Last week on November 29th the organizers behind The Smash World Tour (SWT for short) shocked the Smash Bros community by announcing that they were forced to cancel the Smash World Tour Championships by Nintendo and also expressed potential culpability by Panda Global. Although one might think we are late reporting on this story, in actuality, new information has surfaced nearly every day since that bombshell. Enough new information has come out that we might have reached as close as a satisfactory end to this saga. So let’s rewind the clock to how it all started and show how we got here.
Super Smash Bros is a beloved Nintendo franchise, however, Nintendo has been shy to make Smash Bros an eSport and only recently began dipping their toes in the water by tepidly embracing competitive Smash. There was an infamous incident back in 2013 when Nintendo nearly shut down the Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament at Evo. Even recently, in 2020 Nintendo shut down The Big House tournament because the tournament was online. Back in 2001, there were no online Nintendo games, Super Smash Bros Melee included. Nintendo’s rationale for shutting down the tournament was that it was using game code that was modified to run the tournament online. This rationale will come into play later. Either way, some of the things that Nintendo has done to embrace competitive Smash was creating a Twitter account (Nintendo Versus) and tweeting out tournaments/events. Nintendo has also run its own online tournaments with non-standard rule sets such as items turned on.
For the most part, the Smash community was a grassroots movement. It was never created/cultivated by Nintendo. Tournament organizers were the pillars of the community, they were the ones that created tournament series such as Genesis, Smash Con, The Big House, Shine, etc. There was not one individual who owns these tournaments but rather a group of people that organized an event because of their passion. Due to not being sponsored by Nintendo, there is no money in Smash. If you want to become a pro video game player, picking Smash as your game of choice won’t yield Fortnite or League of Legends money.
There was one company that did manage to essentially become the leader of the pack and that was Video Game Boot Camp (or VGBC for short). VGBC started off small by running a weekly tournament series and eventually grew to operate it’s own major then majors (plural). VGBC also partnered with many tournament organizers and secured broadcast rights for the events. If you were watching a Smash tournament live or later on YouTube, chances are, you are watching it on VGBC’s channel. VGBC is a central figure in the community, but it did not own a monopoly on the Smash community. There were plenty of other channels growing their own audience, including Behind the Summit (BTS for short). Lately, BTS has made major plays in securing broadcast rights for tournaments VGBC previously had.
With all that being said, you can see that there was nothing centralized about the Smash community. Tournaments happened in a vacuum. Events happened all over the country and the world over, some even on the same weekends. So, VGBC took it upon themselves to organize a circuit – a first for Smash Bros. There are rumors that a Nintendo/Twitch-owned circuit nearly came to fruition when Twitch tried to partner with Nintendo but the deal fell apart for unknown reasons. That didn’t stop VGBC though. Instead of trying to operate events the world over, VGBC made it so that all tournaments that are already happening can participate in the Smash World Tour (SWT). Being a part of the circuit was easy, even local weekly tournaments can get included. The purpose was so that for every event someone enters, they can earn points in a circuit. At the end of the year, the 30 best players with the highest point totals can go to the championships at the end of the year. There were restrictions in place to prevent someone from farming points at various events, making it equal to someone that can only enter a select number of events. Either way, winning the championship of a worldwide circuit would essentially crown you the world champion of Smash Bros.
The Smash World Tour had a rocky start. Back in 2020, VGBC announced the first-ever SWT but then the pandemic happened and it all got canceled. Then in 2021, they were able to have an abbreviated circuit that was a mixture of online events and in-person events once restrictions were lifted. SWT 2021 was able to operate without a license from Nintendo, as most understood that the event was not sanctioned by Nintendo. Enter 2022 and SWT was announced and was still not licensed by Nintendo. Little did we know but SWT did try to get a license from Nintendo but according to them, Nintendo was dragging their feet and/or stringing them along. SWT stated that they had various discussions with Nintendo and had a verbal agreement that they could continue to operate. One of the alleged factors in Nintendo not granting a license is some tournaments used modified versions of Melee such as playing in a state where the transformations don’t occur (commonly referred to as frozen Pokemon Stadium). SWT 2022 was set to happen on December 9th thru 11th.
Enter Panda Global. Panda is an eSports team. Panda started off as a grassroots organization and was founded by a real-life medical doctor – Dr. Alan Bunney MD – he operated as CEO. Panda Global has done many things for the Smash community, including but not limited to sponsoring players, commentators, content creators, and others in their organization, making the global power rankings for players, and even inventing hardware. Panda released a Nintendo Switch accessory that allowed people to dock their Switch directly to a GameCube controller adapter. Panda even prototyped a GameCube controller that was geared toward hardcore Smash players. Overall Panda Global was a pillar in the Smash community and had a lot of social capital.
Back in November 2021 before the SWT 2021 championships, Panda Global announced that they secured a partnership with Nintendo to operate a National circuit for North America (the Panda Cup). This caught so many people by surprise because Nintendo isn’t known to give out licenses, they barely even acknowledge the Smash community. It turned out that Dr. Alan was trying to make the circuit a thing even going as far back as 2018. Apparently, according to Dr. Alan, a three-year negotiation cycle is a realistic time frame and not the four-month time frame SWT was trying to pull off. As far as the Panda Cup, it was not worldwide. Panda only had the license to operate in North America and Nintendo of America couldn’t legislate rules/conditions for events happening all over the world. So for the most part, people expected that the Panda Cup and SWT could coexist because one had the backing of Nintendo but was limited to NA, and the other while being unlicensed had a bigger scope. Also, SWT had no qualms with tournaments being part of both circuits since SWT didn’t actually operate most of the tournaments since VGBC ran only so many events.
Now we get to November 29th. It all started with Smash World Tour putting out a statement saying that Nintendo forced them to cancel the championship event. SWT claims that they were notified by Nintendo on November 23rd which was the day before Thanksgiving! In their statement, they said that canceling the event so close to the date would financially ruin them because they would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars due to unfulfilled obligations such as sponsorships and lost money from travel costs, hotel expenses, venue fees, etc. According to SWT, Nintendo said that they were fully aware of the ramifications of their decision but held steadfast in their decision and were told that the days of operating without a license from Nintendo is over. Also in the SWT statement, SWT alleges that there was sabotage coming from Panda Global, more specifically, Dr. Alan himself! SWT alleges that Dr. Alan talked to various tournament organizers and told them to not sign with SWT because SWT will get shut down. SWT also alleges that Dr. Alan tried to strong-arm tournament organizers to give the broadcast rights over to Panda’s channel. Most tournament organizers already had broadcast deals many of them with BTS. So allegedly, Dr. Alan tried to get BTS to give the broadcast rights to Panda by using vague threatening language. Many other allegations were levied against Dr. Alan that didn’t come from the statement but rather from other tournament organizers speaking up on Twitter. Some of these allegations paint Dr. Alan as a greedy man looking to run a mafia racket where he had control of the Smash scene. This sentiment gels well with SWT’s statement because they said that Panda would not allow tournament organizers to be a part of the Panda Cup if they were also a part of the SWT. This unofficial rule later got lifted when there weren’t enough events participating. The statement didn’t go well with the Smash community with many people calling fowl on Nintendo and Panda. In addition, to all the drama, VGBC had to put out a second statement where they had to announce that their next two majors – Glitch: Duel of Fates and Double Down 2023 – were canceled effective immediately. VGBC also said that they aren’t sure if they could continue to operate. This put the whole Smash community on edge because we could be witnessing VGBC potentially going under and tournament organizers aren’t sure if they could be allowed to operate in general.
Many major outlets reported on the story including IGN and Kotaku, each had received comments/statements from Nintendo. The biggest statement that was given came from IGN and in that statement, Nintendo claims that they did not tell Smash World Tour to cancel their event. They claim to have been surprised by the cancelation too and the decision to cancel was all on SWT.
When we notified the SWT that we would not license their 2022 or 2023 activities, we also let them know verbally that we were not requiring they cancel the 2022 finals event because of the impact it would have on players. Thus, the decision to cancel the SWT 2022 was, and still is, their own choice.Exerpt from Nintendo’s statement given to IGN
Soon after this statement was released, Smash World Tour made a follow up statement responding to Nintendo’s allegation that SWT canceled their own event of their own volition. In that statement, they said they got Nintendo’s cease and desist in writing. They even asked Nintendo if they could just continue to operate in an unofficial capacity and were told “those times are over”
Regardless, we stand by our first follow-up (linked here), and would like to reiterate that we received our notice in writing from Nintendo. We also received a direct response to our questions in our call about if we could continue to run the upcoming Championships and the 2023 Tour with the “unofficial” mutual understanding that we would not be shut down. We were told directly that those “times are over.”Quote from Smash World Tour responding to Nintendo’s statement
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. So far though we have two sides giving conflicting information, but it only continues to get worse. Panda Global also put out a statement that corroborated that Dr. Alan did have a conversation with BTS but the miscommunication was corrected very quickly and Panda created a team of staff members to properly handle communications. Things only got worse from there, because that statement essentially confirmed some truth to the potential shady practices of Dr. Alan – many Panda team members put in their resignation from the organization. At present, about 80% of staffers left the organization including pro players Plup, iBDW, Wadi, commentators VikkiKitty, TK Breezy, Coney, and YouTuber Little Z to name a few.
After all the resignations came through, Panda finally put out a statement that stated that Dr. Alan was no longer the CEO of Panda Global. Panda has created an Interim Management Committee (IMC) that would make decisions for the organization and they also stated that the Panda Cup was postponed indefinitely. This left their original date of Dec. 17th to 18th vacated. This means that neither circuit got completed this year and 2022 is without a world champion. Either way postponing was probably for the best because Panda as an organization took such a massive PR hit that many players were going to opt to not attend the Panda Cup and some players actually signed contracts with Panda that made it so that they were legally obligated to attend the finale. This led to discussions about potential pro players not taking the tournament seriously which would damage the competitive integrity of the championships.
So although Dr. Alan was ousted from Panda Global, he was not planning on going quietly into the night. He put out an ominous tweet saying that “SWT lied” and “BTS leadership put the community in danger” and would follow up with a lengthy statement with receipts.
Now we are caught up to the present because after three days of waiting he put out the follow-up statement. This statement was a 31 page statement. It was quite the read. The main big takeaway that you need to know is he is alleging that SWT is weaponizing the goodwill of the Smash community against him by making themselves out to be a martyr and will use that to pressure Nintendo into giving them a license. In addition, he stated that he stepped down as CEO of Panda as a result of the treatment he got from the Smash community and wanted to give Panda the best chance at surviving, even if it meant surviving without him. He said that his shares of Panda are for sale and is looking to divest from the company.
So now we potentially have all the cards on the table. Basically TL;DR – Nintendo, Panda, and Smash World Tour are all calling each other liars! I don’t know who to believe. This is real-life mafia and everyone out here is trying to figure out who is sus. They say that when a couple breaks up there are three stories – his side, her side, and the truth. This analogy doesn’t fit when there are three different accounts and all are conflicting. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. I don’t know who to believe. Due to taking so long to put his statement out, it appears that the Smash community isn’t buying Dr. Alan’s story but it’s only been a day. As a member of the Smash community, I’m very conflicted and I can’t make heads or tails from what’s going on. I’ve bought merch from both VGBC and Panda. My favorite pro player is sponsored by Panda. I grew up with Nintendo games and it’s hard to see mommy and daddy fighting with each other. I can’t pick a side on this one, all I can say is I feel hurt.
The only good thing I can report on is content creator Ludwig took it upon himself to quickly organize an invitational tournament called “The Scuffed World Tour” where he will invite the top 8 players in the SWT ranking and cherry pick 8 more players that dominated their local region from all over the world to make a 16 player tournament and it will be for both Melee and Ultimate. The event is set to happen on Sunday, December 18th which was the weekend the Panda Cup was supposed to happen.
For more controversial Smash Bros stories in your life check out what happened to Maister at Port Priority 7.
You can find me on Twitter @chacalaca88 and my podcast is Ready Press Play where you can hear my thoughts on all things gaming. Also, you can find me on LV1 Gaming’s YouTube channel every other Tuesday on Cogs in a Machine where we do deep dives on specific topics, so subscribe there as well.
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