COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on competitive Smash
The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019, and recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. COVID-19 has been reported in more than 200 countries and territories, with major outbreaks occurring in mainland China, Europe, Iran, Latin America (especially Brazil), and the United States. Public health responses have included national pandemic preparedness and response plans, travel restrictions, quarantines, curfews, event postponements and cancelations, and facility closures.
Despite the pandemic forcing Nintendo employees into working remotely, development of Fighters Pass Vol. 2 continued without many issues. It notably caused Mr. Sakurai Presents "Min Min", "Steve & Alex", and "Pyra/Mythra" to take place in Masahiro Sakurai's house instead of his studio.
This pandemic has also affected the competitive Super Smash Bros. community through numerous tournament cancelations and postponements for public health and safety.
Impacts on the competitive scene
The Smash World Tour 2020 circuit announced that there would not be any Platinum- or Gold-tier events in March and April 2020; a later update further extended the date to June 1st, 2020. Silver events would continue as normal, however, it was recommended for sick people to stay home. Several events were canceled or postponed independently of Smash World Tour's rulings. Missed point opportunities were planned to be made up later. A TO relief fund shop was later opened on Smash.gg. With the pandemic shutting down offline tournaments for the rest of the year, the circuit was effectively cancelled. Two Silver events for Melee and three Silver events for Ultimate ended up being held.
In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the evolution of the metagame in offline contexts was largely unproven until offline tournaments had returned for some time by late 2021. This included characters that received major changes during updates, but especially all downloadable characters that were released shortly before or during the global pandemic, starting with Terry and ending with Kazuya. This also applied to the legality of the stages Small Battlefield, Minecraft World, and Northern Cave, which were added to the game during that time.
While online tournaments had been a part of the scene for years, the cancellation of several high profile offline tournaments led many players to turn to online play for their tournament fixes. Many weeklies such as Xeno and Xanadu moved online, while tournaments such as the bunker down series and 2GG Crisis Core: Final Saga served as online fundraisers to help recoup losses. Several tournament series held online alternatives, including Pound Online, Collision Online, and Get On My Line 2020.
YouTubers Alpharad and Cr1TiKaL started hosting The Quarantine Series, a 4-month long circuit that has a prize pool ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 per tournament and a planned $50,000 for the finale. In the first tournament of the circuit, over 5,000 entrants registered to play, making it the largest known online Smash tournament without factoring in disqualifications, defeating Soaked Series Invitational's record from a month earlier. This record was later defeated by Hungrybox's tournament The Box, which had over 8,000 entrants. Due to lots of players attending online tournaments, this led Wi-Fi Warrior Rank v5 to make its rankings from 50 to 75 players.
Smash World Tour 2021 was then announced on February 20th, 2021, with online qualifiers, offline regional qualifiers, and an offline finale.
As online play rewards different tactics from offline play, the new online tournaments differ somewhat from in-person tournaments; the added input delay and lag have allowed characters such as Sonic, Cloud, and Roy to see more success. Some controversy came about when players from distant regions such as Tarik participated in these tournaments, specifically Pound Online, with many players believing tournaments should be region-locked to reduce latency. As a result, all further tournaments in The Quarantine Series (and others such as The Box) were region-locked to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and the prize pools were extended from the top 8 to top 16 to reduce the added stress with playing online. With many more players relying on online play, frustration with the game's online service grew to a peak; the hashtag "#FixUltimateOnline" became the number one gaming trend on Twitter on April 2, 2020. Possibly as a response to this outcry, in update 8.1.0 online play stability was slightly improved, by increasing the tick rate and slightly decreasing input delay.
After Wi-Fi Warrior Rank v5 rankings, subscriber tournaments were now included, making monthlies like The Box: Lunch Box, M-Kolosseum (series), and Frame Perfect Series: ONLINE titles ongoing. Despite including subscriber tournaments, decreased player attendance in online tournaments made its ranking from 75 to 50 players.
As Super Smash Bros. Melee does not have native online play, players have to use netplay mods for emulators in order to compete online. The Dolphin emulator mod Project Slippi is one of such mods, and since June 2020 it features rollback netcode for Melee, allowing for stable online play across even long distances. However, the use of this mod has sparked controversy following the cancellation of The Big House Online, in response of a cease and desist from Nintendo. Regardless of these concerns, Project Slippi has continued to be very popular, and numerous online Melee tournaments have been hosted using it.
In mid-2020, in regions with relatively few cases of COVID-19, such as Japan, Taiwan, Australia, the Middle East, and New Zealand, or that otherwise allowed large gatherings, such as France and Germany, offline play resumed, although with smaller entrant numbers and safety precautions enforced.
In early 2021, vaccines for COVID-19 began to roll out, and by May 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced fully vaccinated adults could stop wearing masks and social distancing. Despite continued safety concerns, some American locals have reopened during this time with safety precautions. The first major tournament in the United States and worldwide for Ultimate since the beginning of the pandemic was InfinityCON Tally 2021, held in Florida on June 5th-6th, where 422 people attended, by a large margin the highest amount of any tournament since CEO Dreamland 2020, almost 14 months prior. It has since been followed by numerous other large scale tournaments like Kagaribi 4, Temple: Hermès Edition and Riptide. The Smash World Tour 2021 regional finals were also held during this period, though many faced delays and other significant issues; the South American and Oceanian offline finals were cancelled, while the Southeast Asia players were unable to attend the East Asia Regional Finals in Japan. To make up for this, the qualified players for the Championships were selected either via an online qualifier (Br1 AV for South America Ultimate) or by the tournament organizators (Chape and HP for South America Melee, Sora and Jdizzle for Oceania, and XIFL for Southeast Asia). The Smash World Tour 2021 Championships were eventually able to be held at the planned date without any significant issues, besides some of the previously qualified players being unable to attend.
By comparison, Melee's tournament scene has been more sparse and limited to small locals and invitationals until Riptide. Even afterwards, the recovery of the Melee scene has been slightly slower, with major tournaments having a smaller scale and top players attending less often.
Smash 64 has been similarly slow to recover its scene, not being featured at a major event until Low Tide City 2021. Brawl and Smash 4 were both already largely dormant before the pandemic and were not featured at a major until Super Smash Con: Fall Fest, which traditionally hosts tournaments for every official Smash game.
On November 19th, 2021, the MPGR and PGRU was announced to return on January 1st, 2022 after a two-year hiatus. Due to travel concerns, the rankings would be separated into three regions: North America, Europe, and Japan. Minimum activity requirements would be loosened to lessen the pressure on players to travel. PGstats stated depending on international travel restrictions, a global PGR may resume as soon as the end of 2022. On December 28th, 2021, PGstats announced the MPGR and PGRU would not be reopening on January 1st, 2022 due to the rise of COVID cases globally. On February 2nd, 2022, PGstats announced they would be looking at starting the new MPGR and PGRU season on March 1st, 2022 with a four-month period spanning from March to June 2022. They will be monitoring the state of the pandemic and will give final confirmation of the new start date on February 17th, 2022. The season resulted in MPGR Summer 2022 and PGRU v3, spanning March 1st-July 11th, 2022 and March 1st-June 13th, 2022 respectively. Between January to February 2022, a series of articles and videos titled PGRContenders were published, looking at some of the biggest PGR contenders from North America and Europe heading into the new season. Panelists of the tier list considered tournaments in 2021 for the list, and the tournaments in early 2020 remained permanently unranked.
List of offline tournaments during the pandemic
The following is a list of notable tournaments that were held offline during the pandemic, starting from the PGR freeze period on March 12th, 2020.
List of tournaments affected by the pandemic
Below is a list of tournaments that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic through cancellations, postponements, or major players dropping out.