Hbox and the Cheat: What Made Summit (and BTS) Special
In the wake of BTS collapse, the entire esports world mourned. But no esport felt the fall more than Smash—a scene where BTS played a special, irreplaceable role.
When you think of the biggest professional Super Smash Bros. tournaments, you typically think of packed convention centers or booked theaters with thousands of screaming fans watching two people duking it out on stage. But for hundreds of thousands of viewers, their introduction to Beyond the Summit didn’t come from an arena. It came from seeing four guys on a couch; four guys who happened to be four of the greatest Smash players of all time; competitors at this very event, who were now cracking jokes with each other as if they were reality TV stars.
This moment—one of Mang0, Armada, PPMD, and Mew2King sitting together, talking about Smash and reminiscing on their times as competitors—was the kind of thing you could only see at Smash Summit. Beyond the Summit, the organization behind the Summit series, had brought a new type of Smash tournament to the community: a competitive invitational in a mansion featuring the world’s best players. It would remain an annual mainstay of the scene, an event as prestigious as any other that tournament organizers could offer – arena or no.
That changed on February 27, 2023, when LD, the company’s CEO, suddenly announced the shutdown of BTS. Per his statement, it was due to facing a drastic financial situation that left the company no better choice than to disband entirely, after completing its final Smash Ultimate Summit. In the wake of its collapse, the entire esports world mourned. But no esport felt the fall more than Smash—a scene where BTS played a special, irreplaceable role.
What Made Smash Summit Special?
Team Liquid’s Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma is a three-time Smash Summit champion and the former world No. 1 Melee player for three years straight. Having competed in all but one of the Melee Summits and at two Ultimate Summits (that’s 15 summits total), Hungrybox might just know this tournament series as well as its organizers. Even if not that well, he knows what makes it meaningful, prestigious, and unlike anything else in perhaps any competitive field.
“Summit is more intimate,” Hungrybox said. “They give special care for each player, and because there’s only so many of you, they attend to your needs much more, so when you’re there, it feels like you really earned something special.”
Although BTS typically automatically invites around ten players a season to attend the event, there are other ways of getting in. Players can sometimes qualify through high placements at tournaments chosen as qualifiers, but the most well-known way is through being voted in by the public. The catch: the more money someone spent in Summit’s online compendium shop, the more votes they had to spend on qualified players. This money from the compendium would then pour into the prize pool for the event, giving Summit some of the largest payouts in Smash history. Hungrybox has made his way into Summit through all three paths.
Surprisingly, the most grueling route might have been the public vote. As Summit’s prestige—and prize pool—increased, the battle for votes increased as well. More than a public poll, the vote became a “campaign” for players where they leveraged their local scenes, fan bases, and online presences as much as possible in a battle for a final Summit spot. The battle could be wild and controversial, but it was never boring. Where else would you find someone willing to eat a raw onion or make a diss track in exchange for votes?
(With Summit on the line, ChuDat eats an entire raw onion as though it were an apple.)
The most infamous example of a vote-in player was Nick Yingling. In spite of never being ranked in Melee’s vaunted Top 100, Yingling had hundreds of thousands of votes thrown under his name to get voted into Summit. His campaign manager was a known personality in Smash and TO from his region, Mikey “TheCheat” Iosue. Iosue would later go on to work with Summit as a Creative Producer, and as someone who saw the voting from both ends, he felt that it was a vital part of Summit becoming the leading invitational in Smash.
“I think that there’s just something special about getting your person into Summit; it was like a secret sauce,” Iosue said. “Whether it’s a popular streamer or a top player rallying their region behind them, I think it really is just about, in a lot of cases, the connection voters felt with each other in their communities. It’s cool that we not only had this event that was fun to watch and fun to be a part of, but [that it] also became a rallying point for people.”
Although Hungrybox acknowledged the Summit campaigns could be intense, expensive, and exhausting for players, from his perspective, it was a no-brainer to go for that golden ticket.
He put it simply, “If you’re in competitive Smash, it’s the dream.”
It’s important to note that Summit wasn’t exclusive to Smash—there were Summits in Dota, CS, TFT, and beyond. Those Summits mattered a lot too, but Summit never quite mattered as much to any scene as it did to Smash. Think about it this way: Smash Summit was a chance to socialize and train with the best players in the world for a week, and then compete against them for one of Smash’s few substantive prize pools. CS or Dota’s Summits didn’t usually have that same pull in terms of prize pool or competitive level. Any Summit was fun, unique, and cherished in its esport. But a Smash Summit could be life-changing.
(A CS summit even produced what might be one of the most legendary memes in esports.)
When asked about his favorite memories from the invitational series, Hungrybox immediately brought up Smash Summit 5. That year, Hungrybox was on a career-redefining tear that put him in contention for rank one player for the first time in over a decade of playing Melee. Beating the best of the best at Summit 5, and winning his first Summit ever, effectively sealed the deal and began what would be a historic three-year stretch on top.
And more than just increased accolades and money, winning a Summit simply felt better, too.
“Unlike winning most majors, where you have to sign autographs and deal with exhaustion, winning a Summit is winning right in front of your peers,” Hungrybox said. “There’s really a feeling of something special with a small crowd, where we know why we’re all here and [we’re] playing with no distractions.”
Iosue notes that the small crowd and unique vibe also meant a lot to the audience. “Summit gave viewers access to top players, which wasn’t really there at usual tourneys. Because there were only 16 of them, they each had more screen time on average, so we got to highlight everyone one of the attendees in a cool way.”
Iosue noted that this kind of streaming experience was important to deliver for the Smash scene. The way he put it, Smash’s typical viewership was still heavily dependent on the success of tournaments, with individual streamers like Mang0 and Hungrybox being notable exceptions to that rule. Summit gave audiences a chance to see top players develop their brands; to Ideally help create a few more Mang0s and Hungryboxes.
Hungrybox added that he especially appreciated how willing the Summit staff was to listen to player needs and incorporate feedback into future events. In fact, for Hungrybox, that was the main takeaway from Summit: Always listen to the players, the audiences, and the community. Then you might earn a name that’s remembered long after the doors are shut.
“When the brand becomes so good at delivering a product, we begin to just refer to [that product] as the brand name,” he added. “So now when you see Smash invitationals in the future, we won’t just see them as invitationals—we’ll see them as Summits.”
What made Beyond The Summit Special?
Because of Smash Summit’s presence as a premier event, BTS had already established itself as a premier player in the community. But behind the scenes—as a full-fledged production company—BTS may have had an even larger impact. BTS’ representatives often reached out to heads of grassroots events, like Genesis, Shine, The Big House, to work on collective sales and partnerships deals—the most prominent one being the annual sponsorship campaign with Papa John's. This kind of broader deal, and the cross-tourney appeal of it, was relatively unprecedented in Smash history, as it brought tournament organizers money to fund its operations and to keep events out of the financial red, which is something the largely grassroots esport struggles to achieve to this day.
BTS also lent its own stream and assets to grassroots events. With its large Twitch platform of over 1 million DOTA followers and 400,000 Smash followers, BTS would partner with tournament organizers to help them better monetize their viewership and tap into a large and passionate audience it had spent years building.
Before BTS, event operators would usually pay streamers to broadcast their events. Through its partnerships with grassroots organizers, BTS had basically reversed the dynamic and empowered DOTA and Smash organizers of all sizes to reach much wider audiences – and get a better share of the revenue. What BTS did effectively came from what it noticed in other competitive fields, like sports, where channels often bid on the rights to stream events rather than the other way around.
As Iosue put it, “taking a look at how it usually works, it just made more sense and created a bigger upside for everyone.”
When it came to the topic of BTS’s eventual shutdown, Iosue said that it was sudden. December 2022, per Iosue, had been the company’s busiest month of work, and the company-wide expectation was that they would be even busier in the months to come. Iosue said that broader economic conditions had played a major role in sponsors dropping out. When asked if it was an esports-specific problem, Iosue said that it went beyond that.
“Higher interest rates typically make companies we work with risk-averse and less willing to pump money into marketing,” Iosue explained. He added that BTS had also lost a contract related to its DOTA projects, and other projects fell through too as major brands began aggressively slashing marketing and advertising budgets and started 2023 with a series of mass layoffs affecting hundreds of thousands.
In spite of the unfortunate end, Iosue felt hopeful for Smash, saying that the long-time lack of traditional developer support from Nintendo had created conditions where Smash had been used to hard times and the idea of sustaining itself.
Though Iosue said that the loss of BTS was undeniably devastating, he had confidence that Smash could be okay; that as much as the news hurt, the community would find a way to evolve.
“We had no idea four years ago [what] would be possible,” Iosue remarked, “We didn’t ever predict that a series like Summit would ever show up, and we never thought about getting a brand deal like Papa Johns.”
“As long as we have people in this community who are willing to put work into it and are passionate about it, we’re going to find a way to make cool stuff happen.”
BTS may have been known for its high-quality events, but above everything else, it earned that reputation through a stalwart dedication to the communities it broadcasted to.
Although its shutdown may reflect symptoms of an economy in turmoil, it may also serve as a call to action for the scene—many of whom were inspired by BTS—to find new ways to contribute to their communities. To honor BTS, and to reach the summit again, the most anyone can do is take lessons from the rise and fall, to celebrate the run it had at the top, and to create something new.