The organizers of a major Super Smash Bros. tournament series, Smash World Tour, says Nintendo has turned down its request for an official license, ending 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, although Nintendo now says it “did not request” any changes for the championship. Either way, it’s an abrupt end to a massive tour that attracted 325,000 attendees at thousands of events in 2022, according to organizers.
“We are incredibly devastated that any of this happened, and given Nintendo’s trajectory, we were truly hopeful that significant, positive change was on the way,” Smash World Tour organizers said in a lengthy open letter detailing the factors that led to the cancellation . “However, as the past few weeks have played out, we are extremely concerned that all this progress has been abruptly reversed.”
As we’ve discussed before, US copyright law gives Nintendo the right to shut down everything Smash Bros. tournaments, which qualify as “public performances” of one of the Company’s games. Nintendo has used this right a few times in the past, usually to shut down tournaments that use “unauthorized” mods for the base Smash Bros. game.
Last November, however, Nintendo ushered in a new era of official tournament sanctioning, announcement 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 the move would lead to the cancellation of their planned 2021 championship. Instead, they say Nintendo told them Panda’s license was non-exclusive and began working to officially license the Smash World Tour as well.
Confirmed. Get your A-game ready, Super #SmashBros competitors. We have entered into cooperation with @PandaGlobal to launch the first officially licensed Super Smash Bros. Championship circuit in North America, in 2022! #SmashBrosUltimate #SmashBrosMelee
— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) 18 November 2021
While licensing discussions continued into early 2022, organizers say the 2022 Smash World Tour was launched without an official license, in part because “we didn’t have the full scope of our proposal sorted with Nintendo in advance.” But organizers say they applied for a license for the December championships, submitting an application in April.
Meanwhile, Smash Tour organizers say the CEO of Panda Global began trying to undermine their tour by “telling[ing] organizers, we were definitely not coming back in 2022, and if we did, we would have been shut down shortly after the announcement.” After Panda Global initially claimed exclusivity for individual events associated with them, many tournaments jointly operated as part of both the licensed Panda Cup and the unlicensed Smash World Tour in 2022 (Panda Global did not respond 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 meet again 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 “are now over.”
In a statement provided to Kotaku late Tuesday, Nintendo said that despite “ongoing conversations” and “deep consideration,” the company was “unable to reach an agreement with SWT for a full circuit in 2023.” That said, Nintendo claims that it “did not request changes to or cancellation of any remaining 2022 events, including the 2022 Championship, considering the negative impact on players already planning to participate.”
IN a follow-up statementHowever, 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.”
In recent months, Smash World Tour organizers said they believed Nintendo was making progress in emulating other game makers’ “accessible and transparent” tournament licensing policies. But they say the company has now “returned to being very secretive, with no clear guidelines, and a willingness to abruptly shut down community efforts even after giving many indications that it would not happen.”
The news comes just weeks after Nintendo used a DMCA request to remove fan-made Steam icons for some emulated Switch games from a popular online clearinghouse. And over the years, Nintendo has used copyright to stop everything from fan games to modern Game & Watch hacking videos to Mario-themed Minecraft videos.
“In the realm of companies ruthlessly working to control their own narrative to the detriment of research and credentials, Nintendo ranks up there with Monsanto, coal companies, and the mob,” Jason Scott of the Internet Archive told Ars back in 2018. “You expect emotion when people talk about old video games, but one of them shouldn’t be fear.”