On Tuesday night, the Evo 2018 lineup was revealed from the Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica, CA. Eight games would get the chance to gather its players and fans around the biggest fighting game stage of the year. More than in years past, the fighting game field has become crowded. More than that, the field is filled with quality fighting games. Still, it was jarring to hear that Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite had missed the Evo cut.
But what echoed through my head throughout the evening, long after the Twitch broadcast had concluded, was the damning words of Evo co-founder Joey "MrWizard" Cuellar.
"Marvel, we know it was on a slippery slope. It had a lot of competition going forward. And it just kinda... fizzled. It's not to talk smack on Marvel or anything. It's always been a great game for Evo. It's had a stoic 15 years at Evo. It was the main game for eight straight years. It was crazy. But I don't think people are playing it and that's the problem. We always had to support games that people actually play."
Perception means a lot. Evo is perceived as the biggest fighting game tournament of the year and its co-founder came right out and said people are not playing Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. That's a stain on the game's reputation and it's not one that can easily be wiped. Evo isn't just about the competition, but it's also about the viewing experience. It's not just about drawing in casual viewers, but it's also about enticing prospective players. It's about luring in a new breed of players that can keep a game alive for years. That's how Street Fighter V has been able to recover from a rough start and is now thriving with an entirely new generation of pros.
But for casual viewing audiences that tune into Evo mainly because of its name value, they've essentially been told "This Marvel game is dead and is not worth anyone's time."
There's a good chance this could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Evo is where the big money is and if that money isn't there and isn't coming, a chunk of the player base will start to drop off. That's the downside of esports as a career. On top of that, if enough powerful people say "This game is dead," their influence will eventually make that ring true. It's a negativity that festers and spreads. This is not unique to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, but it is the latest example where that seems to be the case.
Is it true, though? Is Infinite really dead? Cuellar's words are sharp, but are they slightly exaggerated? Registration numbers seems to be fairly healthy. The subject of the numbers was first raised by Combo Breaker founder Rick "The Hadou" Thiher on Twitter. I went ahead and double-checked on Smash.gg and here's what I found:
- The Fall Classic (September 29-October 1): 99 entrants; 3rd highest number of entrants, only behind Street Fighter V and Tekken 7
- Canada Cup 2017 (October 27-29): 169 entrants; 4th highest number of entrants; beat out Tekken 7, Injustice 2, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2, and BlazBlue Central Fiction
- NEC 2018 (December 15-17): 163 entrants; 3rd highest number of entrants; beat out Injustice 2, Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2, and BlazBlue Central Fiction
- Kumite in Tennessee 2018 (January 5-7): 75 entrants; 5th highest number of entrants
- Frosty Faustings X (January 19-20): 140 entrants; 4th highest number of entrants; beat out Injustice 2 and both Smash Bros. games (albeit on Genesis 5 weekend)
The registration numbers are healthy, if trending slightly downwards. To declare this game dead less than six months out of the gate seems like a disservice to the game's community.
But if there is a positive going forward, it's that there are fewer fighting game communities more passionate than the Marvel fanbase. Passion does mean a lot. It's what's kept Super Smash Bros. Melee thriving more than 15 years after it was release. It's what made Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 one of the most consistently fun games to watch, long after Capcom abandoned it and practically disavowed its existence. The Marvel community has already seen this snub as a rallying call. Even without Evo, the community will look to mobilize and show that they aren't done just yet.
Don't get me wrong... I am bummed we didn't get into Evo this year. We didn't get in on the first year of our new game... But it only means that if we, as a community, are serious about our love for the game - its time to show up. We did this before, time to do it again.— Persia #WinterBrawl12 (@Persia_xo) February 7, 2018
MVCI has been popping and the numbers at events show. We've continued to beat out so many other genres (wont name, look it up) at evo but still get hit with a "nobodys playing it" OK.— Angelic (@AZAngelic) February 7, 2018
Regardless of the Evo lineup, I’m going to stay sharp for every #mvci major I attend and will be bringing my A game. For everyone else who still wants to compete, I highly suggest you do the same. #EVO2018reveal— Eliver Ling (@eliverling) February 7, 2018
Even if MvCi isn’t at EVO, every tourney besides EVO will still run MvCi at their events! So make sure you guys still enter and support your game!!!— Echo Fox Justin Wong (@JWonggg) February 7, 2018
And the community will continue to turn out. Plans are already in place for the most epic Evo side tournament in history. Curleh Mustaches will continue unabated. There are other major tournaments on the horizon, like Combo Breaker, West Coast Warzone, NorCal Regionals, Final Round, and CEO, where the best Marvel players plan to show that their game doesn't plan to go away anytime soon.
"We'll move forward the same as always, by supporting the game and putting together amazing events for our community," Samantha 'Persia' Hancock said to Shacknews. "We are actually in a better position than before with a better netcode, a more accessible engine, and the hunger to see the game thrive. We're no strangers to working hard and working on our own, UMVC3 set us up for success."
Even with this level of dedication, however, this is going to be an uphill battle for the Marvel community. Remember that Capcom's 3rd quarter financial report posted a dismal picture of Infinite's sales. Between that and PlayStation Experience weekend, when I witnessed in person how much Capcom treated the Battle for the Stones finale like a total afterthought, the writing looks to be on the wall. Capcom is likely looking to sweep Infinite under the rug and quietly move on like it never existed, which means the Marvel community will have to trudge forward knowing their game's publisher has abandoned them again.
It is entirely possible that Infinite will have a phenomenal second act as a competitive game, just as Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 did before it. It can succeed, in spite of developer indifference and countless naysayers. The community is there, the grassroots support is there, and there is a desire out there for Marvel to thrive.
It won't be easy, but it's worth the fight. Because what is a fighting game community without Marvel?