EVO 2022 set a strong foundation for the future of the fighting game event

EVO 2022 wasn't perfect, but as far as returning events go, it was a stellar starting point for the return of the physical competition under its new management.

Image via TJ Denzer/ Shacknews

When EVO 2022 closed at around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday night (Monday morning for many), I felt happy, excited, overwhelmed by emotion to the point of happy crying, and exhausted by the incredible gauntlet of a weekend. I had been waiting over 3 years to see EVO return in proper form and I was very nervous about how it would turn out with the big shake-up in management and the lack of Smash Bros.

However, as the weekend went on, all doubt was crushed. As a competitor and as media, I faced joy after joy throughout the event. It wasn’t without some setbacks, but after witnessing what happened all weekend in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, a recurring thought popped into my head and was solidified by almost everyone I engaged with: EVO is back and it only gets better from here.

Utmost care from the get-go

A look at the staff desk overlooking the tournament floor at EVO 2022
Source: TJ Denzer / Shacknews

It all began with safety. COVID-19 is still a big thing and there’s no way to be 100 percent safe, but the staff at EVO 2022 did one of the best jobs I’ve seen them do across years of attendance at this event. To get your badge, you had to show proof of vaccination. On the floor, you had to have a mask. At every entrance, there were metal detectors and bag checks to get in, without exception.

Heck, the security was very adamant about watching all places where general attendees shouldn’t be. I nearly got kicked out of an interview because even media supposedly weren’t allowed in certain leisure/rest sections. It was no big deal. I appreciate the effort by them (though I would also love to have a media nook or section on the Convention floor with coffee and water for such appointments at future events). Ultimately, they made sure I felt safe during the entire event, and I appreciated the vigilance.

It was the same thing going for the Sunday finals. There were metal detectors, bag checks, and even a COVID-19 station with free masks. Inside the arena, security had very defined boundaries and it was never difficult to follow them. Being able to do my job and take videos was easier than it has ever been at these events, and it was without making safety and precautions seem lax in any way. I’ve still seen COVID cases come out of attendees at EVO, but I think that has more to do with Las Vegas itself than the event. In my opinion, this event felt safe, and in contrast to previous years, it did so without safety feeling confrontational or allowing unnecessary and dangerous exceptions. A well-done job by EVO staff and security.

Crowds at EVO 2022 gather to play pools in various fighting games.
Source: TJ Denzer / Shacknews

And speaking of the EVO staff, what a great bunch of folks on deck this year. I have to say, as media, I have never previously felt very welcome at EVO. In previous years, they were very foggy with instructions, what we could and could not do, and what we had access to. I and my colleagues have had more than a few experiences where staff either shrugged us off completely, made us feel like a burden, or were rude to us for making a judgement call on our own that was wrong.

EVO 2022’s staff pulled a complete 180 on me. They were communicative, clear, and helpful throughout nearly the entire event. If I couldn’t figure something out at the help desk, I could get an answer through email, and on the last day, they showed genuine concern about getting media access to various interviews, which allowed me to get all of the content done that I wanted with little frustration. Just all-around stellar service.

The Convention floor experience

The Arc System Works booth bustling with attendees at EVO 2022.
Source: TJ Denzer / Shacknews

When it came to the features of EVO 2022, there was so much to see and it was dang near impossible for one person to take it all in. When arriving in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, EVO 2022 was divided into 3 prominent sections: the Tournament tables and stages on one side, an Artist Alley block in the middle, and the corporate/exhibitor booths on the other side. This was both a good and a difficult thing.

I would say it was good because I never had any issue finding anything whatsoever. I also liked Artist Alley being in the middle. It made attendees walk by it and gave good exposure to artists trying to sell their wares. Most of the artists I talked to were quite happy with the foot traffic. There was even a hydration station to get water near the back of the exhibitor area, though I would argue that the massive floor could use more of those.

EVO 2022 attendees await the next match in the MultiVersus tournament that took place at the event.
Source: TJ Denzer / Shacknews

And that leads to what I and quite a few fellow competitors weren’t fond of. The Mandalay Bay Convention Center is huge and EVO 2022’s main attractions were spread across the whole thing. That made getting from one side to the other an increasingly strenuous process as the weekend went on. For me, as media and a competitor at the event, having to get from the exhibitor booths side for an appointment to the tournament side for matches was a chore, and it got even more difficult as my feet got tired.

I wasn’t alone either. Among my fellow attendees, I heard quite a few complaints about almost being late to pools or missing out on an event because they had to run back and forth across the floor. I think for as big as the Convention Center is, EVO could do for some automatic walkways or something to get attendees from one side to the other in a jiffy. Yes, you take some foot traffic and exposure from Artist Alley, but I still think there needs to be some kind of solution here to help folks get around better.

Nonetheless, I was mostly impressed with the layout of EVO 2022. The booths were fantastic and had a lot of events going on, including raffles and giveaways. There were cool features such as the Arcade Stick Museum, which was an absolutely delightful display of arcade stick tech and design. Of course, there were plenty of demos to play and gameplay footage to see throughout the booths too. All-in-all, despite complaints about the rigors of traveling back and forth through it all, EVO 2022’s Convention floor felt like a delightful state fair dedicated to fighting games in mostly the best of ways.

Time makes fools of us all

EVO 2022 attendees watch a Street Fighter Alpha tournament on one of the big stages.
Source: TJ Denzer / Shacknews

I think one of the biggest points of contention for EVO 2022 was keeping things on schedule. Simply put, I think this was one of the biggest failures of the show, and a lot of that feels like it comes directly from the corporate investment. When it came down to the show matches and Top 8 competitions throughout EVO, the ads were out of control. For nearly every prominent match, we would be forced to sit throughout about 10 to 15 minutes worth of commercials. Don’t get me wrong: I understand that this show has sponsors, and those sponsors want to get their message out, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of completely derailing the schedule.

Here's where that matters: Dragon Ball FighterZ’s Top 8 competition on Saturday, August 6 didn’t come to an end until a little past 2 a.m. PT / 5 a.m. ET… Then Sunday Grand Finals began at 10 a.m. PT. What’s more, it was after DBFZ finally ended that they got to announce rollback for the game at that 2 a.m. time. I didn’t see that announcement. I went to bed after MultiVersus ended a bit earlier (and that had its own delays). Sunday was the same situation. Guilty Gear Strive was intended to end EVO 2022 at 8 p.m. PT. It didn’t start until around 10 p.m. PT what with all the ads.

The EVO 2022 Grand Finals in the Michelob Ultra Arena at Mandalay Bay.
Source: TJ Denzer / Shacknews

Heck, the ads even got in the way of the in-person product on more than one occasion. At multiple tournaments, I’d hear casters talking and breaking down the match they just watched for viewers only for an ad to cut in with audio and start playing over them. That might not matter if you’re watching an online livestream, but on the tournament floor and in the arenas, it was downright silly listening to casters and ads compete with each other. As a result, EVO 2022 didn’t end until around 1:30 a.m. PT on Monday morning. I love fighting games so very much and I’m one of the most positive folks out there, but that’s simply not ideal.

EVO 2022 won’t stop being corporate. Sony owns it now and there’s a lot of sponsors who are paying to have their products shown, but there has to be a middle ground that keeps the event on schedule. Otherwise, you’re leaving fans drained of energy by the time the big finale comes, not to mention overshadowing the hard work of casters when ads play over them. I can say with certainty there were a lot of empty seats in the arena by the end of Guilty Gear. That seems counterproductive to say the least. I hope they figure out a happy medium that will satisfy sponsors and value attendees’ time a bit better.

A whole new era of EVO

Ultimately, the mood at EVO 2022 was one of the highest I’ve ever seen a whole community feeling in years. I had so many good conversations with competitors, booth exhibitors, artists, and developers throughout the show and everyone was thrilled to be back at Mandalay Bay Convention Center. What’s more, for the frustrations many attendees and myself faced, I saw Rick 'TheHadou' Thiher actively participating in feedback and looking to make the event better even as it was happening. That kind of awareness and on-the-fly adaptation gives me big hope for the future of the event.

I believe with full certainty Rick, Pokimane, Sony and the rest of the EVO staff will work to smooth out the edges in future events. This was the first time back, and I would still mark it as one of the best EVOs I have ever had the pleasure of participating in, and as we look towards events like EVO Japan in 2023, I am as optimistic as can be about where the show goes from here.

Senior News Editor

TJ Denzer is a player and writer with a passion for games that has dominated a lifetime. He found his way to the Shacknews roster in late 2019 and has worked his way to Senior News Editor since. Between news coverage, he also aides notably in livestream projects like the indie game-focused Indie-licious, the Shacknews Stimulus Games, and the Shacknews Dump. You can reach him at tj.denzer@shacknews.com and also find him on Twitter @JohnnyChugs.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 12, 2022 10:00 AM

    TJ Denzer posted a new article, EVO 2022 set a strong foundation for the future of the fighting game event

    • reply
      August 12, 2022 1:12 PM

      Rick seems to be doing great work with Evo. Wouldn't expect anything less with how well he's done with Combobreaker.

      The biggest issue I'd like to see addressed would be the prize pool money. It would be a shame to lose the international competition because it's just not worth the hassle. That would definitely eat into the budget for all the cool stuff they're doing that they didn't used to though.

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