Las Vegas, one of the few cities that can contain the fury and excitement born from the annual Evolution Championship Series. Since EVO's inception in 2002, fighters from across the globe have flocked to the event to duke it out and see--for the next 12 months--who is top dog. This was a trip I had been anticipating for a long time, ever since the days of watching old camcorder footage of Street Fighter IV matches online. I wanted to see firsthand the skill and emotion these players put on display; to be in the room, in the crowd, when it happened. And it did not disappoint. I wish I could share the entire experience with you, but here are a few of my highlights from three wild days.
DAY ONE Before the crowds, the booths, and the massive television monitors, the first thing I noticed after entering the show floor was the sound. Below the roar of competitive banter was the clatter of a thousand clicking buttons from a thousand different fightsticks. ClickClickClickClick. Together, this tapping created a plastic buzz that would become the show's permanent soundtrack; illustrating that EVO 2012 was about one thing and one thing only: the fight.
Unfortunately, I was attending only for business--not to compete. This was a mistake. Going to EVO and not competing is a lot like going to Vegas and not gambling (which I also neglected). The spirit of competition blanketed the showroom like the desert sun. Pockets of people representing every race, gender, and nationality congregated at various stations to watch their favorite game or support their favorite player. It didn't matter where anyone was from, or what anyone looked like; the only things that were important were skill and passion for the genre. Street Fighter is the great equalizer.
I'm sure you all saw the comments from a certain someone on a certain reality show about women in the fighting game community, but letting that color your entire perception would be a mistake. From what I've seen, the FGC is as diverse as any other, and also immensely supportive. This year, the community banded together to raise funds for Mike Begum, a competitive fighter with a rare muscle disorder, to go to EVO. Before that they rallied together for Michael Kwon, who was diagnosed with a serious skin disease that required expensive treatment.
This gaming community may seem intimidating, even crass, but so far my experiences have been positive.
DAY TWO Of all the games on display, the one I was most interested in trying was Divekick: an indie fighter designed by Adam Heart of Shoryuken.com. The game has a simple premise: one button jumps, and the other performs a divekick. Hit your opponent before he hits you, and you win the round. There are a few fighting game tropes thrown in to mix up the action, such as gems that increase the speed of either your dive or your kick, and numerous secret characters who divekick at different angles.
Sour as this humble pie was, it was still all in good fun, even after I got my hand stamped with the official FRAUD seal.To put it bluntly, things didn't go well when it was my turn to play. I tried to be patient and line up clean kicks, but my opponent was outthinking me at every turn. After racking up my fourth consecutive loss, I triggered the game's Fraud Detection System--complete with warning sirens and flashing red text. "Oh great," I thought. "If I eat one more boot to the head then I'm…" But by that point I had already lost, and FRAUD was emblazoned across the screen in giant letters. Sour as this humble pie was, it was still all in good fun, even after I got my hand stamped with the official FRAUD seal.
After I regaled one of my coworkers with tales of diving and kicking, he said it sounded like Divekick and UMVC shared a very similar combat loop. In both games, players start the round by playing footsie around the battlefield until one player successfully entraps the other though wits and skill. That player scores a hit, usually resulting in the death of the other player's character. The key difference is that in Divekick, you don't have to wait 30 seconds for your opponent to finish his combo before you die; you're just killed outright.
DAY THREE You had to be there. I'm sure you've heard this before, but it's true. You had to be there. This was the day I saw the true face of EVO. This was finals day: the culmination of hundreds of matches from the previous two days. In preparation, the entire show floor was cleared out and replaced with chairs from end to end. They were quickly filled, and before long, people were spilling out in the aisles and along the walls, just to watch a handful of people play video games--and they played the hell out of those games.
"My sole priority is to hype up the fighting game community. Everything else is just icing on the cake." -- DaigoThe crowd really started going wild during the final set of The King of Fighters XIII between Kwang noh Lee (CafeID|Mad KOF) and Armando Velazquez (IGL|BALA). Velazquez in particular had two things going for him: one, he had a habit of making these amazing comebacks from the brink of defeat, and two, there was this guy (that's Velazquez in front). He also had some really impressive Takuma play, but he ran into trouble against Lee's nimble Duo Lon. Ultimately, Velazquez took home second place, but not before providing some of the most tension-filled matches of the night.
Right after KOFXIII finished, it was time for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This set was pure noise from start to finish. People were as excited for each match of UMVC3 as they were for that one, final match in KOFXIII. All around, fans were chanting the names of their favorite players, people were yelling along with the characters as they performed super moves (BIONIC! ARM!), and money was changing hands between every match. It was pandemonium the likes of which not even Super Street Fighter IV's finals could match.
For some people, large-scale tournaments, such as Evolution, are the closest they will get to the arcade scene. Meeting new fighters--and playing against them--is one of the best ways to improve your game, so these events provide an important service for attendees, even if they're not competing in the major tournaments. In a word, the FGC is one of the most pure gaming communities I’ve seen. It's members are united under the fight, and inclusive of all who compete. In the immortal words of Daigo Umehara: "My sole priority is to hype up the fighting game community. Everything else is just icing on the cake."
At dawn on the final day I dragged myself out of bed to prepare for the flight home. My voice was shot, my head was ringing, and I was pretty sure I'd caught a touch of nerd flu. Still, it was all worth it for those three action-packed days in that one room. I'd like to say "Thanks!" to all the event staff for putting on an outstanding show, and to everyone who came up and told me they appreciated the work I've been doing around fighting games. That felt great. If you have an interest in fighting games, I would encourage you to attend EVO at least once, and if you're already planning to go next year, hit me up, and we'll square off at the show.