This is so not on time but, oh well, EVOLUTION 2014 has come and went leaving with those who were present and those who watched on stream (like me!) with a lot of fantastic memories. This isn't the first EVO I've watched but it certainly is the first I've just dove into head-on and let take over an entire weekend. Well worth it, though, as this was, without a doubt, one of the biggest moments in the history of the Fighting Game Community.
Three days of madness that culminated in an Ultra Street Fighter 4 Grand Finals that gave birth to possibly a new star within the scene, Luffy. I'm getting ahead of myself though aren't I?
So, why even care about such an event? I don't even know what a Dragon Punch is let alone want to spend hours watching some nerds play anime fighters. This was an event that brought together the world's finest players for the penultimate competition. E-Sports is a term that the community surrounding Fighting Games rather hates (there's a long explanation of it that is better explained here) but, technicality, it is an E-Sport. I can understand some of the ire from one community towards the other as the FGC (as they so proudly refer to themselves and I was made well aware of during EVO weekend on Twitter) has been around a long damn time. Competitive gaming, in general, was such a grassroots effort and titles like Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Tekken really helped to shape the idea of the competitive gaming scene even the professional gaming scene before the rise of the RTS giants, FPS titles and the new king, MOBAs (League of Legends/DOTA2). So, back to why you should give a damn.
Fighting games when played at their highest level provide a level of drama and theatrics that I find nary another type of game can match. The BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma Grand Finals are a perfect example of this. The video above showcases the moment in full and, frankly, it has become one of my absolute favorite moments in the history of competitive gaming (let alone fighting games -- along with "Moment 37"). The man who would go on to win the BlazBlue finals, Galileo, suffered a shattering defeat at the hands of Dogura in the Winner's Bracket. That did not stop him, though. He clawed his way back up through the brackets and secured his spot in the Grand Finals. What followed was a match of epic proportions that came so early into the final day of the tournament that it was it was tough to top it from there on out.
Killer Instinct had a strong showing at this year's tournament as well with plenty of big names showing off and even getting into the Top 16. Injustice: Gods Among Us and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 also were featured though didn't really get much air-time and, frankly, were a bit boring. Smash Bros. Melee returned to the EVO main-stage after a huge show of support from the fan-base but the finals, honestly, left me bored. When you place so many restrictions on a game like Smash Brothers that lives and breathes by all the quirky items and levels then it saps the fun right out of the game. Meh.
EVO 2014 also saw the Return of the King. Justin Wong, one of the most decorated professional gamers to walk the planet, staked his claim in his game of choice: Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The lead-up to the Grand Finals match was full of crowds jeering players for lame tactics, outright heel behavior from certain players (F-Champ and ChrisG as always) and the prodigal son of fighting games reclaiming his throne. Heck he got so excited he did a barrel roll on stage after jumping out of his chair. Justin Wong's dominance in the scene is amazing considering just how long hes been at it. He also did it with a team that most top-tier players don't really use in Wolverine, Akuma and Storm.
The Ultra SF4 tournament, from the Round of 32 on, had plenty of pulse-pounding play from players across the globe. Resident Chief Gief (Zangief) player extraordinaire, Snake_Eyez, may have had one of the most exciting matches with the always excellent RZR|Xian. The show was stolen, however, by Luffy. A Frenchman playing an Italian (Rose) deftly navigated through Loser's Bracket all the way to the finals against one of the top Japanese players in the world and soundly defeated him.
The tears of joy, the anger of defeat, the heels playing their role and the so-called Japanese Gods falling by the wayside to allow fresh faces to take center stage at this year's EVOLUTION tournament made for truly compelling entertainment. It was also a year in which far more larger sponsors were on-board than in years past with Mountain Dew, Nintendo and, heck, even Dawn of the Planet of the Apes running ads constantly throughout the proceedings and for viewers back home watching via Twitch.tv. There has been an outcry from the community regarding this as the start of, perhaps, a slippery slope. If this continues then the more "down to Earth" feel of this community, the "from the ground-up" mentality that the FGC is based on, will fade away in lieu of attracting bigger sponsors and pumping more dollars into the scene.
Fighting games used to be a thing where players didn't represent a country, a state or a city but rather a street or a block. The arcades (back when they used to exist in plentiful numbers and cabinets were ready and waiting to take your quarters) were a place of not only camaraderie but spirited competition. The local crews that would assemble would always rep their block or street as hard as possible but, mostly, they got good so they wouldn't have to spend as much money. If you won you kept playing and if you lost? Better go get more quarters, kid. That pride that factored into the rivalries that the FGC is built upon still exists today just on a much broader scale. EVO 2014 showed that this community is bigger and better than ever but is getting too big?
The influx of new consoles will, ultimately, mean newer games will rise up to take the place of the current mainstays at tournaments such as Street Fighter 4 (released originally in 2008), Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (released in 2011) -- though Capcom's current financial status has a lot of us worried as to the future of such important franchises. PS4/Xbox One will replace the previous gen consoles eventually but I'm honestly not sure when. We still might have a few more years of of the biggest finals matches being played on last-generation consoles. That isn't a bad thing really as the community will continue to sustain these games as long as possible but that won't happen if this tournament and others like it don't continue to grow. The machine, as it were, has to perpetuate itself and grow bigger and that will happen via the infusion of sponsorship, more dollars from bigger names and growing awareness.
The scene is in a good place right now and it can only get better as time goes on. EVO 2014 is proof-positive that big things are falling into place for this once small-time player-run event. it isn't just a gathering of friends anymore to see who's best but a global phenomenon that needs to be experienced. Next year? I'll be there live to experience every moment of the hype. It doesn't hurt it is in Las Vegas after all.
I'll leave you with one of the intro videos made by the amazing Seth Mussey for the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Finals.