The Super Smash Bros.-esque fighting game Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl may not have received critical acclaim at launch, but it quickly gained a small, dedicated competitive player base nonetheless. Fans praised for its fast fighting gameplay that’s clearly inspired by the Smash formula, though it adds some unique spins of its own. Despite this early support, the game’s scene died down due to the pandemic continuing to shutter live events, which limited interest in and opportunities for the game.
When Super Smash Bros. tournament Genesis delayed its planned Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl tournament, it seemed like there would be no drive to keep the competitive scene interested in the game. Not ready to see the game die so soon, event organizer and Smash community figure Max Ketchum set out on a mission to keep its buzz going. What arose from his efforts was a competitive tournament called The Hidden Temple, where players were voted in by fans. Ketchem raised $20,000 to put the show on, bringing more eyes on Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl than ever.
And it was all done right from his living room.
I spoke with Ketchum about the event, how he put it together, and his thoughts on the whole experience. Ketchum highlights a story as old as time: One in which a community puts its foot forward and shows that its ready to support what they enjoy.
What made you want to host The Hidden Temple?
The origin of the idea came when Genesis got pushed back due to Omicron, and that was supposed to be a big activation for the community. I actually worked with the Genesis staff and GameMill to make that happen. That was a huge chance gone for the community ,and I was hoping it didn’t just die off because there were no offline tournaments.
I was just racking my brain for ways that I could help give the game some much-needed content and tournaments. And then it hit me: A Summit-style (an invitational event based on Beyond the Summit’s model of voting in players through donations and merch purchases) event would be COVID safe and would also give a much-needed look into the personalities of the players.
So I decided to run the event in my house. I asked my contact at GameMill if they would be interested in coming in. After a pitch, we got the approval and it was smooth sailing from there.
What went into hosting the event?
With the Genesis postponement date and the Temple date so close, I had like no time to turn this around and worked pretty much nonstop on it for five or six weeks. It was a lot of messaging people, connecting them, and delegating jobs. I had to find a graphic designer who, fortunately, I already had from previous tournaments that I’ve run.
I also had to get a video editor, who ended up being one of the players who got voted in, Karkat. He helped put the trailer together and all the other auxiliary media that we did like the combo videos for every player that got in. And my roommate was the head producer for the event. He’s one of the biggest Smash producers in the Tri State area named Kelvin. or Espada, and he is incredible at what he does. We also had the GOAT (greatest of all time) of the Smash community clothing design, SPIF Space, as the merch designer
LAST CHANCE TO GET YOUR HIDDEN TEMPLE MERCH
The shop is closing at 6 AM EST (for some reason, I think smashgg bugged out 😂) so if you want some of these fire designs by @SPIFspace get em now! Profits still go to the prize pool of the tournament!https://t.co/CqptW8puAd pic.twitter.com/UEALzSjHce
— EMG Max Ketchum (@MaxKetchum_) March 1, 2022
Obviously, I had to work out the relationship with GameMill and huge shout-out to them cause we would have had a $0 prize pool without them. But I think the hardest part was getting it all to pen and paper on Smash.gg and setting up a bootleg voting system cause it takes a lot of resources on their end to implement that kind of thing. I kind of had to put some pressure on Smash.gg to even implement a voting system and get it done in the turnaround time that we needed, because by the time I was talking them, it was four weeks from the event. So it almost didn’t even have a voting phase, but Angela from Smash.gg ended up carrying the situation and everything worked out.
What were you thinking as you saw the donations to run the event hit $20k?
My guess was that we would raise maybe $3,000 because this is a very small community and it’s one that’s primarily online. They don’t get to go out to tournaments for prize money or mostly have sponsors. But then we raised $3,000 in the first hour and I was like, “YO what is going on?” Then it kind of just petered out after the first day. Thank god, it was more because I would have run out of money really fast since expenses kept piling on.
We ended up getting around $7,000. But then on the very last day, I was driving back from a tournament and I’m like, “Alright, I guess we’re slowing down. We might hit $8,000.” And in the last hour of the fundraising, we raised $12,5oo. Voting got intense and we had those Smash Summit vibes where there’s that rush to make sure that your guy gets voted in.
“I knew it was gonna be fire and that I wanted to put time into it.”
I was shocked. I could not believe the numbers I was seeing once it crossed $10,000. Then I decided if we have this kind of money to play with, plus what GameMill chipped in, I can go the distance for these guys and change the scope of the event. We did a bunch of atmospheric stuff. I was able to get catering for them every day, fully reimbursed everybody’s flights and hotel. We went hard because we had the money to do it, and I cannot thank the community enough for that.
Is there anything that personally resonates with you that made you want to put on an event for this game?
A couple things. Back in the days with Melee, Brawl, Smash Wii UI was a sweaty, salty, competitor first — and I still am. Then Ultimate came out and something about it didn’t jive with me. I had like a big soul-searching phase where I was like, “Damn, what game am I going to play now?” As soon as I saw NASB was coming out and that it was made by the same people who made Slap Cityanother game that I sank a lot of time into, I knew it was gonna be fire and that I wanted to put time into it.
Last time we raised $20k from the community and had 16 of the coolest people I've ever met in my life in the building all weekend. Was seriously an unforgettable experience. You really don't want to let an opportunity like this slip by
— EMG Max Ketchum (@MaxKetchum_) March 19, 2022
And now I just want the game to grow and get the pop that it deserves, because it’s so good for how big the scene is. Plus the community is really coolso I wanted to do something for them and I wanted to do something for me.
I also kind of wanted to prove like to myself that I could run an event that was so different from anything else I’ve ever done. I’ve run house tournaments when I was 15 out of my mom’s house, but it wasn’t something like this.
With Genesis and its NASB pot bonus, and after Hidden Temple, do you think more Smash events will look to host it?
I really hope so. The game is still in its infancy, and I think it kind of needs that support from the very strong backbone the Smash community has. Smash events host games like Rivals of Aetherand I would say that’s the key example. It’s a really good pathway for the game to begin growing, but I also do think the community needs to grow to the point where it can be self-sufficient.
I’d like to one day see a major just for Nick or at least regionals or locals, but it’s hard cause the game is mainly online right now. It’s hard to establish that local scene and figure out the growing pains associated with it. But I do think if we do enough Hidden Temples and enough Genesis-like events, people are going to eventually see the game be like, “YO this is really cool. I wanna get into this.” But I think right now, it’s particularly important that we kind of piggyback off of the already established Smash events for the sake of just being able to have a platform.
Is there anything you’d like to see come from the community post-Temple?
Growth is number one. I keep telling all of them, because the game virtually lives in this one Discord, it’s very cool that we have this tight-knit community, but we need to get out there and branch out. As painful as it is to have discourse within 280 characters all fragmented like Twitter is, I think a big reason the Smash community has grown so much is that we’re on Twitter as the main Smash forum. It’s public for everyone to see.
Anyone who’s ever liked the tweet with the words “Smash Brothers” might get suggested a Tweet by MKLeo and then find out that there’s a competitive scene and pro players. The Nick community needs to do the same. I think it’s no coincidence that around the same time Smash players started getting on Twitter, more sponsorships started coming in.
I’d also say work on getting local scenes started. Maybe with a free bracket and things of that sort.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the community?
Just another huge thank you to the whole community for the ridiculous turnout on fundraising. I really appreciate kind of like the trust that they put in me to handle that kind of money and … to make a production like this possible. Also to GameMill for actually showing love to their game’s community.
Been getting an absurd amount of support for my events/commentary in the past few weeks between Glitch/Hidden Temple/Summit/Collision. Just wanted to say thanks to all of you, I appreciate you riding for me. I felt slept on for a long time but now I feel the love. Keep gameing <3
— EMG Max Ketchum (@MaxKetchum_) March 15, 2022
With Ketchum looking to keep the momentum going with future events such as his new monthly tournament and a second Hidden Temple event, it’s doubtful that this game will ever truly be as dead as the naysayers say.