Smash Marketing 101–The Issues With ARMS Saga

arms saga

Ok, so there are a few different emotions happening in readers right now. Some of you are super excited, expecting a rage-filled takedown of all the failures of the titanic organization, 2GGaming. That’s not what’s about to happen. Others of you have already hit that downvote button, assuming this is just another rant about some minor mistake on the part of a great organization, and someone trying to puff themselves up by taking on someone bigger and better respected for free views.

Honestly, that second one is sort of true. Writing about 2GG has always gotten the best response on this blog for anything Smash related, the only exception being my mock PGR. They are a huge name in the scene and probably the most well-respected organization. Writing about them at all brings out critics, defenders, and casual observers alike. It’s just smart content creation to write about what gets a response.

That said, today’s article has been sitting with me since the moment ARMS Saga was announced. I was hoping to be wrong about it, and have no reason to write this. I was hoping that 2GG would continue to be immune to any of my concerns, and unaffected by any of the mistakes I thought they were making with the 2GGC. However, from a marketing perspective, there are some serious issues with the concept and execution of ARMS Saga that I think are super useful. This is not going to be a critique of 2GG as an organization–they are amazing. Easily the best org in Smash 4. What we’ll be looking at today are specifically the ways in which ARMS Saga does not work as a concept, how 2GG failed in it’s execution, and how that has resulted in the lowest attendance of any saga yet this year.

Bad Numbers

The primary reason I’m writing this article is because of an indisputable fact. ARMS Saga has a surprisingly low turnout for a 2GGC event. At time of writing there are 200 entrants for Smash 4 singles. This is a whopping 131 entrants less than the second-lowest attendance this year, 331 at Midwest Mayhem Saga. Only 200 entrants for a circuit event with a pot bonus run by the best org in the game. To me, that’s a big deal, and a great learning opportunity. Further, there are only 50 people signed up for the ARMS bracket–the thing the whole event is designed around.

Quickly, there are obviously some other factors. The PGR concluded last month, some players might be taking July easy. EVO is the following week, some players are surely resting this week. If there were 300 entrants, I think this would be very reasonable. Sure, the entrants are lower because July is a tough month.

However, every month has been completely stacked this year. We’ve had Genesis, Dreamhacks, CEOs, Smash ‘n Splash–there have been huge conflicting events all year long. EVO is a big deal, but Smash has always been somewhat contentious with it. I don’t buy that EVO alone would cause that big a drop in entrants for a 2GG circuit event with a pot bonus. Factor in the compendium-funded players, and ARMS Saga has lower entrants than many C-tiers this year. That is not simply a fluke of scheduling, it speaks to a larger issue with the conceit of the event. That’s what we’re going to discuss and learn from today.

Initial Theme

Let’s start with the concept of this particular saga. For every other 2GG saga, the theme has been around an influential part of the community. The player sagas celebrated a top pro or high profile player. Civil War celebrated the rivalry between Ally and ZeRo. I wrote in detail about my issues with Greninja Saga, but at least that was based on a character people enjoy watching. Every saga was a celebration of Smash 4 and its community.

Then we have ARMS Saga. If you just saw the name, you would have no way of knowing that this event had anything to do with Smash 4. ARMS Saga does not celebrate the Smash community in any way with it’s core theme. Yes, they found a way to shoehorn Smash in with the Little Mac compendium, but no one can argue that this is core to the theme of ARMS Saga. There’s no Little Mac round robin, there’s no exhibition that celebrates a character or persona in Smash. This is just a Smash 4 tournament with an ARMS side event.

When you’re designing a theme for your event, you have to consider your audience. Smash players are notoriously loyal to their game. We consistently discuss breaking away from multi-game tournaments. We value our grassroots origin and our community above all else. Most smashers don’t even play or watch other fighting games. When creating your theme, make sure it runs parallel to the values and desires of your core audience.

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Pre-Planning

Now, I’ve considered the natural response to the failure of theme. “But Trent, 2GG said they’d only do ARMS Saga if they got enough retweets. The community clearly wanted this saga, so it must be a good idea.”

There are a couple issues with this. First, planning anything based on a Twitter poll or request for retweets is fundamentally flawed from a marketing perspective. It is very easy to hit that retweet button. A retweet doesn’t even necessarily mean you agree with something or want it to happen. It could just mean you want to share in the discussion, or let your followers see something that’s happening in social media today.

Second, even if every retweet was someone agreeing that they want to see an ARMS Saga, that doesn’t make it a good idea. As we said above, this takes away from the tradition of the sagas. It makes the curse clunky and less hype. It doesn’t fit as part of Smash 4’s first and only major circuit. It’s not the responsibility of your followers to consider tradition, longevity, and brand consistency. Twitter is for immediate emotional response. “Hey ARMS is in the news, 2GG is cool. I like both these things, so I’ll hit retweet.” That’s the level of engagement you get in a Twitter-based decision. Further, everyone loves 2GG, myself included. Their sagas are consistently awesome. I hate the theme as a Smash 4 circuit event, but even I was curious to see how 2GG executed on it. Getting a thousand retweets on an idea doesn’t give you any indiction of how that will translate to actual attendance. It just shows that a thousand people like 2GG, have heard of ARMS, and are intrigued by the concept.

This is now two events in a row that were left up to forces outside of 2GG’s control when deciding their theme. First Greninja Saga was decided by a round robin after community voting. Then ARMS Saga was what appears to be a fun idea that they floated on Twitter and then suddenly had to build an event around. The theme is so important. Civil War earned the highest view numbers of any Smash 4-only event in history based on the strength of its theme. Nairo Saga was incredible and a perfect celebration of Nairo because it had time to be properly planned.

At the start of the year, I would have bet money that 2GG had the theme for every saga already planned out. Now, I’m genuinely concerned that they don’t yet know what the theme for August Saga or September Saga will be. If I were on the marketing team, I would be freaking out. The theme for your event determines everything else. It informs the marketing, the banners, the overlays, the schedule, the side events–everything. When you’re waiting for the community to decide your theme, you put everything else on hold. Nothing can be done in advance because you don’t even know what you’re doing yet.

Note: I wrote this article yesterday, but had to come back in and add an edit here. 2GG just literally asked last night on Twitter for saga ideas, and said they may run a poll and use one of them for August Saga.  It’s already July 6th!! That is not enough time to plan a themed event! It is wonderful that they want to involve the community, but have them choose the saga three months from now, not three weeks! This is very clear evidence that 2GG has not been learning from the planning and marketing issues of the last two sagas. If the numbers for August Saga shoot back up well over 300, then maybe I’m just a senseless critic; but either way no one should be looking at this as an example of how to run an event. I genuinely believe that if they took their pre-planning more seriously, we’d see more sagas closer to 500 entrants instead of hovering in the 300s.

Pre-planning is so important, and it’s one of the points where 2GG usually shines as the example for other orgs. It is only at these last two events where that has fallen short. When you’re planning an event, make sure your theme is determined a few months in advance. That way you have the time to confirm relevant players, design exhibitions and graphics, and put together a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Execution

So we have a hastily-designed theme that doesn’t fit the tradition of the sagas. All of this is recoverable if we can still execute well on the theme. Let’s examine how 2GG executed.

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On the ARMS side, we have the side event. As mentioned before, the ARMS side bracket has a total of 50 entrants right now. That’s with a $1000 pot bonus for that bracket. Clearly just having a side bracket with a pot bonus was not enough to draw entrants. If this is going to be ARMS Saga, and the whole event is designed around arms, there needs to be more exhibition around the game. There should be side events for the mini-games within ARMS.  Maybe do a cosplay contest with an ARMS focus. Put the main stage in a boxing ring. If ARMS is in the name, the reason someone should be attending is because this is a celebration of Nintendo’s new fighting game. This is Smash’s newborn baby brother, and we’re welcoming it into our community.  That’s how you sell an ARMS Saga as part of a Smash event. Instead, there’s just a side bracket.

Then, we have the actual Smash side of the theme–the compendium. The compendiums have been awesome and well themed this year. Civil War was about the whole world of Smash joining the fight, so the compendium brought in the best from around the world. Greninja Saga had to bring the frogs. Nairo Saga was brilliant for funding players who regularly appear on Nairo’s stream during his Naifu Wars.

For ARMS Saga, there’s no good way to use the compendiums. There are no ARMS characters in the game. Still, 2GG is about the community, it’s one of the things that makes them so well-respected. They still wanted to use this opportunity to fly in some unique players. The best they could do was the Little Macs. They also have boxing gloves, so it totally works! However, this saga is not about them at all. They are an afterthought, not a feature. They are the tangential connection. This was the least successful player compendium to date for the sagas, when talking about the theme-specific players.

I will say that I like bringing in the winner of the Nintendo VS event to defend his ARMS title, however, the rest of the compendium just does not excite. I still have major issues with the Japan Squad goal. It has nothing to do with the Saga, and it features a player who is sponsored by 2GG. Champ has said before that if Komo attends an event, they bring out Ranai for doubles, so it doesn’t make sense that either player is on the compendium, a compendium that again has nothing to do with the theme of the saga. In fact, this one likely took away from getting more of the Little Macs funded, who were at least tangentially related to the theme.

When you execute well on a theme, everything fits. Look at Civil War or Nairo Saga–every side event, every compendium, every everything worked within the theme of the event. When they plan it out and are on top of their game, no one touches 2GG in terms of theme. They have reaped all the benefits of their excellence in event design, it makes it all the more puzzling that they are suddenly falling short in this area.

 

So in closing, what’s the point of this article? Why can’t I leave 2GG alone? It’s because to me, 2GG represents everything that frustrates me about Smash. They are an amazing, passionate organization. They love this community and have done more for it than almost anyone. However, they are also wasting so much potential. Smash 4 is still insignificant in the grand scheme of esports. This isn’t because Nintendo won’t support us. It has nothing to do with a lack of money in the scene. It has everything to do with our organizers and community leaders not capitalizing on their full potential. 2GG could be a goliath in esports if they wanted. They have so many resources at their disposal, and fewer hurdles in front of them than any other Smash 4 TO. To whom much has been given, much should be expected.

I’m new to Smash, but I’m already not satisfied with where we are. I want every TO and top player making a full-time living wage for their work. I want the PGStats crew getting compensated for their work. I want the cinematography of Civil War at every significant event. I want a real circuit, a governing body, and a clear global competitive structure. All of these things can happen, but only if we as fans expect more. It only works if we keep pushing our best and brightest to be better. 2GG is the cornerstone of Smash 4. Our success rises and falls with them. They got us to a new height with Civil War, but have not maintained that momentum. I want more, and I want our best organization to be leading the charge, to not get complacent, and to always press forward. I want it to be ok for us as a community to demand excellence. Our leaders are equal to the task. We know they can deliver. It’s up to us to give them the drive to keep climbing.

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One thought on “Smash Marketing 101–The Issues With ARMS Saga

  1. Always good to see more contribution to the smash scene. One thing if you really want to improve your writing though… it’s = it is. it’s =/= its.

    Like

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