DreamHack Rotterdam TO interview

While Melee and Smash Bros. Ultimate(Ultimate) continue to be included in the editions of DreamHack in the States and Ultimate is part of the upcoming Winter and Summer editions of DreamHack in Sweden and even Leipzig in Germany, Melee is no longer included in either. Though attendance numbers were declining at previous European DreamHack events, this is a particular hit for top players that were looking to attend and take home the multi k prize pool that the popular LAN series had offered in the past. However, Melee and DreamHack in Europe don’t appear to have broken up quite yet as DreamHack makes its first appearance in the Netherlands this October and both games are included in the line up.

We sat down with two of the main organizers of the Melee competition at DreamHack to learn more of their motivations to include the game into the lineup and their intentions to make the first NTSC major on Dutch soil an experience worth remembering.

DreamHack is part of the Rotterdam Games Week, a brand new week full of gaming-focussed activities in Rotterdam. The main event of that week is DreamHack Rotterdam (DHRotterdam) which will be hosted over the span of three days in Ahoy, one of the country’s largest event centres. The event is sponsored by Omen by HP. Melee’s inclusion in the lineup can largely be attributed to the local scene reaching out to connections involved with the event. The event stretches far beyond Smash and thus holds a much larger staff. Since the Ultimate competition is of smaller scale with a max capacity of 128 we’re restricting our interview to the two key figures whose collaboration got Melee included and are currently responsible for ensuring the experience runs smooth. A brief introduction.

Nuckels – Head Tournament Organiser(TO) of Melee at DHRotterdam, developer of NTSC memcard hack
“Sup, My name is Nuckels and I main Marth in Melee. Aside from my TOing responsibilities at DHRotterdam my role in the community is kinda hard to describe, I’d say I focus on innovation by bringing UCF to Europe, the NTSC memory card mod, and actively participating in the discussions of rulesets etc. “

Amon Havers – Esports director at Asterion Esports
“My name is Amon Havers, I am the Esports Director at Asterion Esports. Asterion is one of the biggest esports teams in The Netherlands. We are currently focussed on StarCraft II, CS:GO and PUBG: Mobile. Smash fans should know us for sponsoring Amsah for almost two years.“

What’s DreamHack Rotterdam all about and why should international competitors be interested?

Nuckels: “DreamHack Rotterdam is about bringing the esports environment to our grassroots scene without losing what makes our grassroots events great. For the high end competitor we provide the biggest prize pool the Dutch Melee scene has ever had and for everyone else, we will provide a great competitive esports experience while preserving the things we love as community like plenty of setups and space, side events and the ability to see some of the best players Melee has to offer and compete with in person.

It is also the first NTSC major in The Netherlands which was the first European region to make the switch.”

While Smash is still part of the DreamHack events in the States and Ultimate is included in some of the European editions as well, to our knowledge the Swedish editions of DreamHack have chosen to drop Melee. Why has DHRotterdam opted to go a different route?

Amon: “Smash is one of the most popular games in the Dutch grassroots esports scene. If you look at esports venues, student associations and other groups who are focussing on esports they all have a local Smash scene they’re working with. We wanted to bring this scene together and at the same time give them the chance to compete against talent from the USA, something that hasn’t happened at Dutch events for some time.”

Despite its popularity in the PC-Gaming community and the world of Esports, attendance-wise DreamHack has had mixed success in the past years in attracting the bulk of the international Smash competitors. How are you looking to turn the tide with DHRotterdam?

Nuckels:”We are a completely new team organising this version of DreamHack and Ahoy (the venue) has been actively thinking along with us and listen to our feedback and requests to help us to create the best DreamHack Smash event possible. This means they don’t just deliver on our requests but propose solutions how we can improve the event even further.  On top of that, we are located in the middle of one of the biggest cities in The Netherlands, Rotterdam, which makes travelling to our event extremely convenient.”

DreamHack Rotterdam hall
The hall in which Melee will be held, shared with other games

You’ve stated that you want DHRotterdam to be community-driven. What makes a grassroots experience in your eyes?

Nuckels:”For me grassroots means having the ability as a community member to create an event for the community. To describe what makes it an event for the community with one word: Freedom.

We know what the community enjoys because we are an active part of the community ourselves. The moment an event is controlled by an outside organisation that is not approachable with feedback or requests that ability is lost completely.

How should a tournament organiser adhere to that essence in your eyes?

Nuckels:”To quote Scar:“The People.” You need to listen to the community. Having a 100k prize pool would be sick but if that comes at the cost of having an event that isn’t enjoyable for everyone else then you’ve failed as an organiser in my opinion.”

And what does the community want that does make it enjoyable for everyone?

Nuckels:”Everyone has their personal preferences of what a tournament requires for them to be enjoyable. This varies between having setups, the ability to play friendlies and a great location. I think what’s hard to explain in words but everyone wants is the vibe of the event. Team Heir nailed this hands down in every way, by supplying us with all the things that make a huge event great while maintaining a grassroots vibe that has remained unchallenged. That didn’t just feel like a tournament, Heir was a four day holiday with all the homies with a tournament five minutes from your hotel.”

Considering holiday option, is the community arranging housing solutions for the days that DreamHack doesn’t have hotel deals for in Rotterdam? What are the options for players looking to make it into a longer vacation?

Nuckels:”So far multiple players in the Dutch community have been offering housing options for international players, if your interested you can jump in the Dutch Melee discord and drop a message and we will do our best to help you out.

Rotterdam Skyline
Rotterdam skyline with the Erasmus bridge, connecting the north part of the city to the south

Jim Morrison wrote a comprehensive travel and housing guide for international travellers. Every housing case differs, but the Dutch Community is very inviting so I’d say that is your best bet. Obviously there are plenty of Airbnb’s and hostels around Rotterdam as well.”

Ahoy is among those prestigious venues that are usually out of reach for the Smash community due to the costs involved. Are large events like these the key for the Smash community to make an appearance in these A-tier venues and if so why?

Nuckels:”Within Europe, for now at least, I’d say that renting out a venue like that is generally insanely expensive and without proper sponsors it is impossible for the community to finance it. Sure we could create a €150,- venue fee, but then no one would attend, and that’s assuming you can even get the finances to rent out the space to begin with. I hope someone is able to prove me wrong on this though!”

Amon: ”It’s worth noting that Ahoy is out of reach for 90% of esports titles. Currently the only game that made an appearance on its own is League of Legends. Even though Rainbow6 and CS:GO are both very popular in our country. We haven’t had the chance to see AAA tournaments being hosted in The Netherlands for these games yet. Therefore, it’s great Ahoy are working with DreamHack to offer big tournaments for multiple games. This way we do not only have awesome content for Dutch esports and gaming fans but also a benchmark to see what is actually popular and grow towards.”

League of Legends finals of 2016 in Ahoy
Ahoy housed the European championship of League of Legends in 2016

Organisation and communication wise, how did the experience with the venue differ from communicating with a smaller one like a youth center or small event hall for example?

Nuckels:”The biggest difference for us is that they have an insane level of support for anything we need. They actively ask us how they can help. How many tables do we want, how many chairs, the kind of chairs, kind of lighting, kind of podium, beamer, speakers, wi-fi repeaters etc.

Smaller venues have tables and chairs of course but you have to make do with what you get. With a big venue like this we get access to all kinds of equipment at no additional cost.”

Ahoy isn’t the only prestigious venue that the European Smash community has ended up in. Albion 4 was hosted in Emirates Stadium and Syndicate is hosted in the Jaarbeurs for example.
Are we seeing a trend for Smash to make an appearance at a higher tier of venues and is this a development that you expect will last?

Nuckels:”It’s hard to judge without knowing the details behind how those locations were achieved. Prices for venues only seem to be going up and venue fees in Europe for Melee are not at that same rate. I think it will be possible to continue to have great venues and locations available with the support of sponsors when the Ultimate and Melee scenes work together. That being said, for grassroots events that lack the support of big organisations it will become increasingly difficult to provide that level of venue simply due to finances required. Thankfully there are plenty of suitable venues in amazing locations though.”

Following this trend, what are the chances of Smash ending up in football stadiums across Europe within two years?

Nuckels:”Ultimate is doing insanely well right now and if those numbers keep climbing I think it is very possible to see this occur from time to time, hopefully Melee can be a part of those events as well. For pure Melee events in Europe at least I think it is rather unlikely.”

Amon:”Let’s not forget Ultimate at De Beurs van Berlage in this case, it’s the exact same venue the Hearthstone World Championships were held in and it’s right next to the Central Station in Amsterdam. I’d say this is a huge achievement and a triple A  venue for every single esports title.”

Smashball finals in the Beurs van Berlage
Finals of Nintendo’s Smashball Team Cup in the Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam

That event in De Beurs van Berlage was hosted by Nintendo though. Is their involvement a requirement to get into AAA venues? 

Nuckels:”I’d say it isn’t a requirement but it sure helps a ton. Ahoy is a triple A venue and Melee is there this year without the support of Nintendo. You need the support of a big organisation 95% of the time to get in such a venue with a Smash event. Now I’m sure there are exceptions, there always are so those make up the remaining 5%. But as to why? Money.”

Amon:
”Venues have to present themselves to the publishers in order to get gigs like these. Riot Games even have a bidding program where they require the city to be involved because they bring in so much value. Therefore, active cooperation from the venue is required in order to get deals with publishers to host a tournament there.”

What does the Smash community need to do to grow and move into the big leagues in Europe? 

Nuckels:”A way to reach out to the general public to convey the message that competitive Smash exists. Right now, a lot of people are becoming aware of competitive gaming and esports but competitive Smash isn’t on that radar to the same degree. If Nintendo were to support our scene more active that would help a ton.  In these regards, I wish Nintendo looked at Bandai Namco / Tekken as they could really learn a thing or two from their approach.

I hope the new Smasdoc by Samox will end up on Netflix around the world as that could be a huge visibility boost for our scene, which could spark an influx of new players. Our average event right now is simply too small number wise to support big venues, prize pots, attract sponsors etc.”

Speaking of sponsors, Asterion has sponsored Amsah for several years. Is Asterion looking to sponsor more European Smash players in the near future and if so what would they need to do to catch the attention of Asterion?

Amon:”We are currently chatting with different sponsors who have a target audience which can be found in both Smash and FGC titles. Because of this, we are actively following all of these scenes and waiting for the right moment to make our comeback.”

European Melee is seeing some big technological evolutions with inventions like Slippi and the implementation of wide screen support. Is DHRotterdam making use of any of these new developments to improve the experience of the event?

Nuckels:”You’ll have to wait and see ;), let’s just say Liva is there to stream the event under the GeekyGoonSquad banner and they have always been THE frontrunner of streaming technology. What they did at Viennality was simply amazing.”

Aside from technical innovations. We’ve been observing European countries exploring a change to the NTSC version of the game with the intention of unifying the world with one version. 

Disc versions of PAL and NTSC
Disc versions of PAL and NTSC, the cause of a lot of discussion these past months

Nuckels, you’ve played a particularly big role in this movement. Why have you been so involved with the transition and have you decided to run NTSC at such a large event, despite the limitations it could have in terms of official sponsorships?

Nuckels:”I believe in one version worldwide. Any serious competitive game runs on one patch across the globe. I always compare it to CS:GO for people who don’t play Melee. Imagine going to Japan for Counter Strike and the AK47 no longer one taps in the head. This wouldn’t be accepted by any team, yet in Melee it was the most normal thing in the world. I hope this change will help people improve at a quicker rate due to having more access to information and that it will attract intercontinental players to compete within Europe.

The limitations in regards to sponsorship should not stop us from improving our scene with new technology, be it Slippi, UCF or for Europe the NTSC Modification (shoutouts to UnclePunch for that last one!)

I value the event itself, the scene and the experience more than a big sponsor. Without the support of Nintendo we are forced to advance and innovate our scene via homebrewed content and community members have created amazing tools to do so. Those achievements should be welcomed with open arms and used by our community to provide an even better experience. Events can be great even without those sponsors who are opposed to the use of homebrewed technology so I see no reason not to.

Summit Mainstage set statistics
Statistic displays like shown at Mainstage could very well become a regular occurrence thanks to Slippi.
The software used was recently opensourced

Amon:”When I look at it from a monetisation point of view, the only company who doesn’t want to sponsor these events is Nintendo. Different games (let’s take CS:GO for example) have huge amounts of big tournaments with no support from the publishers at all. Of course, it’s easier for a publisher to run and sponsor events because they can monetize directly from game sales, in-game loot boxes / skins / other item sales and more but this doesn’t mean there is no value in other sponsors. I personally think these sponsors would much rather see an inclusive NTSC tournament with people flying in from all over the world than just a tournament with only European players.

What are the benefits to running NTSC over the PAL version at a major event like this?

Nuckels:”Viewership and intercontinental attendance potential. Aside from that, the Dutch scene has already swapped to NTSC earlier this year so running a major in said country in PAL would make no sense and would only hurt attendance.

Speaking of intercontinental attendance. Any chance at seeing some big names at the event?

Nuckels: So far we have announced most of Europe’s best players to attend, on top of that we have HLC.S2J and PG.Zain flying in from the states to compete as well! We might just have one more player up our sleeve, but you’ll have to wait and see for that one.

And if the sky’s the limit, which names would you personally love to see at the event?

Nuckels:”Mang0, Leffen, PPMD, Armada, Mew2king, Hungrybox. The big 6 for me, a man can dream.”

Amon:” Team Liquid, Team Liquid and Team Liquid. I might be a fan…”

Zain and s2j
S2J and Zain will be flying in from the States

What can viewers at home expect from the event when they tune in?

Nuckels:”The quality that you know and love from GeekyGoonSquad, solid Melee, Alliance.Armada on commentary and some big names to root for ;)”

What are you looking forward to the most at DHRotterdam?

Nuckels:”Seeing Melee players have a great time at a DreamHack Melee event. I really want to create a fresh image for the name within Europe. Hopefully I’ll find some time to checkout the rest of the event!”

Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Amon:”We are keen on making this one of the best Smash championships Europe has ever seen which means we actively work with the community and listen to feedback. I hope the community is just as excited as we are at Dreamhack, Ahoy Rotterdam and Asterion!”

Nuckels:”We read your complaints about previous DreamHacks, we listen to your feedback, this is a fresh start with a new team, a new venue and we hope to see you there to witness it first hand. Shoutouts to Jmyl, Seo, Jim Morrison and the rest of the DreamHack Crew for helping us make this possible!
PS: Jiggs is the best character in the game, don’t @ me.”

DreamHack Rotterdam will be hosted on the 18th till the 20th of October. For registration instructions visit their Smash.gg page. Registration for the Smash Bros Ultimate competition (which has a max capacity of 128 players) can be done on a seperate event page.

Thanks go out to Jim Morrison and Exile for proofreading, photograph in opening image property of Ahoy, DH logo property of DreamHack, photo of venue hall provided by Ahoy, photo of Rotterdam skyline shot by Mlefter, League of Legends photo from Riot Games, Smash Ball photo from Nintendo, image of Melee discs composed by Joeri, MPGR 2019 images of Zain and S2J shot by CHIME PHOTOGRAPHY, screencap op Mainstage comes from Slippi’s twitter,

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