Cram over 2,000 diehard Nintendo fans into a single room with the upcoming Super Smash Bros. and it’s going to get loud. Very loud. That’s just one of many takeaways from yesterday’s Super Smash Bros. Invitational tournament, a two-plus hour event that Nintendo hosted as part of its E3 2014 festivities. Taking place right across the street from the LA Convention Center at the Nokia Theatre, the tournament brought together sixteen top Smash Bros. players to compete in the upcoming Wii U edition for the first time. Perhaps most importantly though, it also brought fans an experience that is usually reserved for E3 insiders. We were fortunate enough to attend the event and the entire day was as close to a real-life version of The Wizard as you’ll ever get. Below, we share what it was like to be at the Smash Bros. Invitational first hand, including a gallery of 35 photos.
For many fans, ourselves included, the day started eight hours prior to the tournament’s doors even opening. At 6:30 AM, we arrived to a rapidly-growing line of fellow Smash Bros. fans who wanted a guaranteed seat in the theater. There were hundreds already in line, racing one another in Mario Kart 7, speculating about E3 announcements, and in one case, even plugging a GameCube and TV into a nearby outlet for some bouts of Super Smash Bros. Melee. This was a dedicated bunch, all eager to get the necessary entry wristband right at 9:30 AM. And that dedication only became more apparent as the day went on. When the Nintendo Digital Event kicked off at 9 AM, everyone huddled around smartphones to see the latest news with cheers erupting for the likes of The Legend of Zelda on Wii U and playable Miis in the new Smash Bros. Every time a cosplayer walked by, people complimented their outfits and asked for photos. Chants broke out of Reggie-made meme “My Body is Ready” and demands for Ness to return as a playable Smash Bros. character. To top it all off, Reggie Fils-Aime himself then walked the line, only to be mobbed by fans who wanted a photo or an autograph. The eight-hour wait was still a long one, but the fan excitement certainly helped to make it go by faster.
Of course, that fan excitement spilled into the Smash Bros. Invitational itself as well. As soon as the cameras started rolling, people went nuts. You could definitely feel the hype in the air. Part of this was fueled by Nintendo, who smartly integrated fan interaction into the tournament. After every match, fans were asked to vote for a fighter, who would then compete in a separate series of Fan Favorite matches. To make this voting easy, Nintendo gave out giant Vote Card booklets, ten-page sets of cards that featured every playable character in the tournament. Almost immediately, the crowd became a sea of Vote Cards, whooping and hollering for their favorite players and characters. At times, it was hard to tell if we were at a video game competition or a WWE wrestling match. It was electric, and the craziness hit new heights when Smash Bros. creator Masahiro Sakurai hit the stage at the start of the tournament, and again when Reggie Fils-Aime closed out the competition. Naturally, the theater also erupted at big in-game moments, such as the start of Sudden Death matches and when Mega Man unleashed his Final Smash for the first time (which, quite frankly, is an awesome move).
Beyond the fans, though, Nintendo simply put on a great event. They clearly poured a lot of their usual press conference money into building the Smash Bros. Invitational stage, which featured multiple large screens, all sorts of lighting rigs, smoke machines, and logos galore. They also did a great job of offering variety throughout the event, from who was talking to who was playing. Go-to gaming event host Geoff Keighley handled hosting duties, while match announcing was handed off to the tag-teaming trio of Wynton “Prog” Smith, Bobby “Scar” Scarnewman, and D’Ron “D1″ Maingrette. Meanwhile, the matches themselves rotated between the main Invitational competitions, Fan Favorite rounds, and bonus bouts featuring game journalists and celebrities. The bonus bouts were a particularly nice touch. Sure, diehard Smash players may not care who wins between Keegan Alley (Pretty Little Liars), Stephen Lunsford (Teen Wolf), Erin Sanders (Zoey 101), and Zelda Williams (dedicated gamer and star of multiple Nintendo commercials), but bringing outsiders into the tournament made it feel like a much bigger deal; one that even non-gamers are paying attention to.
The tournament play itself was streamed worldwide on both Twitch and YouTube, so we’ll spare you of talking about it here. What we will say, however, is that Super Smash Bros. for Wii U looked gorgeous on the direct feed screens scattered around the Nokia Theatre. If you somehow weren’t excited for the game before, seeing it in person will certainly change your mind. Luckily, Nintendo is hosting a number of demo sessions at Best Buy this week to give you a chance to try it. We’ll be visiting one such Smash-Fest event later in the week and report back with full impressions in an upcoming podcast episode. Be sure to also check back on Friday for our special E3 episode, packed with thoughts and analysis of all the E3 news thus far. Until then, enjoy the Smash Bros. Invitational gallery below!