UNR Super Smash Bros Club Wants to Share the Love

Charles Riggs caught up with a UNR-based gaming club intent on expanding their reach.

Two gamers compete against each other at a bi-weekly tournament with the Reno Smash Community.

In dorm rooms and off-campus apartments across the globe, college students are staying up late into the night playing one more game of Rocket League, one more round of Call of Duty, or one more match of League of Legends. One more always turns into three, then five, then the next thing they know it’s, two a.m., and class starts in a few hours.

College students love video games. They’re an efficient way to procrastinate while scratching a competitive itch. If competition isn’t enticing, video games are the perfect vehicle for multi-layered stories giving Hollywood a run for its money. If rich storytelling isn’t tempting, there are low-stakes games designed for users to shut their brains off and relax.

There are puzzle games and simulation games and party games and role-playing games. There is a video game for every soul. Folks who say they don’t like video games just haven’t found the right one yet.

Luckily for members of the Reno Smash Community, a UNR-affiliated club, they’ve found the perfect game and then some. Super Smash Bros is a popular Nintendo fighting series that’s had four installments across four different consoles (64, Melee, Brawl, Ultimate).

Melee and Ultimate are the two most popular versions of Super Smash Bros. In every iteration of the game, users control characters from the extended Nintendo universe like Mario, Donkey Kong, or Pikachu and duke it out on the small screen.

The Reno Smash Community goes beyond the reach of UNR and welcomes members from all over the region. The group is mostly made up of men ranging from 14 to 30, although there are a few women who show up to tournaments here and there.

All in all, the community has been a godsend for many. Giving members heaps of entertainment, an outlet for competition, and a buffet line of new friends.

The game is a part of them.

“I’m a smasher,” said student Julius Sancho Pietro, who competes under the pseudonym N0sebleed. “It’s pretty much a part of my identity.”

An identity that’s led many members to lifelong friends and a place where they belong.

Competitive Camaraderie

On a late Tuesday night during the height of the end of semester crunch, about 20 students and others from the Reno Smash Community spread out in a spacious auditorium inside the William J. Raggio building on campus. From six p.m. until midnight, smashers game the night away, talking, laughing and competing with their friends.

Best friends.

Some have been a part of the Reno Smash Community for ten-plus years, some found the group on the internet, some were lured in during the club fair, and some simply saw a flyer tacked to a pinboard on campus. No matter how they arrived, all are happy that they did.

Whenever members start talking about why they fell in love with Smash Bros, it doesn’t take long until they bring up all the friendships forged playing a game they love.

“Everyone here I can call my friend,” said UNR student Axel Perez while scanning a room of about 20 fellow gamers huddled in front of small screens. “Everyone.”

The local Super Smash Bros community prides itself on being welcoming to newcomers. Multiple smashers describe throwing tournaments at their houses and inviting people they’ve never met before.

Some have couch surfed. Jumping from community member to community member’s house every night, diving headfirst into matches.

Others show up at a stranger’s house with nothing more than a game cube controller in hand and a new character in mind. Unaware they’ll leave with eternal relationships.

“One day, we went to a total stranger’s house,” said Joey Kelley, who games under Yung Dactyl. “I got dropped off there. We didn’t know what was going to happen. I met three of my closest friends. Ever since then, I’ve never stopped playing Melee (Smash Bros game).”

For members like Chris McCarver, a transfer student who got stuck in Reno at his grandparent’s house when his car broke down, the ability to link up with a local community to continue playing Smash Bros was everything. He was looking for a four-year university to attend anyway. Why not attend the one where he already made some close friends?

“I’d be really lonely if I didn’t know all these guys,” said McCarver, the club’s treasurer. “I have a great time here hanging out with them. Even when we have our disagreements about heckling, we have fun at the end of the day. It was easy for me to make friends in that way. I already have my core group of people before I even go to school here.”

While camaraderie is a significant reason many players return time and time again, there is another reason smashers play in tournaments until midnight hauling bulky monitors and countless consoles to and from their cars in the dead of night.

Competition.

“I like the competitiveness of it, the feeling of winning, the feeling of losing, the feeling of adapting,” said Perez, who’s smash name is MFA.

Competition and camaraderie. It’s a dual package. It’s why some players will never leave the group. Yet, even smashers who’ve stepped away from the community for some time are always welcome back.

“The sense of community is like 90 percent of why I came back,” Sancho Pietro said. “I’ve already met new people.”

The Reno Smash Community’s University of Nevada affiliated club has new leadership, and they want to grow gaming on campus and create more opportunities for students to connect through video games. They want to spread the love.

Future Expansion

It was the start of the spring semester, and 70 students showed up to the Joe eager to compete in a Mario Kart tournament sponsored by the university . But, there was one problem, the university didn’t have enough Nintendo Switches to meet the demand.

Luckily , the organizers got in touch with the Super Smash Bros club to save the day.

But, the Mario Kart event was an eye-opener for McCarver. He saw firsthand a hunger for fun, social, competitive gaming on campus. The Mario Kart tournament shouldn’t be yearly, he thinks, it should be monthly. Smash Bros shouldn’t be the only gaming group meeting weekly on campus. Other gaming communities should be meeting weekly, too, all in the same space if possible.

This kind of thinking linked the Reno Smash Community with students and Renoites who play Guilty Gear Strive, another competitive fighting game with similar communal aspects. Both groups share the space inside the large room in the Raggio building.

Separate but together, and they have room for more.

The Reno Smash Community doesn’t recognize any one person or group of people as the bonafide leaders. They see themselves more as a collection of tournament organizers. Still, it’s McCarver, Vice President Cade Hockersmith, and President Cameron Trummer who represent the community to the University. They’re responsible for spreading the word and gaining funding.

The group needs funding to buy the essential items any video gaming club needs: Monitors, consoles, and games. Right now, the club only has five monitors and two switches, not nearly enough to meet the group’s demand. Luckily, the Nintendo Switch travels well, so it’s not a hassle for members to bring their personal items to supplement the group.

Still, the first order of business on their agenda is four more Nintendo Switches and four more copies of Mario Kart, which they expect to get approved in June.

McCarver, Hockersmith and Trummer want to recapture the excitement from the previous Mario Kart tournament in the fall semester and capitalize on the momentum, attracting more members.

“If we were prepared to do it, it could become a staple,” McCarver said. “Imagine a 500-person Mario Kart tournament. That’d be crazy. We might not get there, and it would take all day, but everyone would love it.”

The new leadership is ambitious and on the same page. They want to drag the University into the modern age and make video games a higher priority on campus. They believe any student who plays any socially competitive games such as Madden, Call of Duty, Fifa, Guilty Gear, Splatoon, DOTA, etc., should have an easier way to connect.

Something a better venue might correct.

“I feel like we can get more out of Reno,” McCarver said. “I see a lot of potential here. There’s not even an Esports arena on this campus yet.”

“As soon as we open an Esports arena here. Endgame. Somehow, someway with a pitch to the school, then we can really set it in stone. This is a part of UNR,” He said.

Another thing the new club leaders intend to accomplish is ensuring their community is considered open and accessible to every student on campus and beyond. Hockersmith is especially aware of the stigma surrounding competitive gaming and its followers. They’re seen as increasingly masculine and at times unwelcome to women, minors, or LGBT community members.

“It’s our responsibility as TO’s (tournament organizers) to work against that stigma, to improve the community and the environment it creates,” Hockersmith said.

Hockersmith is aware it may be intimidating for newcomers, especially women, minors, or LGBT community members, to show up and make friends at the “boys club.” He wants to do everything within his power to create a safe space.

This doesn’t mean the Reno Smash Community wasn’t inviting before. It means the UNR-affiliated club leadership wants to nip any potential drama in the bud as they attempt to create a larger presence on campus while reaching more diverse audiences.

In-person, the group is boisterous and eager to teach outsiders and newcomers the inner workings of their community. But online, where context and body language are non-existent, there could potentially be a mishap.

Hockersmith noticed things being posted on the group’s Discord, which several members describe as the lifeblood of the community, that he thought didn’t accurately reflect the Reno Smash Community.

There is nothing racist, homophobic, or sexist, they say. Mostly crass sex jokes or edgy memes that can be hit or miss depending on the audience. And that’s the thing, the group’s Discord is public, so anyone could see anything and get discouraged from officially joining the group.

That’s why Hockersmith, with the backing of other members in the Reno Smash Community, made it a priority to keep the Discord everyone follows free of questionable behavior and edgy memes. He’s aware the first thing many potential members do is scan through the Discord page. Hockersmith doesn’t want an unfunny useless meme to upend the momentum they’re building.

“I think it’s important that we make sure it’s a safe and approachable space,” said Omar Gonzalez, a long-time Reno Smash member many younger players admire. “If somebody was showing up and looking through the Discord for the first time, or going to an event for the first time, we got to make sure their impression is good. Especially if it is their first event ever, we have to make ourselves approachable because our scene is literally only run by us. There is no outside support. If we want to keep it, we have to maintain it.”

And if they want to continue receiving money from the University and the privilege to use rooms on campus, which makes life easier for undergraduates who live in dorms and don’t have a car. They have to make sure they’re taking every step to make their space inclusive and welcoming.

In the end, McCarver and Hockersmith don’t have a concrete road map detailing every single thing they want to accomplish with the club. They just know they can do more, there can be more, they could have more members, and they can create a space for social, competitive gaming to thrive on campus.

“I have big expectations,” McCarver said. “Sure, maybe there’s some loftiness to some of my goals with an Esports arena on campus, but you gotta start somewhere, and the Smash community is the place to start for that.”

Reporting by Charles Riggs shared with the Reynolds Sandbox

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