EVO 2013, Paris Hotel, Las Vegas

26 07 2013

This year was my second outing to Las Vegas for the annual EVO world championships. Although the venue has changed, the energy and excitement has compounded from consecutive years. With over 6,000 attendees, this year boasted a record-breaking attendance. Seeing and feeling the electric energy of the packed grand ballroom, especially on finals day, is proof of the power of a long-standing international community that has made the pilgrimage and rallied to witness the clash of competitors that represent the pinnacle of skill and expertise over the course of 3 days of insanity. Additionally, this same community pooled their resources and goodwill to raise over $225,000 towards breast cancer research as a fundraiser towards the inclusion of community-requested games in the main tournament schedule, such as Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Tournament schedule aside, there were other attractions to be seen around the viewing halls and show floor. Double Helix’s Killer Instinct reboot had playable kiosks as well as the debut of a returning series stable character Glacius in his new incarnation. Glacius’ look has taken an extraterrestrial bent and his focus is on distancing himself from the opponent and trapping them inside his effective zone with long-ranged normals and keep out tools. Even the indie-produced Dive Kick had a show presence and I was able to get some hands on time with the game, which manages to be simplistic and elegant despite being rooted in satire. A release of August 20th was announced for Dive Kick with a set price of $10. Funds have already been set aside on my part.

EVO is also a time when fighting game developers will often reveal new announcements, perhaps even more so than E3 considering that they have in that moment the interest and attention of their entire dedicated demographic. Among the most notable and groundbreaking announcements was the inclusion of Black Canary and Martian Manhunter as additional DLC characters for Injustice, but also yet another iteration of Street Fighter IV: “Ultra Street Fighter IV.” This upcoming version will feature even more refinement and rebalancing based on community feedback as well as the inclusion of a few new characters, namely the 4 warriors from Street Fighter X Tekken (Hugo, Elena, Rolento, Poison) as well as a yet-unrevealed 5th warrior who is said to have never appeared in a main-line Street Fighter game before. The game will be available both as a full retail disc and as a reduced price digital upgrade.

If ever there was a day to make an appearance at EVO, it would have to be the tournament finals on Sunday. Within these 24 hours the absolute best on earth compete in an all-out showdown to determine the world champions in their respective arenas. The immense tension, excitement, and HYPE within that crowded main hall has to be experienced firsthand.

The first game of the finals was KOF XIII, and while I know precious little about the game watching battles at the absolute highest level of play was enthralling. In the end Reynald took 1st place as the 1st ever American player to be the grand champion of the game.

Super Smash Bros. Melee was undoubtedly a huge draw for the crowd and likely contributed to the record-breaking attendance. Some of the competitors came from as far across the globe as Sweden for the sole purpose of going head-to-head with the very best in their game of expertise. While the expected top-class picks Falco, Fox, Marth, and Sheik were certainly present, there were some unexpected entrants that captured the attention of the crowd, namely an Ice Climbers player “Wobbles” who took 2nd place.

The Injustice finals were interesting to watch but took an unexpected turn; Superman has become so universally reviled as an overpowered character in this game that the crowd unanimously booed whenever he won a match (even in the very last match of the grand finals). Something is probably wrong when the community reacts with such “anti-hype” towards witnessing the highest levels of play in a given game.

The end of the evening was reserved for the most hotly anticipated games, the first of which was Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. UMvC3 is widely regarded as being the most frenetic and insane game to watch during finals where anything can happen. Although he didn’t take 1st, the hero of the top 8 was undoubtedly Justin Wong, an long standing veteran and celebrity in the fighting game community who has been making a marked comeback of late, fighting his way through the bracket and knocking out several dangerous and reviled players through savvy, intelligent, unorthodox play. Justin managed to take 2nd but he really won the heart of the crowd. Another crowd-pleaser was the player Angelic whose inclusion of Shuma-Gorath was highly unusual and instantly won the approval of the crowd for his amazing utilization of an obscure character.

Finally to conclude the procession was the finals for Super Street Fighter IV: AE 2012. Some of the most respected players had ended up in the top 8 and every single match was a guaranteed clash of titans. There was not a single match that was uneventful but for me the highlight was Infiltration’s Hakan counterpick against PR Balrog. Infiltration’s usage and win using this extremely underplayed character is a testament to his skill and adaptability as a player, exploiting PR Balrog’s unfamiliarity with the match-up and pulling out a seemingly unlikely win. Other memorable moments include the birth of a meme within the packed main hall of the finals during Infiltration and Tokido’s match. Both players are known for playing Akuma, and the repeated launching of aerial fireballs caused the crowd to imitate the grunting noise of Akuma’s signature attack amidst uproarious laughter. It was a special moment that broke the tension of this intense match because it really solidified the idea of an entire community that had a shared sense of the humor of the situation. But perhaps the most significant takeaway from the finals was the winner overall; the player Xian with his dominant performance using the somewhat-obscure character Gen and his decisive victories are proof that expectations can be shattered and anything is possible in EVO finals.

Overall this EVO has been one of the most successful yet, and I hope to return next year, as will the many thousands of players that congregate yearly for the love of the game and the thrill of the battles that unfold within.


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