I woke up on Monday morning having felt like I’d been in a car wreck. My joints ached, I had bruises on my shoulders and the world felt slightly muted. In all actuality, I’d been in Las Vegas for the EVO fighting game championships. The only wreckage I experienced was the carnage of watching some poor souls get absolutely wrecked in the biggest fighting games of today. This is the result of getting hype for an entire weekend of world class competition. Quite honestly, it feels fantastic.
As Capcom‘s Seth Killian succinctly put it on this very blog, EVO is the world’s largest and longest-running fighting game tournament, and this year it was bigger than ever. Largely thanks to the incredible success of Street Fighter IV, EVO’s overall attendance positively exploded compared to recent years, with over 1,000 die-hard players entering for it alone. This was my third EVO event and I was simply blown away by the endless waves of people making their way through the convention hall. While Street Fighter IV was most definitely the main event, it shared center stage with fellow Capcom favorites Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Super Street Fighter II HD Remix and Marvel vs Capcom 2 (its last year running on Sega’s Dreamcast), along with Soulcalibur IV and Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core.
With thousands in attendance, six games are simply not enough and as the fighting-game mecca of the world, there is a ton to experience every year. Capcom set up shop and showed off the latest builds of Marvel vs Capcom 2 for PlayStation Network, as well as Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Codes for the PSP. Likewise, Namco was on-hand running a side-tournament for the extremely impressive looking Tekken 6 for PLAYSTATION 3, which has to be seen to be believed (seriously, screenshots do not do this baby justice). Not to be outdone was Aksys who brought their increasingly popular 2D fighter BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, which found its way onto the main stage as well. These titles don’t even begin to scratch the surface of EVO as the bring-your-own-console space had everything from King of Fighters 98: Ultimate Match to cult favorites like Breaker’s Revenge. If you can name a fighting game, chances are, it was played during EVO at some point (yes, even Primal Rage).
But it’s not the games that makes EVO so incredibly special, it’s the people who play them. It’s an event that truly brings the world community together and over this weekend I met dozens, possibly hundreds of incredibly welcoming, talented players from all over the world. It didn’t matter if they came from as far away as the UK like Ryan Hart or were as close as Southern California like Ryan “Gootecks” Gutierrez, everyone who comes to EVO is there for the same reason: to keep the community strong, and with so many new faces these days, I’d say it was definitely a successful year.
Personally speaking, this was by far the most enjoyable year at EVO I’ve ever had, for a multitude of reasons. I had a ton of fantastic people greet me during the weekend to either thank me for running the weekly online stream of San Francisco tournaments (Keystone Light represent!), my work in a previous life as a member of the gaming press who actually covered the arcade scene, and hey, even a couple of you folks recognized me from PlayStation Home! A great big thank you goes out to the PlayStation community for coming out in full-force at EVO this year, especially considering that three of the main games were run exclusively on the PS3!
It’s also safe to say that my custom PS3 arcade stick, affectionately known as the “LittleBigThigh” is now certified famous! If it wasn’t fellow competitors asking for pictures of it or Northern California legend Graham Wolfe borrowing it for his amazing Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix performance in which he completely dismantled Japan’s Daigo Umehara, I got a huge kick out of seeing the response! Even Street Fighter IV producer Yoshinori Ono wanted to check it out, taking the time to pose for a picture and sign the back of it after our interview. If the LittleBigThigh isn’t somehow composed entirely of magic now, nothing short of leprechauns would do the trick.
Of course, it’s just not EVO unless people aren’t getting mad hype and this year was nuts. Trash talk was in abundance as usual (The Beast Coast is salty, what can you say?), but it’s always the positive moments that shine, like someone’s pizza getting totally shoryuken’d out of their hands as the Northern California section of the crowd exploded during Crackfiend’s insane run during the 5 on 5 Street Fighter IV regional exhibition. Speaking of the regional exhibition, did anyone else catch that topless streaker who ran on stage with “SOCAL RULES” written across his chest? It’s just not EVO unless some dude loses his shirt after all!
Other memorable moments include Sanford Kelly of the East Coast finally claiming the Marvel vs Capcom 2 throne after years of defeat at the hands of his fellow region-mate, the world renowned Justin Wong. Of course, Justin went on to face the beast from Japan, Daigo Umehara, in the grand finals of Street Fighter IV, but eventually succumbed to his flawless Ryu play. People can say whatever they want, but in what was truly an epic finale to an incredible event, that night, we were all Justin Wong fans.
As I pop a few Advil and prepare for another year without EVO (And this upcoming Comic-Con trip. Stop by the PlayStation Home booth and say hello!), I can’t help but get excited over next year. For you, the reader, there’s no excuse: if you love fighting games, you absolutely, positively must make the journey to EVO. You will not regret it. Thank you so much to everyone in EVO staff, especially the amazing volunteers for making it such an incredibly memorable event.