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Esports Fighting Games

EVO comes to Japan

This weekend, for the first time in the history of the tournament, EVO will host an event in Japan. This seems strange considering that a large number of the games played at the tournament were created by Japanese developers. Of course Japan hosts its own tournaments for said games, but EVO has become one of the largest annual fighting game tournaments in the world. Top Japanese competitors for years have had to travel to the United States to compete for EVO’s considerable prestige and prize pool. After almost twenty years, things are finally changing. Let’s take a look at the games present at the first annual EVO Japan.

ARMS – 327 Competitors

EVO Japan
Image courtesy of Shoryuken.com

Unfortunately, EVO Japan may be ARMS’ last showing as a main event at a tournament of this scale. After the initial positive reception, interest in the game declined rapidly outside of a core group of enthusiastic players. Nintendo seemed to sense this too. The developers announced in December that the Version 5 patch would be the final major content update for the game. While they claimed they will still make balance patches as necessary, it is difficult to see the statement as anything other than a nail in the coffin.

With that said, 327 is no small number of competitors. Though by far the smallest competition pool of the tournament, it’s commendable for what is arguably a niche title even among fighting game fans. If EVO Japan is where competitive ARMS play ends, at least it’s a great opportunity to send it off properly.

Tekken 7 – 1202 Competitors

EVO Japan
Image courtesy of Shoryuken.com

Tekken is a game about complicated family issues that tasks the player with mastering equally complicated juggle combos. Compared to the previously mentioned game, Tekken has nearly four times the number of competitors at EVO Japan. This makes it the second largest competition at the tournament and it’s not difficult to see why. Tekken has somehow managed to be not only a competent and satisfying fighting game, but one with characters fleshed out by a cohesive, if convoluted, story. Since its debut in 1994, it has grown to a cast of nearly 40 playable characters on disc in Tekken 7. Many will argue that some characters aren’t viable in competitive play, but the amount of different characters picked in competitive play still feels large. The diversity in the character roster means that matches are hardly ever boring to watch.

The game also has a leg-up in popularity over some of the other games by being a staple at many arcades in Japan. Despite having its roots in the arcade scene, Street Fighter developer Capcom decided against creating arcade cabinets for the series’ fifth iteration. Tekken has been there to fill that void, and its popularity may have gained a bit of a boost as a result.

Super Smash Bros for WiiU – 757 Competitors

EVO Japan
Image courtesy of Shoryuken.com

I’ll start this section off with the disclaimer that I’m still new to the competitive Smash scene. As someone who plays the game casually, I am amazed at the amount of knowledge high level players have about what I thought of as a party game for so many years. Without that knowledge, it is sometimes difficult to keep up with the action. However, it is easy to see that the Smash community is one of the closest knit fighting game communities that exists. Whereas other competitive fighting games receive support from their developers after the game gains traction, Nintendo has left the entire fate of the Smash competitive scene on the players themselves. Prize pools tend to be smaller as a result, so the top players have to commit a lot of themselves if they hope to make a living.

But this atmosphere makes Smash compelling to watch, and it is why the community is so close knit. They aren’t competing for the largest prize pools. They aren’t receiving as much support as the other games. Without that additional hype, many would lose interest after a time. The people left are there because they love the game, and they want to be the best at it. If that doesn’t make for some compelling, high intensity games to watch, then I’m not sure what does.

GUILTY GEAR Xrd REV 2 – 1187 Competitors

EVO Japan
Image courtesy of Shoryuken.com

When it first released in 1998, Guilty Gear had some stiff competition in the 2D Fighter genre. At the time, there were not many fighting games that could compete with the hype surrounding Capcom or SNK’s games. 1998 was a particularly competitive year, seeing the release of Street Fighter Alpha 3, Marvel vs Capcom and King of Fighters ’98. Guilty Gear still managed to find its niche with a unique music style, colorful characters and over the top combos.

Compared to other fighting games I’ve played, I find the combat system in Guilty Gear to be the most complex. Learning jump cancels, roman cancels, the tension gauge and various other systems often proves too much for my poor brain to comprehend at once. This makes watching play between those who have mastered these systems so enthralling. The combat is fast paced, visually stunning and incredibly technical. Even without knowledge of the game’s systems, it’s worth a watch.

BlazBlue: Central Fiction – 595 Competitors

EVO Japan
Image courtesy of Shoryuken.com

BlazBlue is commonly considered the spiritual successor to Guilty Gear. While the Guilty Gear brand was experimenting with new genres with the release of Guilty Gear 2: Overture in 2008, developer Arc System Works also released BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger into arcades late the same year. At the time there had not been an updated arcade release of a Guilty Gear game since late 2006. Something was clearly needed to refresh the arcade scene, and BlazBlue was the answer.

There are certainly similarities between BlazBlue and Guilty Gear. Characters move in much the same way, and you can even see the inspiration taken in some of the main character designs. The action is just as fast paced and high-execution as its predecessor as well, making it an absolute joy to watch. While the latest Guilty Gear chose a more cell-shaded 3D art style on a 2D background, the current BlazBlue retains its original sprite animation art style, so there is plenty of reason to watch both if you’re a fan of “Anime Fighters”.

The King of Fighters XIV – 542 Competitors

EVO Japan
Image courtesy of Shoryuken.com

From 1994 to 2003, developer SNK released a new main entry in the King of Fighters game every year. While spin-off titles were released with reasonable frequency, the time between main entries became few and far between. Released in 2016, King of Fighters XIV was the first main entry in the series in six years. Fans responded with the enthusiasm you can probably imagine. That being said, it is clear to see that KOF’s long absence from the competitive spotlight has done it some harm. Though the margin between it and BlazBlue is small, KOF is the second smallest tournament at the event.

That is not to say that it isn’t worth watching! KOF is unique at EVO Japan as the only 3v3 team fighting game. With a line-up of around 50 characters to choose from, team compositions are dynamic and diverse. For the most unique viewing experience at EVO Japan, you’d better take a look here.

Street Fighter V Arcade Edition – 2217 Competitors

EVO Japan
Image courtesy of Shoryuken.com

We’ve arrived at the main event. At 2217 entrants, the Street Fighter V tournament nearly doubles the size of the next largest tournament. Developer Capcom received some harsh criticism early in the game’s lifespan as fans complained about server issues, lack of transparency in announcements and the absence of expected features. Since the game released in early 2016, Capcom has worked hard to slowly turn this opinion around. While players will always find something to nit-pick, the general consensus is that Street Fighter V is a much better game than when it launched.

Add to this the fact that the latest edition of the game, Arcade Edition, just launched less than two weeks ago with the addition of fan favorite character Sakura. More importantly, in terms of competitive gaming, it brought a laundry list of sweeping balance changes to individual characters, as well as the combat system as a whole. None of the players in this tournament have had more than a couple of weeks to adjust to these changes before competing. The 3.0 patch flipped the entire competitive scene on its head. Even if you’ve watched competitive Street Fighter before, it’s doubtful you’ll have seen anything like what’s about to unfold in Tokyo this upcoming weekend.

EVO Japan takes place in Tokyo, Japan from 1/26 – 1/28 Japan Standard Time.


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