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Super Smash Bros. anti-harassment group faces resistance

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© Nintendo   Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

By Colin Campbell, Polygon

Organizers of Super Smash Bros. tournaments have created a working panel to create a more welcoming, less hostile environment. But the initiative, which is designed to diminish toxic behavior and harassment at live events, is running into unexpected roadblocks.

[post_ads]In April, experienced event organizer Josh Kassel (also known as “Roboticphish”) posted about plans to create a “system to report harassment or rulebreaking” that he said would aim to “tone down the most harmful rhetoric” at tournaments. The idea was posted on Smashboards, a central locus for Smash Bros. community discussions that boasts more than 250,000 members.

But the plans are being held back as Kassel and an appointed Harassment Task Force work through objections from some players, and potential legal action from players excluded from future events. Kassel’s plans include banning players who have a history of bullying or harassing women players.

“Troublesome individuals think the whole thing is a joke.”

Kassel has been active in organizing Super Smash Bros. Melee tournaments since 2014, regularly hosting events that attract more than a thousand contestants. He also organizes tournament for players of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Interest in the brawling game has been heightened by the impending release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Switch later this year.

Melee was originally launched on Nintendo GameCube in 2001, but is still popular. Players pay up to $100 each to enter tournament brackets. The competition is fierce. Displays of extreme emotion, such as cussing out opponents and spiking controllers, are not uncommon.

Women players make up about five percent of competitors, according to Kassel. He told Polygon that although women are generally treated with respect, sexism is not uncommon. “Players who lack basic social skills will sometimes say ‘oh, you’re pretty good, for a girl,’” he said.

Women have also spoken of sexual harassment and stalking at Super Smash Bros. events. In 2016, pro player Cristian “Hyuga” Medina was dropped from a team after being accused of sexual harassment by a competitor. In 2017, player Annapower89 wrote of her experiences being harassed by a male player and tournament organizer. Men have also complained about the toxic atmosphere. Top player Gonzalo “Zero” Barrios’ has spoken of intense bullying in the Super Smash Bros. community.

Although Super Smash Bros. games are played at high profile fighting game esports events like Evo, there is no official league. The tournament scene, according to Kassel, is “fragmented and splintered” making a codified set of behavior standards difficult.

In April, Kassel established a panel of nine members tasked with “creating a code of conduct for our tournaments, establishing a program of reporting harassment and rule violations, and establishing concrete systems of suspensions and bans for rule violations.” Kassel said the code of conduct would consider behavior both at events and online, “and a player’s behavior in their local scene, if egregious enough, will impact their ability to attend national and international tournaments (and vice versa).”

But the attempt to create a new ruleset faces resistance from some players, who say they enjoy the sometimes forbidding, testosterone atmosphere of competitions. Although the system was set to be in place by summer, it has yet to be fully ratified.
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“We’ve had a lot of positive feedback,” said Kassel. “But there are also troublesome individuals who think the whole thing is a joke, and aren’t being helpful.”
“The organizer of a private event like a tournament has the right to decide who can enter it.”

Last week, Kassel posted a warning that “progress has been slowed,” on the initiative. Only about half of the tournament organizers the panel was pursuing as signatories have signed on, Kassel said, and some had reservations about the legality of banning certain players from events.

He also said that one Super Smash Bros. player had retained a lawyer who “has threatened to litigate against any tournament who tries to bar him entry into their event.” Kassel did not name the player, but wrote that the player was involved in a criminal case involving a young woman.

Yesterday, a Smash Bros. player called Vik Singh, also known as “Nightmare,” posted a legal notice on his Twitter account threatening action against “defamatory postings” and denying any plan to litigate against tournament organizers. Singh’s letter indicated that he had been involved in a court case which ended earlier this year, but had been found to be “engaged with the subject individual with a romantic relationship which was mutual.” Polygon has contacted Singh’s lawyer for further clarification.

The issue of whether a tournament organizer can ban a player is clear cut, according to one lawyer well versed in the game industry. David Graham runs DPG at Law, which specializes in esports and game publishing. He says esports organizers are well within their rights to ban anyone they please.

“The organizer of a private event like a tournament has the right to decide who can enter it,” Graham told Polygon. “There are exceptions, such as prohibitions on barring entry based on race, sex, religion, and so on. But there are no exceptions for people believed to have committed sexual harassment, whether they actually have or not.”

As such, he said any lawsuit would “likely go poorly” for the litigant, he said. “It’d just be a straight up legal question: Can a private party ban someone who isn’t otherwise protected? Yes.”

But for Kassel, the issue is resources. Most Super Smash Bros. tournaments are organized by members of the community with limited budgets.
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“Tournaments already strain and struggle just to break even,” Kassel wrote in his forum post. “Defending against a defamation lawsuit would bankrupt every tournament organizer in the world.”

Kassel said the various organizers are working through their legal issues now. In the meantime, he said the “stress” of creating an anti-harassment task force means he’s planning to step back from taking a public role at live events. He told Polygon he plans to continue playing Super Smash Bros. Melee competitively, and organizing events from behind the scenes.

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