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Comfortable On Shaky Ground: The Oral History of Project+ Part 3

Cover photo by DBLTAP, screenshot courtesy of Project+

To the competitive Smash community, Brawl lacked everything that made its predecessors great. They saw only one way forward: mod Brawl to be more like Melee. Nintendo cracked down on tournaments, cutting the community off at the knees, but P+ players are a diehard bunch. The scene stands on shaky ground — but it's still standing.

For the full story, find Part One here and Part Two here.

"This community can take a punch in the face and just kind of get back up from it." — Messi

Motobug: So we hadn't been touched in years, basically since the whole "getting taken off Twitch" thing — thanks, Nintendo — but in 2021, we were going to be at Riptide. [Registration] capped in minutes — 384 people signed up for that tournament, it was gonna be one of the biggest of all time. And then Nintendo found out… and they sent a cease and desist to the Riptide team.

Sabre: Tournaments have very explicitly been made afraid of running Project+ again, in a way they haven't been since 2015. There is no Smash major now that is going to run Project+, because they watched three majors in a row — which was Riptide, Low Tide City and Mainstage — commit to running Project M at big events, and then be told at the last minute, or make the decision themselves, that they couldn't, in fact, run this game due to legal pressure by Nintendo, and lose money as a result.

Sabre: The threat that was pretty explicitly made was, "If you don't drop Project M as a game from your roster, we will cancel your event." And I don't necessarily believe that they can truly do that, but I'm also not going to tell someone else to put their livelihood on the line… I wish that someone would make that call and run a huge event and include PM and see what happens, but I also completely respect their decision, even if it's unfortunate.

Nezergy: I can't be streaming PM to the audience that I would like to create. If I have an audience of thousands of people, Nintendo's gonna say something if I'm streaming PM to them… It’s that feeling where it's sort of looming over you that even if you find success, this mild success, you might have to try other things to make the success not so mild, and that feels bad to think about, to think that I can't play my favorite game for all of eternity as a content piece.

Messi: PM is in this predicament where it really does have a cap in terms of how much it can grow… Why wouldn't you want online play? Why wouldn't you want professional streams? Why wouldn't you want big time sponsors and ads? All of that stuff would actually benefit that community.

Sabre: We have a community that’s been through this before. People like myself and Motobug have developed the skills necessary to run a scene using basically no resources, running events off of nothing… I ran [Jailbreak] with a month's notice and no budget. I put down money out of my own pocket to book the floor above Mainstage in the same venue to run an event and we made it happen. And that's what we've done every single time something like this has happened — the scene finds a way to keep going.

Poilu: It's another Tuesday, we're used to it at this point, and we fight our damn hardest to survive and just enjoy the game.

"Having the ability to play people from all over the country — and even all over the world — is huge." — Sabre

Sabre: There's a lot of room for growth still before Nintendo gets involved, and I think rollback could be a really huge step for that, because not only is it awesome for the players who are already here who get to play with people all over, but it makes the game a lot more accessible and easier to get into. Right now PM is an amazing game, but it's not easy to get into. You need to be in Discords to find the local matchmaking, you need to hope that you have a local scene nearby, because not every city has a PM scene in the way that Melee and Ultimate do. There's only like five big tournaments a year, you need to travel to those if you want to compete at a high level. There's a lot of logistical barriers to PM right now that rollback would help to address. 

Doctor: Depending on the path we go down, there could be a lot of people dropping the game left and right. Or there could be a lot of people that are picking the game up, and the scene will grow probably to twice the tournament size… I think when rollback comes, mixed with this auto matchmaking, I think we'll actually see a pretty, pretty steep increase in players. And of course, we'll always expect to drop off, but I think we'll still be net positive after that. 

Poilu: Melee had the exact same thing during the pandemic and it's a new era now, we call it the "Slippi era" — Slippi is software that allows for rollback — and this is aptly named. The game completely changed the day they released Slippi, and I believe that the same could happen for PM.

Motobug: Undertow is next month. It's on Sept. 10 and 11. I'm going to that, going to see a bunch of my friends there. I want to get top eight at P+.

Motobug: Come to Blacklisted! It's the longest-running national series of tournaments for Project M. We're on the seventh iteration and it's run by some of the best TOs in the entire world. So come through, it'll be a good time, it's gonna be very stacked.

Motobug: After Blacklisted… we're going to start work on PM Rank 2022. We haven't decided if it's going to include 2021 [tournament results] yet, but it probably will, considering there are less majors this year than usual. So it'll be a full numbered ranking of post-COVID-to-end of 2022. Early 2023 is when that will drop.

Sabre: [Techboy and The Doctor are] clearly the two best players in the world. Ultimately, Techboy did win the Project M Theater, which was our Summit-style invitational event in March. He is also, I think, 3-0 on The Doctor, which makes him the presumptive number one seed or the favorite going into any given event. But those two clearly stand out from the field as the best players in the world. As of this spring, at least.

Doctor: Even though there's motivation to not lose, I feel like the motivation to be number one and keep winning is a little different. And I think that's kind of what sets me and Techboy apart right now. It's just the hunger for it, just because we've never had a taste of it.

Doctor: I want to be number one without question.

Motobug: It’s still a bit of a way to go [until P+ 3.0 releases]. So I wouldn't expect it any earlier than like... ah, I'm not giving a date, that's a mistake. When it's done. 

Nezergy: We're not at a golden age right now. It doesn't feel "safe." But it does feel good to play the game. And it does feel good to hang out with my friends that I met through the game. And I think that's a shaky ground that I can feel comfortable with.

Sabre: I've personally been copyright struck by Nintendo. This exhibition series I run got copyright struck on YouTube last month. I was the main person who was running Project M at Mainstage, which was a huge major being run by Beyond The Summit. And it was going to be a big deal for PM, and I was the person leading the PM event. And they shut that down because two tournaments right before them got cease-and-desisted. So I've had those interactions myself. And it's scary and it's stressful. But at the end of the day, it's something I'm willing to do, because I still don't fully believe they can do anything more than make threats. And I'm not willing to back off until I'm forced to. Every time they do this, every time they shut down something that we built for ourselves, it makes me more determined.

Doctor: [PM has] affected my life in so many ways — positively — and I can't just be like, "Oh, this is just a hobby," because at this point, it's become such a big aspect of my life. Anytime I'm not working, I'll be thinking about playing Smash… It's way more than just a hobby.

Reslived:  I'll be part of the PM community 'til I die. I made too many friends, too many very close friends, for me to pretend like PM is not a part of who I am. Hanging over my computer I have a bunch of lanyards from tournaments that I still keep on display… It's still very important to who I am and how I live my life. But I can't take it as seriously as I used to. I don't have the time or the fortitude to continue trucking on. Dealing with Nintendo whenever they decide to rear their ugly head, dealing with competition and the ups and downs emotionally that comes with that — it's just not for me anymore.

Nezergy: My definition of dead is basically when I stop playing this game. I will keep playing this game longer than anyone else will. I believe that to the bottom of my heart at this point. Nothing — none of this Nintendo stuff will break me at this point. I'm immune to that shit.

Jack Roscoe is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. When he's not playing Smash or D&D, he's posting to his blog at jackroscoe.me.