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EVO 2018: 5 Stories to Watch This Weekend

The biggest fighting game tournament in the world returns to Las Vegas this weekend. Here's what to watch for.

Robert Paul Photography

This weekend, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world returns to Las Vegas, NV, bringing in top players from across the globe. The Evolution Championship Series takes place at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, with the first two days of tournaments taking place throughout the Convention Center and the final day of Top 8s unfolding from the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Shacknews' own Sam Chandler has taken painstaking measures to jot down everything you need to know about EVO 2018. This includes pool times, which games are being contested, and more.

Today, Shacknews is taking a look at some of the weekend's biggest storylines across some of Evo's top games. Let's go ahead and dive in.

Can Dragon Ball FighterZ Fill the Marvel Void?

There are those who are brushing up on Evo for the first time this weekend, given that it's the one fighting game tournament of the year that draws in the most casual of competitive fighting game viewers. Those folks may notice that there's something missing this year. There's no Marvel game at this year's tournament. The February snub is a truly damning indictment of Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, which, believe it or not, still hasn't even been out a full year yet.

In its place is the ultimate upstart, a game that has taken the very best elements of the Marvel games and turned them up to over 9000. Dragon Ball FighterZ is a fantastic game, one that we may very well be revisiting for this year's GOTY conversation. It's proven to be so much fun, so complex, and so rewarding to learn that it's drawn in fighting game pros from throughout the fighting game community. Street Fighter players, NetherRealm players, Guilty Gear players, Super Smash Bros. players, Tekken players, they're all here. And they've all teamed up to give Dragon Ball FighterZ the highest number of entrants at Evo. Yes, even higher than Street Fighter V.

While Evo won't count towards the Dragon Ball FighterZ World Tour, there's still a lot to watch for in this tournament that's packing over 2,500 entrants. Out of all of those names, Dominique "SonicFox" McLean is starting to pull ahead as the favorite, increasingly putting himself on an even playing field with Goichi "GO1" Kishida. Behind them are a hungry field of top-level players, including Ryo "Dogura" Nozaki, Eduardo "HookGangGod" Hook, and CEO 2018/Saga 1 winner Ryota "Kazunoko" Inoue.

Some of the greatest Evo moments have come during Marvel games, dating back to Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Dragon Ball FighterZ comes into this weekend looking to craft an entirely new legacy and there are enough talented players out there to ensure that this first EVO tournament is an unforgettable one.

Hungrybox and Mang0 during 2017's Super Smash Bros. Melee Top 8 (Photo credit: Robert Paul)

Is This the End of Super Smash Bros. Melee at EVO? (For Reals This Time?)

Super Smash Bros. has had a complicated Evo history. With 12 years having passed since Melee's original release, the game showed up at EVO 2013 following a fan vote for charity. Nintendo swiftly moved to block the game from being broadcast, which was met with such a fierce backlash that the company reversed course days later. The result was a new EVO viewership record, something nobody could have expected.

The moment was bittersweet for certain sectors of the fighting game community. There are many out there who don't believe a Smash Bros. game belongs on this stage. Given how both Melee and Smash 4 Evo tournaments have been treated in the years since and in examining Evo co-founder Joey "MrWizard" Cuellar's body language and tone when discussing these games, some have concluded that Cuellar harbors a degree of antipathy towards these games himself. Cuellar certainly hasn't had much fun with Melee fans who have bashed the event for leaving their game out of last year's Sunday Top 8s and who are similarly grumbling over Melee getting the 10:30AM PT time slot this year.

The upcoming release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may provide Cuellar and EVO a potential out for 2019. With Nintendo going to incredible lengths to craft something modern enough for the current casual fan, but fast enough for the average Melee player, Ultimate may very well live up to its moniker as the peak of the series. If that proves to be the case, don't be surprised if EVO 2019 rolls with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and leaves Melee by the wayside.

Super Smash Bros. Melee will not die. Oh, lord no. The competitive scene has become far bigger than anybody could have ever imagined, having become an entity unto itself. Unlike Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, if Melee gets snubbed at next year's EVO, it'll barely make a dent in that game's scene. It's that much of a self-contained anomaly. And that's why Cuellar may feel good about parting ways with Melee in 2019 after what's been an undeniably good run.

As for who wins this weekend, it's almost a certainty that Juan "Hungrybox" DeBiedma makes the Grand Finals in some fashion. It's who opposes him that's the big question mark. Defending champion Adam "Armada" Lindgren has fallen on tough times in the past few months with some hard luck losses. William "Leffen" Hjelte would like nothing better than to topple his most hated rival on the biggest stage. Then there's Justin "Plup" McGrath, who has stepped up his game to become one of the game's best players.

Regardless of who wins, tune in on Sunday, because it may be Melee's last time in the Evo spotlight. Then again, Melee is nothing if not gaming's ultimate zombie, so maybe this will be just the latest chapter in a continuing EVO legacy.

Does Injustice 2 Give Way to NetherRealm's Next Fighter?

Injustice 2 has arguably sputtered to a finish in its competitive esports cycle. Like all NetherRealm fighters, it has a truly loyal fanbase, but it's a fanbase that's increasingly limited. Turnouts for Injustice 2 are respectable, but it's not touching Tekken, Street Fighter, or Dragon Ball anytime soon, if ever. While Warner Bros. and NetherRealm have backed tournaments with increased prize pools, the registration numbers are still a fraction of the competition.

Having said that, Injustice 2 appears to be at its twilight, with all DLC out the door. The game's top players are still there, though with SonicFox putting so much of his focus on Dragon Ball FighterZ, he isn't nearly the unstoppable supernova he once was. Ryan "Dragon" Walker has made a good case for himself as Injustice 2's new top dog and he'll be looking to take this tournament and potentially send DC's fighter out on a high note.

But Injustice 2 will be in the shadow of the inevitable Mortal Kombat 11 announcement. The announcement isn't a matter of "if," but "when," especially with creator Ed Boon continually making cheeky references on Twitter. With E3 having come and gone, the next best place for a new game announcement is EVO. NetherRealm has made big announcements at the tournament in the past, but this could be its biggest one ever, as a Convention Center crowd will be aching for any news about Mortal Kombat's next chapter.

JeonDDing after his CEO 2018 victory (Photo credit: Stephanie Lindgren)

Can JeonDDing Dance His Way Atop the Tekken World Tour Standings?

When it comes to the Tekken World Tour, Jae Min "Knee" Bae is king. (No, not King. I mean, he's the best.) Knee took the first tournament of the year at Final Round and hasn't looked back, distancing himself from the rest of the pack.

But Sang-hyun "JeonDDing" Jeon has made up some serious ground and he's done so in grand fashion. His Eddy Gordo is an absolute joy to watch, having provided some of the most entertaining sets in competitive Tekken over the past several months. He fell to Knee at Combo Breaker, but rebounded the next month and devastated defending champion Byung-moon "Qudans" Son at CEO to take that tournament.

With over 1,500 entrants, there's room for stars to fall. There's also ample room for Qudans to reassert himself as the game's best player or for the Echo Fox tandem of Choi "SAINT" Jinwoo and Hyunjin "JDCR" Kim to climb back to the top. But right now, JeonDDing is playing some unparalleled Tekken and is definitely the man to watch this weekend.

Fujimura enters EVO 2018 as one of the Street Fighter V favorites (Photo credit: Stephanie Lindgren)

Is Fujimura the Best Player in Street Fighter V?

Can you believe that a kid named Yukadon debuted just two years ago and might now be the best Street Fighter player in the world? Now simply going by his first name of Fujimura, he has aggressively climbed the Capcom Pro Tour standings, not only overtaking Seonwoo "Infiltration" Lee for first place. With a first place win at CEO 2018 and a runner-up finish at VSFighting 2018, Fujimura sits alone at the top, with Infiltration and Hajime "Tokido" Taniguchi a considerable ways behind him.

But here's the thing about EVO. In terms of points, it's worth much more than the average tournament. While Premier tournament wins award 700 points, an EVO victory awards a massive 1,750 points. Second place picks up 850 points. This means the Capcom Pro Tour leaderboards might look entirely different after this weekend. Or it could be Fujimura's opportunity to run away with the whole damn thing and take an insurmountable lead by cementing himself as the game's best player.

Here's the other thing about EVO, though. With just a hair under 2,500 entrants, the stars fall early and often. EVO is prone to massive upsets with top players falling to unknowns and up-and-comers. Top players also wind up playing against one another on Saturday afternoon, with only one able to advance while the other goes home. The entire weekend is filled with tense one-on-ones, as somebody looks to either cement their EVO legacy or create an entirely new one. There's a reason why EVO is what it is and it's because it brings out the absolute best in every Street Fighter player that attends. There are no foregone conclusions. Everyone will have to work to make it to the Top 8 and those who do make it will have certainly earned it, taking out the hungriest crop of competitors that the world can offer.

That's a lot of pressure for young Fujimura, who I should mention again debuted at EVO 2016 with a 3rd place finish. But given the way he's played lately, he's one of the few who can be counted as a tournament favorite this weekend.

What will you be watching for this weekend at EVO? Join the conversation and let us know in the comments. And keep it on Shacknews, as we'll have coverage of Sunday's tournaments and also any breaking news from EVO throughout the weekend.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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