Project M was a once loved Smash Bros. mod in the Atlantic provinces, but since the lack of publicity through big online outlets and streamers, talented players are going back to other games in the series.
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia both hold one electronic sport, or eSport dear to their hearts: Smash Bros. For a long time both New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and other Atlantic provinces have competed against each other to see which houses the best players and can make the most money at tournaments. One thing has changed though, and that is the inclusion of the game and mod, Project M.
Both provinces’ most-played Super Smash Bros. games are Melee and Smash 4. Melee being the version of Smash Bros. released for the Gamecube in 2001, and Smash 4 being the Wii U iteration released in 2014.
Project M, a modification for the game Super Smash Brothers Brawl, however has been pushed to the side and is not featured at many tournaments. Nova Scotia player Nick best believes that the introduction of the latest game in 2014, Smash 4, is one of the reasons that local communities are turning on Project M.
“There were a few players that were just playing PM while waiting for Smash 4
but I think for the NS scene, it was more Melee players, and they decided Melee was bigger than (Project M) version 3.6,” Best said.
Project M was extremely different than other versions of Smash Bros when it was released because it featured patches and version updates. These updates included balance patches for characters, making sure everyone from Mario to Wario were on an equal playing field. It wasn’t until Smash 4 that the series had a game with balance patches.
Best also explains that the last version of Project M released is another reason why fans of the game are going back to older games like Smash Bros. Melee.
“PM was most popular on version 3.02 and the version before it, 3.6 came out and everything was nerfed. Best said. “The best characters were basically Melee characters, but they were even nerfed, so everyone was like ‘fuck it, let’s go back to Melee.’”
By nerfed, Best means that a lot of the characters became unequal compared to the rest of the roster.
When asked what the Project M scene is like in Best’s region he replied, “There isn’t one.”
Nova Scotia tournament organizer and Dalhousie student Evan Shabsove also commented on the state of Project M’s popularity in his region.
“It dwindled down a lot after the release of Smash 4. Before even the Melee scene here Halifax had a really strong Smash Bros. Brawl scene, when Project M came out a lot of the Brawl guys saw it as the thing to do until Smash 4 comes out,” Shabsove said.
“Now that Smash 4 is out that group stopped playing PM and stopped running events for it in favor of Smash 4.”
Lost but not forgotten
While smaller Canadian regions are losing their competitive touch in Project M, the lack of popularity also stems from a bigger problem: The legality of the game. With Project M being a modification of Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers Brawl, it technically uses Nintendo’s properties and characters to bring a competitive feel to the game. Many players also use a torrent of Nintendo’s game to play it on their computer or a modified console. This means a loss of sales for Nintendo fans who would normally just buy a new console for their latest game, Smash 4.
While Nintendo has never officially made any statements regarding Project M, it has forced bigger tournaments to ban the mod.
The company does this by sponsoring the tournaments, which forces the organizers to ban the game due to it being in a legal grey area. Just last year, the tournament “Apex” was sponsored by Nintendo, and Project M was dropped from the schedule.
Gaming news website “eSports heaven” reported on the event saying that:
“Reliable sources have told eSports Heaven that the already-controversial Apex Series Event in January 2015 will be dropping Project M from all areas, including the Salty Suite, at the request of Japanese games giant Nintendo.”
Project M was always featured at Apex in past years alongside the rest of the games in the series.
Another tournament, “Evo,” dropped Project M after losing Nintendo sponsorship, but tournament organizers have never indicated that Nintendo’s influence was the direct cause.
Evo is held in Las Vegas, Nevada, and is one of the biggest Smash tournaments in the world awarding over $17,000 alone for the top four in Melee last year.
New Brunswick tournament organizer Dustin Smith worries about the outcome of these kinds of sponsorships.
“With Nintendo sponsoring a few events the risk of the legal backlash is high,” Smith said. “There are Project M tournaments being held at many popular weekly events and large nationals, they are just not shown.”
Smith is right, many tournaments are never streamed to the public. Last year, popular Smash Bros. streaming outlet VGBootCamp announced that it would no longer be associated with Project M, suspending all online streaming of the mod on Twitch (a popular gaming streaming platform), and deleting all Project M related YouTube videos. GimR, aka Calvin Lofton, the Co-Founder of VGBootCamp posted a statement on the popular forum “Smashboards” about the situation.
“As it stands now, Project M exists in a legal gray area. Project M’s uncertain legality has the potential to put the other goals of VGBC for the wider Smash community in jeopardy. We are working on securing partnerships that will allow us to grow the community faster than ever before with new shows, tournaments, and other content,” Lofton said.
“2015 will be another crazy year for Smash, and as a small business with limited resources, it’s too risky to invest a significant portion of our time and money into a game that could damage our business with a copyright strike at any time.”
Smith believes that the decision to not publicize Project M is a step in the wrong direction, causing the game to be played less by locals.
“The fact that local players do not know the game is still being played is a huge issue, and that there is little to no current content. The only scene that features regular content for PM is Texas on Hitbox.tv (another streaming site),” Smith said.
“Melee had a similar experience where Nintendo would not allow the community to stream their game. We got past that however and I think PM can do the same.”
Ben Randall preparing to play Project M at a Fredericton weekly tournament
The mighty have fallen
Smith also mentioned that since the mod has been taken down by it’s own developers last year, it is only played by those who have been playing it from the beginning, rather than newcomers.
“The fact that there is no content to bring people into the community is the issue. People just aren’t coming to enter Project M. PM is the side event only the pre-established dedicated scene cares about,” Smith said.
Seasoned New Brunswick Project M player Joe Daniels said Project M was most beneficial for those Smash players just starting to learn the game.
“During the pre-Smash 4 era, there were many Smash players around here who turned to PM after seeing little success in Melee, or were just tired to getting thwomped by the same seasoned players for months,” Daniels said.
“Since PM was and still is a game that is very undiscovered and misunderstood, some of those people had a better experience playing PM as it doesn’t involve playing as much catch-up.”
“PM allows those people to get close to experiencing some of that limelight while experiencing the new things the game has to offer.”
Since the release of the latest game Smash 4, many players have also been moving on from Project M in favour of the newer, more accessible choice. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Smash 4 has seen a growing attendance from a younger and newer crowd, with Melee seeing more players who are looking to try the timeless classic.
“Since Smash 4 is a new game, it gives a nice gateway and a nice pivot point to come into the competitive scene on,” said Fredericton’s top Smash 4 player Keaten Russell.
Teaching an old dog new tricks
It’s easy to admit that with the newest game Smash Bros. as a series is bigger and more accessible than ever, but with Project M becoming nothing more than a side event at tournaments can it be brought back as a “main” Smash Bros. game?
Shabsove has a theory to bringing the game back to what it once was. He said that eventually people will start playing more if there are events.
“My answer would be to not force people to play it or change anything. Just run consistent events and people will come,” Shabsove said.
Other believe that while Project M could eventually gain traction on its own, it is going to take an international force in order to bring it back to a top streamed game on sites like Twitch. Russell believes that online streaming is the answer.
“If the interest is there I’m sure people would put on events and whatnot. But I think the lack of interest in New Brunswick is a byproduct of the lack of interest on an international level,” Russell said. “No streams or viewership on a national scale means significantly less entrants on a regional scale.”
Though big names like VGBootCamp are no longer streaming Project M on Twitch, smaller channels like SmashGrounds and CLASHTournaments are streaming monthly Project M tournaments on Hitbox.tv.
Smith feels bad about Project M dying specifically in New Brunswick. He believes that because the game was a burden with only a small fan base coming to play it at weekly tournaments, people wanted to see it gone.
“I’m in the tournament organizers chats, I know what’s going on,” Smith said. “There were a couple organizers who seemed like they were personally trying to kill it off.”
“It’s definitely upsetting. Personally I’ve only played PM on a semi-competitive level. But I know a few people that love the game.”
Perhaps Project M taking a break is natural considering the series has five games in total if you include the controversial mod.
“Every smash game has gone through a dying phase. Some have been revived like Melee, some have seemingly died like Brawl, some have died and the community was strong enough to bring it back like 64. In my opinion this is just Project M’s turn.”
If Project M needs to go through that phase, Smith and many other Atlantic players will be sad to see it leave.
“I would compare it to having a good friends dog die. Sure, as kids you had a few memories with your friend and their dog, but you know the bond between the two of them is closer than you and that dog.”