Sunday night concluded The Big House 6, one of the few premier tournaments for smashers and the rival to Genesis as the must-attend event of the year. Once again, Juggleguy and company put on a spectacular show: the production values were top notch, the logistics were smooth as butter, and almost every attendee had an unforgettable weekend. This is not just a one-off occurrence though; Big House has made a reputation for itself as the best-run and most-liked event of the year. This year was no exception, although with several Big House events having taken place since the Spirit Bomb of 2013, we can start to derive patterns that clarify just why smashers love Big House so damn much.
The most notable part of the Big House series is how tight a ship it’s run on. Juggleguy made a name for himself as a TO by being unafraid to disqualify any player who threatened to hold up his bracket, whether that player was MarthPlayer666 or Armada. It’s an underrated part of the tournament experience, but experienced hands can attest to how big a difference it makes when a tournament is a well-oiled machine. As an example, Apex 2015 was notable for starting its top 8 at almost midnight EST and not wrapping up until 3 AM. The crowd was exhausted, players sometimes had to wait more than 6 hours just to play another match in bracket, and were it not for the top-notch quality of the top 8 play, that would have gone down as the most memorable example of poor logistics in recent memory. By contrast, almost every single wave at Big House 6 started on time, disqualified players on time, and wrapped up their pool on time. There were a few hiccups, especially with doubles, but largely all players knew where they had to be and when. Moreover, there was very little down time between waves on any of the streams; content was mostly very fluid with few pauses. Not everything was picture perfect; the friendlies room was taken over by the wildly popular smash.gg ladder on days 2 and 3. No one was prepared for how popular that event would be, and during peak hours that bracket had over 300 matches in the queue. Furthermore, top 8 took five full hours to wrap up instead of the three it normally takes, but these are minor nitpicks and the result of the second thing Big House does better than anyone else.
Big House 5 set the gold standard for the top 64 phase of a tournament; they implemented multiple recording setups to ensure all matches would be preserved for future viewing, had four projectors to give players an unforgettable viewing experience, and included a non-esports commentary desk for people who preferred the raw, old-school energy with their matches. This year the organizers improved on that formula by having four separate desks with commentary in addition to two recording setups. They also made huge inroads to the production values of the top 8 stream. Never before has a grassroots smash scene seen such effort poured into top 8 production. MC Josh Fendrick, working to hype the crowd up, gave player and crowd interviews between every game. The Crimson Blur and D1 gave extended analysis at the conclusion of every match, and there were player vignettes created by the Last Stock Legends team that played before some matches.
We briefly mentioned the smash.gg ladder which took place in the friendlies room; this was another experiment that the Big House staff were testing out...one which was actually too successful. After being knocked out of bracket, players could enter into a ladder to play sets. If you won enough sets, you’d be moved to the next rung of the ladder, and players on different rungs of the ladder would earn prizes for winning. It was a huge hit wildly popular...to the point where playing friendlies in that room became an impossibility. There simply weren’t enough setups to accommodate that ladder and all the free play that was supposed to take place there.
However, Big House has never been afraid to experiment and take risks with the tournament. The things they introduced this year may or may not come back to next year’s event, but those that do are sure to be streamlined and the issues with each experiment are sure to be ironed out. More setups are sure to be included in the friendlies room. There will surely be more promotion of the side streams; many people did not even know that Chicago streamers MeleeEveryday were live the entire weekend with high level sets. The fact that Big House is willing to chance these mistakes and errors in an attempt to innovate is a sign that they are always seeking to improve the smash experience for all.
A Different Playing Field
A significant part of what make the Big House series so hype is its geographical location. Whereas Genesis takes place in the heart of NorCal and Smash Con takes place in central DC, The Big House is tucked away in Dearborn, Michigan. It may not be the best location for food or tourism, but the biggest benefit of its location is that it brings out scenes who maybe can’t collectively travel to other majors. States like Tennessee, Minnesota, Missouri, and Indiana can show up in force to the Big House. It’s their major, it’s where they go to see their best players vie for upsets against top players who may have never seen them before. This is why every year the Big House is filled with upsets, and 2016 is no exception. Axe lost early to a doc kid from Philadelphia, the #3 ranked R2DLiu. Plup was defeated 2-0 by MD/VA legend Zain. DJ Nintendo fell in Winner’s Finals of Round 1 pools to Nakamaman, the #5 ranked player in Minnesota. These all follow a trend of the Midwest showing up to support their players and make the bracket as volatile as possible.
It also is the only major many of these players will attend in the course of the year, and so the crowd always is brimming with energy. Before top 8 even started, the crowd was so antsy to cheer for something that any recognizable face passing in front of them was suddenly hit with hundreds of people chanting their name. Armada and Hungrybox, last year the most hated matchup to watch in Melee, was this year the most contested rivalry in the crowd. Chants were evenly distributed between the two, and what otherwise might have been a slower match was suddenly a pressure-cooker between two factions of the crowd. They cheered for Scar, they cheered for Ice’s outstanding performance, and oh how they cheered on for Mango and Armada. Big House crowds have the energy and the hype to make the top 8 memorable every single year, and this was no exception.
Ultimately, while the production values are nice and the tournament running smoothly is a critical part of a good experience, the Big House would be nothing without those who attend it. The coolest part about the event is that smashers book the hotel almost full; thirteen floors of players who are all there for a common purpose. There is no bad blood beyond salt, no negative feelings or anxiety in the air. The Big House is great because all those who attend are in love with the game and enjoy the people they’re around. You can walk through the venue at any time of the day or night and make new friends. Some of those friends will be made on the ground floor, sipping one of Hugo’s new favorite IPAs. Others will be made in quiet hotel rooms, packed with the kids dedicated to improving at this game through playing as many people as they can. Still other friendships are made in the crowd itself, when you’re shouting yourself hoarse for the player you want to win. The Big House is the homie tournament, it is a reminder of the very best parts of our community: that we all support and care for one another, that we’re all fanboys at heart, and that at the end of the day we’re all in it for a love of the game.
Revision 10/14/16: While all decisions made during the Big House event represent its brand, I'd like to make a special note that the changes and experiments with production on VGBootCamp 1 (the main stream) were made by Gimr, Aposl, and the rest of the VGBC team. They really thought outside of the creative box to bring the best experience possible to the smash community, and should be commended for putting in the extra effort. Apologies for any misunderstandings that may have occurred.