Tucked away in the basement of the Student Union is a small room where at any hour of the day, from noon to midnight, one can find a number of people surrounded by an ocean of wires. They huddle excitedly around pre-flat screen CRT televisions, slugging it out in a video game from 2001. This is the story of the Stony Brook Smash Bros. Club, population: 383, according to the club’s president.
A fairly old gaming franchise, “Smash Bros.” is a party game that first hit American shores in 1999 for the Nintendo 64 game console. The game originated in Japan through the simple idea of creating an easy-to-play fighting game featuring a roster of Nintendo’s most famous characters, such as Mario and Donkey Kong. It has sold 5.5 million copies in the U.S.
Two years later, Nintendo introduced “Super Smash Bros. Melee,” featuring improved graphics and a larger cast of characters to use.
“I think part of the reason why ‘Smash’ is so popular is that when we got it as kids, there was all our favorite characters,” John “Minty” Daily, a senior applied mathematics and economics major, who is Long Island’s top ranked “Melee” player, said. “So we got it and played, and then it became something else entirely.”
The game transformed into an eSport.
Most people at the Smash Club are playing “Melee,” which remains the fan favorite even after 15 years. The most noticeable thing about a room full of people playing “Melee” is the sound. Not the TVs or the players, but the old-style, mechanical controllers — the clicking of the players’ fast, precise inputs is jarringly loud.
“The sounds of the controller are like music to us,” Matt Amandola, a senior psychology major and the club’s vice president, said while laughing.
A match between two seasoned “Smash” players is electrifying to watch.
“After you play for a while, you see that’s it more like a fast game of chess than anything else,” J. Louis Gomez, a junior applied mathematics major and a club member, said.
It’s difficult to be good at “Smash,” particularly “Melee.” “Melee” is fast, absurdly so. The game is so old, and skilled players have found advanced techniques to speed up their play.
The YouTube channel Beefy Smash Doods calculated that the world’s top “Melee” player, Adam Lindgren, made an estimated 708 inputs in a three-minute match, an average of about 250 inputs per minute. An input is a button press used in the game.
While not everybody’s hands can move that quickly, skill is a point of pride at the club.
“People beat their friends and find out about the club, and they come in talking up a storm and get destroyed,” Ryan Noonan, a junior information systems major and president of the club, said. “They don’t realize how high the skill ceiling is.”
The club hosts tournaments every other week, with attendance ranging from 45 to 100 people from the university and the New York state area.
A power ranking system is used in which players can improve their ranking by beating those ahead of them in a best-of-three set of matches. The “Melee” rankings have 65 members with Minty at the top.
With so many players and such a fervent community, it’s surprising that the club manages to fit in such a small space.
The club’s headquarters is roughly the size of two dorm rooms, but the members’ passion for the game means that the players will adapt to most things as long as they get to play.
“I feel comfortable with a controller in my hands,” Shiva Chakraborty, a senior history and philosophy major who is ranked 34th in the club, said.
A love of the game shines through in the voices of most “Smash” players. Like sports fans who love the game they play, their eyes light up at the mention of it.
“I think anybody can see the appeal of ‘Melee’ when they look at two top players playing in front of a crowd of thousands at a major world tournament, the speed and unpredictability of ‘Melee’ lets people get a glimpse of how beautiful the game can be,” Daily said. “I just think that’s really cool that something so basic can escalate to something beautiful.”