Up a set of stairs in a musty Polish wedding venue, 11-year-old Lizzie “Ultrasonic” Newell, wearing a backwards, gold snake-print hat, approached a cluster of five world-famous beatboxers. Their circle immediately absorbed her. Newell showed off her own plucky drum beats, bouncing along in time. She fit right in here, yet wore a look of shameless admiration on her face. About an hour later, Newell was downstairs in a similarly musty hall with a controller in hand, getting whooped at Super Smash Bros. 4.
“I think of myself as getting higher, getting more EXP,” Lizzie said of her approach to both beatboxing and games, admitting, “I know there are people who are way better than me.”
Super Smash Bros. and beatboxing aren’t a likely combination. Yet at last weekend’s Smash Sounds in Brooklyn, New York, organisers happily married the two pastimes in two days of battles and mayhem. The world’s most celebrated beatboxers rubbed shoulders with top Smash pros like Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada, Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby and Yuta “Abadango” Kawamura.
“The beatbox community is grassroots in the same way the Smash community is. It was passionate musicians who kept it alive,” said American Beatbox Championships and Smash Sounds organiser Jake Rich, who told Kotaku that he also plays Smash every day. Smash tournaments are rarely sponsored by the game’s publisher, Nintendo, and instead, a scrappy, passionate network of fans organise local and national tournaments. Beatboxing’s competitive scene is similar, says Rich: “It was a handful of artists in different communities who put their time, effort and passion into these battles.”
Both beatboxing and Smash competitors love personas and gimmicks. “I’m playing Pikachu with a wizard hat,” Lizzie told Kotaku right before the Smash tournament. “Because that’s the closest I can possibly get to Pikachu with Ash’s hat.”