The Evolution Championship Series (hereby referred to as Evo) is the largest, most prestigious fighting game tournament in the world, as the commercials would tell you. So would the stream overlays of any of the official broadcasts, the event website, passersby at the venue, and so much more. Having been running under the Evo banner for over a decade, and at its core been operating for twice that period of time, Evo is a view into the most core aspect of competitive gaming. The knowledge that anyone can sign up, anyone can pick up a fightstick, and anyone can take a game off the pros; if they’re good enough, is what has elevated Evo to where it is today.
But this is 2017 now. The era of Eleague pulling over one million concurrent viewers to a CS:GO stream, the era of Dota 2’s The International 6 touted a prize pool of $20 million, and as many would put it more colloquially, the era of esports. How has the Olympics of the FGC grown, and how does it stack up the modern age of events? Is Evo the last of a dying breed, or is it stronger than ever?
This was the first installment of Evo I had ever attended in person, though the fifth that I had followed in its entirety. The past four years, this time of year entailed me sitting in my chair, watching two, maybe even three streams at once, following as much of the action as I could. Going from this to wandering the absolutely massive convention center of the Mandalay Bay is a massive departure. A quite viably similar experience can be found in meandering to the front of the venue where the stream stations lie; towering projectors as matches played on the grand Evo stages sprawled out and let a sea of spectators bear witness to the clash of arms and thrash of buttons. From Street Fighter on the never-ending CapcomFighters stream, to Injustice 2 at NetherRealms, and even Super Smash Bros. Melee and Wii U nearly perpetually residing in the main corner, you were not at a shortage of quality gameplay to find.
What is different from the home experience, is what you find upon turning around. The flood of attendees fills not only the seats, but also crowds around the various Pools setups. Whether you’re the #1 seeded entrant, the one expected to take it all, or some rando Joe who got the game for Christmas, everyone needs to play their pool matches first. Crowds gather around the stations where notable professionals and celebrity figures played. My buddy Connor happened to run Joseph “Mang0” Marquez’ pool, and attested to the towering presence of these personalities. “He was always signing things, he’d 2-0 some kid and then sign his controller, turn around and find five more who want a picture, or a signature, or a high-five. It was nutty.”
With the legacy Evo has established, it has turned into a proper FGC convention. What originated as a pure contest of who is the best has drawn enough spectators and general interest for it to feature game preview access ala PAX, and two substantial aisles of merchandise and art booths. We got our hands on DragonBall FighterZ (which was crazy 3v3-tag anime action, exactly as it should be), and oh so much more.
Like any convention, the reason companies get involved is for advertising, and the same is true here. Esports is, after all, one large marketing campaign for the game. Capcom throws the Capcom Cup to inspire people to play Street Fighter, and Evo this year was the distilled essence of that. On the show floor it was all business, and met every expectation I could garner based on my experiences at prior tournament events.
But Evo is more than that; Evo is about meeting up with friends and like-minded individuals, as well as putting on an excellent show. These will be the focuses of the next installments in this series, which I will link here as they go up.