Melee doubles is not a very popular format. Both in terms of viewership and number of competitors signed up, it trails far behind singles. This is unsurprising. Looking at tennis, which Melee takes after in many ways, we should expect doubles to be less popular. Top players such as Armada, M2K, Shroomed, PewFat, and MacD often lament that doubles is lacking in popularity. Though those people are outspoken advocates of doubles, there are many many more top players who also wish it were taken more seriously. So the question is, “what do we do to make doubles more than a side event with a few connoisseurs?” To investigate this question, first we must be cognizant of the reasons why doubles is not as popular. In no particular order, the most salient reasons are difficulty to watch/understand, poor tournament schedules, lack of storylines, bad commentary, and bad attitudes.
Tournament scheduling is something that people probably haven’t thought of, but top players definitely have. I expect that, in 2017, we can completely eliminate this issue and make a significant improvement both for competitors and for viewers. Let’s start from the viewer perspective. Day 1 streams at nationals, besides Genesis 3, have sucked almost invariably. It’s 10 hours of lopsided matches with someone you’ve heard of stomping someone you haven’t. In the past, I was critical that we did not put on mid level vs mid level player instead of high level vs low level. However, with the increase in bad players at nationals, in addition to people potentially getting seeded out, getting competitive games out of R1 pools is pretty much impossible now. So the status quo is that, there may be some cool exhibitions, but if that’s not the case, day 1 is always a terrible viewer experience, and nothing more than a formality for the higher level competition.
A significantly better experience, both for viewers and competitors, would be to do all of doubles on day 1 of a national. That way, there’s a self contained storyline for all of day 1 (no one gives a fuck who won the matches at the end of day 1 normally), and the viewers get to see some actual good matches that matter by the end of the day. This is MUCH better for competitors as well. First of all, people could actually attend a 3 day national but miss the first day. Even if some singles needs to be done on the first day, top players who get seeded out might still be able to come for day 2 and 3. As a competitor, there’s a few significant problems with how doubles is currently run. People don’t enter doubles because it infringes on their singles experience and performance.
Having to wake up at 9am because of doubles on the day where you play important singles matches sucks. You did essentially nothing day 1, and then you have to wake up early to play something that you probably don’t care much about day 2. Why not just not enter and focus on singles instead? Moreover, tournaments are sometimes scheduled so you have to go back and forth between playing doubles and singles. Teams is a different game with a different skillset. It’s really taxing to go back and forth between playing the other formats. Sometimes, you literally have to play matches back to back from differing formats. Not to mention that entering both events can cut into your break time. Based on which timeslots you’ve been scheduled into, it can be so bad that you don’t get a break between doubles bracket and singles R2 pools. Holding top 8 of teams for late in the tournament is nice in theory, but I think it would be much better just to get it out of the way. Imagine not having played doubles all day because you were practicing for your important singles matches, then you have to play the 7th place match to open doubles top 8. It sucks to have to switch back to doubles when you aren’t in the groove because you are so far along in singles. It’s a cool idea to try to give doubles a prime timeslot, but it detracts from the quality of the games, both by making the people who entered play worse and by deterring others from entering. Get doubles done as early in the tournament as possible.
On the last point listed, bad attitudes, I found myself at a rare loss for words, trying to sum up this problem succinctly. What I mean is that our culture, which starts at the most basic level, i.e. smashfests, avoids doubles like the plague. People like to talk about how they don’t like doubles, but they have almost never given it a chance. I can count on one hand the number of people who proclaim that they dislike doubles who have any idea how to play it. This is the most difficult issue to fix because it’s pervasive in our culture. Melee attracts people of a certain character archetype. It takes a special type of person to get into a 15 year old game that you need a CRT to play. This type of person tends to be competitive, self driven, tryhard, etc. Team formats are less appealing to this character archetype than to average gamers.
If we can really drive just a few facts into our communal common knowledge, the initial aversion to doubles that newer players have can be overcome. The first fact is that, for people who have been playing < 2 years, playing doubles is immensely better for improving your individual singles skill than losing every third game on a four man rotation. If you are the guy winning a four man rotation, it probably isn’t very fun for you to stomp noobs. It might be more fun and worthwhile to see if they’re down to play teams. You can implant some knowledge in them, which might also result in a dramatic increase in their enjoyment of teams. Subsequently, you might have more entrants in the teams bracket. You don’t have to be selfless to help the community. The next thing is to get people to realize that they don’t need a static teammate to do good teamwork. Just understand a few basic things, that should honestly take ~3 minutes to explain, and you can have decent teamwork with most people. In a lot of ways, teams is easier than singles. Learn some basic things and you can actually be a pretty good teams player. Everyone hates sucking.
If newer players knew how quickly they could not suck at teams, they would play way more. If you have a friend who’s better than you, and you team with him for a week, you can beat another team who have way higher individual skill levels. The first time I went on a roadtrip for Smash, I went like 1-7 in my singles pool, losing to CrimsonBlur. In spite of this, my teammate Replicate and I got Mango and Westballz down to their last stock game 3. I literally was a complete noob who learned a few situations and I still almost beat two of the best players. It feels great to beat way better players, regardless of format. If newer players could feel this rush, they’d be hooked.
There are two last footnotes that I’d like to mention with regards to understanding some basic facts about teams. First is that way more characters are viable in teams. Newer players are often the whiniest about tiers, so this should make it more attractive to the demographic of players who act victimized because they picked a bad character. Second is that most of the things that people whine about in Melee are much less impactful in teams. Teams has some really lame things, and some lame things from singles transfer over. But the things that really irk people about Melee are almost all nonfactors in teams, e.g. getting camped in the neutral or getting chaingrabbed.
Doubles has way more going on on the screen, so it’s never going to be as easy to watch or understand–that is an inherent quality of doubles that can’t be changed. But good commentary is something that can alleviate the problem. There’s some irony in what I’m about to say here given my reputation and credibility on the issue. People who commentate doubles say all kinds of shit that they shouldn’t say. I say “should” in the deontic sense, as in there are things that are in our collective best interest to not say on the mic. For instance, people love to get on the mic, do a terrible job commentating, then talk about how hard doubles is to commentate. Though there’s an iota of truth to this, it’s mostly bogus. No one wants to listen to you whining about how commentary is hard. Have any of us ever felt empathy with movie characters who have to deal with the struggles that come with being rich and famous? What commentators actually mean when they say “teams is hard to commentate” is that they don’t know shit about teams so they don’t know what to say. Well, no shit, it’s hard to talk about something that you don’t know about, big surprise. This takes me to my next point.
Talking about how you don’t like doubles or how it’s stupid on the mic hurts the scene. I might shit on CrimsonBlur for inaccuracies on the mic, but at least you can feel his palpable love for the game, both in singles and doubles. For this reason, even if he were a random noob, it would still be better to have him on the mic than someone who more popular who sits there and shit talks what’s on the screen. Zhu and Scar, for instance, are two of the worst doubles players of all time, who have absolutely no idea what doubles is about (I’m serious here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g2ubt6yLfNw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMdiknGjL54&t=1h4m38s), but who still like to get on the mic and whine about teams being stupid. Noobs are not going to enjoy what they are watching if the person on the mic is expressing their distaste for what’s on the screen. It’s one thing to be ignorant of the meta and to lack knowledge, but to actively whine about what you’re commentating is just totally unacceptable.
The culture of Melee commentary has been shaped in a way that makes no sense, particularly with regards to when it’s ok to be negative. Somehow we’ve managed to make commentators feel obligated to talk about Peach vs. Samus without excessively whining, yet it’s ok to get on the mic during teams and talk about they hate teams. Commentators feel pressure to not shit on players even when they make an atrocious decision. This is a time when it makes sense to be negative. Conversely, why the fuck does anyone feel the need to get on the mic and talk about how they don’t like the content that they are casting? Even in SC2, where a lot of the first generation of pros hated the game, they would still keep their complaints off the mic, or at least put it in terms like “the game favors cheese more than its predecessor” rather than “it’s a shit game.” Just stay the fuck off the mic instead of using it as a platform to shit on stuff that other people like.
Chroma is bashful and talks about how he’s a bad doubles commentator. He’s actually managed to assimilate some basic facts about teams and fills the air with accurate shit, making him one of the best teams commentators out there. A guy who is really truly terrible at teams (and singles) managed to be more insightful than all our other regular commentators by putting a tiny amount of effort into learning teams. It’s pathetic that our standards are so low. Given that most players don’t know how to play doubles, and most commentators don’t know jack about doubles, a typical stream watching experience is basically random chaotic shit on the screen with malarkey as narration. It actually baffles me that teams has any following when our scene has done such an atrocious job cultivating interest in it. Why would anyone want to watch something where they have no idea what’s going on? Try showing someone Counterstrike who doesn’t even know the maps without explanatory commentary. They aren’t going to have fun watching something they’re clueless about.
If you learn some basic talking points and things to watch for, you can easily fill the air with accurate commentary that will help guide most of the audience. In 2 minutes, I managed to come up with a list of a dozen things you could point out:
Double team the fastfaller is a good strategy that they are implementing. The player closer to the ledge should grab it to facilitate team ledge guards. Grabbing when the other player’s teammate can punish you is bad. Tech chasing or going for protracted combos is strongly correlated with bad awareness. Going offstage to ledgeguard is often bad and often gets turned around on you. Grabbing the ledge as soon as you hit someone often squanders opportunities elsewhere on the screen. Waiting for floaties to recover to ledge guard them is generally bad. Grabbing the ledge for a ledgeguard when the recovering player’s teammate comes down with invincibility is bad. Approaching floaties if they have a non-floaty teammate is often a bad choice. Holding shield is good because your teammate can help you get out of shield safely. Waiting for someone to come down after hitting them in the air is bad. Spamming spaced moves on both sides of an opponent (“sandwiching”) is good.
There you go. Literally point out those things when someone on the screen does them and you’ll fill 90% of the air unless you’re commentating top 8 at a national. It’s really not that hard. Don’t focus on individual confrontations but on the positioning of the team as a whole. If anyone reading actually wants to build their knowledge of doubles, I wrote 3 guides (scroll down on this blog) and also put a bunch of content on my youtube channel https://youtube.com/elitenorcalgaming.
The final topic, which I don’t have a ton to say about, is the lack of storylines. The best way to fix this is some kind of incentive or requirement involving static teammates. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that this is an area where the best interests of the individual competitors do not align with that of the viewer at this time. The landscape of the tournament scene is such that we have majors every few weeks that have no relation to one another. It’s not fair or feasible to require people to have the same teammates from tournament to tournament, especially considering that both teammates may not attend every tournament. It might be possible to fly people out so we have the desired teams more often, but honestly, besides PewFat and UGS, who already have sponsors, which teams would we really want to see with regularity? If at some point, we have a circuit like we did for MLG, then a requirement for static teammates will be more sensible. Until then, I’ll just keep my hopes up that some teams will develop and hone their skills enough to become competitive enough to fight against two top singles players. Good teamwork is extremely strongly rewarded in game. Big House 6 looks like a promising event with teams such as Frootloop+Darkatma, Silentwolf+Bladewise, Lucky+Reno, S2J+Lovage, Shroomed+Alan, PewFat, and Team UGS to show the power of well developed teamwork. It will be much more hype once we have more than one team that can go toe to toe with teams thrown together with two top 5 singles players.