Wynton “Prog” Smith has been one of the most recognizable names in the professional Super Smash Bros scene for some time. Whether as a player, commentator, ambassador or now, as a writer, Prog is someone just about everybody in the community seems to know. He’s been around for years but remains as visible as ever.
Slingshot’s Dylan “CC” Cooke had the chance to talk to Prog about the state of Smash, commentating and his new ventures.
Dylan “CC” Cooke: Although you’re retired, we’ve seen you step up to the mic at tournaments like Pound and Super Nebulous. Do you have any plans to come back?
Wynton “Prog” Smith: I kind of gave up after EVO. I wanted to focus on my health and other things. I guess so far this year health-wise has been a huge step up for me. It’s been far better for me than I’ve had in the past few years. I don’t see myself getting back into it (commentating) full time. I always feel like my role in the community shifts based on what’s needed. I went from player, to video uploader, trailer maker to commentating, and now my goal I guess is to be known as one of the top storytellers in Smash. Whether that’s through Last Stock Legends or writing for ESPN, it’s my goal. So no, no plans just yet.
DC: W How did you come to writing for ESPN?
WS: A friend of mine contacted me and said, “Hey, I want you to possibly put a piece together about Smash for a project I’m working on.” And that point I just really wanted to prove to myself that I could potentially go into that aspect of storytelling. Everything I’ve done and everything I do is an extension of my commentary style. It’s very story driven. It’s very narrative based. So I wanted to see if I could do it in that form. Couple days later he tells me “Yeah this is gonna be for ESPN” and I said “Wait, what?”
DC: I was just about to ask…how does it feel writing for ESPN, one of the largest sports networks in the world?
WS: Every time they ask me for an article I’m basically like “Uh…are you sure?” It’s really really scary. I guess it’s kind of feels right, when you think of the nature and the scope of ESPN, it is a huge deal. And I guess my role in the community, especially with 2013-2014, I was one of the main guys on the forefront of introducing the community at large to the general public through the bigger events like EVO and so on and so forth. Now I do it the same way (by) writing for ESPN. It’s still kind of mind blowing.
DC: With you writing for ESPN, Tafokints writing for Yahoo and Redbull, it’s truly amazing to see far Melee has come.
WS: I always tell it this way: It wasn’t that long ago that no one would write about Smash. So the other FGC outlets we would rarely hear about it. So we started writing for Smashboards, Melee It On Me, writing about ourselves and as it works out those same companies are getting into Smash as an esport and reaching out to us first. It’s a dream come true. Actually, I can’t even say that because I didn’t expect this in my wildest dreams.
DC: You’re not just a part of Melee, you’re a part of other things like the traditional Fighting Game Community, too?
WS: Yeah. Back in 2003-2004, my buddy got me into Street Fighter Alpha. As strange as that sounds, it was a step into taking games more seriously. I eventually moved into Virtua Fighter 4, and in college our games room was full of setups and CRTs. People would bring Melee, they’d bring Third Strike, Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Throw in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Street Fighter 4 and a bunch of other random games. It was honestly amazing.
DC: Are you a figurehead for the other communities, similar to how you are in Smash?
WS: I guess for me, Smash has always been my main go-to thing. Other games have been my escape. For example: When I had surgery I was on my couch playing Marvel forever. Even now, I’ve always been a fan of these other games. I’m considering taking Street Fighter 5 a bit more seriously. I watch it a lot I study it a lot. Hopefully entering EVO for it. It’s fun to sit back and be a player, and now have the responsibilities I have in Smash.
DC: Who do you play in Street Fighter?
WS: FANG. He’s my kind of character. Mid tier, not great, has a lot of good stuff. But if you win, you basically outplayed your opponent. He’s quirky, a sassy character and really weird to play. But I haven’t had this much fun with a character in a long time.
DC: Moving back to Melee. How do you feel about the evolution of commentary over the past few years? The scene now has very professional and established commentators, all of which have a style that’s different from normal esports commentary.
WS: I think the different style comes from the roots of the scene. Smash will always have this overlapping affair with the FGC. A lot of our commentators stem from people like Yipes, Seth Killian, James Chen, Ultra David…the list goes on and on. Beyond that, I think Smash commentary is at a very good place at the top end. We have a lot of good pairs and great individuals that are trying to break through, but I still feel my biggest concern for a lot of commentators on the rise is that they kind of skip the step of being a player. Learning about their style and what they think in terms of how they approach commentary (is important). I actually wrote a tweet on Twitlonger a couple days ago, and I said that it’s kind of disheartening because I know that things I focus on as a player are the same things I focus on in commentary, because I see those holes. I see those gaps and those things I take advantage of as a player. Those are things I point out. It’s the same thing across the board; talk to someone like Wobbles, Blur, D1, anyone in the scene they point out things they really adore as players and they got to find that out being part of the scene and being part of the action.
So, all that said, I still think that it’s really good having some people get involved in commentary, I just want a lot of these up and comers to play the game first and get that feel, get that emotion. You can’t talk about the pressure of a high tension situation unless you’re in it. I’m not someone who played in major top 8s, but I know what it’s like playing in top 8, in tournaments stacked for top 8. A lot of these players haven’t had this opportunity and just jump right into commentary, and I feel like it makes the scene lose a bit of its heart. It becomes a bit less organic and too stringent.”
DC: Do you have anything you’d like to say to commentators trying to break through?
WS: Well, D1 when he was going through his breakout period, it was him trying to figure out how to balance real life and commentating. I know for myself I didn’t have any vacation days in 2014 after July. I used them all to go to events. The thing to me is it can be very disheartening and very difficult, but you got to stick to it. Not everyone is going to break through but if it’s what you want, give it everything you have. I especially see a lot of older commentators mentioning that other people are “taking their spot.” At the same time, if you are not working for it consistently – if you aren’t showing that drive and they are – I mean what can you do? You can do your best in your local scene but you gotta do what you can to make it out to these regionals and majors. Very few people can make a living off Smash, and very few people do. So if you do it for the wrong reasons you’ll be just as disappointed.
DC: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Before you go, I have to ask: If you could only commentate one tournament series, which would it be and why?
WS: EVO – No question.
Photos by Robert Paul/rmpaul.com, used with permission.