Having gone from consisting of 20 university contestants to pulling in 130 different visitors overall from across the UK, Port Smash – the Super Smash Bros 4 event in Portsmouth – has come a long way since its debut last year.
Ahead of this weekend’s anniversary tournament, Brandon Farnan talks to some of the people that have been with the South Coast scene since the start – and discovers how they’ve gone from a small university gathering to a full-on venue.
Introduced last year in October, Port Smash is run by Will Avery, Jack Knowler and Harrison Carter. The former two were the original founders of the event as part of the gaming society at Portsmouth University, while Harrison joined on later as the tournament’s streamer and commentator.
Will and Jack have put extensive work into developing and promoting the scene since then, with Will organising the tournament, handling marketing and announcements on the day.
Jack has done his share of social media marketing, as well as coming up with new ideas such as a raffle and finding the new venue at the Cosham Community Centre over on Wooton Street.
The events consist of singles, doubles and crew matches.
“Every time we did it, more people turned up,” said Will, commenting on how their group has picked up momentum.
“If we go way back to the first Port Smash, people who strolled through and easily made it to the semi-finals now struggle to get out of pools. I think at Port Smash eight, I was really happy because I won a pools match for the first time in months. Everyone has got so much better!”
Will added that, while he gets less opportunities to play himself, by providing an environment to allow other people to play gives its own satisfaction, and that upgrading to a bigger venue was “always the plan”.
“There wasn’t much of a local scene [before],” Will explained. “There was a couple of events in Southampton we went to, but those were small ones and weren’t professionally set up.
“Where we’re standing now, we have around 40 people each time, a big pool, team shirts, and it all runs really well, set to time every time. It all looks very professional with the stream set-up and YouTube channel… I don’t think there’s anything like that near us – unless you go to London.”
“There wasn’t much of a local scene [before]. I don’t think there’s anything else like us nearby unless you go to London.”
Of course, with the popularity and growth of these communities comes a fair share of issues for the players to sort out.
Will has shared his concerns over player motivation, especially with the growing number of talented entrants – or players who improve and make it harder for newcomers to join.
Veteran players from London have also visited Port Smash too.
“Part of my worry is that we’re losing too many of the low level players that could think: ‘I turn up and don’t make it through pools, what’s the point?'”
“And part of my solution to that is to try and keep it cheap. Hopefully with the new year at university and the introduction of an amateur bracket, more people will stick around throughout the day.”
It’s worth noting that, unlike other eSports games such as Overwatch, which has support from Blizzard, Super Smash Bros Melee and Super Smash Bros for Wii U have fairly grassroots-based scenes.
The scene is managed by the players themselves and it’s their responsibility to manage the finances, keep it going and provide incentives for players to come back.
Local scenes are also especially important in the fighting game community, where their games can be reaction-based, or require the best environment for their knowledge of frame-data and precise inputs to come into play. This can all be especially difficult when online modes or servers aren’t sufficient.
It is entirely down to the organisers to unite players and decide how much the prize money should be to motivate players – not the developer. The entry fee is also important to get right so you don’t turn people away, while pulling in enough money to keep the event going.
While competition has been growing fierce, regular attendee Benoit “CansDotWav” James says that the community in the south coast remains ‘cosy and accessible’, with attendee numbers remaining at a comfortable size. This helps retain the feeling of it being a university society of friends.
“Maybe it’s because it’s my home local, but I definitely get that feeling every time I step through the door,” Benoit says. “I think the feeling of the community can be attributed to a lot of people from coastal areas like Brighton, Bournemouth, Reading and Southampton coming down.
“I like that newcomers have the opportunity to visit a place where the player level is always increasing. We mainly have players from the South Coast that can’t go to central tournaments, and I think Port Smash is becoming a real threat.”
Benoit says he enjoys seeing newcomers each time, learning what they have to bring, while encouraging others to keep playing and come back. Every tournament brings new entrants who use different characters that can surprise him.
He also commended Will’s work towards the scene, calling him ‘a proud person who has a lot of ambition and goals to work towards’.
Outside of maintaining the event, Will has spent hours on keeping a personal spreadsheet of statistical data to rank regular players. He feels that player rankings can often come down to popular opinions from well-known people in their scenes, so he keeps track of player performances to make the scene like other sports such as badminton.
Finally, Will added that has enjoyed his time being a tournament organiser for Port Smash.
“If I moved away to anywhere else in the world, I’d still be looking to set up a local scene there,” he said.