If you would have told me ten years ago, that I would pack up my arcade stick, Xbox and monitor and head on the road to Vegas to battle it out with the world’s greatest fighting game competitors, I would’ve told you you’re high. Proving once again that passion pays off in any area, this previous weekend was just that for thousands of gamers. EVO Championship Series 2014 took place at the Westgate Las Vegas Hotel from July 11-13, and was literally packed with the most intense competition found anywhere.
The tournament this year featured Killer Instinct, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, Ultra Street Fighter 4, Skullgirls, Injustice: Gods Among Us, The King of Fighters XIII, as well as various side tournaments throughout the center. Fighting game greats including the 5 Japanese gods of gaming—Naoto “Sako” Sako, Daigo Umehara, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, Shinya “Nuki” Onuki and, Tatsuya “Haitani” Haitani—were present to compete for the title of World’s Greatest.
This year was not only intensely competitive, but also extremely emotional, with many players elevating themselves beyond any performance imaginable. The weekend was chock full of upsets as many, including most of the gods’ were eliminated before finals in multiple titles. The biggest upsets seen this weekend were definitely in USF4 where many greats like Daigo Umehara, Nuki, EMP Di3mini0n, Sanford Kelly, EG Justin Wong, the returning champion RZR Xian and others were eliminated in early rounds. Street Fighter ended with a dominating match from MD|Luffy, who played Rose in ways that nobody expected to see, leading to him resetting the brackets and defeating Bonchan’s Sagat in a 6-1 series.
Another highlight of the weekend was the Super Smash Bros Melee finals, in which Curse team member Hungrybox (Jigglypuff) was barely edged out in the final round by C9 Mango (Fox). Hungrybox had previously run back multiple matches when facing defeat to overcome loss and was on track to do so against Mango, when a perfectly timed up smash sent him packing. Emotions ran high in the crowd and onstage, as both players hugged after the final to a more than pleased crowd.
The energy in the ballroom at the Westgate was so incredibly palpable that anyone present instantly became a fighting game fan. This niche community has so much potential to explode even beyond where it already has, that I found myself shocked that it hasn’t reached the popularity of Starcraft and other eSports games. With registration for the games consistently increasing every year and hundreds of thousands watching from home, Evo was a sight to behold. The other portion that was absolutely impressive was the helpful nature of everyone at the tournaments. As matches were ended you could see the opponents talking through the match to discuss shortfalls and strategy changes that could improve gameplay on both sides. On the vendor floor there were multiple accessory vendors helping players modify their arcade sticks, or improve their hardware situations. I even witnessed a vendor sell parts to a player before hours since their stick had broken, so they could get up and running before the tournament started. Next year looks to be even bigger and better for Evolution, and you should be on the front lines, learning what true competition is really about.