A crew battle is a form of competition between two teams, or crews. Each team starts out with the same number of stocks, which is usually divided evenly between the members of a team. For example, a Melee crew battle with five members on each team might have 20 stocks per team, four for each member.
Players from the opposing teams then take turns fighting in 1v1 matches, with the winner of a match carrying their remaining stock(s) to face the next member of the opposing team. Stocks lost by the victorious player in a previous match are subtracted from the player's stocks by self-destructing at the beginning of the next match. For example, if Player A defeated the other team's Player B with two stocks remaining, he or she would need to SD until only two stocks remained for the next match against Player C, who starts with full stocks. This continues until one crew runs completely out of stocks, in which case the other crew is the victor.
Variations of this format include predetermining the order that the members of a crew will play and requiring players to declare a character that they will use before the crew battle.
The crew battle is a variant of "team" battles found in many Japanese 2D fighting games. Traditionally, each player will select 3-5 characters to play, and they must play through the other player's line-up before they lose all of their own characters. KishSquared, a member of the crew "Ship of Fools", located in South Bend, Indiana, decided to try to apply these mechanics found in other fighting games to Melee.
The first crew battle did not track stocks between matches despite KishSquared's original design due to the awkwardness of starting a match with varying stock counts. It occurred in August, 2003 at the "Midwest Challenge," held by the Ship of Fools, between the Ship and a crew consisting of Eddie (BigGMan) and 4 Ohio players. The Ship of Fools' Ignatius proceeded to defeat four members of the opposing crew, helped greatly by the fact that he regained all his stocks between matches. Finally, Eddie went in and proceeded to defeat each member of the Ship - and regained all of his stocks between matches - before losing to KishSquared.
The flaws of the original crew battle were obvious - whoever won the match of "best vs best" would win the entire crew battle, regardless of the skill levels of the other players. The best player on each crew would sweep through the rest without taking any damage. KishSquared returned to his original idea: tracking stocks between sets and having one player jump off the stage as needed before the match began, which was soon implemented.
Crew battles did not gain much popularity until July of 2004, when the first national crew battle was held at MELEE-FC. Ken and Isai formed a crew and outplayed the other seven crews, laying a seed for the following year.
MELEE-FC3 is perhaps best known for the regional crew battle that was held. The entrants included the West Coast, the East Coast, the South, and the Midwest. The major players were the East and West Coasts, who used this opportunity to settle a rivalry that had existed for years. Wes and Ken were the organizers of this event, and KishPrime set some new rules for counterpicks and character selections.
The FC3 regional crew battle set the precedent for nearly every crew battle that followed, and those rules are still used today. The rules were largely designed by the Ship of Fools with minor influences from other parties.
Today, crew battles are still commonly held at large tournaments, though they are now considered more of a side event instead of serious competition. Regardless, regional teams many times strive for crew battle victories at national level tournaments for bragging rights.
Japanese tournaments follow similar rules, though crews are usually limited to three members. Another difference is that crew battles are still considered a tournament format, with some tournaments consisting of only a single-elimination crews bracket.
With the serious growth of the online community in Smash 4, "netplay crews" are gaining popularity. In an online environment, matches are played much like a standard crew battle, with minor differences.
Special conditions like character specific teams are commonplace. Online crews are more accessible for a wide variety of members from around the world to participate as a team in battles.
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