For most gamers, fighting games are regarded as “button-mashing” or simply seen as too old school to keep up with the ever evolving industry. Yet, every year, in further increasing numbers, thousands swarm Las Vegas to prove that the fighting game scene is as hardcore as they come.
The EVO fighting game tournament, the largest competition of its nature, is among one of the longest running gaming tournaments in the world. With this lengthy timeline comes a history that is riddled with stories deserving of their own documentaries, many of which have actually followed that path.
From 40 to Thousands
The history of EVO can be summed up in one word: hype. It is this experience that draws thousands yearly to watch the biggest names in fighting games compete head-to-head for the title of champion.
But it wasn’t always a glorious gathering, in fact, EVO’s greatest story is that of its growth. Beginning as an event to decide the top Super Street Fighter II Turbo player, the EVO fighting game tournament has, over nearly two decades, steadily grown to become what it is today. With sponsors like Capcom, Bandai Namco, MadCatz, THQ, and a handful of other companies, it’s hard to discredit the recognition which EVO has drawn from the gaming industry. With the most recent EVO drawing over 2,000 competitors as well as boasting tens-of-thousands of viewers watching live streaming on the internet, it would be hard to believe a tournament like EVO had such humble beginnings.
The World Warriors
With the advent of internet streaming, the EVO fighting game tournament has become a world renowned event. Yet, prior to these days of instantaneous interaction, the majority of players at this competition were local arcade junkies. However, on rare occasions, a real world warrior would arrive to put his skills to the test against America’s best.
Easily the most famous of all of these competitors is Daigo “The Beast” Umehara, a Japanese player who took the competition by storm in the early 2000s and continues to remain a dominant force today. Though Daigo is by far the biggest name at EVO, there are still a handful of other, highly skilled, players who have made themselves household names in the world of fighting games. Players like Justin Wong, Hajime Taniguchi, Alex Valle, John Choi, Ricky Ortiz, and a cavalcade of other professional level gamers fill the rosters of EVO every year.
The classic distinction at EVO is the battle between East and West, Japan against America, and while this grudge match is often favored toward Japan, the American competitors have on several occasions chipped away at the throne which the Japanese champions sit atop. In the past ten years there have only been two instances of an American taking the title as world champion in the main Street Fighter game of the tournament. The 2002 EVO championship had Jason Cole taking the grand finals over the Japanese Shinya Ohnuki and the 2008 tournament saw John Choi defeating Shinya as well. So far, the Japanese have managed to maintain their title as the best Street Fighters in the world, but in 2011, two-time reigning champion of Street Fighter IV, Daigo, was kept from entering the grand finals after a knockout by Abdullatif Alhmili, an American otherwise known as Latif. While Latif would not go on to claim the championship for the United States, he did manage to continue the trend of an American representing in the grand finals.
EVO Moment #37
By far the most famous of all EVO fighting game tournament moments is that of “EVO Moment #37". This is a particularly fascinating example of the outrageous events that can happen at EVO, as it shows not only the amount of excitement involved in the procedure, but also the amount of skill and execution required to compete at this level.
The date is EVO 2004, the game is Street Fighter III: Third Strike, the players are Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong. It only takes a few seconds for the action to take place, but the outcome continues to resonate throughout the fighting game world today. To understand what makes this moment so spectacular, one has to have an understanding of what is going on. Obviously, in a fighting game, when a character’s health reaches zero they lose. As can be seen in the video, Daigo’s character, Ken, will likely be defeated with one more hit. In an effort to secure the victory, Justin Wong, using Chun-Li, executes a super to try and “chip” out Ken. Chip damage is a greatly reduced amount of damage done to a character when they are blocking an attack. The interesting part is that Ken can not take any chip damage without being knocked out, so the only possible way for Daigo to win is to fully parry every single hit of Chun-Li’s super. This is the amazing part. The fact that Daigo successfully parries every single hit of the super, something that even the most seasoned players would have a hard time doing, and then managing to perform his own combo, ending with a super, to take the round and the game shows the intensity of each match.
To top it off, hearing the crowd’s reaction as it quickly builds and finally explodes in cheers is just another reason for why this tournament is such a revered competition. You don’t have to be the one playing in order to experience the level of hype involved at EVO, it’s as much of a spectator sport as football and basketball.
The Next Generation
As every gamer knows, the industry transcends generations, from the days of pong to the most recent console cycle, gaming is something that every age can participate in. The EVO fighting game tournament is no stranger to this concept, with this year’s EVO boasting players as young as eight, as old as forty, and everywhere in between.
With new games come new faces and with them new stories to be told and moments to be experienced. One thing is for certain, while the history of EVO is no doubt an epic one, it is by no means over.