Photo: Jasmine Bala

The rise of Smash Bros at Ryerson

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By Jasmine Bala

Monib Baray sits down in front of a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) TV—the big, boxy kind—in the basement of the Student Campus Centre (SCC), just like he usually does when he’s on campus. He untangles his earphones, plugs them into his phone and begins listening to a song that’s been stuck in his head for a few days: Dragon Ball Super Ultimate Battle Theme.

“Monib is not taking any precautions. He’s putting his tunes on, he has his comfy clothes,” eSportcaster JC Olazo says loudly into his headset, talking over the clamour of about 45 people.

Baray is about to play Super Smash Bros. Melee, and tonight is an especially crazy night. Every Friday at 7 p.m., the basement of the SCC is packed with gamers competing for a chance to win the number-one weekly Melee tournament series in Toronto, entitled “RU Salty,” and Baray is one of them.

“He is going for the kill with his Luigi,” Olazo shouts as Baray locks in his favourite character. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t seen his Luigi, it is prestige.”

Baray, one of Ryerson’s top Melee players, looks over at his opponent sitting next to him. He knows that to decide which map they play on, he has to win a round of rock-paper-scissors. Rock-paper-scissors. He chooses rock. His opponent chooses scissors—Baray wins. He makes his choice: the battlefield map.

“Good luck,” they say to each other as they bump fists. They turn their eyes toward the bright screen flashing “Ready? Go!” and the battle begins.

RU Salty is open to anyone who wants to play—not just Ryerson students.

“We’ve gained that reputation as a tournament that everyone in Ontario [knows about],” head tournament organizer Gilbert Bago said. If people from out of town are in the area, “they’re just like, ‘Hey, I’ve heard of that place. Let me come by and check it out.’”

The person that Baray faced in his first game wasn’t a Ryerson student.

“You have that pressure of home field,” Baray said. “You have to deal with [the pressure of other Ryerson students] wanting you to succeed, but at the same time it feels good to have those people behind your back.”

 

“He is going for the kill with his Luigi. Ladies and gentlemen, if you haven’t seen his Luigi, it is prestige”

 

RU Salty has the biggest turnout compared to other Toronto Melee weeklies, with numbers peaking at 44 players. All RU Salty tournaments are streamed on Twitch.tv, a video game live-streaming platform. The group also now has their own Ryerson eSports team.

In the SCC basement, the group has six CRT TVs, three HDTVs and about 10 gaming consoles. But they didn’t always have all of this. When the unofficial Melee club first started, all they had was a Facebook group.

It all began with an online thread on Reddit in 2014. The thread asked users to comment if they had a Melee scene at their university. The founder of Ryerson’s unofficial club, Robert Guida, commented, saying he’d created a Facebook group for Ryerson students interested in playing. Bago, the current director, saw the post and joined the group.

The club found its first CRT TV on a street corner, carried it into the SCC, and put it down in the basement to “mark their territory,” Bago said. They plugged in a console and some controllers and began to play.

“From there, it just slowly grew into this huge thing,” he said.

“We couldn’t live off one TV the entire time, so everyone started saying ‘Hey, I found [one] on Kijiji or Facebook’ and started bringing TVs in from all over Toronto… we kind of just took over the space.”

As membership increased, Guida and his group created their own eSports team and joined the Melee collegiate circuit.

A year later, JC Olazo and Connor Lee became the new directors of the club. Olazo organized the first tournament in 2015, and from there, began hosting tournaments about once a month. When Bago took over as head of tournaments last year, he made them a weekly occurrence.

“I’m trying to build something this year that hasn’t been done before in order to keep going for the next generation,” Bago explained. “Before, we kind of just came down and played video games casually…But now I’ve brought in more of a competitive aspect.”

Bago put together a production team of two media students and one computer science student to stream their weekly tournaments.

Joseph Raimondo, president of Ryerson Esports and a member of the Twitch stream production team, said they wanted to use the stream to attract more players.

“It’s come so far now that it’s at the level of a professional Smash broadcast,” said Raimondo, a sports media student.

The Melee eSports team, as of this year, has partnered with Ryerson Esports. Bago, who is also the manager of the team, said he’s “really proud” of the team “for their hard work this past year.” Their season came to an end last month, with Ryerson’s Melee team placing fourth in all of Ontario and New York.

 

“Everyone’s watching you and hoping that you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. So, [we] feel a lot more pressure to perform”

 

Baray, captain of the Melee team, said competing with a team in crew battles is a lot different than playing in 1v1 tournaments like Ryerson’s weekly.

“It’s very different from just traditionally going to your own tournaments because now you have the pressure of four other people on you,” he explained. “And it’s not like a team game where [you all play] at the same time, this one’s individually. Everyone’s watching you and hoping that you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. So, [we] feel a lot more pressure to perform.”

Crew battles pit teams of five against each other, but they don’t all fight at one time. Each player has four stocks—or lives—and each team pools their stocks together for a total of 20. They then fight in consecutive 1v1 battles. Each team sends in their first player to fight in a 1v1 match, with the winner carrying their remaining stocks to battle the next opposing player. They keep rotating in this manner until one team completely runs out of stocks.

A lot has changed in the four years since the Reddit posting, but what hasn’t changed is the club’s unofficial status.

Bago says they’ve been trying to get Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) club status every year since 2014. However, Bago says they’ve been denied because the RSU views them as part of another eSports gaming club on campus.

“We’re so big of an organization ourselves—an unofficial organization—that we need space,” he said. “We need a room to keep our stuff in.”

While the TVs always stay in the basement, the consoles are stored in student’s lockers when not in use. Last year, the group lost four consoles from a theft—another reason why Bago wants official club status granted by the RSU.

“It was roughly about $500 that was stolen out of our lockers,” he said.

In the future, Bago plans on branching out the group’s tournament scene by adding in doubles (2v2) and starting tournament series for other games as well.

“It’s weird to think of where we came from,” he said. “One little CRT with eight people trying to get on one set-up with four players. And now we have all that down there.”

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