In case it hasn’t been made obvious by two of my previous articles, I am fighting game enthusiast. I’m not going to enter tournaments and win prizes, and I’m not going to spend hours upon hours in training mode practicing new options and setups, but I also try my best to learn a character enough that I can get by without having to just mash buttons until the match is over. I find fighting games, and the technical skill required to truly master them, fascinating, and enjoy the competitive aspect in a more friendly setting that can only come from playing Smash Bros. on the couch with your friend.
My slightly-more-than-passing interest in the genre has led me to tune in to the Evolution Fighting Game Championship (or EVO) for the past several years. EVO takes place in Vegas, but it streamed on several different Twitch channels all weekend. Players from all over the world compete in several different fighting games, with each game crowning a champion by the end of the weekend, earning a large prize pot and bragging rights until next year.
EVO has become a much-anticipated event in our house now, with Paige and I anxiously counting the days and planning our schedule around what games are going to be on stream and when. I think anyone who loves video games can appreciate the phenomenon that is EVO (at least the Top 8s on Sunday), and here’s why:
- Displays of Skill/Adaptation
At the rookie level, being “good” at a fighting game is just about being able to push the buttons fast enough and in the right order to make Scorpion do the super cool combo thing. One of the major criticisms of the fighting genre as a whole is the fact that there is a very high barrier to entry, as anyone who has tried to pick up a Street Fighter game without someone to carefully guide them can attest.
The players at EVO are as far beyond that stage as you can get. Execution is the last concern anyone at the tournament has, to the point where a player choking and making an execution error is considered a major upset. These are players who know their games inside and out, including which attacks are safe to use on block, how to escape specific combos from their opponent’s character, and how their strategy needs to change on the fly.
Indeed, the true measure of a fighting game player is their ability to adapt their fighting style to the situation, not just how well they can block and push buttons. It’s hard for a newbie to the game to see at first, but after watching for a while, you can start to notice what changes a player might make in order to come back from behind in a best-of-three set. There’s something fascinating about watching a player repeatedly get hit by the same fakeout or setup during one round, only to come back the next round with the perfect answer to it.
The winner of a game at EVO is the player who can best understand what his opponent is doing and come up with an answer to it mid-match, not necessarily the person who has trained enough to have the perfect strategy.
2. A Whole Subculture to Discover
When you get enough people who like the same thing in a room for long enough, they’re going to start making up their own words. There are few places where this is more true than in the fighting game community. They refer to the Marvel vs. Capcom series as “Mahvel” after a famous commentator’s pronunciation. When a player who seems unstoppable has their winning strategy dismantled in front of the crowd, they’ve been “exposed as a fraud”. If a player gets sent to the Loser’s Bracket by someone, only to fight them again later in the tournament, instead of a rematch it’s called a “runback”.
Getting into the vocabulary and cultural mentality of the fighting game community is a lot of fun, almost like learning a whole new language that is entirely based around video games. Learning the difference between a crossup, a mixup, and a reset not only makes you feel like you’re part of the group, but also gives you a new appreciation for the game. I guarantee if you watch EVO for a game that you own, you will find yourself wanting to throw it back in and figure out if you can do that thing you saw on the stream.
Not only is there terminology to get to know, but also the people that make the community run. Just like any other sport, the players and commentators bring their own personality and flair to the event, and you find yourself picking favorites. You know you’ve become a member of the community when you can hear a voice from the other side of the apartment and say “Oh, is Persia commentating?” before running to the couch to watch.
3. Players with a lot of Heart
Speaking of the people, there is an undoubtable human drama to be had at the biggest tournament in the world. These are not players who are here because they want the money or glory, they are purely playing for the love of the game. I could link to a video of some of EVO 2016’s most emotional moments, but there are truly too many to count. Instead, here is how happy Justin Wong was when he won the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 championship in 2014. For those of you who can’t watch the video, imagine a grown man rolling on the floor, because he won a video game.
As you get higher and higher in the bracket, it becomes clear that these are people who desperately love their game, and see it as an opportunity to play with people who love it as much as they do. There is little antagonism among players in the community. Often, you’ll see players chatting with each other as they pack up, talking about what went wrong in the match and how they could work on it in the future. Everyone there just cares about getting better at the game, and helping each other get better. It’s not often you’ll see a basketball player tell his opponent “Hey, I’m terrible at free throws, so you should probably go for that.”
4. The Hype
There’s really no other way to say it: very few things can bring as much hype as EVO. The crowd is cheering, the commentators are screaming, and the players know how much is on the line. The same way you can get excited watching the Super Bowl even though you aren’t there and you don’t play football, EVO can get you invested in a game you will probably never play, and it goes on for three days. Google “EVO Moment Hype” and you’ll get countless results of different insane things that happened in EVOs past, including clinch comebacks, players frantically attempting to hit each other with one pixel of health, and truly emotional moments as players revel in victory or are crushed by defeat.
So I highly suggest that next time EVO rolls around (usually in July), you keep your eyes peeled for it. You’ll never see people who are more dedicated to the game they are playing, especially when you consider how many of them aren’t sponsored by big companies that way that players of things like Counter-Strike or DotA are. You’ll see joy, surprise, sadness, and determination, all densely packed into sets of 3 to 5 matches, and you just might discover a new game you want to pick up.