It started last year, with one commerce student, Eric Hill, along with his two friends and his laptop on the second floor of the McMaster University Student Centre.
Minutes later, eight other students – who were complete strangers to Hill – and an extra laptop showed up, all of whom were playing Super Smash Brothers Melee together, just outside of Clubspace.
This eventually led to the creation of the McMaster Smash group, which is run by third-year commerce student Ian Coomes, who was one of the eight students Hill met in this encounter.
The growth of the Smash community at McMaster should come as no surprise. eSports as a whole, such as “League of Legends,” “DOTA 2” and “Overwatch,” have grown in popularity at the international level, with the top players in the world competing for over millions of dollars in cash prizes, some of which is crowd-funded by the respective communities.
Fighting games such as Project: Melee and Super Smash Brawl have enjoyed similar success. McSmashter was an annual event held at McMaster that ran for four years, attracting players from all across North America and was watched at an international scale. But it wasn’t until the creation of Mac Smash in 2015 where the community at McMaster started to grow. And McMaster Smash is one group that has seen a steady rise in popularity since its creation in 2015.
“Before we started doing anything, we knew that there was some interest in Smash at Mac because of McSmashter,” Coomes said. “We thought it had already been established here. But it was mostly Americans and other Ontario students that came to the event.”
“The fact that when we got here that there was nothing established was so surprising to us, given the size of McSmashter,” Hill said.
Fast forward to now, and the McMaster Smash group has grown in popularity and notoriety within the Smash community. When the group started their weekly tournaments, they were only able to attract 10 or 15 people per week, most of whom were mutual friends of Coomes and Hill. Now, their weekly events typically see about 100 people from across Ontario, some of whom are renowned within the community as the best players within the fighting genre.
Each week’s event is labour-intensive, with tasks that include creating new brackets based on rankings and transporting heavy equipment to campus.
“We used to take shopping carts and cart these heavy TVs from my house to the event and back, until all of them made their way to campus,” Coomes said.
But all that work has paid off. More and more students come to the events, and those who cannot go often stream the tournaments online. More impressively, many of the top rated Smash players attend the weekly events hosted by Mac Smash on a regular basis.
“This year, we have had at least five of the top 10 Smash players in Ontario show up to every single weekly event we have held except for one,” Coomes said. “It is unreal that the Smash scene has gotten so popular in Hamilton, of all places.”
“I remember someone from around Hamilton telling us that our scene was non-existent and that it sucked, because he could beat everyone,” Hill said. “Now, at this point, Hamilton is probably one of the best scenes for Smash in Ontario.”
“How much can we work with other universities in building up some sort of league system? How much can we do in order to make this game really explode in the North?
President, McMaster Smash
Most of the money comes from the Smash community itself, with players willing to pay to compete in tournaments. This has allowed the group to expand their events and attract even more attention from those interested in playing Smash.
“The scene in itself for Smash Bros has always functioned on its own, based off of the community’s own merit,” Hill said. “Everyone just loves the game, and they don’t want it to die out.”
The money that players pay as an entry to compete in the weekly tournaments run by Mac Smash goes towards covering cost for renting equipment, such as older televisions. Any money left over goes towards their large yearly event, Frozen Phoenix, which takes place at McMaster from March 24 – 26.
So as the Smash community grows at McMaster, what’s next for Coomes, Hill and the Mac Smash group as a whole?
“If we keep growing, then really the next question is how many medium events can we hold? How much can we work with other universities in building up some sort of league system similar to the US?” Coomes said. “How much can we do in order to make this game really explode in the north?”
Now it is feasible to dream about the expansion of University Sports and varsity sports within McMaster to expand to include eSports in the mix. And it all started with a few students, a couple of laptops, and an underlying passion and love for the game.