In contrast to Sony PlayStation’s purchase of the popular Evo Championship Series and Microsoft’s concerted effort to improve the esports ecosystem around core IP like Halo, Forza, and Gears, Nintendo has been relatively quiet on the esports scene. During 2021, however, that’s begun to change. Earlier this year, Nintendo partnered with PlayVs to bring Super Smash Bros., Splatoon 2, and Mario Kart 8 to high school esports in the US, and just last month, the company announced its first-ever officially licensed esports tournament for Super Smash Bros. in partnership with Detroit-based Panda Global.
The circuit series starts next year and will include online qualifying rounds and in-person competition, culminating in a single championship. Players from Canada and Mexico will also be allowed to compete once Panda and Nintendo determine that international travel and in-person events can be conducted safely.
Nintendo’s relationship with esports has been contentious at times. While Smash has a large competitive community, numerous events utilize unofficial rules and modifications to play a game that’s different than what Nintendo envisioned. Nintendo has deliberately shut down some tournaments in the past, as the company is notorious for its IP protection.
Moreover, Nintendo has always put its family-friendly image first, which can put it at odds with fierce online or in-person competition. The company noted that its move to officially license a Smash circuit is the “next step in Nintendo’s efforts to create a more consistent, fun and welcoming competitive environment for our players and fans.”
It’ll be interesting to see how the gaming and esports community receives the new Smash events next year, as Nintendo Switch owners do lag owners of other gaming consoles when it comes to esports viewership overall. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, nearly one third of Xbox owners are also esports viewers, just ahead of 29% of PlayStation owners, and substantially ahead of the 26% of Nintendo Switch owners who watch esports. Nintendo has some work ahead if it wants a larger esports presence, as this trend applies regardless of platform, across livestreamed, TV broadcast, and mobile esports.