Opinion: The state of coaching in Smash

Gail Fisher for ESPN

Juan "Hungry Box" Debiedma chats with Joseph "Mang0" Marquez before their matchup.

The gray area of cheating and fairness is an element of contention prevalent in the sphere of competitive Smash, in which the practice of "mid-set coaching" has raised eyebrows. For those unfamiliar with the term, mid-set coaching is, in short, when a player calls a timeout in the middle of a competitive set to exchange questions and advice with his or her coach. It seems reasonable enough on the surface, but to unearth why the issue has drawn the ire of so many people in the Smash community, one must first understand how the game is played.

Smash Bros. is a player vs. player game. That means it's up to each individual to try to outperform the other. Whether this means capitalizing on an opponent's mistakes or molding to a predicament thrown at you, Smash is oriented around independence. That means the presence of an outside perspective to assist in an arena that traditionally centers around two people is questionable.

The answer to the controversy seems simple: Just ban it. However, there seems to be hesitancy from tournament organizers to do so, and it might have to do with the grey area surrounding traditional attitudes toward coaching itself. Naturally, nobody would consider coaching to be cheating. It's built into the fabric and history of almost every physical sport.

Boxing, for example, is a sport in which mid-set coaching is embedded into the rule set. There's hardly any debate about how current standards of outside assistance are implemented. That's because the precedent has always existed. In contrast, Smash is a game that has grown and flourished so long in absence of mid-set coaching. Resistance when the status quo is challenged is only natural.

Almost all popular sports have risen alongside coaching, which makes it hard to see it as compromising to the integrity of a game that has, relatively speaking, recently decided to test it out. But we need to stop looking at other sports to see what's best for the game and instead look at Smash to decide what's best for Smash.

Coaching isn't woven within the existence of Smash, and it shouldn't be played any differently than how it has been for so many years. That isn't to say that new reforms to the scene shouldn't be considered. But when you have a change as drastic as coaching mid-set, something that challenges the very nature of the game, there needs to be a line between positive and negative reform.

That said, coaching altogether shouldn't be banned. There is a sharp distinction between preparing somebody for a tournament beforehand and actively providing suggestions in the middle of a set. A Smash coach should be there to help a player remain conditioned, healthy and disciplined. Not only would this draw out the potential of great players and keep them sharp, but it would also produce more jobs in the scene for aspiring Smash coaches by way of professional esports organizations. In other words, it would actually reap tangible long-term benefits, unlike mid-set coaching.

Illustrious professional Melee player Joseph "Mang0" Marquez has such an arrangement set up with Daniel "Tafokints" Lee. Tafo essentially serves as Mang0's backbone. He's there to make sure Mang0 has nailed down strategies and character matchups and ensures that he has been consistently practicing throughout the week, so the only thing Mang0 has to worry about as soon as he sits down to play is himself. That's the kind of coaching that extends far beyond the scope of a pair of extra eyes and is what would actually prove beneficial to the industry.

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