Fox is at the top of the metagame, but that doesn’t stop new innovations, a variety of characters throughout every extreme of competitive play and an unrelenting community.

Albeit the paragraphs and paragraphs, the fact that players can stay at the top for so long will lead some to believe Melee is a “dead” Esport, even with the constant growth. Even if that’s the case, and Melee is dead, then players like Leffen, Plup and SFAT will be the defibrillator. Don’t be discouraged, you don’t become a God overnight.