This weekend is the biggest one of the year for competitive fighting game players and fans. It's the annual Evolution Championship Series tournament from Las Vegas, NV. Fighters make their way to Evo from around the world, creating an atmosphere that leads to lasting memories and moments that often define fighting games themselves.
Last year's Evo was a big weekend for a number of marquee games. Let's take a look at five of the most memorable moments from Evo 2K13. Beyond that, let's also look at what question will be lingering for those same games during this weekend's tournament.
Evo 2013: Killer Instinct debuts to boos
Microsoft didn't earn a whole lot of goodwill after last year's series of debacles surrounding the Xbox One. It had been a month since they reversed their controversial DRM stance, but the damage had been done and the capacity crowd at Evo was ready to make their displeasure heard.
Double Helix's Rich 'FiltieRich' Bantegui took the stage to demo Killer Instinct, but he only needed to set one foot on the stage to hear the smattering of boos from the crowd. Every mention of the SNES-revival and Microsoft's new console was drowned out by an increasingly hostile crowd. The presentation and subsequent demo weren't even given so much as a chance, leading to one of the most awkward moments in Evo's history.
Evo 2014: How will Killer Instinct fare this year?
This will be the first year that Killer Instinct is featured as one of the main attractions at Evo. Much has changed since last year. Killer Instinct released on Xbox One to positive acclaim from both critics and fans and has been in regular rotation at fighting game tournaments across the country. Though there was some skepticism with the game's free-to-play model, KI has quickly grown into a well-balanced alternative to Capcom's fighting mainstays and a force in its own right.
So how will Killer Instinct be received this year? Much of that same hostile crowd from last year will likely be in attendance, so will KI get more respect this time around? Or will the boo birds be out in full force again?
Evo 2013: Injustice is a super disappointment
Last year marked Injustice: Gods Among Us's debut on the Evo stage and it's largely remembered as a major disappointment. Unfortunately for Netherrealm, Injustice had been out for roughly three months at that point, meaning the developers were still working out some of the game's more egregious balance issues. The result? Heat vision, heat vision, and more heat vision!
Fireball spam is often hit-and-miss with crowds. Fans are divided on whether it's truly the cheapest tactic out there or whether it's a viable tactic. For example, Christopher Gonzalez (ChrisG) has made a career out of spamming fireballs in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and fans have grown to both hate and respect it. But the Superman heat vision spam was something that fans quickly realized was a broken aspect of Injustice and one that they hated to see as a deciding factor of its Grand Finals.
Evo 2014: Can Injustice bounce back?
With all that said, a year can make all the difference in the world. Netherrealm has had a full year to balance Injustice and refine many of the game's characters. Likewise, the players have had a full year to get used to the roster of fighters, including the DLC add-ons like Martian Manhunter, who was originally revealed during last year's event. Games are a lot more fun to watch when players have a better grasp on the characters, so this year's match-ups should prove a little more fun to watch.
This year's Evo may also signal a "make-or-break" year for Injustice. If this year's tournament proves to be another dud, the competitive scene may leave it behind entirely by next year's tournament. This idea may be amplified by how impressive Netherrealm's new Mortal Kombat game has been looking, which could just as easily replace Injustice on the Evo docket in 2015.
Evo 2013: Smash Bros. fans stand united
The controversy has been well-documented. Nintendo infamously blocked Super Smash Bros. Melee from Evo last year (and if rumors are true, actively tried to prevent it from even appearing at the tournament, period), despite its fans raising money for breast cancer research. Nintendo shortly after sheepishly reversed their stance and Melee went on to break all Evo viewership records.
Last year, the fighting game community learned just how passionate the hardcore Smash Bros. sector was, putting on a fantastic show for both spectators and viewers alike. It all culminated with Wobbles (Ice Climbers) and Mango (Fox) in a back-and-forth Grand Finals thriller that showed just how hardcore a fighting game Super Smash Bros. could be, winning over casual viewers, hardcore fighting fanatics, and even Nintendo themselves. And fans were left with a booming chant of "One more year!"
Evo 2014: So what does Smash Bros. do for an encore?
After last year's unforgettable showing, it was a no-brainer that Super Smash Bros. Melee would return for another round this year. But can the Melee competitors possibly top their efforts from last year?
They may have only one more year to do it. Nintendo has made it clear that they were missing the boat by antagonizing this crowd. Not only are they designing the new Super Smash Bros. for Wii U to remove the more hated aspects of Brawl that made it competitively unviable, they even went so far as to invite the competitive sector out for a special tournament at E3. Nintendo wants to see the new Smash Bros. at these types of tournaments and if they're as serious as they're letting on, you may see Melee finally go by the wayside in 2015 in favor of the new hotness.
Evo 2013: Justin Wong's valiant battle
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is the game that won't die, even years after licensing issues have prevented Capcom from giving it anymore balance updates. Last year's Evo was another amazing showcase for the three-on-three fighter, showing how far individual competitors and personalities can go in keeping a game alive and compelling. And last year, there was perhaps no greater example of that than Evil Geniuses' Justin Wong, a well-known staple of the fighting game community for about a decade.
Wong (using Wolverine, Storm, and Akuma) had an uphill battle to climb in Top 8, coming all the way from losers bracket. He also found himself in an 0-2 hole against tournament favorite Christopher 'ChrisG' Gonzalez. Then the comeback began. Wong quickly evened the score and knocked out Gonzalez by keeping his Vergil at bay long enough to squeeze out a "Time Over" victory, but he was far from finished. Wong went on to tear through Jonathan 'Cloud805' Morales and Broken Tier's Armando 'Angelic' Mejia in back-to-back sets before finding himself in Grand Finals against Job 'Flocker' Figueroa, the man that had originally put Wong in losers bracket.
The Grand Finals were among the most intense ever seen, with Wong winning the first set and finding himself within a hair of victory. But just when it was within his grasp, Wong dropped a Storm combo that would have taken out Flocker's Zero. It was a drop that would ultimately cost Wong the tournament, as Flocker's team of Zero, Vergil, and Hawkeye went on to take out all of his characters. Flocker became the Evo champion, but the story of the tournament was Justin Wong. It was a journey that would be dubbed "The Return of the King."
Evo 2014: Can Justin Wong finish what he started?
There's no denying that Justin Wong had last year's tournament won. He likely sees the drop in his mind over and over again on a loop. Any competitor on any stage will always focus on the moment where they just fell short. It's not because they feel sorry for themselves. It's because they can practically taste the moment when they'll redeem themselves on the next grand stage.
This weekend has been one that Wong has waited for since last year's Evo. It's his chance to finish the journey he began with his epic comeback against ChrisG. It won't be easy. Gonzalez is ready to avenge last year's loss, Ryan 'Filipino Champ' Ramirez wants to win back his crown from 2012, Cloud805 has improved leaps and bounds from last year, and Flocker will be ready to defend his title. But there's no denying that Wong will be the sentimental favorite. Whether he can complete that journey remains to be seen.
Evo 2013: Infiltration oils up
Sun-Woo 'Infiltration' Lee stands among the greatest Street Fighter players in the world, having won the Super Street Fighter: Arcade Edition crown in 2012. The defending champion found himself on the ropes against Eduardo 'PR Balrog' Perez, perhaps the best Balrog players in the world. But the South Korea native wasn't about to give up, but instead he was about to prove his versatility once more.
Lee selected the Turkish oil wrestler Hakan, who is considered in SF circles to be a hard counter to Balrog. The gambit paid off, as Hakan's oiled-up moves flustered Balrog and rendered the boxer ineffective. Infiltration quickly wound up knocking PR Balrog out of the tournament, as he sailed into a third-place finish.
Evo 2014: Who wins the first Ultra Street Fighter 4 Evo tournament?
Infiltration will stand among the favorites to win the debut Ultra Street Fighter 4 tournament. But not only are there other hungry competitors, but the wild cards that stem from the game's new balance tweaks and new characters adds a compelling new wrinkle to this year's tournament.
Singapore's Kun 'Xian' Ho won last year with Gen and he'll be looking to repeat. Japan's Hajime 'Tokido' Taniguchi will be looking to avenge his runner-up placement from last year. Meanwhile, Perez will come back with Balrog, but his ace in the hole may very well be his Evil Ryu. And speaking of Evil Ryu, Japanese native Naoto Sako won with this character at Capcom Cup and, given the buffs that he received in USF4, he's being considered one of the favorites to take the whole tournament. Other names to look out for include Justin Wong (Rufus), So Cal Regionals winner Kenneth 'K-Brad' Bradley (Cammy), and Final Round winner Ryan Hart (Sagat).
The other wild card will be whether any of the established competitors roll the dice with any of the game's new characters. Competitive streams have already shown some competent Decapres and Rolentos, but will any of the participants take a chance during the biggest tournament of the year?
We'll find out when this year's Evolution Championship Series tournament kicks off on Friday.