Nintendo Shuts Down ‘Smash World Tour’ Over Licensing At The Last Possible Second

from the nintendon't dept

It will come as no surprise to any regular reader here when I say that Nintendo is roughly the most annoyingly draconian protector of IP in the video game space. At this point, Techdirt posts discussing Nintendo’s copyright and trademark antics are legion. Notable among those posts for the purposes of this discussion are several online gaming tournaments that Nintendo has allowed to exist, often without a license, but which Nintendo has still been willing to shut down over the use of 3rd party tools that make it possible to stream older games on current hardware and over the internet better. Those shutdowns over the use of tools that have nothing to do with copyright infringement might seem ridiculous to you, but then you simply don’t know just how iron-fisted Nintendo likes to be when it comes to controlling anything that has to do with their products.

But what Nintendo just did to the Smash World Tour is a whole different animal. SWT has always operated as an unlicensed tournament with hundreds of events, at which Nintendo has averted its legal gaze. In 2021, Nintendo announced that a company called Panda Global had become Nintendo’s officially licensed partner for Super Smash Bros. tournaments. SWT reached out to Nintendo asking if that meant it had to shut down, but were told last year that the Panda Global deal was not exclusive. With that, SWT attempted to apply for its own license to continue its tournament.

While licensing discussions continued in early 2022, organizers say the 2022 Smash World Tour was launched without an official license, partly because “we did not have the full scope of our proposal sorted with Nintendo in advance.” But the organizers say they did seek a license for the December championships, submitting an application in April.

Meanwhile, Smash Tour organizers say the CEO of Panda Global started trying to undermine their tour by “tell[ing] organizers we were definitely not coming back in 2022, and if we did, we’d get shut down shortly after announcement.” After Panda Global initially demanded exclusivity for any individual events associated with them, many tournaments operated jointly as part of both the licensed Panda Cup and the unlicensed Smash World Tour in 2022 (Panda Global has not responded to a request for comment from Ars Technica).

During most of this year, while all of that was happening, SWT was still attempting to get licensed through Nintendo, but the talks hit a wall when Nintendo basically stopped responding. Finally, the two sides got back together this past Fall and continued talks about getting licensed.

And then, well…

Then, last Wednesday, they said Nintendo told them in no uncertain terms that they would not be getting a commercial license and that the days of Nintendo tolerating their operation without one “were now over.”

In a statement provided to Kotaku late Tuesday, Nintendo said that despite “continuous conversations” and “deep consideration,” the company was “unable to come to an agreement with SWT for a full circuit in 2023.” That said, Nintendo contends that it “did not request any changes to or cancelation of remaining events in 2022, including the 2022 Championship event, considering the negative impact on the players who were already planning to participate.”

That 2022 championship was slated to take place in December. SWT has since canceled it. As part of the communications around the cancellation, SWT organizers are also calling bullshit on Nintendo’s claims that no requests to shut down the 2022 championship event were even discussed.

In a follow-up statement, though, Smash World Tour cites a written statement from Nintendo saying that tournaments are “expected to secure such a license well in advance of any public announcement” and that the company “will not be able to grant a license for the Smash World Tour Championship 2022 or any Smash World Tour activity in 2023.”

So, where does that leave us? Well, to be clear, Nintendo can keep unlicensed tournaments from happening if it so chooses. It can also make decisions on when to let unlicensed tournaments slide as capriciously as it likes, from year to year.

But as always seems to be the case with this company, Nintendo also went about it in roughly as haphazardly as possible, and with a completely blind eye towards the timeline and the people it was impacting with its decisions. It could have licensed 2022 for free or for very cheaply, just to get this one tourney off as a farewell. It could have communicated better with SWT and gotten further down the licensing route than it did. It could have offered clear guidance to any tourney organizers on what it takes to get licensed.

But Nintendo didn’t do any of that. Instead, they simply told SWT out of the blue to shut it all down and then said publicly that it didn’t really do that. And that’s about as Nintendo as it gets.

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Comments on “Nintendo Shuts Down ‘Smash World Tour’ Over Licensing At The Last Possible Second”

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23 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

I think even the threat of a lawsuit is sufficient. It’s not like the tournaments have deep pockets, to defend against even a frivolous suit. Assume, though, that they could…

Granted, Nintendo could prevent SWT from using any of the trademarked iconography. They might even be successful in arguing about the “smash” in their title, though that’s doubtful. The tournament could probably proceed even without those. (Nominative fair use: people in the tournament will be playing X.)

IANAL, but I doubt that they could prevent SWT from running a tournament where people play a game (Smash Brothers or anything else). Or even successive tournaments where only winners of previous tournaments were invited. (Can Nintendo prevent you from letting whomever you want play on your game system?)

Nor can I imagine Nintendo being able to restrict who sees the screen the players are using during the game, even if it is an auditorium. (Can Nintendo argue that you can’t have people in your living room, watching, while you play?)

But the (copyright/trademark) game changes when you get into “replaying highlights”, or “broadcasting the games”. Those, by contrast, would be performances. And I imagine (but do not know) that that sort of thing plays a significant part of the tournament.

Paul B says:

Re: Re:

At this point the Smash Community would effectively have to have its Superb Owl moment. They would have to use lots of fancy words to dance around trademarks even in cases that dont make sense. Are we running a Smash Tournament? no we’re running a fighting tournament. Can we say Smash in the fine print? Perhaps in the section that says what games are being played, but no titles or headlines.

I am not sure it would be as bad as the Super Bowl, but keep in mind we have the super bowl to thank for not even allowing the advertising of party’s that did not pay a fee of some kind.

I assume even the commenters might be worried of saying the on screen characters names as I dont doubt Mario and Co are all trademarks now.

Even then Nintendo “Could” sue them, kind of how that one Muppet style show said “we’re not Sesame Street” and still had to go to court over that singular statement before a judge could put his foot down and say “You cant make a trademark claim of confusion when the statement in context is saying its not your trademark”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

IANAL, but I doubt that they could prevent SWT from running a tournament where people play a game (Smash Brothers or anything else). Or even successive tournaments where only winners of previous tournaments were invited. (Can Nintendo prevent you from letting whomever you want play on your game system?)

If you try to run a STNG marathon in a public place, CBS can come after you and shut you down: you don’t have the rights for public performance of their work.

Likewise, if you try to run a gaming tournament with Nintendo assets, it doesn’t matter if the gamers add their own IP to the experience, they’ll run up against the same public performance laws.

And yes: by those laws, it’s also illegal to invite someone over to your home to watch STNG reruns or a Super Smash Bros Melee. It’s just that nobody in their right mind would enforce the law in this situation, unless your home was a mansion, you’d invited 100 people over, and you were selling tickets.

This does raise the question: I haven’t seen a broadcast or performance license for ANY games. Surely such a thing must exist? And I’d expect it to be a compelled license, like the ones for video and audio. Is it just because in the grand scheme of things most game publishers aren’t so litigious that we haven’t seen the need for all this yet?

Llama Identity Thief says:

Re: Re: Re:

AFAIK, from having a lot of time spent watching eSports, you don’t see this that much because most companies whose games are played at a high level are actively running their own tournaments. League of Legends, Madden, Overwatch, CS:GO, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, et cetera all have their competitive league run by the game publisher itself. I know for a fact out of these that Valve runs a specific licensing set up for CS:GO tournaments, and Riot has allowed League costreaming at times, where other streamers could broadcast and commentate over Riot’s own feed, but I couldn’t tell you any of the details of those agreements, they are still heavily controlled by the game publishers, and I don’t know of any still-ran-by-third-parties tournaments outside of this set, the Smash community, and maybe some games within the larger fighting game community cuz that is a MASSIVE pile of games.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

One of the primary issues with this whole debacle, which this article glosses over, is the involvement of Panda Global. According to several statements from SWT and VG Boot Camp (as well as at least one other independent tournament organizer), Panda Global’s then-CEO, Allan Bunney, went around telling tournament organizers that SWT wasn’t going to be around sooner rather than later. The underlying assumption is that Panda Global used its position as an officially licensed tournament organizer to gain an edge over SWT/position itself as the exclusive home for officially licensed Smash Bros. tournaments.

I say “then-CEO” because Bunney was dropped from that position earlier this week as a result of this situation⁠—which also saw Panda Global cancel the finals of its Panda Cup event. (They said it was for security reasons, but tons of people dropping out of the event and several Panda-affiliated personalities dropping out or appearing to drop out of Panda Global itself probably had a lot more to do with that decision.) Bunney recently released his own statement on the matter, which was met with its own pushback.

Generally speaking, nobody seems to have any love for Panda Global right now⁠—and the Smash scene isn’t too enamored with Nintendo, either. Granted, none of this is going to put a dent into sales of the Smash franchise, but it’s important to note that Nintendo has the power to effectively ignore the fighting game community⁠—or crush the Smash side of it⁠—because it doesn’t rely on the FGC to move copies of Smash games in the same way Capcom relies on the FGC to move copies of Street Fighter games.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

You know what the funnier thing is?

When Arc System Works actually seems a bit fairer to the FGC than Nintendo will ever be.

And Arc System Works have struck FGC players for streaming the STORY MODE of their games. (which I’ll at least give them that privilege, since there’s a crazy story runnning through those games).

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s because a game like Guilty Gear StrIVe (that’s how I stylize it and I’m sticking to it) sells because of the FGC. Proper-ass fighting games will always require that support. Nintendo is in the unique position of being able to ignore (or outright shit on) the FGC because Smash is a party game that sells well regardless of whether Nintendo embraces the FGC.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The hilarious irony of that is that even the FGC in the US has tried to connect with the Smash Community, but the Smash Community, for reasons only known to those unwashed criminals, has rarely responded to those overtures.

The Smash Community is also kinda skeevy as well. I mean, there WAS a rule for a Smash tournament that legit forced all participants to bathe before a match…

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

[Nintendo] Said they hadn’t asked them to stop the tournament.

The article mentions that in one of the blockquoted portions. But whether Nintendo asked for the cancellation or not is ultimately irrelevant. As you said:

They created smash Bros, they don’t have to let others monetise it.

SWT would’ve put itself in a precarious legal position had it gone forward with its final 2022 event without proper licensing from Nintendo. With Nintendo refusing to grant the license, SWT likely had no choice to cancel even if Nintendo said “you don’t need to cancel”.

you have already decided they are evil

Every corporation is evil. Every corporation is your enemy. No corporation in the world has your best interests in mind.

Keep licking corporate boot if it makes you feel better. But remember one thing: Sooner or later, that boot will kick you in the teeth.

Strawb (profile) says:

Re:

No mention of that in your article but then you have already decided they are evil…..

Not being willing to cooperate with a fan organization that effectively creates free advertising is pretty evil.

They created smash Bros, they don’t have to let others monetise it.

And nobody has made the argument that they do. But shutting down a fan-made tournament that poses no threat to their IP or their bottom line is just moronic.
So as the saying goes “Nintendo gonna Nintendo”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

“Said they hadn’t asked them to stop the tournament.”

The article covered this but also there is the reality that by refusing to license the tournament it means it could be canceled at any moment and the legal uncertainty prompted it regardless of whatever Nintendo said.

“but then you have already decided they are evil…..”

You’re right they’re not evil. They’re amoral. They don’t give a shit about the best interests of you or their customers, only their shareholders and making as much money as possible while cutting as many corners as they can legally get away with.

“They created smash Bros, they don’t have to let others monetize it.”

No one is making that argument. Nintendo is well within it’s legal rights to do whatever they want with the Smash Brothers property but just because they CAN do something doesn’t always mean they SHOULD.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

They’re legally allowed to do that, yes.

But coming from a few communities where Nintendo’s draconian bullshit extends to monetization and legit limiting not only places to create content, BUT ALSO REVENUE STREAMS, go fuck yourself.

Nintendo has legit frozen out RETAILERS before. For the crime of stocking a competitor’s console. Now they’re forcing content creators to potentially go hungry because they’re not allowed to put up even a donation link that doesn’t route through their preferred platforms so they can TAKE THEIR cut.

Or perhaps you, the corporate boot, would like to suggest they go pick fruit or something instead?

You’re the one implying they should not go against the status quo. Go fuck yourself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

What Nintendo said was that they’d given them a verbal “nod and a wink” okay to run the event, something worth precisely the paper it’s printed on.

Without the official okay to run it that actual licensing would allow, Nintendo could still renege on that word and it would be he said she said as to whether they had an agreement or not. That makes it just too dangerous legally to go ahead.

Paul B says:

Re: Re:

Nintendo is a VERY Japanese firm to this day, Non Japanese find it hard to do business with Japanese because they never just say “no” they always do this thing where “Um maybe” and then try to avoid the problem if the response is “No”.

Add to this a VERY top down leadership style, where your often dealing with a drone who’s already been told “we will not extend a license” it sounds like the drone tried to walk a fine line and failed.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It should be noted that one of the gameboys, I think the gameboy light? but one of the gameboys was developed in part because Nintendo choose to go with a different screen supplier for an earlier version, and the guy in charge of the project didn’t want to admit it, so just kept promising they would use the supplier for a different project. Thats how avoidant Japanese companies are to outright declining.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Most corporations don’t stop tournaments going forward at the last minute ,just cos you can do something legally does not mean you have to do so, like very few game Devs send DMCA notices over game streaming or YouTube playthroughs of games since they realise videos s are free promotion or advertising
Yes Nintendo doesn’t need eSports people will always buy smash Bros or the latest Zelda mario games but it’s good to be nice to your fans
Maybe in a few years you’ll have a new console out and you’ll need people to support it
as the switch is falling behind in regard to playing the latest games
It’s games are low Resolution in comparison to 4k hd Xbox ps5 games
It seems it’s legal stance is 10 years out of date I have never heard of Sony or Microsoft shutting down eSports events or asking streamers to sign up to contracts just to be allowed to put up video playthroughs of games on YouTube

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Nintendo is as much to blame for this as Panda Global, if not moreso. Panda Global used its position to bully other tournaments into abandoning SWT, sure. But Nintendo is the company that let Panda Global have that kind of power in the first place via the Smash licensing scheme. Whatever culpability Panda Global has in getting SWT shut down pales in comparison to Nintendo’s.

If you wanna lick corporate boot, don’t be surprised when it kicks you in the teeth.

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