Community College takes Smash team's prize money
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Murad “Fruitsmasher” Shaw was ecstatic leading up to the final stretch of the Philly Aces League, only losing twice throughout the tournament. He and his two teammates had trained tirelessly to get their team, The Mustangs, to this point in early May, 2021. This made the call from his community college’s administration all the more disappointing.

“Shortly before semifinals, we were told that the administration at our school would be keeping the entire prize pool if we were to win,” Shaw said. “The team and I would not receive a single penny directly.”

Shaw and his two teammates, Corey “Ice on Deck” Davis and Matt “Lucky_8r8k” Brennan had been competing in the Philly Aces League — a privately run league that works with schools — for the Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) throughout 2021. They had been playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate against other colleges for months; practicing for two hours a day in order to come out on top.

“I love MCCC and its program, but it’s impossible to even mention our win without friends and family leaving negative remarks towards the school,” Shaw said. “Leading me to not want to talk about our accomplishments.”

Winning MCCC’s first esports championship

The Philly Aces League holds tournaments across various games. These include Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Rocket League and Hearthstone. The organizer had advertised a $3000 prize pool for their Aces Series event. Additionally, the teams were required to pay a $1000 entrance fee. MCCC paid for their three-man-squad’s place in the event.

Murad "Fruitsmasher" Shaw
Murad “Fruitsmasher” Shaw had been making waves in collegiate Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. | Provided by MCCC

However, Shaw and his teammates had no idea that they wouldn’t receive any of the prize money. Ryan Plummer, the coordinator of esports at MCCC, had told Shaw that prize money for esports events would be split 70/30 between the school and the players (70% between the three players and 30% for the school). Ultimately, the players weren’t notified of the change until before the semifinals of the Aces Series.

The college published a story about the victory, congratulating Shaw and his teammates for bringing the school its first esports championship. This win also came only a year after Ultimate was added to the school’s roster of games.

“We didn’t join for the money, but to have an opportunity to feel verified got taken away from us has personally destroyed my drive to play the game,” Fruitsmasher said.

Ice on Deck, Fruitsmasher and their two teammates (one substitute) put in dozens of hours a week training for and playing in the tournament. They had school appointed coaches that didn’t know anything about Ultimate, so Ice on Deck took on the role of coach as well.

“The problem with most colleges that they hire an esports coach for multiples games, except no coach going to be great at all of them,” Ice on Deck said. “It would be like have a college only hire one coach for all athletic sports; it just doesn’t work. Luckily they had me that who was willing to take that role for Smash.”

The Mustangs tried to reverse the decision

The presence of esports, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, on college and high school campuses has been growing rapidly in recent years. Tournaments with thousands in prize money have become commonplace; organizers like Tespa and the Philly Aces League continue to support more games and schools. The NCAA declined to regulate esports in 2019. But, the National Association of Collegiate Esports — which MCCC is a part of — was formed in 2016.

Still, there are few regulatory bodies that work in the esports space at the community college level. MCCC administration did not respond to our calls ahead of the time of publication.

Fruitsmasher and his teammates met with the school’s administration on June 3 to plead their case, but the school said they would only let the players come together and choose what to buy with some of the money, including things like esports merchandise or textbooks. That didn’t make the Philly Aces League champions any happier. Ice on Deck just graduated from MCCC and Fruitsmasher doesn’t know if he plans to compete for the school anymore after this incident.

“There is no reason for them to take all of it,” Ice on Deck said, adding that the school is entitled to $1500.00. “All they did was pay for the league and that’s it. MCCC did not spend hours practicing to get better, hours on video reviews to scout other player habits and hours playing the game knowing that money was on the line.”

Aron Garst looks at esports from a different point of view by tackling the ways games are molded and broken by players around the world. He covers Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, and everything else for Upcomer. You can read his previous work at WIRED, Rolling Stone, ESPN and elsewhere. Rise up red sea.