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The untold story of India's Super Smash Bros. community: An interview with Nitin "qwertz143" Rao

Smash India's main promotional graphic (Altered image; Original image via Nintendo)
Smash India's main promotional graphic (Altered image; Original image via Nintendo)

For Nintendo and the Super Smash Bros. community, India is not a blessed land. Yet it's thriving and brimming with spirit and potential.

To put into context what exactly the curse is, Nintendo does not support the Indian market because of its failures in attempting to do so in the past.

To procure a Switch or any Nintendo product, Indians have to pay significantly more. It's not an "optimal" option for kids developing an interest in gaming, as PlayStations and PCs are available for cheaper prices.

Yet, despite all this, through a mutual desire for competition and a love for Nintendo, India has birthed a fine Super Smash Bros. community. It has, through the years, faced many trials and challenges, despite which they’ve earned multiple opportunities in major events and weekly tournaments.


The conflicted existence and journey of India's fantastic Super Smash Bros. community

There's been a massive awakening for Indian esports over the past decade. It has been an eventful journey giving rise to solid competitive player bases and a community willing to support these player bases either as spectators or by actively involving with them.

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Some factors that made this possible are:

  • The vastly improved accessibility to the world wide web.
  • The spread of PC gaming cafes across the country.
  • The availability of free to play competitive games like Dota 2 and Valorant.
  • As of recent times, the rise of competitive games on the most omni-present platform in today's market: the smartphone.

Today in India, the mainstream esports community flocks towards games like Valorant, Counter-Strike, and PUBG Mobile. They have tremendous support from multiple gaming journalists, content creators, and esports organizations. But the simplest reason is that these titles are more accessible, and maybe more profitable.

But pocket communities around other games are still formed, and they've been sustained by people who have incredible passion and are willing to ignore the massive walls their competitive scene has been sandwiched by.

One such game that has spawned a pocket community in India is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and the man responsible for helping this community manifest and thrive is Nitin "qwertz143" Rao.


The catalyst to the movement

Every seasoned gamer had one catalyst that helped define their future. Tejan would have never been a Tekken pro if there wasn't an arcade in the city he lived in.

In India, these catalysts tend to be arcades, PC cafes, or PlayStations. But as a kid, Nitin was one of the few people in the country to have owned a Nintendo 64.

It's already been explained above why exactly owning a Nintendo console in India is quite challenging.

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Today, there are at least a few resources to give gamers a decent experience with their Nintendo console. But the 2000s was horrible and almost completely devoid of options for Nintendo console owners.

So it's almost miraculous that besides owning a Nintendo 64, Nitin also owned Super Smash Bros. and had a small circle of friends he could play with.

This was the first major influence of Nitin's love for Super Smash Bros. and as the years went by, he'd pick Super Smash Bros. Melee and Ultimate too. In the process, he spawned the biggest Super Smash Bros. community in India.


Building a community

In 2015, an idea had begun to manifest in Nitin to build a proper community for Super Smash Bros. Melee. Up until then, he was unaware of the extent of the competitive scene the game had in the west.

What changed that and planted the idea into his head was a documentary series made by EastPointPictures on competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee that he found on YouTube.

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What ensued after solidifying his ambition was a rough journey that can only be best described in his own words.

In a conversation with Sportskeeda Esports, Nitin talks about his trials and achievements through the many years he dedicated to Super Smash Bros.

To establish the timeline, excerpts of the conversation will be placed in a sequence corresponding to their chronological significance, and the article will do its best to categorize the multiple chapters of Nitin’s story.


Smash forums & bar meets [2015-2016]

Q. Considering the lack of presence of an active Nintendo community in India and the ridiculously high walls folks had to scale to get in on Nintendo games, how exactly did you go about kickstarting your pursuits?

Nitin: Yep, besides the lack of an official presence of Nintendo in the country, there was also a serious lack of any proper initiative taken by whatever community, that did luckily manifest, to come together. Nintendo in India would be stereotyped as the "Mario" company really.

India's gaming culture in cafes revolve primarily around games like FIFA and CS: GO (Image via AGamer)
India's gaming culture in cafes revolve primarily around games like FIFA and CS: GO (Image via AGamer)

A lot of casual gamers played FIFA, CS: GO and DOTA and refused to try out new games. In 2015, once I learned about the competitive side of Super Smash Bros., I started promoting it by playing it in several bars all over the city. There were these Bangalore Video Game Meetups, where budding indie game developers and those interested in gaming in general would get together and discuss their projects.

I collaborated with them and every month I would set up my Nintendo Wii with Super Smash Bros. Melee and try to get people at these meetups to try out the game. Gradually, it created a small fan base of players who enjoyed the game at a casual level.

At the end of 2015, there was a big convention in Bengaluru called Videogame Fest, one of the early gaming events in India.

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I contacted the event organizers and they got me a sponsor to help me host a Super Smash Bros. tournament as a side event at Video Game Fest 2015. I managed to get exactly 32 entrants and eventually won the tournament.

While some entrants were completely new to the title, others had played it before.

The tournament was a success and the non-existent Super Smash Bros. community slowly started to grow. It was at this tournament that I met Vishal "Vishire" Rangwani, who helped me grow the Super Smash Bros. community further.

In 2016, I started searching online for players who played Super Smash Bros. in India. I'm pretty sure there are Super Smash Bros. fans in the country, it’s just that the nation's population is so huge that reaching out to gamers is difficult.

I searched on Reddit and Smashboards and found a few players. We created a Discord group for the Indian community and people joined. The Bengaluru player base slowly grew bigger and we had a few meetups to get to know people.


Gaming cafes, side tournaments & DreamHack [2017-2020]

Q. Well that's incredible! But you seemed to be sailing turbulent waters at the time. How did you manage to land on the relatively more stable platform that you now use to consistently host tournaments and engage with the community?

Nitin: In 2017, we had our first live-streamed Super Smash Bros. tournament in an LXG gaming cafe. The event was a major success and subsequently led to us being able to consistently use the space LXG provided us to host monthly meets.

One of many of qwertz's and Smash India's offline meets at LXG in Bengaluru (Image via Smash India)
One of many of qwertz's and Smash India's offline meets at LXG in Bengaluru (Image via Smash India)

Our first exposure to other fighting game communities was when I was able to organize a tournament for Super Smash Bros. Melee on the side at the first Proving Grounds Street Fighter 5 tournament in 2018. It was an important window into building connections that would eventually lead to opportunities of being able to host more side tournaments in conjunction with these other communities.

On September 28 2018, DreamHack announced Mumbai as their first location for India. From the fighting game section, initially the only games announced were Tekken and Street Fighter.

With the help of other US Super Smash Bros. tournament organizers I had previously networked with, I was able to connect with DreamHack FGC head Alex Jebailey to ask if he could help support a Super Smash Bros. event at DreamHack Mumbai.

On November 10, Super Smash Bros. was confirmed at DreamHack and Alex booked his tickets to Mumbai to help organize the tournament.

Although the turnout was slightly smaller than expected, DreamHack was a success for the fighting game community in India. With the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the DreamHack promotion, a lot more Indians started finding out about this community.

At this point in time, people outside Bengaluru found out about the community and there were players from Mumbai, Pune, and Hyderabad.

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In May 2019, we had our first ever grassroots Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Major in Proving Grounds 2, Bengaluru. It was Abhiroop "Lionheart" Verma, India's current best player's, first tournament, and he traveled all the way from Bhopal after finding out about our community from a Google search.

2019 was a ridiculously packed year as far as offline Super Smash Bros. tournaments go. We managed to host another grassroots major in Fighters Showdown 2 in Pune, alongside the Tekken event.

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GameCon is a grassroots tournament that Vishal, I, and a few others in the Super Smash Bros. community attempted to work on together with a sponsor. It was hosted alongside Tekken 7 and Mortal Kombat 11 in Pune and Mumbai.

2019 was also blessed with DreamHack Delhi, although it lacked the momentum Mumbai had as many members of the community were unable to fly to Delhi.

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But what perhaps was, in my opinion, our most competitive and thrilling tournament was the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament held as part of the ILG series by LXG.

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Indian LAN Gaming (also known as ILG) was an Indian Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament directed by me on behalf of LXG. Unlike traditional tournaments, ILG comprises of 3 qualifier rounds, in which a total of 8 participants qualify to face off in a double elimination bracket Grand Finale.

The series was won by LionHeart. There were 3 qualifiers — Bangalore, Pune and a last chance qualifier. This was our biggest prize pool event yet, with a total prize pool of ₹200,000.


Discord communities & online tournaments [2020 - current]

Q. You have had what is undoubtedly one of the most turbulent journeys, being able to spawn a community for the game you love through good old fashioned offline meets and wit. Surely though, the improvement of online social networking platforms and the pandemic required you to adapt and change how you engage the community in the past 16 months. How would you describe your current pursuits and the state of the community now?

Nitin: ILG was our last major offline tournament, as after that, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. However, our Discord server grew a few months into the corona era. Many kids from all over India, who were now stuck at home, found out about the community and joined.

As I could no longer host offline events, I started doing online tournaments every weekend, sometimes on weekdays too! The turnout was good and increased as time went by.

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In August-September 2020, there was a 3-stage Indian Super Smash Bros. Ultimate circuit known as KO Fight Night. This tournament circuit was hosted alongside Tekken 7 and SFV.

It started with 8 qualifier rounds where 2 players from each qualifier progressed to a playoffs stage.

Official promotional graphic for KO Fight Night (Image via Nodwin)
Official promotional graphic for KO Fight Night (Image via Nodwin)

The contestants were then split into 2 groups in a GSL-style Bracket and the top 2 from each group progressed to a 4-player double elimination Grand Finale. The series was won by LionHeart.

This event was the biggest turnout we had received for an online event. However, after KOFN, there was a major burnout

Unfortunately, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate does not have a good netcode, and the offline gameplay felt much better than online. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Online had an additional input buffer because of the delay based netcode, and quite a few of our top players temporarily stopped playing the game online.

Still, though, 2021's online tournaments are going well, as many new gamers who joined the community post-COVID and had never experienced offline gameplay still enjoy playing the title and keep getting better.


The future of Nintendo xSmash India

Q. To wrap things up, in brief, what do you envision is the future of the community you've built?

Nitin: The Super Smash Bros. community in India is more than just people who play this franchise. It's a close-knit group of friends who will meet up just to hang out and play other games too, so I don't think it will ever die out.

However, the rate of this community's growth depends on how long COVID stays in India. As time passes, more players will get burnt out from playing the same game online.

Hopefully, the situation gets better and we can have another big offline tournament once everything is safe.


Q. And clearly it seems that you've been dealt a bad hand in what is considered the most dynamic era for esports and gaming in India. What would you like to see change, to help propel your community forward?

Nitin: I believe the issue with not just Super Smash Bros., but with non-mainstream games in India in general, is that there aren't any content creators. The few who do exist are not well known at all.

We need more people to showcase their love for the game and hopefully attract more attention to this wonderful community.

Like I said before, India is a huge country and I'm sure there is hidden Super Smash Bros. talent, it's just that we need to promote our content more so that we can reach those individuals.


The Indian FGC is a collection of the most ambitious pocket communities in Asia

The story of Nitin's many trials and successes is one of many, hidden behind the surface of Indian esports. It's also a testimony to the extraordinary lengths players in the fighting game community will go to for the games they love.

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There are far more stories to be told, and India's fighting game scene is still vastly underexplored despite being so deeply rooted in street culture and having its roots dating back to the early 2000s.

India's Super Smash Bros. community is only one of the few butterflies that have emerged from the constellation of cocoons that the Indian FGC is. The metamorphosis is slow, but make no mistake, spring has yet to arrive.

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Edited by Ravi Iyer
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