Evolution is a fitting name for the world’s premier fighting game tournament. What originated as a one-off gathering between 40 people at a New York City arcade to settle some Internet trash talk has grown into an international affair, spanning thousands of competitors, and millions of viewers from around the world. Outside of button-mashing pugilism, EVO is now host to numerous fighting game related panels and demos for upcoming releases. Even if you weren’t at Caesar’s Palace to lay the smackdown, you got the opportunity to watch Capcom reveal the new release date for Street Fighter X Tekken’s DLC characters and watch NetherRealm Studios demo Injustice: Gods Among Us on the main stage.
EVO has grown into a more holistic celebration of fighting games and the community behind it. With that said, the focus continues to be around the competition, which there was no shortage of in its 2012 iteration. If anything, there may have been too much competition to wrap-up on finals day, which didn’t end until 2:30AM EST. Scheduling issues aside, this year’s EVO did not disappoint. Mind-boggling combos were executed, bitter tears were shed, and out of thousands of world warriors in attendance, only 7 earned the title of champion.
Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition
EVO’s main event proved to be an international affair, as the top 8 featured players from 6 different countries. Japan had won every Street Fighter IV EVO championship since the game’s inception in 2009, but that streak ended when their final competitor – Daigo “The Beast” Umehara – was unceremoniously ousted in back-to-back finals matches. Instead, the crown went to Korea this year, as Sun-Woo “Infiltration” Lee made mincemeat of all comers with his amazing Akuma play. His performance was the most dominant finals performance of the night, as he marched through top 8 without losing a single match.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
While top 8 featured some of the scene’s heaviest hitters, most of the excitement was created by its two biggest surprises: “TA|Frusty”, and Carlos “Infrit” Randay. The former made waves leading up to the finals with his masterful M.O.D.O.K.; one of the least popular characters in the series. Exploiting his opponents’ inexperience against the character, TA|Frusty was able to earn a 5th place finish. The latter was the Cinderella story of the night. Playing at a level far beyond what’s normally see from him, Infrit had the crowd chanting his name all the way to the dramatic conclusion of his grand finals set against Marvel vs. Capcom 3 powerhouse Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez. When the dust settled however, Filipino Champ lived up to his namesake by defeating Infrit to earn his first EVO crown.
King of Fighters XIII
Armando “Bala” Velasquez appeared to be unstoppable. Cruising his way into grand finals, all he had to do was take out Kwang “MadKOF” Noh Lee of team CafeID to win it all. Within minutes, the favorite found himself on the ropes; a position he’d never been in leading up to this moment. Looking desperate for answers, Bala pulled out every trick in his book, from in hopes of stopping MadKOF’s offensive onslaught. Despite his best efforts, nothing could stop MadKOF from crushing him in the biggest upset of the night.
Having taken some time off from the competitive Mortal Kombat scene after his EVO victory last year, Carl “Perfect Legend” White was looking rusty heading into this year’s competition. After failing to win at his most recent MLG appearances, most had Emmanuel “CD Jr.” Brito, and Joseph “REO” Grosso as the favorites instead. Whatever Perfect Legend did to get himself back into game shape paid dividends, as he beat CD Jr. in grand finals to become the first player since 2010 to successfully defend his title.
Street Fighter X Tekken
The black sheep of EVO 2012’s lineup failed to garner much in the way of enthusiasm from its audience, or its players. Save for an incredible Cross Assault combo from Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, and Keita “Fuudo” Ai, the crowd was mostly indifferent to the action on the main stage. While a congratulations is in order for tournament champions Infiltration and Ryan “Laugh” Anh, maybe the most telling indicator of the game’s significance was the sight of “Hello Kitty” Ricky Ortiz during the awards ceremony, where he appeared to be more interested in sending a text message rather than receiving his second place medal. Unless Capcom is able to reignite interest in the title, this may be the last time we see Street Fighter X Tekken at EVO.
To the surprise of many, two of the game’s strongest competitors – Keev, and Marie “Kayane” Norindr – failed to make top 8. With the door wide open, Naoaki “Shining Decopon” Yanagihara of Japan stole the show with his expert use of Tira – a relatively unused character in the game. In the process of becoming the first SoulCalibur EVO champion since 2009, his victory proved that there’s still much to discover in this relatively new game.
Street Fighter II Turbo
Retro fighting game fans did not walk away disappointed from the Street Fighter II Turbo Tournament of Legends. Having upwards of 20 years to master this game, every button press appeared like it was thought out, and executed with surgical precision. The marquee matchup of the night belonged to MAO, a Vega player considered to be the best Super Turbo competitor in Japan, and Kusomondo, widely considered the best E.Honda player on the planet. Kusomondo drew first blood by knocking MAO into losers bracket, but MAO would exact his revenge during grand finals in a highly-competitive set.
Though this year’s EVO is in the books, the triumphs, and failures from it will pave the road for the community leading up to the next one. Can Infiltration repeat as champion in the scene’s most competitive game? Will Bala bounce back from a disappointing finish to take home a crown that was once seen as rightfully his? Will Street Fighter X Tekken even return next year? For fans of this year’s event, the answers to these questions can’t come soon enough.