Fighting games have been in the news a lot recently. It all started back in June when a brand new Mortal Kombat game was announced. Fans everywhere were exploding with excitement as this is the first new Mortal Kombat game since the very well-received reboot in 2011. The trailer, featuring an epic fight between staples Sub-Zero and Scorpion, looked absolutely gorgeous. Pop-Break even commemorated the announcement with a post on our favorite fighting games. The excitement grew even more once E3 rolled around only one week later. Not only were people allowed to play Mortal Kombat X for the first time, more footage was shown for the latest Super Smash Bros., a new Killer Instinct was revealed, and people partied it up with the recently released Ultra Street Fighter IV. Needless to say, it’s a good time to like the genre.
Yet all of this good pales in comparison to what’s literally going on right now: Evo 2014. Widely regarded as the biggest fighting tournament in America, gamers across the globe have come together in Las Vegas for fighting supremacy. There are a grand total of eight games lined up for this weekend, including Super Smash Bros. Melee, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and Ultra Street Fighter IV. Players anywhere can sign up for any game regardless of skill. However, only the absolute best of the best can take the top prizes. While the early matches are exactly what you can expect from a tournament (some pairings are very lopsided), the final rounds are always thrilling. Promotion leading up to this year’s tournament contained footage of last year’s final matches, which was enough to get people pumped. So in honor of another exciting weekend of adrenaline pumping matches, I’m going to use words (and not fists) to talk about why Evo is so special.
Evo has come a long way from its very humble beginnings. Back in the mid-90’s when Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter were reigning supreme, there wasn’t a means for gamers to come together and determine who was the best. Yes, there were little tournaments in local arcades, but nothing on a bigger scale. The Battle of the Bay in 1996 in Sunnyvale, California sought to change this. Initially founded by twins Tom and Tony Cannon, co-founders of fighting game mega-site Shoryuken.com, Battle of the Bay was the first time people came together on an international level. They battled it out on arcade cabinets and only with the latest Street Fighter entries. Filling a big need for the fighting community, Battle of the Bay was a huge success, and was continued on annually for several years.
Eventually Battle of the Bay became bigger than anyone could have imagined. To accommodate the growing brand, the name was changed to the Evolution Championship Series (Evo) and the tournament was moved to major venues. It wouldn’t be until 2005 that Evo would reach its current annual home of Las Vegas, Nevada. There the tournament flourished to become a premier event. Attendance grew into the thousands and, once technology allowed it, millions of people began live-streaming the events. Simply by the power of pure fandom, Evo ended up becoming an entirely respectful convention on par with the likes of E3. It was an annual excuse to get people together from across the globe to literally partake in the world’s biggest fighting game party. Now, nearly 20 years after Battle of the Bay first formed, Evo is easily the longest running annual fighting tournament ever.
Of course, Evo didn’t exactly have a paved road to success. It was marred by controversy in 2004 for what many might consider an obvious upgrade: arcade cabinets were replaced by home consoles as the primary means of gameplay. For many at the time, this was an affront to what Evo represented. The whole competition was formed for the purpose of bringing arcade players together to determine who was the best on the very cabinets that gave birth to the fighting classics like Street Fighter II. Moving on from arcade to console almost felt like a betrayal. Yet unfortunately for those people, Evo did have to evolve (evolution is even in the name). Home consoles are easily much more popular than arcades now and that’s where must participants practice their craft. It was a necessary change that thankfully hasn’t hampered the competition’s popularity by any means.
I’ve participated in a few makeshift tournaments at the past within my former college but a tournament like Evo is overwhelmingly out of my wheelhouse. When it comes to fighting games, I’m a firmly intermediate player. I know enough to handle myself with friends but absolutely lack the skill to become an expert. There are people I know who absolutely wipe the floor with me and they’re not even close to Evo level. Honestly, if you think you’re really good at fighting games like I used to believe, just watch any of the final matches of this year. Not only will it cause you to completely re-think your skill level, it will leave you in awe at how some people can be this good at playing a fighting game. These particular individuals definitely push the term “esport” to its absolute limit.
Evo 2014 began on Friday and is lasting all weekend with the finals on Sunday. If you missed any of the coverage online, you can bet that all of the top quality matches will be available for your viewing pleasure. Chances are, if you’re a hardcore fighting game fan, you’ve been watching Evo all weekend already. You probably even started on Friday and took a few extra “breaks” from work. Even if you’re not a super fan, you can still get a ton of enjoyment from watching the tournament. While Evo is about determining who is the best fighter around, the core concept behind it has always been to have as much fun as possible. It’s a competition that was made by fans and caters directly to the fans who love the very same games. In this case, those are the exact people you want in charge.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.