Today, Evolution Championship Series 2017, the largest, longest running, and most prestigious fight games tournament in the world, kicks (and punches) off in Las Vegas, Nevada. Though its origins go back to the Bay Area’s 1990s fighting games scene, EVO, as its friends call it, has been taking place in Las Vegas since 2005. Over the years, the tournament has traded up its digs, gradually making its way from the edge of town to some of the gaudiest casinos on the strip.
Fighting games – a loosely defined field of titles that encompasses everything from Tekken to Mortal Kombat – work a little differently than other esports scenes. Rather than focusing on a single game (like, say, the League Championship Series for League of Legends), fighting games tournaments are often more like conventions, with multiple tournaments in different games running simultaneously. Usually, and as is the case with EVO, there’s an open bracket where anyone can sign up (for a fee) meaning that, in theory at least, a totally unknown player could find themselves crowned champion.
For members of the fighting games community, attending EVO has become a kind of Hajj, and it’s as much a party for its attendees as it is a tournament. In contrast to the glistening productions of League of Legends and Counter-Strike, fighting games are rowdy and unpolished in the best ways possible. There will absolutely be pop offs; there might even be actual fights (but probably not).
Even if you can’t make it to Vegas for EVO, it’s possible to watch every minute of it from home for free. And, humbly, if you love games, it’s worth tuning in even for a little bit. One of the nice things about fighting games is that they’re relatively coherent, even to novices. Though the subtleties of what makes Street Fighter V different from Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (besides the characters) might be lost on new viewers, all fighting games have a pretty similar metric for determining the state of a game: whoever is getting the shit kicked out of them is losing. This means that fighting games are one of the easiest points of entry into competitive gaming, and there’s no better time to get into fighting games than EVO.
This year, EVO is running tournaments in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Tekken 7, Injustice 2, GuiltyGear Xrd Rev. 2, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, BlazBlue: Central Fiction, and The King of Fighters XIV. If that’s an overwhelming list, don’t worry. No one actually watches everything, and not all games at EVO are created equal. Though it’s a matter of debate as to which games are the most “prestigious,” you won’t go wrong following Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Street Fighter V
As one of the oldest franchises in one-on-one fighting games, Street Fighter is often credited with establishing many of the genre’s conventions, and then revolutionizing them with the introduction of an interface that could handle multiple inputs at once, greatly increasing the game’s skill ceiling. The game’s developer, Capcom, has iterated on that winning formula for decades and, today, Street Fighter V represents the pinnacle of almost 30 years of fighting games design.
This year, 2,622 entrants will compete at EVO’s Street Fighter V tournament, more than any other game. Though all have a chance to win, of course, the safe favorite is Victor “Punk” Woodley, whose meteoric rise over the last six months is one of the best storylines coming into EVO. At 18, he’s as young as they come in Street Fighter, blessed with a toothy, shit-eating grin and the limitless braggadocio of a teenage boy who plays videogames for a living (I say this in the nicest way possible). Right now, he’s the unquestioned best player in the United States, and EVO is his chance to prove that he’s the best in the world.
Standing in between Punk and that title is a wide array of veterans who would love nothing more than to shut down this enfant terrible. Punk’s greatest challengers will probably be fellow American Du “NuckleDu” Dang, along with last year’s champion, Lee “Infiltration” Seon-Woo. Likewise, Punk will face off against a crew of excellent Japanese players, including the fading legend Yusuke Momochi (known in game by his surname) and his longtime partner, Yuko “ChokoBlanka” Momochi. Thanks to a strong culture of arcade gaming, Japan once dominated international competition in fighting games, but has given up ground to players across the Pacific in recent years. This year’s EVO will write the next chapter in that ongoing story.
How and When to Watch
With so many games, keeping up with everything at EVO is a challenge. But EVO has provided this helpful chart to keep track of what’s being played and where it’s being broadcast.
In short: Today and tomorrow, Street Fighter V matches (from pool play up to the semifinals) will be running on Capcom’s Twitch channel. On championship Sunday, the tournament will shift over to Evo’s main channel for the grand finals.
If you have ESPN, you can also watch (some of) EVO’s Street Fighter V tournament on television. The finals for Street Fighter V will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Sunday night at 10 PM.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Super Smash Bros. Melee might have begun its lifespan as a children’s party game designed for a console with a lunchbox-style handle, but it’s spawned one of the most passionate competitive gaming communities in the world. Though there’s another Super Smash Bros. game (the 2014 Wii U iteration) at EVO this year, Melee is the apogee of the series’ competitive scene on account of its remarkable strategic and tactical depth. Sixteen years in, players are somehow still discovering new ways to play Melee, a testament to the unmatched quality of its design.
For the last decade, competitive Melee has been dominated by the game’s “The Five Gods” – Adam “Armada” Lindgren, Kevin “PPMD” Nanney, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, and Joseph “Mango” Marquez – and William “Leffen” Hjelte, whose divinity is a matter of debate. You could count on one hand the number of major tournaments in the last five years that have been won by someone outside of this circle. In time, The Five Gods (and Leffen) have come to embody a pantheon of temperaments: Leffen is impetuous, Armada stoic, Mango flippant, and Hungrybox magnanimous. The internal rivalries – who has a better all time record against who, who is under whose skin at the moment, etc. – provide ongoing fodder for storytelling in the Melee community. Anything is possible, of course, but it is nearly certain that one of these players will win EVO 2017 (that said the outside possibility that someone, anyone will dethrone them is a low-burning pipe dream in competitive Smash).
Last year, that someone was Hungrybox (profiled by Glixel’s Justin Groot here), who defeated Armada (also profiled by Groot) in a nail-biting series. When Hungrybox won, he shook Armada’s hand, then laid down on the stage and cried. Whether or not he can repeat the feat – as Mango did in 2013 and 2014 – remains to be seen, but, no matter what, this weekend will be one of the year’s high points for competitive Smash.
How and When to Watch
Unlike Street Fighter V, EVO’s Melee tournament is spread over two nights (Friday and Saturday) instead of the entire weekend. Everything up to the semifinals will be streamed on the “Evo1” stream, while the finals themselves will take place on the main Evo stream at 8 PM on Saturday.