For over 16 years, Melee has delivered a competitive and viewing experience utterly unique, even when compared to its successors in the franchise. Fans of the game will tell you over and over that it is a game apart, and that nothing even comes close to reaching its extraordinary standards.
With that uniqueness, however, come drawbacks. For the uninitiated, keeping track of professional matches can often be very difficult, and even experienced viewers constantly miss the minutiae of player interactions. Its depth is incomparable.
Despite that initial opacity, Melee has experienced a growth spurt unlike any other. Following the release of a towering nine part documentary on the scene's history, attendance and viewership skyrocketed. Now, that momentum is slowing down, and the Melee bubble may be set to burst.
For the most part, this meteoric rise has been tied to Melee singles, by far the game's most popular format. Alongside singles, however, doubles has grown too, though its success has always been just a fraction of singles'.
Doubles' more limited growth comes as no surprise, given that it shares all the barriers to entry that singles has with additional handicaps on top. If it's hard to follow just two Melee characters duking it out, then it's nearly impossible to catch everything when there are twice as many flying around the screen.
Matches become so chaotic that even the best commentators in the scene struggle to make sense of it, often failing to note crucial moments because they were focused on the wrong character. Anything below the absolute top shelf of doubles commentary is essentially useless for viewers who are already struggling to keep up.
If commentators can't do play by play, the best they can do is build storylines to provide viewers a lens to interpret the broad strokes of the game. Unfortunately, in doubles there are very few static teams. More often than not, good players will simply team with the best individual player, paying no mind to relationships, chemistry, or playstyle.
This is a commentator's nightmare, as it leaves no history to draw upon. And when the commentators flounder, they leave viewers out to dry. Given the choice between watching a stream for hours, confused the whole time, and doing literally anything else, most potential viewers will choose the latter, placing doubles as a format in dire straits.
But there is hope for doubles yet. While it's true that doubles can be hard to follow, its moments of explosive action remain as clear as any in singles. And where singles combos are amazing, team combos are unbelievable.
The best teams in the world set one another up and play to one another's strengths. They can juggle opponents back and forth across the stage, dancing around the fourth player as if he weren't even there, striking blow after blow until finally they banish their combo fodder to the grave.
It's an art unto itself, and it can often make a hard-to-follow match worth every moment of confusion.
And while there may be a dearth of coherent storylines in doubles, what stories there are are the best in Melee, bar none. In singles, there are questions of legacy. Who will be the best for the longest time? Who will win this tournament? We watch each match to know the answers.
But in doubles, things run deeper. There's more on the line than just being the best. Doubles is about friendship, it's about family, and it's about fundamental selflessness. Just look at the two best teams in the world, Team CLG and Team Alliance.
On the one hand, you have CLG's Kevin "PewPewU" Toy and
In Team Alliance, PewFat have their perfect counterpart. Made up of the inimitable Adam "Armada" Lindgren and his younger brother Andreas "Android" Lindgren, the Swedish brothers fight for the only connection comparable to friendship: blood.
Whenever these two teams meet in finals, as they often do, the stakes are so much greater than a trophy, or prize money, or even what people will say when they think back on the tournament. Every flashy team combo, every two-on-one clutch, and every desperate save, these players do it all it for love.
Nothing in Melee, singles or otherwise, even comes close to emotional peaks of watching these two teams slug it out for first place. And it's because of them that teams must survive. Even if the action never clears up, even if commentators never get better, even if no one else is doing it, teams must continue.
Because in the end, if we won't play for love, why bother to play at all?
Cover photo courtesy of Astro Gaming