Monday, August 1, 2011

EVO 2011

This may or may not be known to my reading audience, but I have always been a huge fan of fighting games. In youth I played a lot of Street Fighter II, even a bit of the early Mortal Kombat games (though, I never actually OWNED any of them, so it was harder for me to play them), and as I grew up, I found Killer Instinct, Guilty Gear, Blazblue, Marvel vs. Capcom, Soul Calibur, Tekken, and so on and so forth.

So naturally when I found out about a national fighting game gathering, I was excited. And for those of you following me on twitter, or friends with me on Facebook, this is naturally what the fuss was all about, EVO 2011, or the Evolution Championship Series.

But what sets this apart from other, well known competitive gaming events, such as Major League Gaming? Well, mostly because EVO is strictly fighting games, as opposed to MLG's emphasis on FPS's, though not quite limited to such. EVO is most likely the largest gathering of fighting game enthusiasts in America. Not only are a ton of fighting games tournaments held with gathering of some of the WORLD'S best fighting game players, but a ton of panels centered around upcoming and current fighting games. For example this year, they had a HUGE panel about the upcoming Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, where a Capcom rep led of a list of changes between the two games, a panel on Skullgirls, one of the first new fighting games in a while, and more.

A further testament to how different both conferences are is the line up. The line up for the most recent MLG looked like this:
Halo 3 (Free For All and 4v4)
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (1v1 and 2v2)
Tekken 6 (1v1 and 3v3)
Starcraft 2 (1v1)
Halo Reach (FFA and 4v4)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (4v4 360/PS3)

And EVO's line up looked like this:
Blazblue Continuum Shift 2
Tekken 6
Mortal Kombat 9
Marvel vs Capcom 3
Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition

Notice they both only share one game (Tekken 6). They are two very different beasts, and usually attract very different people. EVO used to do Super Smash Bros Brawl, back in 2008, though I have no idea why they stopped, or how what games are played are even decided.

Now again, this was my first time actually watching EVO, however, I had actually heard and known a bit about it before. I knew the names of a few top competitors, namely a man called Daigo, who had, with his Ryu, taken the Street Fighter 4 championship two years in a row, and was looking for a third time around, so we knew the Street Fighter 4 championship was going to be one to watch this time around for this reason alone.

And having watched nearly as much as I could, it was not disappointing. The first two days were the pool play, quarter, and semi-finals for all the games, with Sunday being the finals. I never would have imagined what the finals had in store for us. Just about every finals had so many surprising moments.

Blazblue was surprising, not so much in the sense of "OMG" moments, but just the character that ended up taking the championship. Hakuman, by many, was considered a low tier character, easily outclassed by a lot of Blazblue's cast, so for Spark to march into such a high profile tournament and win with such a low tier character really speaks volumes about tiers in fighting games in the first place.

Tekken 6 was actually kind of boring, with all of the finals being mostly a Bob fest, the final round even coming down to a battle between Bob and Bob. It had its moments though, and Tekken is, as always an interesting game to watch people play.

It really got interesting however when Mortal Kombat 9 started up. This was probably a perfect example of two professionals going at it. And Perfect Legend showing me throughout the entire tournament things I never knew Kung Lao could do, which is magic to me, because Kung Lao has always been my favorite Mortal Kombat character. But both players playing to their character's strenghts, back and forth the entire game. If you want to see it, here it is:

Of course, the game I was most excited for was Marvel vs. Capcom 3. So many high profile players, including my favorite, Combofiend. Again, if you're friends with me on FB, or a member of The Page itself, you probably heard me talk a lot about this individual, and while he didn't win, he's always been arguably the most exciting individual to watch. The following, is probably his most prolific match he's had (this did not take place at EVO)

And arguably the most exciting match he had at EVO:

Needless to say, he was a lot of people's favorite to go all the way this year, however, he ended up in fourth after being first sent to the losers bracket by overall 2nd place player PR Balrog, and then sent home by 3rd place player Justin Wong.

Speaking of PR Balrog, despite taking second place, he had a HUGE battle just to get to second place, and had an incredible showing in the final round, showing quite a fighting spirit. Easily his most epic moment:

Whats so important about this match is that typically, Tron has a really hard time beating Phoenix, so once it came down to her vs Tron, nobody thought PR Balrog had a chance. But to come back like that was just amazing...

However, probably the highlight for everyone's night was, naturally, Poongko vs. Daigo in Street Fighter 4. Again, Daigo coming into this was a two time SSF4 champion, so he was naturally looked at as the odds on favorite to win this year again, although a lot of American's didn't want him to. (To my understanding, America has been trying very hard to take Street Fighter from the Japanese players, much like the Japanese, or Daigo at least tried to take MvC from the American's. Daigo, interestingly enough, didn't even make it to the top 8 of MvC3, despite talking about how much training he had put into the game).

Now first off, there are a lot of factors that could have contributed to this. First off, this was the first year Daigo didn't use Ryu, so he may not have been as experienced with Yun, plus he really didn't have a lot of experience against a Seth player, and definitely not against someone as untraditional as Poongko. But still, we've never seen Daigo completely manhandled before like this, only to get eliminated by Latiff, who ended up taking second place after an unfortunately bad game in the finals. So once more, Japan ends up taking Street Fighter, but not Daigo like everyone expected.

So yeah, this is what has raptly had my attention all weekend. Just the excitement from the crowd, the incredible moments, this is EVO. Next year, I'm personally going to try and physically be there, and maybe I'll see some of you there as well.

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