Super Smash Cafe is much like a young man’s first apartment, it is a long, rectangular space with magazine clippings and posters clumped together on the walls. Brightly coloured decals, toys and Super Mario memorabilia fill the room with colour. There are grey IKEA-style sofas lined up down the middle, facing designated screens mounted along the wall.
Although Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a massively successful online game currently played on Nintendo Switch, there is a growing Calgary community stopping by to brawl it out against other gamers in real life, while sipping bubble tea and munching down grilled cheese sandwiches.
The Calgary Smash Bros. scene has a growing community of over 2000 members, says Mohammed Chybli, owner of the Super Smash Café. His inspiration to open shop came after he was introduced to a new, competitive side of one of his favourite childhood games.
“I never knew how large the gaming scene was in Calgary, let alone even a Smash Bros. community,” says Chybli. “We never knew about a competitive scene until I actually opened this place up.”
The first instalment in the Super Smash Bros. series was released on Nintendo 64 in 1999, where players could choose from nine stages and 12 characters.
Today, fans can battle against two or more of the available 74 Nintendo characters, on one of 103 stages, played either online or IRL split screen.
And now, Super Smash Cafe offers tournaments.
Thanks to the intimate setup of the café where employees frequently compete against customers while having a coffee or a PB&J sandwich, Chybli and his staff have formed a unique bond with the customers.
“You kind of just sit down and play video games with the customers. It’s not something you do every day,” says employee Florentino Gaudia.
The cafe offers a unique opportunity for this community to gather physically, sitting side by side, gazing up at the screen, no microphones, no wifi needed. Reminiscent of the game’s beginnings.
“You get people around you consistently, so the more social aspect to gaming is what I like,” said Chybli.
The idea to host tournaments at the café came from one of his former employees. At the time, Chybli was focused on attracting a more casual audience before a staff member pitched the idea to hold tournaments at the café.
“I let Kevin [Fulgencio] handle that and Kevin did a stellar job with it. We were seeing like 20 to 40 people every tournament, upwards of 30 people for each social. It was really good and really well ran.”
Super Smash Bros. tournaments are the most common way to compete against others and are often seen as the truest identification of skill. They are traditionally held at venues as opposed to online play, which makes locations such as the cafe much more valuable to the community.
Running a gaming cafe is starkly different from what Chybli had done in the past. But where he was able to excel and draw from his previous experiences was on the personal level — attracting new people to the cafe came easily for him.
“It wasn’t a hard jump to go to the Smash community and reach out to people individually and tell them, ‘Come on in, we’ve got this, this and this. I think you’ll really love to hang out here.’ I’m a very outgoing guy, I don’t really hesitate and I’m not very shy in big groups or crowds, so I’ve always been able to individually reach out to people and try and get them in here.”
The café and its tournaments attracted all types of people, including Gaudia, a Smash Cafe employee who was offered a job after attending.
“They were starting to host tournaments and at the time I was kind of beating everyone. Initially I got hired to be the guy to show face from a competitive standpoint…and that was my role there,” said Gaudia.
Some even find the café as a place to get work done. Frequent visitor Jeremy Zardecki is a big admirer of Chybli and his staff’s service, but that’s not the only reason he keeps coming back.
“I have visited this place about four or five times now. I think I’ll be coming here a lot more often in the future. It’s a nice environment to just unwind. I actually like to work here. Something about the background noise and being amongst like-minded people,” said Zardecki.
Unfortunately, Chybli doesn’t see much success without the continued backing of the community. As he looks to bring in a more casual crowd, he also wants to call on the community to come out and support local businesses.
“What’s kind of sad right now actually is businesses are closing left, right and center, like there’s just no support for local businesses right now,” he said. “So the future behind the business right now is kind of up in the air.”