SPEAKERS: Alexander Lee, Imad Khan, Noah Downs
Imad Khan 00:01
What’s up everybody, this is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today on this Taking it to the Man Edition is reporter and editor Alexander Lee.
Alexander Lee 00:09
It’s good to be here.
Imad Khan 00:10
And later on we’ll have attorney Noah Downs to talk senator Thom Tillis’ new streaming bill. But first Smash Bros. Over the weekend streamer Ludwig Ahgren. Put on a Smash Bros. Melee charity tournament titled The Ludwig Ahgren championship series or LACS3 meant as a clap back towards Nintendo and its hostile stance towards playing its game with emulation and custom netcode during a pandemic. By all accounts, the stream was a success with over $250,000 raised for the charity Games for Love with more than 60,000 concurrent viewers. The winner was Cloud9’s Joseph “Mango”Marquez who absolutely dominated the event, strolling through the bracket. So Alex, as a Smash reporter, first let’s break down the win for Mango it you know he’s had a difficult past few years dealing with Hungrybox dealing with Zain. What did this win look like for Mango?
Alexander Lee 01:00
Right so Mango has pretty clearly defined himself as the second best player of the year in the online Slippi meta. He’s really been grinding I think he’s experienced as a streamer, who often played Melee in front of an audience helped him adapt to the online era pretty well, especially compared to his rival Hungrybox. But the number one player, Zain, has really emerged as the preeminent rival for mango this year, defeating him in numerous Grand Finals for events such as Rollback Rumble. And I think part of why mango was able to have such a cakewalk through the bracket is that he dodged Zain. In this tournament, he instead defeated IBDW, the number three player in the world, in the Grand Finals another player who has shown that he can absolutely beat mango in the past, but not as I’ll be using
Imad Khan 01:53
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting Zain ended up you know, taking it wasn’t loser’s bracket and end up losing to Axe the probably the best Pikachu player in the world. Has been a problem for Zain.
Alexander Lee 02:03
Absolutely. If you were watching, there was actually a bit of a meme that flying through twitch chat during that match, which was Nobody beats Zain 10 times in a row. Because I believe prior to this match, Axe had beaten Zain nine times in a row including a heartbreaking set in real life at the last Smash Summit event, which was one by Axe in a very tight last combat game five. So I would say that Axe is probably Zain’s greatest demon. And then in the winner’s bracket Zain lost to S2J, who I would say also represents a bit of a weakness for the Marth player. Although Zain has beaten S2J numerous times in the past he’s shown that the Captain Falcon matchup is one of his weaker matchups as far as top tiers are concerned.
Imad Khan 02:52
Yeah, the Pikachu one is a little interesting to me because you know, I’ve, there’s a kind of convention that Pikachu is just a less good Fox and Zain versus spaces. It’s always been very dominant for him. Yet when it comes to this spacey in this case, we can picture just being a bit stockier and a bit worse, and maybe it’s just Axe and his ability with with this character specifically, he is quite proficient.
Alexander Lee 03:15
Well, it’s a mixed bag. So you’re right that the conventional wisdom is that Pikachu is a poor man’s Fox, because they do share a lot of similar things in their kit, most prominently a very powerful up smash as one of their primary kill moves. But really Zain’s greatest strength against bases is his punish game, which typically culminates in edge guards and Pikachu’s recovery is just leagues better spacies have good recovery, I don’t want to undersell them. But Pikachu’s recovery is one of the best in the game and the character is nearly impossible to get. So without getting early stocks in the form of edge guards, Zain was really struggling to finish x it he would often get far above 100% before he was able to finish his opponent. And additionally, I think it was just to some extent it was a result of matchup inexperience on Zain’s part. I mean, people say this all the time. Many people will tell you that Pikachu beats Marth. But My take is that there’s just one good Pikachu player out there and there are many good Marth players out there. And unfortunately Zain’s only opportunity to practice against Axe in a tournament setting, you know is at events that are relatively few and far between. They live pretty far apart, Axe being a West Coast player and Zain being an East Coast player. On the other hand, we’ve seen Ty, who’s an Arizona Marth player who’s one of axes primary practice Parker’s actually take sets off of Axe and tournament and do relatively well against him even when they’re just practicing on stream. So I don’t think it’s a matchup issue. I think it’s a matchup inexperience issue.
Imad Khan 04:53
Interesting interesting. Now let’s go on to you know lacs three. So leading up to this event, you know, it was followed. It was followed with Five Days of Melee, which is this kind of a kind of like a, an effort to round together the Smash community towards, you know, one goal and bring in Melee and even Project M as a kind of response to Nintendo’s shutdown of the Big House Online. And even earlier this week, or last week, Nintendo shut down a university Smash Ultimate tournament, say, citing that it would be starting its own collegiate league of sorts. You know, with LACS3 going on bringing in really solid numbers overall. I mean, was there any rumblings from Nintendo that it would try to put us, you know, some kind of cease and desist on the events.
Alexander Lee 05:36
So of course, with the cancellation of the big house online, and the many revelations that have come out during the #freemelee debacle, there was a lot of fear that Nintendo would show its face shortly before the event. I think one reason why Nintendo did not shut down the event was because it did not have an official contract of any kind with Ludwig. So one of the issues that led to Nintendo shutting down the big house online is that Nintendo has sponsored The big House in the past. And I don’t know the specifics. But I know that Robin Harne, juggleguy, the tournament organizer of the big house had some kind of ongoing deal in relationship with Nintendo. And I think whatever contract you signed with Nintendo gave the company enough leverage that they could prevent the tournament from going down. Ludwig, you know, he’s an independent streamer, the entire operation was a little less official, a little less polished. And so he didn’t have that kind of relationship with Nintendo. And at the same time, I think you may have mentioned that the tournament was a charity event, it was raising hundreds of 1000s of dollars, for Gamers for Love. And it would have been really bad PR for Nintendo to shut that down, as opposed to a for profit event like The Big House.
Imad Khan 06:51
But that’s not to say that the players are not going to be walking with any money. I mean, Ludwig said, on stream that, you know, he owed Mango a check of $12,000 meaning that it was probably going to be a similar prize pool dole out of LACS2 with $20,000 total with, you know, top price taking what 50%. So, I mean, this is not a bad payout for a Melee event. And it seems that the Smash community overall is very happy with Ludwig as a streamer for with how he’s supporting the community. And it seems that they’re coming back and droves to support him and support these types of charity events. I mean, do you feel that, you know, just because of bad PR that the future of Melee online must always be tied to some kind of charity?
Alexander Lee 07:32
Well, it is a certainly a precedent for that, for competitive Melee being associated with charity. The the original charity drive that got melee into Evo back in 2013, was a huge turning point for the community. And so I I hesitate to speculate that charity is the future of Melee, but I think it’s something that would really be welcomed by the community. Like you said, there was still a very good payout for the Ludwig Ahgren Championship Series three, especially for smaller esport like Melee. And so I just don’t think that Melee players are in it for the money, per se, certainly, they’re in it to make a living. But mainly fans Melee players understand that, to some extent, the payout will always be secondary when it comes to Melee tournament. So I certainly think that the stage has been set for this to be more popular and more common thing in the future. I don’t think that this will be every Melee tournament moving forward, because the players do need to eat.
Imad Khan 08:33
Yeah, you know, I’m thinking of just how successful Twitch and Twitch streamers have been one partner in the charity. And I think of Dr. Lupo and how much he’s done for charity, and just how much like absurd amounts of money he’s always able to raise with with his streams. You know, and I wonder to what extent Ludwig would be able to kind of market off this success and maybe partner with other top streamers that do a lot of charity tournament, you know, charity fundraising, to help continue to build up the clout of this scene in lieu of potential legal, you know, challenges from Nintendo?
Alexander Lee 09:06
Yeah, I mean, I think you’re absolutely right that Ludwig is he kind of represents the, the entry of Melee into the mainstream to some extent, he’s a streamer who started that within the Melee scene, and is now one of the largest and most popular streamers in all of Twitch. So there’s definitely potential there. I do think that there are other streamers who are even larger than Ludwig, who already kind of have a finger on the pulse of the community. You mean, I mean, you look at MoistCr1TiKaL who has been organizing the Frame Perfect series of online Ultimate tournaments. So I don’t think Ludwig is the only ambassador for competitive Smash, but he is the first top level Twitch streamer to have come directly from the Smash community. So there is certainly a potential there. I’m not sure if that answers your question.
Imad Khan 09:58
No, no, it does. And I think in Well, I guess my last question is leading up to 2021. I mean, the vaccine is starting to slowly, you know, come out there, but it will still be dominating people’s lives until it, you know, becomes really widespread. So, you know, as you mentioned earlier in the podcast, we’re in a different era for for Melee. And, you know, I guess people are calling it the Slippi era. So, you know, what are some of the defining characteristics of this era and how will it influence mash going into 2021?
Alexander Lee 10:24
Sure, so I’ll give a basic primer on Slippi. It’s an online it’s a net code for Super Smash Bros. Melee that was developed by a designer named Fizzi. Jas “Fizzi” Laferriere. Earlier this year, that uses rollback to create the smoothest yet online Super Smash Bros. experience. And while Slippi is amazing, and it’s it’s enabled the many online tournaments that have happened this year, it’s still a far cry from playing on a CRT TV next to someone else in real life. There is some latency, you’ll still occasionally see things like teleports or desyncs. And and it changes the metagame. We’ve seen it affect Hungrybox, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma quite a bit, he was formerly the number one player for years leading up to 2020. And he got ninth at Ludwig Ahgren Championship Series 3. So that is almost certainly a result of his character Jigglypuff relying on micro spacing and very small interactions that are changed significantly by by net play of any kind, including rollback. So that’s one thing we’ve seen, players like Hungrybox do worse. While we’ve seen players like Ginger, Avery “ginger” Wilson do better, in part because ginger plays a character Falco that’s much faster and is frankly just a harder character to play against online because it’s more difficult to react to his moves, and especially the audio of his recovery moves. So that’s one aspect. However, I do think that this will be the state of affairs for the foreseeable future. The Smash scene and esports in general is a young community. I don’t foresee the majority of people in the community getting vaccinated in the first half of this year. Typically, most major events happened in the summer. And that’s I just don’t think that there will be many, if any real life major events this year. So while there is a change in the in the metagame, it’s kind of inevitable, and it’s something that we will continue to see I think at least until the end of 2021 especially as Hungrybox focuses on being more of a variety and Super Smash Bros ultimate streamer than a melee competitor.
Imad Khan 12:52
Well, with that, thank you so much for jumping on.
Alexander Lee 12:54
Thanks a lot. It’s been a pleasure.
Imad Khan 12:55
And now I’m joined by videogame IP and entertainment law attorney Noah Downs from Morrison Rothman. Earlier this month the US Senator from North Carolina, Thom Tillis released the full text of his bill titled The Protecting Lawful Streaming Act. While Tillis has clarified that the bill does not go after small content creators and instead larger operations that deal in illegal streaming. It hasn’t assuage concerns from those in the streaming space. Journalist and commentator Rod “Slasher” Breslau vented on Twitter against the bill, however, linking entertainment companies that have donated to Tillis. Breslau claims that Tillis wants to make streaming of copyrighted material on Twitch and YouTube a felony. So no, it seems that there’s a lot of information being thrown from both sides regarding this bill. After reading the text, do you think the concerns that Breslau and others have are legitimate?
Noah Downs 13:40
Well, I don’t want to go out and say that Rod’s concerns are illegitimate, because obviously Rod has been a great watchdog for the industry. And you know, he is extremely vocal about these issues. That said, I think many of the opinions that were formed about this bill, were formed before the text was actually released. Because we heard hey, you know, felony streaming. That’s bad. And, you know, even I was concerned at the beginning, before I was able to find a copy of the text. Once it was released, I went through it. And it’s not as concerning as I thought it was going to be. That said, That’s relying on traditional interpretations, this thing could be interpreted as to pose an issue. But as it’s currently written, and with some of the language around it from the senators and Congresspeople that are examining it, I believe that it’s going to actually be fairly vanilla when it comes to our industry.
Imad Khan 14:42
Hmm. I mean, what are some of these services that Tillis’ bill is trying to target?
Noah Downs 14:48
so it’s important to recognize that streaming as a form of content distribution has not been examined by Congress in the same way that you know other methods of distribution have been. So traditionally, when you’re thinking of internet piracy, you’re thinking of illegal downloads. However, downloads have been left behind in favor of streaming services. So when we talk about piracy on the internet, we’re talking now mostly about streaming. So piracy through downloads is already already a felony. However, piracy through illicit streaming services is not currently, it’s only a misdemeanor. The idea or at least, that’s what everybody’s saying, behind this act is to bring streaming services in line with downloads and other forms of piracy of content. So the idea here would be, you know, let’s not make the entirety of Twitch illegal for better for lack of a better term. But rather, let’s make this in more in line with, you know, services that are used to illegally stream movies to an audience or services that are just primarily used to illegally stream music to an audience. So that’s what would be made a felony under that’s not, you know, just having a random music in the background of your stream. However, it could be interpreted so as to affect Twitch if it was put into the wrong hands. If you think about it, legislation is only as good as the people that are enforcing it. And it’s subject to the interpretations of the courts and of the enforcers. And so this broadly defines service provider that is providing service for illegal streaming. So if you think about it, Amazon’s Twitch service allows you to stream video games, many of which are streamed without proper licensing. That’s not to say the developers don’t want the game streamed. It’s just that the developers in many cases don’t go out and say, yeah, you can stream my game. So that’s the concern is that there is a there is an easy way to interpret this that goes against the intent. The intent is not to take down Twitch or YouTube or anything, but it could be interpreted like that in the wrong hands.
Imad Khan 17:13
Do you feel that if a company does try to go after YouTube streamers and Twitch streamers? I mean, I think probably the most prominent one right now that’s at least in esports been causing a bit of kerfuffle has been Nintendo in regards to Smash and how its IP is used, whether it be with modifications, like project memory, or any modifications done to its property. Do you think a company like Nintendo could use that news this bill to go after streamers?
Noah Downs 17:39
Yeah, I think that there is a miniscule likelihood of that happening. I don’t want to say it’s impossible. But I would want to see this language narrowly defined within the bill. The bill and its current state is, I think, in delicate and how it puts things it overly over broadly defined streaming. And I would want to see specific carve outs and exceptions for services like Twitch and YouTube, because I could see a world in which a company like Nintendo, who has very sharp lawyers, could interpret this as, hey, we’ve got another stick to go after people that are, you know, streaming our stuff without permission. That said, like I said, you know, if the Act would have to go into the hands of the enforcers at that point, so Nintendo can’t just call up, you know, the prosecutors and say, hey, there’s a felony here, they’d have to actually go through the process, and the prosecutors would need to determine if an actual crime had been committed enough that they think that they could charge it, and then you’d have to go through the entire, you know, Criminal Defense process, until you get an ultimate Trier of fact whether it’s a jury or a judge, who would have to determine whether this fall strictly under the letter of that law.
Imad Khan 18:59
Would you go so far as to say that the act is poorly worded and that, you know, maybe a third party organization or rights advocacy organization like the maybe the Electronic Frontier Foundation would need to maybe make some recommendations?
Noah Downs 19:12
I think that’d be really smart. The I think the act is poorly worded. I don’t think that it properly takes into account the existing state of content creation on the internet. I think it was written by people who don’t understand what we do. And you know, Senator Thom Tillis didn’t do his homework. He I think he identified an actual problem which kudos to him for that and then that is probably the only time I’ll ever say that about senator Thom Tillis. No comment beyond that, but uh, I think that he did it in delicately it’s like taking a hammer when really you need a chisel. And so, I believe that the E FF or you know, their their fellow organizations would need to get involved to maybe submit comments or you know, it will take streamers standing up and saying Hey, guys, I know you don’t mean to target us, but we feel targeted here.
Imad Khan 20:03
Do you feel that you as an attorney would want to even reach out to tell us his office and maybe speak with a staff member to kind of discuss the bill?
Noah Downs 20:10
Oh, I’d welcome the opportunity, because I think that what we’re facing here is a lack of education, not willful ignorance. But rather, it’s such a streaming as a whole on the internet. It’s such a huge topic, that it’s almost impossible for one legislator in their aides to go through and say, Hey, we understand everything. I think they do need to solicit outside voices. And I think that process is coming. I’d be I’d love to be the one that that contributes directly. But I hope that they do hear from a voice in the industry. That is.
Imad Khan 20:46
what do you think about existing commentary from organizations about this bill?
Noah Downs 20:51
I think that some of it is there’s a lot of these organizations, I think are taking a wait and see approach. For example, public knowledge came out and said that they do not see the need for further criminal penalty penalties beyond copyright infringement. But they did note that the bill is narrowly tailored. So I think everybody is taking a stance or taking a stance and waiting or they’re waiting to take a stance. I think everybody kind of recognizes this is a brute force method that is not properly tailored, but it’s making an attempt. So and Senator Thom Tillis himself came out and said, You know, we’re not aiming at streamers for this. We’re aiming at criminal commercial organizations. I don’t think anybody would say that Amazon is a criminal, commercial organization. Well, actually, some people might but you know, in a serious context.
Imad Khan 21:46
I mean, I it’s it seems more and more that there has to be some kind of bill that really starts to define the rights that somebody who does stream content online, especially the content of somebody else’s IP, like what they are allowed and not allowed to have in terms of free us and, you know, remixing content.
Noah Downs 22:07
Yeah, I agree. You know, we’ve we’ve been finding these issues with the scourge of the DMCA and the RIAA on Twitch over the last few months, I would say that the concern is that nobody’s going to listen to streamers, and, you know, have that traditional, oh, they’re just gamers, what do they know? Why would they be involved in this process. However, this industry is here to stay, it’s a multi billion dollar industry. And what’s crazy is that it’s a multi billion dollar industry that doesn’t necessarily have a seat at the table with the lawmakers. And that’s showing in terms of our ability to make a living, our ability to influence legislation, our ability to go forth and make a living without having to look a look over our shoulders. And so while our industry is kind of a square peg in a round hole’d itself to existence, I think that we need to have an acknowledgement at a federal level in terms of legislation that this industry is profitable. It’s widespread, and it’s here to stay. In fact, it’s replacing a lot of traditional media for a lot of consumers. So the laws need to be updated. And while I think that this is this proposal is an update of existing law to recognize streaming, I think that it comes without a corresponding law that’s in favor of content creators.
Imad Khan 23:40
Well then thank you so much for jumping on.
Noah Downs 23:42
Of course, thanks for having me.
Imad Khan 23:43
And that was FTW with Imad Khan. if you liked the show, please rate subscribe and share. Your support will help our show grow. For full transcripts of the show, head on over to ftwimad.com. To follow Alex and all the work he does in esports, you can find him @Alexleewastaken on Twitter. To follow Noah and keep up to date on IP law and esports find him @mylawyerfriend on Twitter. To follow me and my work over at the New York Times The Washington Post and elsewhere to find me @imad on Twitter. And Ron Lyons is our audio producer. With that, we’ll catch you guys next week.