On 4th Street in Duluth lies the training ground for some of the most skilled fighters in the state.
These fighters won’t give each other bruises, no; their fighting style is a bit more controller-based. Every week, a group of people from many different backgrounds gather around decade-old cathode ray tube televisions to play a 13-year-old video game.
When “Super Smash Bros. Melee” was released in December 2001, it was not much more than a party game featuring Nintendo’s mascots pummeling on one another. However, many advanced techniques were discovered by fans of the game over the years -- techniques that were never mentioned by the director of the game, Masahiro Sakurai.
Even though the final round of Melee at the annual fighting game tournament EVO had more than 100,000 viewers, it wasn’t always that big nationally or locally.
“It was just a few guys meeting up every week for some Smash and cheap beer,” said Chev Arnold, the creator of the Duluth Smash Bros. club.
At first, the club just played “Super Smash Bros. Brawl.” This installment in the series removed quite a bit of the advanced techniques that drew so many people to Melee.
“I started playing more competitively only about a year ago, when the Smash club went from being more than just me and a few friends playing brawl,” Arnold said.
Also involved in Arnold’s interest in competitive play was his friend, Eric Christenson, with whom he had played Melee since he was in middle school. Both started playing competitively around the early last winter.
Another Smasher, Brian Lee, also started playing competitively around the same time.
“Chev hosted Smash nights with [a] tournament every Tuesday [with] an awesome setup where at least 10 people showed up each week,” Lee said.
All these people were intensely competitive, too.
Christenson has used Knowledge Bowl as a competitive outlet, Lee has won national titles in taekwondo and Arnold was a swimmer and practices jujutsu.
“I like to win, and I like to improve myself, so I take life competitively,” Arnold said.
So the Duluth Smash Bros. club was off and running, but what was more exciting were the unexpected and previously unthinkable interactions.
“If you take a look at all the different people who play, you'll be amazed by the diversity of the Smash community, and that's a novelty that people generally overlook,” Lee said. “I meet people from other schools, other backgrounds, people older than me, people in general that I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet.”
Besides the power to draw people together from many different backgrounds, Melee has also taught the club members important life lessons.
“It takes time to get good at anything, and I'm not talking about being patient; I'm talking about putting in work, hours of practice,” Christenson said. “I watch these other guys that play all the time, and it's amazing what they can do. It speaks to what it takes to succeed at anything.”
Lee believes the club can only get larger and more diverse but that the upcoming winter will test members’ dedication.
“When the snow starts falling and the weather starts getting crappy, it will test the foundation of our group,” Lee said.
- When: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays
- Upcoming event: Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament in UMD Kirby Underground on Nov. 15
- Want to join?: Duluth Smash Crew! Facebook page