The sound of a hundred clacking plastic joysticks, a cacophony of mashed buttons and victory cries — and groans of defeat — filled the tournament room. I was blown away by the hundreds of players and spectators at Full Bloom 2, the second installment in the annual eSports tournament series hosted by Bloomington’s Super Smash Bros. club, Smash at IUB, last year. The tournament features competitive play from two titles in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. This year, the Smash at IUB student organization, which partners with IU’s Union Board to plan and promote events, is hosting the biggest Super Smash Bros. tournament Indiana has seen to date, and the incoming talent is sure to thrill any fan of the game.
Full Bloom 3, happening Saturday, March 25, at the Indiana Memorial Union Alumni Hall, “will be the largest Melee tournament and overall Smash tournament in Indiana history,” says Louie “PhD” Limas, president of the Smash at IUB club. “With the inclusion of spectators, we anticipate 450 people in attendance during the day of the event.” Though Full Bloom 3 takes the cake for Indiana, it is still not the largest tournament in the Midwest — ranking as “sixth-biggest Smash tournament in Midwest history,” according to Limas.
The Super Smash Bros. series launched in 1999 with an eponymous title for the Nintendo 64 system. Two years later, a sequel to the popular beat-em-up game, Super Smash Bros. Melee, was introduced on the Nintendo Gamecube. The game saw soaring, sustained sales, and a fanbase quickly developed. Over time, various tournament series emerged all over the world, and in recent years, as eSports at large gain traction in the mainstream, the Super Smash Bros. community has made sure the game is a mainstay in the industry.
Bloomington has its own Smash community with players engaged in all four titles of the series. Melee is the most popular, but the recently released Smash 4 for the Wii U system gets plenty of playtime at club events. Every other Saturday through the spring and fall, Smash at IUB hosts a local tournament, B-Town Beatdown. Club members regularly meet for friendly play or training. The club hosts two major tournaments every year: Kill Roy and Full Bloom.
Over a dozen of the best internationally ranked players, including such names as Joseph “Mango” Marquez, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, Westin “Westballz” Dennis, and Hugo “HugS” Gonzalez, will be competing at Full Bloom 3 this year. Big names like this also draw an online crowd, the most significant audience of competitive video gaming — Smash Bros. tournaments regularly garner hundreds of thousands of viewers through online media platforms like Twitch.tv.
But Super Smash Bros. isn’t the only major eSport making waves in Bloomington. League of Legends (LoL), a wildly popular multiplayer online battle arena game, is regularly featured on the Big Ten Network and ESPN, and IU is home to an LoL club as well. LAN War, a semiannual, 24-hour Local Area Network gaming fest, has been going on since ’99 and has partnered with Tespa, a network of college gaming clubs, for the past four years. LAN War features a whole pot of games, like Overwatch, Rocket League, and Dota 2, and there’s a generous prize pack of gaming swag courtesy of sponsors like Monster Energy and Kaliber Gaming. This spring’s event is going down April 8-9 at Briscoe Quadrangle Residence Hall.
Still, Limas is confident in the local Smash community’s growing popularity. “We’re the biggest competitive [eSport] game played at IU,” he says. “No other organization has the number of members or as big events as our organization.”
Full Bloom 3 will likely elevate Bloomington’s status on the Midwest Smash scene. “We take great pride in our ability to have top-player representation,” Limas says. He believes that, with the success of previous regional tournaments and a developing reputation, “new top players will feel more inclined to fly out to our tournament.”
Limas and other tournament organizers, including Alex “SweetDee” Grove and Alex “Chexx” Myers, have worked hard to bring in top-ranked players and make this tournament the biggest and the best in the state. “Ultimately, building relationships and networking has been an important factor to us getting top players,” says Limas. “Additionally, once top players are announced, a snowball effect begins and more and more top players begin to confirm.”
As the popularity of eSports continues to grow (and as the cash flow grows with it), more and more sponsors take notice. And more sponsors mean more airtime on bigger networks. “We have been contacted by many people who want to write articles, take pictures, and sponsor our event,” Limas says. GENESIS, one of the biggest international Smash tournaments every year, is lending its support to Full Bloom 3, and the event is sponsored by Smash Crate, “a monthly delivery service of Smash-related products,” according to Limas.
Bloomington’s Smash scene has even been noticed by popular digital artist Jackie ‘Jisu’ Choe, who is known for her highly thematic depictions of Super Smash Bros. and other gaming and pop-culture subjects. With hundreds of local and regional attendants as well as the two dozen or so national and international competitors, Full Bloom 3 is sure to make a splash. Limas remains positive: “I like to think that, at this point, any Smasher who follows the scene somewhat closely will know of our tournament series.”
Bloomington, no doubt in thanks to the university, is a great city for diverse clubs, and anyone in the gaming community should have no trouble finding their niche. The Monroe County Public Library hosts Smash tournaments for high school- and middle school-aged students. “The students run these tournaments and also attend our tournaments,” Limas says. “We have partnered with them in the past to help train them on how to organize tournaments.”
Bloomington’s eSports clubs are not limited to students; they welcome any gamer young or old, novice or expert, to join in the fun. IU has great resources to help you find the next event or club meeting, whether you’re ready to raid in World of Warcraft or if you just have to scratch that no-scope itch in your FPS of choice. Reach out! The best games often take two.
Check out the Full Bloom 3 promo video by Alex Myers, creative director, and Aye Min, cinematographer: