One year since the release of Smash Bros. Ultimate, one of the biggest faces in Smash in Juan ‘Hungrybox’ Debiedma has gone on record to draw awareness to the “tragic” state of prize pools for professional competitions, and other pro players share his sentiments as well.
Just a year removed from the release of Smash Ultimate, and the returning sales numbers indicate that the iconic fighter franchise is in good standing heading into the next decade. When it smashed the 15 million units sold number, it earned the accolade of best-selling fighting game of all time.
But, despite all of the money Nintendo has raked in with the base game and the DLC packs they’ve sold, a very small amount has gone towards prize pools at professional Smash Ultimate tournaments.
In a piece for Nintendolife, in which pros reflected on Ultimate’s first year, several of the game’s best brought up the current prize pool situation, with one of the most beloved Smash players in Hungrybox holding nothing back.
Hungrybox called the payout for Smash Ultimate “downright embarrassing.” He also said that it’s “tragic” that the amount of money players receive is in no way comparable to the number of views and impressions that the game gets on social media and video platforms.
The same article addresses what a flagship year it was for Smash video content, on both YouTube and streaming platforms. Pro player Gonzalo ‘ZeRo’ Barrios has spent more time streaming than attending tournaments, especially after signing an exclusive contract with Facebook.
Nintendo is not doing nearly enough. Other companies are paying millions of dollars to get half the viewership smash does.
Both parties could benefit if Nintendo stopped dropping the ball
— Leffen (@TSM_Leffen) October 7, 2019
It’s easy to understand why ZeRo would put more focus on streaming when you consider the amount of money players win from tournaments. According to the pros, unless you consistently finish at the top, it’s hard to financially justify going to more events.
Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby says “Only the top [players] make enough money from events to attend more,” and described any placing below 7th as “monetarily worthless.”
Hungrybox places the majority of the blame squarely at the feet of Nintendo. They don’t sponsor a massive yearly tournament the way other competitive titles and their developers do.
Using Dabuz’s notion that you'd have to finish 7th or better for participation to be financially worth it, 7th place at this past summer’s Dota 2 International netted a team $858,252, which is roughly $170,000 per player. There are two CSGO majors per year, and finishing 7th at a major earns a team $35,000. 7th place in solos at the Fortnite World Cup won $525,000.
The biggest Smash Ultimate event this year in prize money was Smash Ultimate Summit 2, with a $50k prize pool, and each of the players who came in 7th took home just over $1,500.
Other fighting games have a big blowout annual tournament, so this problem is unique to Nintendo. The Capcom Cup 2019 featured a $390k prize pool, and has put up at least $350k over the past four years. The Tekken World Tour finals for this year massively increased its pool to $250k.
“It’s the only company that really isn’t putting money into pot bonuses,” Hungrybox continued. “Even though they very easily could. We need developer support. I can’t stress this enough.”
If Nintendo continues to "sponsor" the Smash Ultimate competitive scene without injecting more cash for prize money, they may have to brave the next decade without a competitive scene altogether.