Thomas Gonda took home the top spot in the Nintendo World Championships 2017, defeating returning champ John Numbers in a fierce, long competition representing Nintendo’s growing presence in the competitive gaming space.
The third Nintendo World Championship, following in the footsteps of 2015’s and the original back in 1990, challenged players with a variety of exciting and surprising game challenges in everything from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey to Balloon Fight to Bird & Beans, a WarioWare, Inc. microgame before becoming a DSiware game in 2009.
All of the games were revealed in the midst of the competition, remaining a complete surprise to players and viewers of the live streamed tournament until their announcement.
“One of the things that we really do like, both for players and for viewers, is that feeling of surprise. So being able to draw on that and say "OK, what can we pull out of [Nintendo’s] library that's just going to blow people away in terms of 'What am I seeing right now,''” Nintendo of America Senior Product Marketing Manager Bill Trinen said to IGN while discussing the Nintendo World Championships ahead of the show.
But the game selection, which pulled from throughout Nintendo’s history, came down to more than just surprise. Nintendo wanted to make sure each challenge easily understandable and exciting to watch.
“We really want to focus in on games that make sense, the competition rules make sense, there's a clear objective,” Trinen explained. “It's easy for a fan to undersatnd what people have to do, it's easy for the player to understand what they have to do, but it's still a game that's fun to play and one that is fun to watch.”
Honing in on those specific challenges, like a Breath of the Wild shield surfing race, a Tetris high score run, or a Mario Party 2 minigame gauntlet, came from rounds of internal testing by the Nintendo Treehouse team.
One of the things that we really do like...is that feeling of surprise."
“We test the tournament, and we test it rigorously before we even get to New York. And that impacts [game] selection. Is it fun to play, is it fun to watch, and sometimes you think you have a good idea and it's not,” Trinen said.
Those challenges played out in a series of rounds including main challenges and The Underground, where ousted players still had a chance to compete for the top spot.
That’s a similar flow to the 2015 World Championships, but Nintendo made some tweaks to the formula to ensure players felt satisfied with their participation. These alterations included making the first leg of the competition a three-game challenge rather than one to “give the players the feeling they've played a big chunk of the tournament,” Trinen explained. Two players also advanced from each Underground stage, rather than one in 2015’s iteration.
“I feel like if you're coming to the tournament, you want to feel like you've played some games,” Trinen said of Nintendo’s consideration of the challengers.
Those competitors were 24 players, up from 2015’s pool of 16, some of whom qualified and others who were invited. With an age range of 8-33, the field included winners of local qualifiers, YouTubers, and stars like WWE Superstar Bayley and Ender’s Game’s Asa Butterfield.
“This year, what we really wanted to do was bring in a group of people from overseas. But we also wanted people who you as a fan, even if you don't know who they are, you can look at their body of work as a gamer and go 'Yeah, they belong in that tournament,’” Trinen said.
“By bringing folks in who are very talented gamers and players in their own right that also have different appeal...we think it's an opportunity to continue to share [Nintendo games] more broadly and also show the social aspect of [them],” Nintendo of America Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing Doug Bowser said.
How the NWC — and the Switch — set the competitive stage
Though the competition is only the third World Championship Nintendo has held, the company also staged an increasing number of tournaments in recent years. And while multiplayer gaming has always been a part of Nintendo’s identity, the company’s increased focus on competitive gaming — a wider idea to the company that encompasses all levels of skill, rather than just esports — is evident in both competitions like these and the library being built for the Nintendo Switch.
“If we look a the spectrum, esport is really on one extreme...and on the very other side of the spectrum you've got what we call competitive fun. I still classify us in this competitive fun range because we do want to make sure our content is accessible with hardware. And I think we've really done that with Switch,” Bowser said. “We've got great content on the device, more to come obviously since we're in the early stages.
we think it's an opportunity to continue to share [Nintendo games] more broadly
“But we think that allows us to promote that competitive fun,” he continued, saying the company’s content can be applied to more casual competition as well as organized events like the world championships.
And Nintendo is still learning how to best operate in the space. As Trinen noted of the rule changes, Nintendo wanted players to feel more a part of the entire competition. This year’s world championships featured some thrilling victories, near-comebacks, and crushing defeats. The event also lasted more than an hour over its intended runtime.
“We'll learn from each one of these events and determine how` we can do it better the next time,” Bowser said, speaking to IGN before the event about what the future may hold for more World Championships and other Nintendo-produced competitions.
“Can't guarantee it'll be the next year or the year after but clearly we know that it is a format that works, that's very popular, not only amongst the players but amongst viewers. So we'll learn a lot from this round and then determine what this looks like next,” Bowser said. “there's a lot we can do.”
Jonathon Dornbush is an Associate Editor for IGN. Find him on Twitter @jmdornbush.