Black History Smashfest Brings Together Black Gamers

Minneapolis, MN — A small but unprecedented event occurred on the last weekend of 2024’s Black History Month when nearly 20 Black gamers converged together in Minneapolis for a Black-only gaming session centered on Super Smash Bros.

Documenting the first of its kind in the state of Minnesota, Unicorn Riot heard from two participants of the Smashfest, Evan and Austin, and organizer and host, DJ, “I just thought it was really important to build this community and … thought it’d be really nice to bring all the Black people together, especially during Black History Month.”

DJ Hooker, known as Chess in the Smash community, said the idea of the Smashfest gathering originally came from joking around. The joke turned to reality with some organizing and others bringing their Nintendo Switch systems and monitors. Nine systems in total were used during the event.

“We just really wanted to make a space where everyone could come together and feel welcome,” DJ said. With their 10-plus years of experience in the Super Smash Bros. community, DJ estimated there were about 30 Black gamers out of the top 100 ranked Smash Bros. gamers in Minnesota, and they invited them all.

DJ aka Chess sits in front of the image among Black gamers at the Black History Smashfest in Minneapolis, MN on February 24, 2024

DJ also organizes the Black Kings Chess Club, a BIPoC and queer-focused chess club that meets on Sundays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Tori 44 restaurant in North Minneapolis. DJ said the chess and Smash communities are a lot different. More older white racists are in the chess community while younger, BIPoC and LGBTQ people are into Smash, DJ said. “Smash is definitely a lot safer. A lot of queer folks are in Smash, a lot of BIPoC people are in Smash and the white people who do it in tournaments are really cool and chill.”

However, that doesn’t absolve racism being displayed by the white gamers. Smashing under the handle Hands, Evan said, “Some people online, they’re going to throw around that word with that hard ‘R,’ that gamer word, you know? So like, it’s something that you can’t escape who you are, you know, I can’t escape being Black.”

Evan aka Hands

“As a Black gamer,” Evan said, “you still have all the same emotions, all the same feelings. You play all the same video games as any other gamer. But then every now and then it’s like, But also, I am Black and I do know that I’m Black and other people know that I’m Black. I am Black. I am a gamer. They can coincide. I don’t have to keep them separate.”

New to Minnesota after coming from North Carolina, Evan said he’s been welcomed in the state’s Smash community. He said the Smash Fest was “super relaxed” and comfortable. “We all know that we’re all Black here. There are certain experiences that we’ve had, certain things that we know that kind of go without saying. You don’t have to talk about like, ‘Oh I am Black,’ just to be surrounded by other Black people.”

From Canada but going to school at the University of Minnesota, Austin said that he got into the Smash Bros. community in college. Smashing under the name Treyara, Austin said he had “plenty of fun” during the event and loved meeting people in the scene, many of whom he had previously met online.

“I could very much see this adventuring outside of just Minnesota, or for a different minority group,” Austin said as he recommended this event be copied as a way to provide a safe space for gamers to connect and for others to “introduce themselves to the scene.”

Austin aka Treyara

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