Forget the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. We’re on the dawn of Evolution! But not the Evolution that they talk about in Planet of the Apes. I mean the kind with a capital E. And not the kind of Evolution with a capital E where a group of wrestlers hang out in helicopters, wear suits, and walk out to Motorhead. I’m talking about Evo 2014, this year’s installment of the annual fighting game Olympics, the Evolution Championship Series.
Founded in 1996 by Tom Cannon and fully coming into being in 2002, Evo has gone from a few dozen dudes playing Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2 to thousands of people gathering in Las Vegas to watch three long-ass days of all the most popular fighting games of the moment. This year’s show begins Friday morning at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino and won’t end until late Sunday night.
If you haven’t caught Evo before, it’s a sight to see. Two main streams will play all day, showing the various game tournaments as the numbers are cut down bit by bit in a double-elimination style. Then on Sunday it’ll be one lone stream as the main five games go through their finals (or top 8) with breaks in-between for some special announcements by the different major video game companies and some awards. It’s a total blast to see the best of the best from all around the world go at it while you realize that you will never, ever be nearly as good at Street Fighter, so you might as well live vicariously through someone who is.
Saturday night’s also going to have a midnight screening of something called “Matador.” I haven’t been able to find any details on it, but I can only imagine it’s going to be a follow-up of the Balrog*-based mockumentary that they showed back in 2012, only this one will be about Vega**.
*I’m not doing that “Boxer” crap. I’m calling him Balrog. ** Same with “Claw.” Get off my back.
Here are the nine featured games to look forward to. All times here are listed as part of the pacific time zone, since that’s where the event is taking place. For a complete stream schedule, go here.
SUPER STREET FIGHTER II TURBO
First Year (Battle of the Bay): 1996First Year (Evo): 2002Game Type: 1-on-1, best of 3 rounds.Tourney Match Format: Pools are best of 3. Top 32 and Finals are best of 5.Tournament of Legends II Pool: Friday, 9:30am to 4pm (arkadeum stream)Tournament of Legends II Top 32: Friday, 4pm (arkadeum stream)X-Mania USA Pool: Friday, 9:30am to 5pm (arkadeum stream)X-Mania USA Top 8: Friday 5pm (arkadeum stream)Finals: Saturday 5pm-6pm (first stream)
As dated as it was, Super Street Fighter II Turbo was a staple in Evo for years, constantly on the roster, albeit in different forms. In 2006, they changed it to Hyper Street Fighter II, the special anniversary re-release. It went back to Super Street Fighter II Turbo for a couple more years until 2009, where it was replaced by Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Considering Capcom had become a sponsor over the years, I have to figure the change in game was up to them.
The classic fighter was retired from the main stage in 2011, but wouldn’t you know it, it’s the 20 year anniversary of that sucker so it’s going to get one more shot at glory. On Friday, it’s the one-on-one tournament, otherwise known as Tournament of Legends II. The pool will go on for half of the day until we’re down to the finals. On Saturday, a separate tournament happens called X-Mania USA, where 32 teams of three players will go at it, each team member forced to choose separate characters.
No Akumas allowed.
TEKKEN TAG TOURNAMENT 2
First Year: 2013Game Type: 2-on-2 tag team, first fall, best of 3 rounds.Tourney Match Format: Best of 3.Pools: Friday 10am to 12pm (second stream)Semifinals: Friday 2pm to 4pm (second stream)Finals: Friday 4pm to 6pm (first stream)
Poor, poor Tekken Tag 2. Hey, I love the Tekken series. All their games are fun to play and Tekken Tag 2 is no different. It’s a blast and I played the hell out of it when it came out. The problem is, Tekken games aren’t the most entertaining to watch. There’s no real feeling of excitement and from the looks of the schedule, not many people have signed up to take part in it anyway. The game’s tenure will be all said and done before sundown on the first day of the show, meaning they just want to get that crap out of the way.
They better be cranking out that Tekken X Street Fighter game soon or Namco might not have any representation at Evo 2015 at all.
INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
First Year: 2013Game Type: 1-on-1, 2 health bars.Tourney Match Format: Best of 3.Pools: Friday 8am to 10am (second stream)Semifinals: Friday 12pm to 2pm (second stream)Finals: Saturday 12pm to 2pm (first stream)
In 2011, Mortal Kombat made Evo for the first time ever, which was a rather big deal. NetherRealm Studios seemed interested in making fighting games that tournament folk would actually want to play. Injustice followed on that pattern and showed up at Evo 2013. While it’s indeed a good game that can lead to some fun exhibitions, it was agreed that Injustice‘s showing was a weak one. It didn’t help that the first place spot went to Superman, the most overpowered and boring character in the game. Ah well. At least it wasn’t Deathstroke spamming his machine gun attack.
Injustice at least gets to live a little longer than Tekken Tag 2, lasting an entire two days. That said, I wouldn’t bet on the Super Friends showing up for another year. Especially if Mortal Kombat X is able to come out with enough time to spare before Evo 2015.
KING OF FIGHTERS XIII
First Year: 2012Game Type: 3-on-3, gauntlet.Tourney Match Format: Best of 3.Finals: Saturday 2pm to 5pm (second stream)
King of Fighters XIII has done pretty well for itself in the past few years, but it might be a bigger afterthought than Tekken Tag 2 at this point. Sure, its finals are featured later in the show, but that’s the only time I see it scheduled at all. I don’t see any mention of the pools or semis. All they have is three hours to get through their brackets and hit the road.
That kind of sucks. Not that I’m too invested in the game or anything, but last year’s grand finals of Hee San Woo vs. AS Reynald was an amazing finish and a must-watch match.
BLAZBLUE: CHRONO PHANTASMA FINAL
I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t know all that much about the BlazBlue games. They’re very pretty and they look like fun, but I rarely ever hear anyone talk about them. The different updates of BlazBlue haven’t had the most success getting to work with the Evo format. The 2008 show had a preview of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, but it came out too late for Evo 2009 and by Evo 2010, the series was in a weird limbo where nobody was playing Calamity Trigger because they were interested in the new hotness, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. Of course, Continuum Shift was too new, so they decided not to have BlazBlue on the show yet again. Finally, Continuum Shift II got to be at Evo 2011, which is the only major appearance the series has made as of yet.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend had a side-tournament at Evo 2013, which featured an excessive amount of people playing as Noel Vermillion. Who knows if the latest game will be able to turn some heads before Arc System’s Guilty Gear Xrd overshadows it completely.
First Year: 2014Game Type: 1-on-1, 2 health bars.Tourney Match Format: Best of 3.Pools: Saturday 8am to 10am (second stream)Semifinals: Saturday 8pm to 10pm (second stream)Finals: Sunday 11am (first stream)
Previewed at last year’s event, the long-awaited return of Killer Instinct is a giant question mark. While it’s certainly gotten some good marks, the game is hindered by having only eight characters so far and being exclusive to the Xbox One. Business-wise, the tournament needs to really wow the viewers and maybe get them enough momentum so that the second (or even third season) of DLC characters can buy them a stronger spot at next year’s show.
Keep an eye on this one. I have a feeling it could go either way.
SUPER SMASH BROS. MELEE
First Year: 2007Game Type: 1-on-1, four livesTourney Match Format: Best of 3.Pools: Friday 8am to 4pm (first stream)Quarterfinals and Semifinals: Saturday 10am to 2pm (second stream)Finals: Sunday 1pm to 3pm (first stream)
Man, Super Smash Bros. Melee is like the Little Engine That Could of Evo. It made an appearance back in 2007 despite no longer being fresh, but then fell off the main roster for years to come. Despite the sequel Super Smash Bros. Brawl coming out and getting a spot at Evo 2008, it was ignored in the long run by the more competitive players, mainly due to how broken the game was at a high level. With Brawl being less than successful, they certainly weren’t going to go back to Melee, right? I mean, a lot of fighting game fans for some reason HATE the idea of being affiliated with the Smash Bros. series and now they could cut ties for good. Yeah?
Not so much. In 2013, Evo decided to let the fans choose the final game of the show. They did so by having people vote via charity donations, with the proceeds going to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. It was mainly Melee vs. Skullgirls, but Melee got the majority and won. At first, Nintendo threw a wrench in the plans with a cease and desist order that forbid streaming their valuable Nintendo game footage across the internet. Presumably, someone at Nintendo was visited by three spirits one night. Each ghost informed him that they were threatening loyal fans who were donating a shitload of money to cancer research. Nintendo thankfully changed their tune and we got our streaming Melee.
It actually did really well, too! People loved it and it got record-breaking viewers. It was such a success story that it was only natural that it would be brought back the following year. This time with Nintendo as a sponsor! The big difference here is that “wobbling” is banned. Wobbling, made famous by veteran player Wobbles, is a throw done by the Ice Climbers where they hold you down and deliver infinite hits. This was kosher last year, but considering how annoying it got and how close Wobbles came to the championship with it, it’s off the menus this time around.
ULTIMATE MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3
First Year: 2012Game Type: 3-on-3 tag team, full team elimination, 1 round.Tourney Match Format: Best of 5.Pools: Saturday 8am to 12pm (first stream)Quarterfinals and Semifinals: Saturday 6pm to 12am (first stream)Finals: Sunday 3:30pm to 5:30pm (first stream)
Since Marvel vs. Capcom 3 showed up at Evo 2011, it’s stepped in the shoes of the long-tired Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which had been a mainstay at the show. Fun fact: 7 of the top 8 players at Evo 2010 had Storm on their team. Yeah, we certainly needed something new.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 can be hard to keep up with, but it’s still pretty fun to watch at times. If anything, the gambit of seeing someone include Phoenix on the team makes everything more edge-on-your-seat. She isn’t completely unstoppable in her Dark Phoenix form, but you can’t help but want to root for anyone trying to take her down before it’s too late. It’s even better when she goes Dark Phoenix and her opponent is able to drop her anyway.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 will be a fixture for years to come, even if sponsor Capcom tries to refrain from making eye contact with it. Keep in mind, they don’t have that Marvel license anymore and doing new stuff with the game is off-limits for the time being.
ULTRA STREET FIGHTER IV
First Year: 2014Game Type: 1-on-1, best of 3 rounds.Tourney Match Format: Best of 3. Top 8 matches will be best of 5.Pools: Friday 8am to 6pm (capcomfighters stream)Quarterfinals and Semifinals: Friday 6pm to 12am (first stream)Finals: Sunday 6pm to 8pm (first stream)
And here’s the main event. Ultra Street Fighter IV is the fourth iteration of Street Fighter IV, which has been a main event game at Evo since 2009. This one is going to be incredibly interesting, mainly because Ultra Street Fighter IV is very new and while it may include a lot of the same characters from five years ago, their abilities have been tampered with enough to alter their worth.
For an example, look no further than legendary Daigo Umehara, who has won two Street Fighter IV Evo tournaments as Ryu. He’s made the top 8 in the last five shows, and four of those times he used Ryu. He is THE Ryu player. This year? No more Ryu. He’s seen what Capcom’s done to the character and is moving on to someone else.
Now, granted, he’s going to be using Evil Ryu, but change is change!
Ultra Street Fighter IV is only a month old, making it kind of nuts to be the main event of the big show. It’s so raw that I can’t wait to see what goes down.
And don’t forget to check out 1v1 WildStar fighting championship taking place on Saturday at 8 pm ET!