My name is Ken, and I love video games. More specifically, I love fighting games. My childhood memories are littered with instances of standing in front of an arcade machine for hours playing Tekken, or playing Street Fighter II with my cousins in my bedroom.
There comes a time in every gamer's life when they determine who the best fighting game player they know is. But for a select few, they know that the competitive scene exists on a more global scale. The pinnacle of that scene accumulates every year at the EVOLUTION FIGHTING GAME Championships. Since 2002, players from around the world travel to Las Vegas for this 3-day event to crown the best gamers in a variety of popular fighting game titles.
EVO CHAMPION. The Pinnacle.
In the 16 years since then, the tournament has provided some of the most exciting moments ever captured in competitive gaming. Like this one from 2004.
Here's 30 more minutes of that type of action.
This past January, the folks at EVO decided to host EVO Japan 2018, a 3-day tournament on the 26th through the 28th. The event featured double elimination tournaments for a number of games including Guilty Gear, Street Fighter V (SFV), Tekken 7 and Super Smash Bros for the Wii U (SMASH). Needless to say, for a gamer like me, attending this was a must do and I, along with a contingent of 10 or so of Guam's best fighting game players went to Tokyo to compete.
Now, slight disclaimer and spoiler: I'm a huge fan of fighting games but I'm not a pro player. I have to write articles like this in order to put food on my table! My goal was to experience an event like EVO to gain a better understanding of the scope of the event and to network with people in that community. For others from Guam, their sights were set higher.
Barry Hernandez and Joseph Garrido are recognized as two of the best Marvel vs Capcom players on Guam and they have international hardware to prove it -- Barry took 2nd place at a major tourney in Malaysia and Joe took home 2nd at SEAM (South East Asia Majors in Singapore) in 2017. While Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite wasn't on the official EVO Japan game list, its popularity helped it gain the support needed and it was featured as a side event. Joe and Barry both had high hopes for a good placement in Marvel.
Barry Hernandez is one of Guam's best fighting game players.
8 other players from Guam also came as well as countless supporters. Peter Quiambao, a long time Street Fighter player and pioneer of the scene on Guam went. This would be his 4th Evo. For a few of us, this was our first experience and Pete warned us of the "0-2" curse. The curse refers to players losing 2 games in EVO and not winning any matches. This typically happens to first timers, as the spectacle and pressure of the big event are sometimes too big for them to handle. I had signed up for SFV and Marvel but had not played either game for 6 months. I felt unprepared yet, I was going to try to make the most of my experience and accept that the curse would be my fate as well.
Evo Japan consists of 3 days: 2 days of pool play, and a final day for top 8 play. The pools were held at the Sunshine City 60 building in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. I arrived at the venue before 8 AM to check in for my pool, and there were already a ton of people lined up. (images courtesy of Evo Japan Press Junket.)
Some guys waiting in the lines during early morning registration.
Luckily, the Evo staff was very efficient in terms of checking in registrants. The process was very quick and I could scope out the area until my Street Fighter match, which was scheduled for noon.
The registration process was very quick.
The hustle and bustle of competitive Street Fighter.
There were two main ballrooms for the event, and Street Fighter pools were held in Ballroom A. To give you a scope of the event, there were over 60 individual pools of 8-16 people for SFV in that ballroom. In fact, according to EVO Japan, recorded a whopping 2,305 official participants for just Street Fighter! There were over 7,000 participants total in all the titles, not inclusive of the side tournaments, and over 13,000 guests over the 3-day span!
After killing a few hours by checking out the venue and talking to some Guam people, it was finally time for me to not embarrass myself in SFV. While EVO registration was facilitated very smoothly, I have to say that I felt that the actual tournament organization itself and the ways the brackets were run, were kind of a letdown. I expected a well-oiled machine that didn't run late and would have no errors. But for me, and apparently, for many participants, the bracket organization for SFV was far less than ideal.
All these stations and there was a bunch of confusion.
My bracket ended up starting 1 hour late. Additionally, some players either could not find the location of the pools or were caught up because many people were disqualified for not showing up to their pool on time. That would give me my first win in SFV by default. In a double elimination setup like EVO, that win already made me better than 50% of the people who appeared at EVO. However, I didn't want free wins! I wanted to earn them. 20 minutes later I played my next match and lost a relatively close match to a Japanese player. Considering I hadn't touched the game since August of 2017, I was feeling pretty good about my performance even though I had lost. The game had undergone many changes and patches and I was not prepared or familiar with many of them.
Roughly 30 minutes later I played my loser's bracket match. In double elimination tournaments, you have to lose to two opponent's in order to be eliminated so, I had to win here to stay alive. This time I was matched up with a Korean player who was using Ryu. I don't know if it was the fact that I had very little pressure riding on my shoulders but I easily dispatched of my opponent and had the other people in my pool raising their eyebrows in that silent unspoken approval that nerds give each other. YES! I had dodged the 0-2 curse! Peter and our friend Aldwin also did well in Street Fighter, notching a handful of wins before ultimately succumbing towards the end of their pools to tough competition.
At this point, I was on cloud 9. I had progressed in a bracket in my first EVO in a game that I hadn't even touched in 6 months! A huge burden had been lifted and I was ready to just enjoy the rest of the trip regardless of how I fared in my remaining pool or in Marvel. 10 minutes later, I played my final Street Fighter opponent and lost a close game to the eventual 2nd place person in my pool. But it didn't matter. I had done better than I expected and was now looking forward to watching my friends play Marvel and seeing if I could do the same in Marvel as well.
Sportsmanship is a big part of competitive gaming.
By the time Joe got the call to play his first Marvel match, it was already 5:00 PM and we had spent an entire day at EVO. But this is Joe's game and he was ready to prove that he belongs with the elite. Joe's first opponent was Kuuronn, a highly-respected Japanese Marvel player. Since Marvel was not part of the main stage games, pools were only single elimination. That means if you lose your match, you are out of the tournament. For the normal player, being faced with such a tough opponent in the first round would be a challenge, but for Joe, it was just like any other match.
Joe easily dispatched of Kuuronn in straight sets 2-0, and moved on to the next round.
Joe would ride that momentum going 4-0 in his pools and making it to the final game of his pool. The winner would make it into top 8 of the tourney --- an incredible feat. The loser would walk away tied for 9th. Joe took the first game of the set with the Guam crew as well as fans from Singapore, New Zealand, and the mainland US cheering him on. However, a couple of in-game decisions and modifications by his opponent would ultimately be Joe's downfall and he would lose the set. While Joe was disappointed about the final match, the Guam crew was incredibly proud of his 9th place performance at Evo.
Joe Garrido tied for 9th out of 256 Marvel players in the side tournament.
Barry would emulate this same success, making it to the finals of his pool as well, but falling just short of top 8 and tying with Joe for 9th overall. My Marvel experience was not as glorious. I had a bye in the first round and my opponent was a no-show in the second, so I made it to the semi-finals of my pool without ever even playing a game. However, my only match was vs Ranmasama, a very strong Marvel player who would likely have beaten me even if I had been training very hard for the tourney (which I hadn't.) I lost to him handily. There's rumored to be stream footage out there. I deny its existence nd take comfort in the fact that Ranmasama would end up in the Top 4 when the tourney was all said and done.
At this point, it was past 9 PM and it was time to explore Tokyo and then get rest for day 2.
The remaining Guam contingent had games to play on Day 2 as many were registered for Tekken 7 or Smash 4. I had all my games on Day 1 so I spent Day 2 checking out the expo hall where a variety of vendors were set up.
Video games are a thriving business. Just ask these side vendors and streamers.
In this big hall, they had numerous booths featuring numerous gaming-related products. These products ranged from arcade sticks to new up-coming games, to Docomo Internet connections and to even different Cup Noodle flavors. (Nissin being the main sponsor for Evo Japan.)
Cup Noodles. For when you need that soup with all your extra salt.
Bryan Cates, a first-time EVO attendee from Guam went 0-2 in Tekken so he joined Barry, Joe and me as we checked out these booths.
Bryan lost in Tekken but still snagged this photo.
The booths were very interesting and we were able to take a sneak-peek at a lot of great content as well as catch the finals for a few of the games on the main stage.
ZJZ from Taiwan took 1st in King of Fighters.
Barry and Joe test out a demo of EX Fighting Layer, a new game from developer Arika.
The final day of EVO Japan consists of the top 8 matches for the major games of the event. It took place at the UDX Square in Akihabara. Day 3 is a really difficult day to attend as tickets allegedly sold out within an hour of being posted online. But lucky for us, the EVO Japan staff was gracious enough to provide us press passes!
Day 3 access!
To be fully transparent, I do not play Smash 4 or Guilty Gear and I wasn't really interested in those games. I really wanted to go to day 3 just to see the SFV top 8. So after spending most of my day cruising through Tokyo, I headed to the top 8 at 5:30 PM in the afternoon.
Day 3 took place in a large ballroom, that probably hosted 700 people. A big difference from Evo Japan to pictures of what I've seen in Evo Vegas was the venue size of day 3. I've heard that day 3 in the US is a much larger event and experience, however, I was grateful to be a part of a tight-knit day 3 in Japan.
UDX building in Akihabara. Home of day 3 EVO JAPAN.
When I arrived, the top 8 of Street Fighter was being set up and numerous representatives from various game production houses were introducing their new titles or updates to their existing games. This went on for a while and I was growing impatient for the top 8 of Street Fighter. But soon enough, my prayers were answered and the Top 8 of SFV began!
The ballroom for the day 3 experience was relatively small, but the action was colossal.
There is something about watching high-level gameplay with other people who share the same passion. It's a different experience. You could be watching the same footage on TV at home with a bunch of non-gaming friends and the appreciation for the quality of play just becomes lost. But when you watch it in person -- when you hear a crowd of 700 people yell in approval of some small nuance that occurred in the match, there is nothing that compares. The SFV top 8 delivered that in spades. It was a notable top 8 that consisted of Infiltration, Daigo, MOV, John Takeuchi, Tokido, Humanbomb, Itabashi Zangief and Storm Kubo - all amazing players that no one would be surprised to see qualify.
Daigo Umehara had an incredible run, beating all his opponents 3-0 before succumbing to Infilitration in the losers finals 3-0. Infiltration showed his experience and versatility, losing to John Takeuchi in Winners Finals then coming back and winning the entire tourney by beating John Takeuchi in the grand finals.
Infiltration proved to be the man when it comes to SFV.
The SFV top 8 competitors with Cup Noodle mascot.
EVO Japan 2018 was a great experience for me. I'm excited to go again next year as I had a great time hanging out with a large Guam contingent and meeting new friends from across the globe. But I'm even more excited to host an event like this on Guam as well! Stay tuned for the Guam Esports Championships on April 21st and 22nd at the Guam Mueseum. It won't be as big as EVO, but we hope to make it just as fun and exciting! See you there!