(Cover photo by Marie “Whim” Notot.)
My friend VeK has recently moved to a remote part of France. There’s no big gaming scene there, and even Ultimate isn’t too active, so he’s wondering if he can build a Melee community in 2020 there. At the same time, another French player, Galan, has been playing alone in his city, which has never been active on Melee. He recently organized his first local tournament and got almost 20 players – nobody could believe it.
Communities die and communities are born. And sometimes, communities rise from their ashes too. To help VeK, to follow Galan’s lead, to help all the Melee players who are alone out there and all the new communities that are raising themselves, I’ve interviewed 34 community builders from all around the world to ask them about their experience and their advice for lonely Melee players.
Intro: can I still create a Melee community in 2020?
The main question we hear when someone wants to build a local community is, “now that Ultimate is out, how would I ever convince people to try Melee?”.
It’s a valid question, so let’s let British TO Chaler answer it before anything else:
Now that Ultimate is out, a whole new load of people are looking to get into Smash and some will inevitably fall into Melee and want to discover a local scene. Now is a great time for starting new scenes with this influx of players.Chaler (Bournemouth, UK)
Now that we’re answered this, let’s start with the basics.
First things first: are you really starting from scratch?
The first thing you’ll want to do is check Smashboards, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and all other social media for a dead scene. Melee is old enough that in most places that don’t currently have a community, there were a few active players several years ago: it’s fairly rare to have to start from scratch.
There was a community around 2007-2009. I found a trace of a few players on French and German forums.Jah Ridin’ (Switzerland)
I know there has been some fairly serious weeklies/ tourneys back in 2015 in Belfast but the community had totally dried up by the time I got there.Brogue (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
With retired players’ advice and presence, and your own friends (whether you met them through school, netplay or somewhere else!), you’ve already got yourself a good basis for a community.
Create a core group of players
In 2007, Woli and his high school friends got into advanced techniques and wanted to play competitive Melee, but the French community was virtually nonexistent in their region. They checked gaming online forums and personal blogs to try and find people who liked the game too: this way, they found two boys who played with them. That meant there were 5 active players in the city – that was enough to build a close-knit group that organized friendlies at each other’s places, attracted new players and even created a large-scale tournament series a few years later.
Finding 2 or 3 people is enough to build something big.Woli (Lyon, France)
You don’t need to have a super active weekly and 25 players to build a community! You just need a few highly motivated players. And a car is a good bonus to drive CRTs around and bring players to out-of-region tournaments. (You’re going to have to do that, by the way. Keep reading.)
Use the Internet
Not a single respondent failed to mention the role of social media to find players, even those who created their community in the early days of Melee! Oleyy insists that “there are always people looking to play Melee, you just got to find them”. This resonates with me really well, and apparently I’m not the only one!
I like Brogue’s approach. He says: “I started delving into the Facebook groups (Melee UK, Melee Ireland and Melee Northern Ireland) and searched those for the term “Belfast”. Then anyone who mentioned looking for friendlies or attending tourneys went on the list”. Jah Ridin’ used the thread on the German Smashboards to find German-speaking Swiss players. As for PaF (Rennes, France), he looked on gaming forums for people mentioning his region and found a couple of players. He then added a couple of his own friends, and a couple of people from the French Smashboards: that was enough for tournaments, weeklies, sessions, and a full-blown community a few months later.
Your core group doesn’t need to be good. In Lyon, the team really grew when some players learnt how to L-cancel and started beating the others, who then decided to improve.
What matters isn’t the level of the players, but the rivalries and storylines.
I truly believe that if you want to grow a community, it has to have story lines. Melee is a game of goals and I really don’t think you can improve that much without a rival of some kind.Justice (Washington, USA)
So, short recap:
- Check if there are any old social media posts about a dead community where you are. If there is something, reach out to the old players and ask them if they want to play.
- Try to get your friends, coworkers, classmates into the game. You don’t need a lot of people, you just need a group of friends who play Melee together. Don’t hesitate to leverage social media through a Facebook group! (I wouldn’t recommend creating a Discord server right away, as those are harder to find than Facebook groups.)
- Most importantly, you want these friends to want to beat each other. That’s what is going to keep them coming to tournaments.
Watch high-level play
I always believed that experiencing high level play live is one of the biggest inspirations for newer players to stick around and put more effort into the game themselves.Baron Brody (Vienna, Austria)
It’s good to play together, but it’s also nice to hold things like viewing parties, where you meet and eat popcorn and watch the best players in the world on stream. There isn’t much that is more motivating than seeing what one could do in Melee if they train hard enough, so use it!
Find your headquarters
I’ve seen three main types of community builders: people who relied on their college or high school to create a community on campus, people who partnered with a local bar or café, and people who had a big house. Most of them tried to have at least two of those, especially an apartment and an on-campus presence or a home and a local bar. You don’t have to choose just one, but having headquarters is nice and allows for a fixed setup pool that is easily accessible to newbies and competitors alike.
Oh, and make it free if you can.
We primarily organized free local tournaments to try to encourage everyone to come and bring their friends to make sure there was no barrier for entry.Oleyy (Wyoming, USA)
An on-campus community
We decided to make a club on campus where we could use our club status to reserve rooms for free and host free tournaments.Oleyy (Wyoming, USA)
Being on campus is very convenient, for several reasons students are broke (and will be more likely to attend your events if they’re free), they have a lot of free time, and universities have more and more interest for esports organisations. This means that you can reach out to your faculty and ask them for one room that would be open on weekends, for example, or even better: to put one friendlies setup in a main hall, that everyone can play on regardless of their level or of the time they want to spend on it.
A University is great for running free events, and has the added bonus of people walking by and getting interest when they see 20-40 people playing Melee.Krisp (Toronto, Canada)
If the campus is close to a city center, then it’s even easier to expand to the whole city. Bico (Grenoble, France) advises branching out to other neighbourhoods as soon as possible, because on-campus headquarters tend to only attract students. The problem with students is that they usually don’t spend more than a few years close to that campus, which means the community is unstable. The second issue is that if you don’t show your presence in the whole city, people who aren’t students in your institution will not know about the community, or not feel welcome. This can lead them to create their own core group of players and headquarters. This means that you might have two independent half-communities in your city instead of evolving together. So make sure that even if your HQ is on-campus, you hold at least a monthly in town!
The best option: partnering with a bar/café/store
I went to some Smash 4 tournaments which were hosted at a nice Café in the nearest city. It was called Otaku Lounge and had old arcade games, a lot of Manga, a decent Japanese kitchen and was in general designed for a more “nerdy” clientele. I talked to the owner and asked if he was willing to host Melee tournaments too and he agreed. We did weekly get-togethers there each Wednesday.Spino (Saarland, Germany)
Public spaces are great! Nearly everyone I interviewed (who was partnering with a public venue) told me that it was storing their equipment for free, and it’s very easy to bring friends and meet people in a public space. Plus, a lot of people won’t go to a stranger’s house to play a video game they’re not passionate about (yet). With a public commercial space like a café, you can meet new people on the spot while making everyone and their friends feel comfortable and welcome. You’re not limiting yourself to people you know, nor to students. This is the optimal option.
The Warpzone did the advertising themselves. They had just opened, they were popular in Rennes. They gave us notoriety and we gave them customers.D0se & PaF (Rennes, France)
In general I think local bars or restaurants are often interested in this kind of stuff as it might bring them some new regular customers or at least increase their sales for the day they host a tournament.Spino (Saarland, Germany)
And Spino adds – “asking is always free”.
Not as good but still good: an open home
This is what the Lyon (France) community did back in 2007-2008: what really launched the local community was one of the players, Porc, getting his own apartment near the campus.
Porc got his own apartment on campus, so we were able to play during every lunch break, every evening, and most weekends.Woli (Lyon, France)
Everyone could then go to his place and play at any hour of the day or night. This was even more obvious when the 4-5 most motivated players moved in together and turned their apartment into a Smasher’s bed & breakfast, with players all around France always welcome to crash there and play!
A few of us moved in together at one point, and our apartment was open to Smashers 24/7. This helped us improve and it also meant that all of the best Smash players regularly came to see us.Woli (Lyon, France)
I’ve talked in the previous section about why private spaces aren’t optimal, even though they’re the easiest to find. Here’s a finishing quote from Chaler to drive the point through.
I don’t think we got a single new person who wasn’t connected to an already attending member while in our houses.Chaler (Bournemouth, UK)
Every TO had their own method for finding CRTs and consoles. Spino collected CRTs so that players only needed to bring consoles, just like King, who has 13 CRTs in his house near Hannover.
Mono’ worked with a retro gaming bar that already had CRTs in the first place. As for Kobobi, he included a Community Fee inside his weekly’s venue fee to pay for the consoles and any other kind of shared equipment. Krisp, in Toronto, did the same thing: the venue was free, as he was working with his university, but the TO team charged 2 dollars for entry and 3 dollars for future equipment.
My main focus was making sure that we had enough setups so everyone could play at all times, because nobody actually likes waiting to play.JMYL (Breda, Netherlands)
Creating a communication space
Don’t forget to also create an online communication space that can be found easily. Discord servers are obviously great, but don’t forget to share the link everywhere. Facebook groups are helpful because they can be found with a simple search for “Melee Region”, so even if you don’t post there too much, create a group and put the main announcements in it. Messenger and Whatsapp conversations are a good complement, but don’t rely exclusively on them as they are virtually impossible to find without already having a friend in the community.
And don’t just make it online.
Dzenni hosted a few legendary parties that barely had anything to do with smash and such events really create friends and a community feeling.Baron Brody (Vienna, Austria)
You may feel like having a 6-person weekly isn’t great, because it gets repetitive. “But consistency is very important – gradually more and more people became aware that this was something that happened every week, and a few people started coming regularly”, Moby comments.
Kobobi also advises to keep just one place and date for weeklies while your community is small. Berlin had 2 weeklies at one point, but the community was too small and couldn’t afford to split. Keep the stacked weeks in mind for the future, but for now, just pick one date.
Welcome new players and make them stay
One other pitfall of creating a local Melee community is that sometimes, the core group of players forgets to make new friends and welcome new players. Many community creators suggested helping them with logistics.
Leverage similar communities
A lot of communities were quoted about this: people work with Ultimate players, Sm4sh for those who came earlier, of course.
Jah Ridin’ remarked that Melee TOs tended to add Ultimate of their own accord: because of the higher and more stable attendance numbers, it allowed them to secure better partnerships with venues. Electroman_DrAI TO’d both Melee and Ultimate: he always added a few Melee friendlies setups at Ultimate tournaments to introduce players to the game. He also gave free entry to the second game when people signed up to one game, and explains that “simple things like lowering or waving an entree fee will instantly increase interest from players”. Sounds logical, when you think about it!
Other cities worked with the FGC community in general. “FGC people are curious about Melee, even though they won’t admit it!”, D0se and PaF laughed when I asked them about it. They join the Stunfest crew once a month and take up a corner of the venue with their Melee tournament.
Comic-cons and other gaming conventions are also usually a safe bet to recruit curious people. They’re also nice to allow the community to bond: Baron Brody noticed that the Vienna Melee community had a few anime fans, and partnered with anime conventions to allow established players to have fun at the convention while other attendees found out about Melee. Win-win!
Whatever the community is, Walby suggests “developing a strong bond with a rep of the other community”, which allows to find venues together and scale up the events. Relationships with other groups are always beneficial.
Help them find hardware
Woli sent every single new player a link to a popular French donation website, so that they could find free CRTs. Oleyy went with thrift stores, and always had a few spare controllers for his events. Brogue also brings spare controllers, with a twist: he brings his own discarded pads, because most beginners won’t even realize how busted they are. That’s a pretty good practice for bringing newbies in at no extra cost!
In 2020, there are many places to check for a CRT: donation websites, Facebook Marketplace, and local buy-and-sell groups and websites. King lends some CRTs to new players, on the one condition that they bring it to tournaments when he needs them.
Brogue also said he recommends getting a Wii instead of a Gamecube – costs are really lower when looking for a less vintage console, without even mentioning the mods possibilities. “Once you can do yours, you can do it for everyone. It makes things much easier”, he says, about UnclePunch, 20XX and other versions of Melee.
Chaler goes even one step further: “I always tell beginners, if they have a decent computer, to just get an adapter and use Dolphin. It’s way cheaper than finding a CRT and storage space as well as potentially getting a console.” Then, if they get really into Melee, they can invest in proper equipment. But the barrier to entry is considerably lower with this advice!
I always think about what someone new to the game coming in will be feeling. Probably nervous, unsure about what they want from the game, things like that. So if someone new shows up to your local, make sure they are comfortable. If it doesn’t look like they are socialising, talk to them, play friendlies with them, but also don’t force things on them. Don’t make them feel they need to enter right away. Make it alright to just chill out and play games and chat. (…) Encourage them to hop on rotations with others.Chaler (Bournemouth, UK)
Many, many beginners will come to their first event and be alone in a corner of the room, because they don’t know everyone and feel like freeplay would be intruding on players who are way better than them.
Make your community friendly: encourage everyone to play with beginners and give advice, without going into competitive knowledge if the new player isn’t ready. It’s better to start casual, then impress them, rather than blow them away game 1 and make them think they’ll never get to your level!
I gave it a try in 2007, but got jv-5 stocked by Choco (a top 5 Dutch player at the time) at my first tournament ever and decided that Melee wasn’t made for me. So for 3 years or so I didn’t even touch Melee.JMYL (Breda, Netherlands)
Try to avoid any kind of “Melee purity” tests – people are allowed to be casual players and just want to play their childhood games. If you get 10 players and keep 1 on the long term, it’s better than making all 10 go away because you’re flexing on them and talking about advanced techniques all the time!
Even in a location that doesn’t have an active scene, there are bound to be plenty of people who remember playing melee as a child and would love to try it again. Even if most of them don’t go on to become competitive players, if you can reach out to them with your advertising it’s a great way to build interest in events.Moby (South London, UK)
But still… help your new players!
At my first event, the TO challenged every new player personally, and most of the people I met offered to teach me techniques. Always be outgoing and encouraging to those who come to your event and try to make them feel at ease.Krisp (Toronto, Canada)
Make your community safe for everyone
I think it’s really important to keep people coming back and I think the best way to do it is to make sure your community is just fun to be in. We never focused on trying to attract the best players, just on providing a space where people could be social and get some practice.Moby (South London, UK)
Make sure your community is fun and welcoming. Simple as that. Or is it?
First of all, think of the minorities. Of course, I’m talking about women, but I’m also talking about all ethnicities and sexual orientations, for example. Derogatory jokes or offensive words, even when seen as innocent, are the kind of thing that will make some potential players run away. Think of it this way, in the case of women: we make up 51% of the population. Don’t you want your community to be twice bigger? Then, include us.
Keep in mind as well that, as Brogue says: “You’re here to build a community where everyone feels welcome. Sometimes that means keeping folk in line.” If you need to ban or otherwise punish someone who’s being negative, IRL or on online spaces, do it. One sanction can go a long way to making a dozen other people feel welcome and safe.
There was one occasion where someone in the scene made others feel uncomfortable and we had to speak to them to address their behaviour. Unfortunately they chose to disengage with the scene altogether, which was not the outcome anyone wanted, but I’m still glad we were able to help others by taking action.Moby (South London, UK)
If you don’t take immediate action, things will get worse and worse. Nip bad behaviour in the bud to avoid the “most toxic community” prize of your country.
We only invited people we liked: people who wanted to improve and who made the experience positive for everyone.Woli (Lyon, France)
Don’t just run brackets
Now that you have your core group of players and found headquarters, it’s time to get your region talking about you. The first step is to organise play sessions in your headquarters.
Having a weekly is great, but instead of doing a tournament every week, why not do a monthly and play friendlies on the other weeks? This is what Brogue, Woli, Jah Ridin’ and others did. Jah Ridin’ recalls organising small tournaments at people’s homes, with 10 to 16 entrants, as well as doing regular smashfests. He insists that creating a meeting space, whatever it is, really makes a difference. D0se and PaF held two weeklies in their town, but that didn’t stop them from having an extra friendlies session every week for actual improvement and labbing together.
My first move (…) was to start hosting ‘Jeden Donnerstag’ (Every Thursday), the Berlin weekly that still runs to this day. It started out as a public training session on the least busy day at the Meltdown, but soon became a tournament series after attendance started increasing.Kobobi (Berlin, Germany)
There are several different ways to make beginners feel welcome at your local tournaments and avoid the classic trap of being a close group of friends lacking new blood. Electroman_DrAI gave free entry to people on their first tournament and saw very positive results from that, while Moby focuses on side events to give people “something to do other than drowning in pools”. D0se and PaF make sure that every event has a good number of friendlies setups for the less competitive players and those who want to keep practicing once they’re out of the bracket.
Netplay is a tool, not an enemy
Netplay doesn’t have to be the enemy.
While netplay can be seen as an obstacle to building an offline community, because people don’t have to go out and organize tournaments, it’s also a good starting point because people display their region on Smashladder. PaF and D0se kept playing and found 5 players over the course of a few months who were in their region but didn’t know that there was an offline community. They reached out to every one of them and recruited them that way! Some of them guessed that there were probably tournaments, but didn’t feel comfortable enough. Once they met the TOs online, they were more inclined to attend.
Moby comments that “it’s part of every TO’s job now to offer something that netplay can’t” – friendship, fun nights out, valuable conversations…
And while we’re speaking of being online: try to stream or to upload recordings of your tournament’s sets as much as possible, as people will often aimlessly wander on Twitch and Youtube looking for Melee videos. Every bracket should end up somewhere on the Internet.
If you want to make players stay in your community, you’ll want to recognize their improvement (even if it’s small).
Every month, Mono ordered a cheap but good looking trophy for the winner of the monthly. It held no monetary value, but it always makes people very proud to get a trophy for their performance!
Power Rankings shouldn’t be overlooked either. Don’t be afraid to make them extensive, with a top 20 or top 30 even if your community only has 20 or 30 people – it’s more of a yearbook photo than an actual ranking, but it allows everyone to feel valued and to compare their progress from one period to another.
And you can also reward attendance. Baron Brody started a circuit rewarding the most dedicated attendees with different prizes: travel costs to foreign tournaments, hand warmers, controllers, or free drinks at the bar. One of the Paris tournaments also offers discounted entry to the winner of the previous edition, making top players very loyal!
Make yourselves known in your wider community
We reached out and sent reminders to everyone in France, every time we were doing anything.Woli (Lyon, France)
The power of travel
It’s great to have a thriving local community, but the next step is to expand nationally. You want people to know you exist, both as players and as a city. Every player should be encouraged to travel as much as possible, and advertise every tournament they go to.
Take this photo, for example. Gofterdom, a player from the small Rennes community, went to Genesis and took a selfie with Mew2King. Now, not a lot of people know Gofterdom (which is a shame, he’s very nice). Not a lot of people know about the Rennes Melee community. But a surprising number of people would recognize Mew2King on the street – or, let’s say, on a poster stuck to the wall of the venue where they have their weekly tournament. Get it now?
Moreover, it’s not just good for the community – it’s good for the individual players too. I’m not even going to talk about the practical side of it; people from smaller regions tend to be underrated in power rankings and tournament seedings. If they go to lots of tournaments, they’ll be rated more fairly because people will have a sense of their level.
Oh, and people may not be using social media that much. If they assume there’s no community where they live, then they have no reason whatsoever to look for a community. Here’s the story of Brogue, who actually had to take a plane to meet people from his own city:
Also at the time I was planning on going to my first tourney (heir 5) and I knew that a few of the guys from the Irish scene were going. I was dead set on meeting them and introducing myself even if none were in Belfast, this way I’d at least be building connections. Luckily there was 2 other guys who both lived in Belfast who were interested in getting something started.Brogue (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
While I was writing this, my friend Kebabman13 (Marseilles, France) had a laugh because that’s also what happened for him. He met the Marseilles community at a tournament in Montpellier, several hours drive away from where they all lived.
tl;dr? Travel a lot, travel often, and talk to everyone you meet.
Travelling helps create bonds with other local communities, playing someone from a different region is always super exciting. When Munich started having Monthlies, I talked as many Austrians as possible into going there.Baron Brody (Vienna, Austria)
Growing a (preferably good) reputation
A TO from China says: “Our PR includes anyone participating in our tournaments, and it’s motivating the neighbors to come interact with us”. This is a good way to go: making anyone eligible to the PR means that some people from other cities and regions will come over just to play and for the fun of being ranked, which means they’ll keep coming back. Especially at the beginning of a new scene, you want to reward participation at least as much as actual skill.
Moby also notes that his community developed its own character and reputation. This way, people came to their events, not just to play Melee but to benefit from a fun experience. One example I’ve seen is tournaments in Southern France – I, myself, have more than once gone on a 4-hour drive (or 3-hour train ride, or 2-hour flight) just to go to the beach with my Melee friends!
Post on social media
You’ll find most local and national communities on Facebook. Advertise every tournament, even the smallest ones, until people all know that you exist! Sometimes, someone’s on holidays near your place and will come by even though they’re not at all from your region.
Most people posted on their Facebook and Discord (if recent enough) national groups. Jah Ridin’ added his group on a Reddit thread of local communities and requested it be added in the description for the national Facebook group.
I used Facebook A LOT. Creating the event one month before, inviting every potential local player from Nantes and neighboring regions. One week and one day before each event, I posted everywhere to remind people of the event.Mono’ (Nantes, France)
A TO in Shenzhen, China, even used non-Smash outlets to advertise his community: he talked to a local newspaper and even was interviewed by a national video game magazine, which gave both Smash as a whole and his precise community a big notoriety boost.
Moving on: from building to maintaining the community
Go to all tournaments in and outside of your city, and when it still feels like you’re not competing enough, it means it’s your turn to host something.Woli (Lyon, France)
Don’t do this alone
Several community builders I talked to had one key piece of advice for people who want to follow their steps: “don’t do it alone!”.
It’s easy to get extremely invested in your local Melee community. It’s exhausting, it’s often frustrating, and it can make you want to give up really quick. If you’re alone and you give up, your local community will wither and die. So always give some space to other people, offer to train them, and remember: it’s better to delegate and have something imperfect than never teach anyone and kill your scene.
At one point, I was too into it. Sometimes you’re giving it your all and people just aren’t responding. But that’s the life of a volunteer. You can have all the motivation you want – if other people don’t have time or energy, you have to take it into account and be less ambitious.PaF (Rennes, France)
Organise a larger tournament
Many people I interviewed went from small tournaments to larger ones after a while.
We worked on a bigger event in a “hive” working space, just like Wework. We gathered 31 people. Part of them had come to the first event and another part came from Canton and Hong Kong, the neighboring cities. That’s when we knew the community was created!A TO (Shenzhen, China)
Woli tells us of stories of the TSL, the Lyon tournament series. The TOs got 12 players, massive debt and the best player in France, whose travel they had paid for themselves, on the first edition. They didn’t give up – every edition was bigger and better than the previous one, and TSL 4 had some of the best players from Europe and most of the French community.
It’s time to gather your region, state or country to a nice tournament series with cash prize.
See, I was going to focus only on organising tournaments, but some people had some amazing ideas that I want to share.
Baron Brody and Kadano created a mentoring crew program: six top players from the region created crews of 6 to 8 players, who were encouraged to train together during the summer holidays. Everyone who opted in had a small fee to pay. When the six teams came back from holidays, they held crew battles and the winning team got the prize pool they had collected a few months before!
Here’s what it looked like:
As for PaF and D0se, they’d like their next step to be a circuit. In this circuit, their weekly would earn players points and every few months, the highest-ranked players (ie. best, but also most active locally) would be sent to a national tournament out of region. Their Ultimate community does it, but they still have trouble finding the money to do it for Melee – let’s wish them luck!
And of course:
Ask. People. What. They. Want. If you are not driven by your community and do not ask questions, people will not support it. Coming up, I asked many questions to our growing community on what they wanted, how they wanted it, structure, etc. Also, do not be afraid to make mistakes. Apologize, learn, and keep moving forward. 🙂Electroman_DrAI (Massachusetts, USA)
And to finish on an inspiring note: never give up.
It’s worth noting that although our “community” was created in 2015. it never truly began to grow until 2019.Electroman_DrAI (Massachusetts, USA)
Huge thanks to everyone involved in this blog post:
- The community builders who did the interviews: Krisp, JMYL, Justice, Moby, Walby, Mono’, Electroman_DrAI, Chaler, Spino, D0se, PaF, Brogue, Oleyy, Baron Brody, Kobobi, Jah Ridin’, Woli and King, as well as an anonymous Shenzhen TO. I’ll be releasing their individual interviews on the blog in the weeks to come.
- The community builders who also played a part, without going through the same interview process: AreJay, kiw1, vlerk, Unhaven.
- The proofreader: Bico.
- Pictures by Marie “Whim” Notot, PressTab, Spleen, Friso. Cover photo by Misfaya.