Inside Saddleback’s Super Smash Bros. club

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate released on the Nintendo Switch in December of 2018 offering portable play in addition to the usual couch multiplayer offerings. (Dylan Robinson/Lariat)

Saddleback offers its very own Super Smash Bros. Club where casual or competitive fans alike can strike up battle on campus with their peers. Offered on Mondays in SSC 212 and Tuesdays in SSC 211 both from 1-8pm, potential Smashers can practice and coordinate sessions on the days provided.

Taking fighting games more seriously, local talent rises from just a casual interest into going to tournaments to test their mettle against others who have grown their skills as well. These tournaments are offered at either a local level being in close proximity or state, national being across a given country or even international where the finest talent from all over the world come to participate. 

Chris “Soul” Nicol and Aaron “J Dragon” Shin take advantage of the Saddleback Smash Club’s offerings and practice weekly to then head out to tournaments where tougher opponents await. 

“It offers camaraderie, a bunch of guys who can come together and practice both in and outside of school,” said Nicol. “Overall just a great, positive vibe that emanates from the club.”

Despite Nicol and Shin being among the best players who currently attend the club and Saddleback simultaneously, anyone is welcome and the doors are wide open to any potential players looking to spectate or practice themselves. 

“It’s open to all skill levels, so if you’re just a beginner, then come through and we’ll teach you the basics,” said Shin. “We have all ranges of skill, you’ll have a fun time.”

Shin is ranked third in Smash Ultimate at the club and believes that even with this ranking, he is still trying to learn new strategies and gameplans through practice at the club to then internalize for further competitive play. “I just recently competed, I didn’t compete until Ultimate came out so I’m just trying to learn the neutral and all the basic stuff still, but I think I’m catching up and getting better so hopefully I upset a PGR player one day,” said Shin. 

PGR is Panda Global Ranking gathered by esports company Panda Global determining stats that categorize the Top 50 players of each respective competitive season or year. Although no Saddleback Smash player is currently listed on the PGR as of now, inspiration shines through from Panda Global’s own ranking system in Saddleback’s version of it listing Shin as number three and Nicol as number one.

“Well I think as far as my character goes, I think I’m one of the best out there for Ridley,” said Nicol. “I think I am at the threshold just below that ranking [PGR], whenever I do go to tourneys I usually get just outside what most PGR players end up getting and I think obviously they are all amazing [PGR players], but let’s just say there’s a tier list for a reason and they’re all playing top tiers.”

When it comes to fighting games, Smash is no exception in creating tier lists based upon each individual character’s potency when it comes to competitive viability in each respective Smash game. 

Tier list categories vary upon the user creating them, but usually begin with S tier showcasing the strongest possible characters within a game stepping down to A tier being second best and going all the way to either E or F tier holding a game’s worst character combatants. Nicol plays as Ridley and despite most listing that character as nothing better than C tier, he still remains ranked as number one in the Smash Club.

No matter the character chosen, everyone is able to enter the club all the same and tournaments become all the more exciting when an underdog character is seen doing well against their higher tiered adversaries. 

“The club actually is the perfect way to start off entering bracket, it’s the most open to all levels of skill and you could win a couple sets yourself even if you’re a beginner,” said Shin. “It helps you build confidence and improve your skills too.”

As noted among club participants, the Monday bracket held at the club each week is a worthy method of approaching the competitive side of the game thanks to its double elimination format without actually requiring the commitment expected by going to a larger scale tournament.

“Find a character that you love, number one, doesn’t matter if they’re good or you just like their design,” said Nicol. “Commit to it, learn everything you can about that character and then play against as many different types of players and characters as possible, be ok with losing and think about what you did wrong and how you can do better each game and you’ll get there.”

The learning process of any approach to fighting games can prove daunting, yet making use of facilities offered to a new player is one of the better methods towards seeing growth. As stated, Mondays in the club offers the bracket whereas Tuesday is just a freeform practice day allowing you to play on any of the setups against anyone willing to practice with you.

The Smash Club at Saddleback hadn’t just started out of nowhere however and Cruz Merritt saw that it became what it is today.”I had actually started a Smash club before just out of my house hosting tournaments and stuff,” said Merritt. “I would go to tournaments and meet people there and tell them about my club meeting every Sunday and Thursday.”

With eventually over 20 people attending the previous club fashioned out of his one bedroom apartment, eventually it had to move to a larger premises as demand and popularity grew with it. By going to Club Rushes and spreading the word around campus, the club gained in status as a great alternative to a local scene centric to Mission Viejo where previously the only other offerings were up towards Irvine or La Mirada.

“I’m already here on campus at Saddleback and it’s close to my house so it made sense,” said Merritt. “Now it’s grown to the point where there’s so many people and the skill cap is so high that I don’t even play anymore since I spend so much time running the events.”

Merritt is happy with what he has accomplished since he notes playing at home is always an option for him. The club itself stands as a means for Smash fans to congregate locally and improve among each other before heading off to tougher scenes or tourneys.

“It’s a place where students can go, blow off some steam and it’s really convenient that we now store multiple setups on campus at all times,” said Merritt. “If you are on campus, you can just come and setup the TV and your [Nintendo] Switch being a combination of a place to come escape and a place to hone your skills if you really take the game seriously.”

Additionally, for those looking to improve and take their game to the next level beyond the small brackets offered on Mondays, the Gaucho Gauntlet stands as a tournament featured right at Saddleback of three different Smash games with a prize pot and buy-in on the line. The first Gaucho Gauntlet was held in October of this year and the second one having occurred this past December 7th.

“I actually have had the idea since the club started,” said Merritt. “So finally, this semester, I had built up a big enough and dedicated enough team of people to help me make something like that happen.”

Providing a space for talent to shine, Merritt believes in the club and its contributors who upload and stream the matches from these tournaments to their respective YouTube and Twitch channels keeping everyone informed through their social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for whenever a tourney approaches.

Discord as well is offered to join for people interested in the club which has the benefit of near immediate messaging through its channel and server options keeping local Smash players in the loop. 

“I realized pretty early on that I’m most likely never going to be one of the best people in the world at this game, it takes a lot and a lot goes into it,” said Merritt. “If I’m not going to be that, then maybe what I could do is create a place where other people could come and try to become that.”

It’s clear that the passion runs strong within the Saddleback Smash Club through its founder and players week in and week out. Continuing to cultivate a safe space for players of all skill levels and ranges of interest, the Smash Club shows no signs of extinguishing the flame burning so brightly with spirit between both its participants and the game itself.

If at all interested, searching “Saddleback Smash Club” on any of the platforms mentioned will lead you straight to the source of the Smash fervor right within campus boundaries.