What Makes EVO So Special?

    An insight into the biggest eSport event of all time.

    This past weekend, EVO 2023 started and ended with hype from fighting game fans around the world. EVO, or Evolution, is a fighting game tournament/event that began in 1996. It used to be called the ‘Battle for the Bay’ and took place in California. Nowadays, the event takes place in August and features far more fighting games than just Street Fighter. This past year, games like Guilty Gear Strive, Tekken 7, and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 all graced the main stage.

    Yet, EVO has stood out in an industry saturated with significant events featuring the most toxic people and attitudes. In fact, the state of Nevada declared EVO 2023 as not just the most successful EVO but the most successful eSport event of all time. So what makes EVO so unique? Here’s an insight into everything that makes EVO the best event in the gaming industry.

    The Announcements

    Rock Howard in Fatal Fury: City of the Wolves

    Nowadays, the fighting game genre is one of the most successful in the entire medium. In June, Capcom released Street Fighter 6, the latest entry in the most beloved fighting game franchise ever. Within just a month, the game has already sold two million copies. It’s only natural, then, that fans of the genre always look forward to what comes next.

    EVO isn’t just home to the best players in the genre; it’s also home to the companies that make these games in the first place. They use the opportunity and the massive stage to reveal more information on the future of fighting games. For example, this past EVO NetherRealm Studios, the developers of Mortal Kombat, announced more details about their next game. Mortal Kombat 1 is set to release in early September, and almost a month before launch, they revealed that series fan-favorites, Reptile, Ashrah, and Havik, will be returning in the upcoming release.

    This past weekend was filled with reveals from all around the genre, but EVO is more than just the announcements. The tournament would not exist without the fighters going out of their way to compete amongst the best.

    The Tournament

    Arslan Ash, the 4x Tekken EVO world champion

    Every year, the best players in the world make their way to Las Vegas to compete against each other. Usually, they are the best in whatever game they have chosen to compete in. The process of joining the tournament is simple yet complex.

    First, you take part in a series of pools. These are qualifying rounds as you work through the rest of the competition and slowly build up to joining the best players. Then, you compete in the Top 16, then the Top 8, then the Top 6, until soon enough, only two people are left. At that point, you are on the grand stage, being watched by hundreds of thousands worldwide and in person.

    What makes EVO so exciting is seeing the variety of competitors. Sure, most people are from North America and East Asia, but exceptions exist. Take the Tekken 7 Grand Finals, for instance. The fighter that ended up winning the entire thing is from Pakistan, of all places. His name is Arslan Ash, and he’s the best Tekken 7 player in the world. Yet, his most significant opposition isn’t the tournament itself but everything leading up to it. Pakistan is a notoriously hard country to get a Visa for, so most people from the country don’t have the chance to travel and compete against others. Yet despite all the difficulty, Arslan has repeatedly overcome the odds and made his way to the top of the bracket.

    This is true amongst every game on offer. The man that won the Guilty Gear Strive finals was from Sweden. The one who won the first-ever major Street Fighter 6 tournament, AngryBird, is from the United Arab Emirates. It was magical for me, as someone who is from Pakistan, to see people that look like me competing on the world stage against the best of the best. Another exciting part of EVO is seeing the games you love played in a way you’ve never seen.

    The Games

    People playing Project L at EVO 2023

    The games on offer this year were Melty Blood, Guilty Gear Strive, Mortal Kombat 11, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Street Fighter 6, Granblue Fantasy Versus: Rising, and Tekken 7. The oldest game on the roster, UMvC3, is over ten years old. The youngest, Street Fighter 6, came out just two months ago. Yet every game played at EVO 2023 was completely different and brought to life in several ways.

    Tekken 7 is a far slower game than Street Fighter 6, and both pale to the speed of Ultimate Marvel 3. Mortal Kombat 11 has a far more realistic art style than Guilty Gear Strive or Melty Blood. Even Granblue Fantasy Versus has strange origins, as the fighting game was initially based on a Japanese Online RPG.

    More than that, every competitor brought their flavor of play to each game. Some fought very aggressively, while others stayed on the defensive against their opponents. This sense of variety made every Grand Finals feel different and exciting. However, the main thing that made EVO so special this year wasn’t just the games, the competitors, or the announcements. The thing that makes EVO so unique and successful compared to other eSports events is the community.

    The Community

    Angry Bird after winning Street Fighter 6 at EVO 2023

    Video games are often criticized for giving birth to some of the most toxic fanbases on the internet. It doesn’t matter if it’s Call of Duty or League of Legends; you can usually expect most online communities to be filled with some of the rudest and most disrespectful people on the planet. Yet, the fighting game community has managed to separate itself from the rest. Sure, they have their fair share of ‘bad apples,’ so to speak, but you’ll never find a community more loving and accepting than the fighting game community.

    When I watched EVO Grand Finals live, I expected to see many people in the Twitch chat jeering or spamming hateful messages left and right. What I saw instead though were people getting excited, regardless of who won or lost. Everyone was here to have a good time, whether they were watching in person or online.

    This is partly due to influencers within the community making it a more welcoming and wholesome place to be. Creators such as Maximillian Dood, Justin Wong, Sajam, and Woolie Versus have fostered a nourishing and comforting environment for fans and newcomers. These creators would not be so successful if it weren’t for the community itself.

    It is the community that helped make Marvel vs. Capcom 3 a massive hit despite it being eleven years old. The community is why EVO 2023 reached record viewership compared to other eSports events. Lastly, the community awarded world records to the people behind EVO and even the key to the city. Is it any wonder that EVO will return to Japan and Vegas next year and will expand to other locations?

    EVO is more than just the people that arrive at the event in person. It’s more than just the companies that fund it, the games that are present, and the venue in which it takes place. It is every person who watches the event, picks up a fighting game, and attends the tournament years later to try and become the best. It is the people that invite their friends over to watch the tournaments live and play Street Fighter 6 while watching Street Fighter 6. Most of all, though, it is the community at large that enjoys watching people put everything on the line to become the best. EVO is an extraordinary event in the gaming industry. Nothing will ever come close to the level of joy that it has created.

    Saras Rajpal
    Saras Rajpal
    Saras is a passionate creative writer, with a love for immersive sims, superhero games, and Persona. He is currently writing a thesis about Persona 5 and is pursuing a career as a full-time writer.

    Latest articles

    Latest Articles