The Evolution Championship series is the fighting game equivalent of the Super Bowl. The tournament draws top players from around the world for a variety of games. Evo’s main stage consists of the nine most popular fighting games as well as number of side tournaments. This year is a monumental year for the tournament with Street Fighter V, Tekken 7: Fated Retribution and Pokken Tournament. We’re also seeing the return of fan favorites Super Smash Bros, Killer Instinct and Guilty Gear XRD. Evolution 2016 is going to be a fantastic show of the fighting game community, but all eyes are on Street Fighter V.
Street Fighter V has seen an interesting year. The game launched to various critique and complaints decrying the lack of features from casual fans while competitive fans struggled with various design choices and disappointing online stability. Despite this, we’ve seen some fantastic tournament play from an evolving list of players. Street Fighter V will see a surge of popularity due to the Top 8 being broadcast on ESPN 2. With the tournament starting on Friday, I’d like to discuss the state of the game and throw out some predictions for the tournament.
This year’s CEO has set an interesting stage for EVO. We saw our third grand final of Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi and Seonwoo “Infiltration” Lee. Tokido did manage to take both CEO and secure his qualifying spot in the Capcom Cup, but it remains to be seen if this was a one time fluke. Infiltration is still one of the most dangerous players in the Capcom Pro Tour and his Nash play has been dominating the American Pro Tour events. Personally, I’d like to see a different grand finals for Evo since Final Round, NorCal Regional and CEO have all boiled down to a clash between the two.
Tokido and Infiltration may be at the forefront, but they aren’t the only two major Asian competitors. Red Bull’s Daigo Umehara, EG’s Yusuke Momochi and Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue are all still strong competitors. Daigo has maintained a Top 8 presence in all but one of his appearances. Daigo has admitted that Tokido is the better Ryu player, but counting Daigo out is a dangerous mistake. Evo is a hit or miss tournament for Daigo, but I’m excited for his performance. Daigo went on record saying that he wasn’t prepared for CEO, but he plans to give his all at EVO.
The two returning champions, Momochi and Kazunoko, also have something to prove. Momochi took EVO last year after a perilous set fraught with equipment malfunctions. Momochi is known for his dynamic Ken play and his set with Tokido in loser’s finals brought him close to challenging Infiltration. On the other side of brackets, we have Kazunoko. The former Capcom Cup champion has seen a rough transition to Street Figher V, but has remained a Top 16 competitor in all of his CPT events. We could see Kazunoko rise to the occasion, especially after strong perforances at Tokyo Button Mashers and TWFighter Major 2016. The Asian Street Fighter scene has produced numerous talent, but I feel we are looking forward to a diverse Top 8 at Evo this year with how hungry the American players are to prove themselves.
The North American scene has been evolving since the first CPT Event at Final Round. Evil Geniuses’ Justin “JWong” Wong is currently leading the American Pro Tour rankings with his dominant Karin. After a series of first place finishes at Dreamhack Austin, Toryuken and Combo Breaker, we are seeing the return of JWong in Street Fighter. JWong is joined by fellow Evil Genius teammate, Edward “PR Balrog” Perez at this year’s EVO. PR Balrog has not been a major presence in the tournament scene, but with the release of his normal character, Balrog, we could see an invigorated performance. PR Balrog is seen by many to be one of the best American players and hopefully we see a return to form.
The American presence is consists of more than just the Evil Genius players. Fox sponsored player, Julio Fuentes, has been a dominant Ken player. Fuentes took first at Texas Showdown and lost out to JWong at Toryuken in Canada. Julio’s Ken has been a mainstay at Wednesday Night Fights and is currently is ranked second in the American CPT. Fuentes stands alongside other notable American players such as Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez and Du “Nuckle Du” Dang.
Both players have spent the last few months at Top 8 in various tournaments. Ramirez stands out as America’s top Dhalsim player and his brash personality paints him as a villain to the community. Ramirez has dedicated most of his time to Street Fighter and I think that unshackling himself from Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom will be better for him as a player. NuckleDu has had a rough year. His main character wasn’t released into the game until April and he has struggled with emotional trauma and a suicide attempt. Du has pushed past this and hasn’t placed lower than Top 8 since Final Round. The American scene is stronger than ever and the Evo title could finally wind up in American hands.
This year is an important year for our community. Street Fighter appearing on ESPN is a huge step forward in the legitimacy of the sport. Evo is going to be an important proving ground this year especially as fighting games work their way into syndicated E-Sports. I’ve attached a viewing schedule below for anyone looking to watch Evo this year. I’ll be live tweeting grand finals this year and I can’t wait to report back next week.
Seth Hall has been playing fighting games since 2012 and can be found on Twitter @themanseries and on YouTube as ManSeriesSA.
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