There’s a different kind of sport in town where hockey sticks and soccer balls are being traded in for video game controllers and monitors.
It’s game on for eSports in the Sault and the video game of choice is Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Tournament play has been ongoing in the city for the past several years. It was put on pause for the last year and a half due to pandemic gathering restrictions.
Tournaments are now back, and organizer Thomas Ruttan invites anyone with an interest to come out and play.
“It’s a mixture of both casual and competitive. We want it to be available for everyone and every skill level,” he said.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a crossover fighting game published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Switch. It features characters primarily from various Nintendo franchises like Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby and Pokemon.
Ruttan, 25, has been playing Smash since he was a kid. Although he enjoys playing the game on his own, he started looking for others to play with a few years ago. That’s when he discovered a local group through Facebook back in 2019.
“It’s always been part of my life,” he said. “It was fun to play with childhood friends. As time went on it became more of a solo venture. I missed that and wanted to recapture that feeling.”
Tournaments are held once a month at various locations in the city.
There is a $10 entry fee, and the prize pool is shared among the top three winners. They are open to all ages and have so far regularly drawn around 20 to 25 players between the 12-to-26-year-old age range.
The tournaments offer the competitiveness of an eSport and the camaraderie of being a part of any sports team.
“I think the number one thing is definitely the community aspect of it because it gets you out of your house, it puts you in these social situations with people you have never met before,” said Ruttan.
“Some of my strongest friendships and relationships were born from just playing a video game and I think that’s really special.”
One of these friends is Logan Frech, a competitive player and longtime member of the Sault Smash scene.
Like Ruttan, Frech, 22, enjoys both the competition and getting together with other players.
“There’s this wonderful sense of connection between Smash players. There’s a whole community that springs up around it,” he said.
“You can have conversations with people. It brings people together. You get different ideas.”
For Frech, playing video games and participating in the tournaments can provide all the benefits of participating in any other sport - like increased confidence and self-esteem.
“It’s very fun seeing people’s personalities come out,” said Frech.
“There’s been more than one occasion where we’ve met somebody at a tournament for the first time and they’re really shy and quiet and by their third or fourth go-around they’re yucking it up with everybody and really becoming a part of the community.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people, especially our younger players, grow throughout competing and I think it’s really special because it gives people that thing that they know they excel at and they can essentially show it off and prove their worth in different ways than sports.”
The next tournament is planned for the end of this month. Check out the group’s Facebook page for more details.