How COVID-19 shaped the LMBM 2022 experience
Max Ketchum emcees grand finals at LMBM 2022.
Provided by Brandon Prudencio (@TridentSkrt)

How COVID-19 shaped the LMBM 2022 experience

Quidd: 'I felt pretty safe and comfortable ... I trusted that everyone running the event was doing everything in their power to keep it safe'

Bryson “Tuscuu” Jones and his triplet brothers, Joshua and Camden, spent nearly six hours waiting for COVID-19 tests in Cary, North Carolina, on Jan. 5. This was the day before they were to leave for Tuscuu’s first Super Smash Bros. Ultimate major, Let’s Make Big Moves 2022.

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After more than two years competing online and at locals, Tuscuu was excited to attend.

“In my mind, anything bar COVID would not have stopped me from going,” Tuscuu said.

All three brothers tested negative and were in New York City the next day. They showed their negative COVID-19 tests to the tournament organizers and settled into their room in The New Yorker hotel where the tournament took place. After spending one full day at the venue, Joshua developed a sore throat and a headache.

On Jan. 8, Tuscuu and Camden awoke with headaches. As the only one who felt well enough to walk around the city, Tuscuu began searching for COVID-19 tests. Tournament organizer Maximillian “Max Ketchum” Krchmar eventually directed Tuscuu to a nearby location where he and his brothers could get rapid tests, but not before Tuscuu missed his chance to play in the Ultimate Singles bracket.

Nevertheless, Tuscuu tested negative for COVID-19 again, giving him the opportunity to return to the tournament venue. A few hours later, Joshua and Camden got tested and both came back positive.

“I can’t go back to my room I think,” Tuscuu tweeted.

Already down hundreds of dollars, Tuscuu resolved to stay awake and enjoy the event for as long as possible; then he would think about where he would spend the night.

The inside of the New Yorker Hotel, where LMBM 2022 took place.
The New Yorker Hotel, where LMBM 2022 took place. | Provided by Brandon Prudencio (@TridentSkrt).

Planning for LMBM 2022 as cases rise

The Super Smash Bros. community returned to offline competition in the summer of 2021. But, a recent spike in Omicron cases forced TOs to reconsider their plans. For example, the Genesis 8 TOs rescheduled their event from January to April, “incurring costs into the six figure range” as a result. Likewise, the LMBM TOs were forced to balance difficult health and financial concerns leading up to and during their tournament.

As soon as LMBM 2020 ended, Even Matchup Gaming began planning the next iteration of the series. While the pandemic prevented them from hosting an event in early 2021, they committed in April of that year to bring the tournament back in 2022, since the COVID-19 vaccine was becoming widely available in the United States.

Before EMG announced LMBM 2022 in June of 2021, other Smash tournaments like Riptide and Community Effort Orlando had already begun announcing offline events for later in the year.

“We [announced] it thinking it would go off without a hitch and [COVID-19] would be in a lot better spot than it was before that,” Max Ketchum said.

The decision to host the tournament was further affirmed by the Smash community, as the tournament reached its attendee cap a little more than an hour after it was announced.

“We felt as though we had a really good shot at selling out [but] we never expected to sell out in a couple of hours,” EMG co-founder Joe “Toronto Joe” Cribari said. “That was f***ing crazy.”

From the outset, LMBM 2022 required that all attendees be fully vaccinated. Many prior Smash majors, like Riptide and Super Smash Con: Fall Fest, only required attendees to either have one dose of the vaccine or show a negative COVID-19 test.

Learning from other tournaments

Multiple players tested positive for COVID-19 after the Smash World Tour Championships in December. The tournament was held in Florida, where state law prevents businesses from requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination.

“I wouldn’t even say that [the] World Tour did a bad job handling safety or anything,” Max Ketchum said. “I guess you could say deciding to host it in Florida was their biggest mistake, but where you’re going to host all comes down to s*** beyond COVID.”

As Omicron cases in New York continued to rise, Max Ketchum said he was the first to suggest canceling the tournament to the rest of the LMBM team.

“I was definitely a little panicky,” Max Ketchum said. “Pre-Let’s Make Big Moves Max is a little different from regular Max; a lot less carefree and chill sometimes.”

However, without a government mandate shutting down in-person gatherings, the TOs couldn’t get out of their contract with The New Yorker hotel. The only way they could afford to cancel the event would be to ask for donations from the community, which Max Ketchum said he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing.

“It would’ve been awesome if we could’ve postponed it,” Toronto Joe said. “But, not only is it a logistical nightmare on the calendar side of things, because events have already booked all the weekends in the spring [and] summer, from a financial standpoint, it would put us in a really tough spot to have to pay the venue, the rental deposit, plus all the cancellation costs that were associated with it.”

With cancellation off the table, the TOs decided to increase their safety measures for the tournament. On Dec. 28, Max Ketchum announced that, in addition to showing proof of full vaccination, all attendees would have to show a negative COVID-19 test. Still, Max Ketchum said he hoped registered players would “do the right thing” and stay home if they would be putting themselves or any immunocompromised loved ones at risk.

Showtime

The dynamics for the LMBM team changed when Toronto Joe tested positive for COVID-19 the day before he was going to fly to New York. While Max Ketchum and Cyrus “Cagt” Gharakhanian led the charge on the ground, Toronto Joe said he took a “zoomed out approach” and contributed remotely.

The hotel helped out by giving wristbands to all vaccinated attendees. Hotel security walked around during the event to check wristbands and make sure everyone in attendance had shown proof of vaccination. Tournament-goers were also required to wear masks at all times. The TOs ran temperature checks, directed people to nearby testing sites and made sure hand sanitizer was readily accessible.

“This was, all things considered, the strictest event on COVID,” Max Ketchum said. “[We took] every single precaution in the book, other than requiring people to wear hazmat suits.”

Despite the looming COVID-19 concerns, Max Ketchum said attendees generally didn’t seem anxious. All of the safety measures were reassuring for the tournament’s eventual champion Chris “Quidd” Rella. Quidd said he had contemplated dropping out of the tournament before the negative test requirement was put into place.

“I felt pretty safe and comfortable because I trusted that everyone running the event was doing everything in their power to keep it safe for the players,” Quidd said.

Players rush the stage to celebrate Quidd's victory at LMBM 2022.
Players rush the stage to celebrate Quidd’s victory at LMBM 2022. | Provided by Brandon Prudencio (@TridentSkrt)

Moving ahead

A little over half of the 687 entrants who were registered for Singles at LMBM 2022 showed up for their matches. In spite of the TOs’ best efforts, Max Ketchum said he is aware of a few people who tested positive for COVID-19 after the tournament.

“I think everyone kind of knows that if you go to any public gathering right now, you’re at risk of contracting COVID,” Max Ketchum said. “As long as people are conscious of that, I guess it’s ‘attend at your own risk and host at your own risk.’”

Toronto Joe is unsure if he’ll go through with EMG’s next big tournament, Get On My Level, in May. Since he hasn’t officially announced the event, he said he’s fighting with his venue to try to get it postponed.

“They’re giving me the same thing: ‘No, we’re not letting you out of the contract,’” Toronto Joe said. “As it stands right now, I think if you have the ability to not host, you shouldn’t. If you’re forced to host, it’s totally understandable and I don’t think people should be condemned or criticized for that. At the end of the day, we’re grassroots organizers and we can’t just scrap it and take on that financial burden.”

A weekend to remember

Tuscuu stayed up until 4 a.m. on Jan. 9 playing in a Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl bracket, which he won. He texted his family group chat to let them know about his victory. Joshua responded with the question Tuscuu had been avoiding all day: “Where are you sleeping?”

He found a bench outside of the elevators in the hotel, where he managed to sleep for about four hours. Afterward, he spectated the entirety of top 128. With his time at the venue complete, Tuscuu finally returned to the hotel room with his sick brothers.

Tuscuu walked away from LMBM 2022 with mixed feelings. On Jan. 10, he tweeted that it had been one of the best weekends of his life. He said he enjoyed meeting people he had interacted with online and experiencing top eight in person, even if he dozed off a few times during it.

“Past COVID, past how I was feeling and everything, it was electric,” Tuscuu said. “Watching a top eight on a computer screen has nothing on being in the crowd during and cheering for one of your favorite players or one of your friends, someone you met.”

And yet, he also said it would’ve been easier for him and his brothers if the whole weekend had never happened.

“While that was still one of the best and most memorable weekends of my life, I still wish it would’ve shown positive on Wednesday when we were taking the original tests,” Tuscuu said. “If it did, it wouldn’t have been as scary of a situation in general. But, what’s done is done and what happened happened.”

After his experience at LMBM 2022, Tuscuu said he’d love to go to another major, but not until COVID-19 is a thing of the past.

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Author
Dylan Tate
Dylan Tate is an alumnus of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a gaming journalist with a love for Nintendo esports, particularly Super Smash Bros. and Pokémon.