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Survival of the Fittest: Inside the Evo Championship Series

Thursday, 11 July 2013 08:00 GMT By Alex Donaldson

Evo is one of those things you either already love or are yet to fully comprehend. Alex investigates the appeal of the world’s largest fighting game celebration.

All About EVO 2013

July 12-14 2013 at The Paris Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas.

The official tournament line-up features nine games: Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition 2012, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Injustice: Gods Among Us, The King of Fighters XIII, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Street Fighter X Tekken 2013, Mortal Kombat and Persona 4 Arena.
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Other games, like the latest version of Virtua Fighter, will appear in exhibition matches and friendlies.

Event founded in 1996, Renamed Evo in 2002.

Played exclusively on PlayStation 3 (except Super Smash Bros. Melee) thanks to consoles provided by Sony.

There’s only a scant few sporting events that can grab me so firmly that I end up watching most of the available coverage. The media-galvanizing drama at Wimbledon last week is one such case, as is the Superbowl and the bi-yearly international football competitions. Another, for me, is one that really isn’t a ‘proper’ sport at all: the Evolution Championship Series.

Having begun life as “Battle of the Bay”, a 40-player Super Street Fighter II Turbo tournament in 1996, Evolution – Evo for short – has quickly grown to become the largest exhibition of competitive fighting games in the world. Over two million viewers tuned in over the course of last year’s event to see thousands of competitors duke it out live from Las Vegas, and the event now stretches beyond Street Fighter, this year featuring world-class competition in a whopping nine games.

Being a fighting game fan certainly helps, but there’s definitely something about Evo that lets it sink its claws into those who wouldn’t think they’d care. Watching Evo with my friends started as a quiet night in with fellow fighter fans, but gradually others not so invested filtered in – and then found themselves glued to the screen anyway. “These people play for a living?!”

“Evo is the equivalent of the Super Bowl,” Evo co-founder Joey ‘Mr Wizard’ Cuellar explained to me while in the thick of preparation for this year’s event, set to take place this weekend. I ask him how he explains it to those who might not be at all familiar.

“It’s a tournament once a year where the fighting game elite get together to duke it out and find out who the best player is. It’s also like a mini convention – we have sponsor booths there, vendors, indie developers, and a ‘bring your own console’ area so that you can play what you want.”

That’s the elevator pitch, sure – but what is it that makes Evo special?

“The atmosphere is easily what is unmatched,” Cuellar tells me. “Evo is probably the most electric event that most people will see in their lifetime, and it is indescribable.”

Evo likely owes a good deal of that atmosphere to the community it serves. Fighting game competition began in arcades, where players would sit across from each other or next to each other and ‘pop off’ on a regular basis, hopping up from machines, hooting and shouting to celebrate.

Arcade culture brings with it a not-always-perfect code of ethics and a taste for the flamboyant that is almost reminiscent of pro wrestling – and that seeps through into Evo, where big personalities become heroes and villains and gigantic salt shakers or signs designed to support or admonish favoured players are common in the crowd.

This year’s big villain is ‘Chris G‘, a player famed and mocked equally for wearing two sets of headphones at once. He’s swept so many tournaments in a wide variety of games this year with his multi-game talents that it’s made him public enemy #1 – something he seems to revel in.


The crowd gets behind heroes and villains alike.

It’s a strange and enticing combination, then – for one weekend the slightly ghetto, arcade roots-driven fighting game community mashes together with production values and viewer numbers to rival the large-scale multi-million dollar events of titles like Starcraft and DOTA.

It helps, too, that fighting games are so immediate and easy to understand. There’s as much depth and terminology to Marvel as there is to Starcraft, but to even the most clueless viewer clearly visible health-bars, timers and round counters don’t lie, and make a compelling proposition paired with excited, screeching commentators. It’s no wonder that it commands attention.

It’s at once more over-the-top and engaging to watch for its absurdity and often more respectful than what is often seen from competitive FPS games and gamers, who now so often start out cursing each other anonymously online and carry that through to their events. For all the ridiculousness, Evo remains a PG-13 event.

With that said, it hasn’t exactly been a smooth sailing few years for competitive fighters. There have been a slew of issues with sexism and bigotry, and just last week a well-known Marvel vs. Capcom player made headlines when he was arrested for allegedly striking his ex-girlfriend. It’s something Cuellar, and Evo, are acutely aware of.

“If the story says ‘fighting game player’, chances are high that Evo will be associated with the story,” he admits.

“The constant pressure is always a factor to do better for everyone – all eyes are on us most of the time. If we end up making a bad decision, it reflects on the community as a whole.”

Cuellar believes that Evo is more a force for good than for harm, though, something reflected in the increased role major publishers are taking in the event. They see past the occasional controversy the community causes, and this year’s event will see what Cuellar describes as “exclusive announcements” from Microsoft, Capcom and Warner Bros – presumably about the upcoming Killer Instinct as well as the future of Street Fighter and Injustice, both of which are due additional updates.

“We’ve converted a few marketing people – who are the most jaded people ever – to believe in the magic that is Evo,” Cuellar boasts. Evo’s sponsors include Mad Catz, Atlus, Iron Galaxy and Marvellous AQL in addition to the three companies previously mentioned, while Sony has provided the PS3 consoles for the event. They must be doing something right.


When a world championship is on the line, emotions run high.

While Evo and other smaller fighting game events are seeing dramatic growth every year, the community is still dwarfed in size and scope by other competitive titles such as DOTA, League of Legends and Call of Duty. While the fighting game community is chasing growth, Cuellar, at least, would rather Evo not be lumped in with those other ‘eSports’.

“eSports is a term developed by some marketing guy to promote video games,” he says when I ask if their success has been an inspiration. “Evo does take a few things from eSports, but we consider Evo to be more of a grass roots movement than an eSports event. Community first is the Fighting Game Community motto, and we like it!”

Even if there are bigger pro-gaming events out there, there’s certainly a sense of prestige surrounding the event, and for one particular community it has been the holy grail ever since they were a part of it in 2008 but not invited back. Super Smash Bros has been defined as not being a fighting game by its creator, but a hardcore competitive community has sprung up around the series anyway.

This year Evo determined one additional game via a donation drive – players and fans could donate cash to a Breast Cancer charity through various links and the game that raised the most would get into Evo. All told, the Smash community collectively donated an incredible $94,000 to win the drive – more than enough to put on a major event all of their own.

“You have to see it at least once in your life. Evo is probably the most electric event that most people will see in their lifetime, and it is indescribable.”

Yesterday, disaster struck – Nintendo of America got in touch with Evo and told them they were not allowed to stream Melee online. It threw the schedule into turmoil and left the Smash community devastated.

The response within the fighting game core fascinated me, and in my mind is proof of what Evo does to the community. In an instant the tone shifted – Smash, usually treated as a red headed ‘not a real fighter’ stepchild, was now a brother. The community hit Nintendo with a social media hurricane. Nintendo backed down bare hours later – an unprecedented move for the famously stubborn company.

Melee will be played and streamed at this year’s Evo, then – and those games that didn’t get in still raised the donation total to $225,000 between them – so they helped a good cause. “In no way could we expect such a big response,” Cuellar said of the drive.

The result is that the Evo crew now have nine games to juggle, making scheduling and space at the huge venue – the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas – a nightmare. “We bank on some tournaments being small, but that completely backfired this year as almost every tournament is big,” Cuellar admits.

With a week to go when I speak to him, Cuellar and the other organizers are in a crunch to meet deadlines. For a start, all the PS3 consoles used at the tournament need to be updated with the latest software, patches and necessary DLC for the games in question – and that’s just the start. Cuellar has the stream setup to worry about, too – to ensure that folks at home can follow all of the tournament events via Twitch.tv.

The stream will feature commentators and pundits, special videos and stage presentations free of charge, but a high definition premium stream will also be available for a small fee. Even that doesn’t go to Evo itself, and will be placed into a scholarship fund that will be used to give members of the community the opportunity to attend a prestigious college.

While the stream is important to him, Cuellar admits his first priority is and always will be the live event. “You have to see it at least once in your life,” he enthuses – and he thinks once they’ve got you, you’ll keep coming back. “Our retention rate is so high, that’s we keep growing year after year.”

For me Vegas is just that little bit too far this year – but I’ll be there in spirit, watching from home with a beer in hand. The debate about where competitive gaming sits in the pantheon of sports is one that can rage on as far as I’m concerned – all I know is that Evo gets as exciting for me as many of the best sporting events – and that’s all that matters in the end.

Evo 2013 takes place this weekend, and can be viewed via Twitch TV or Shoryuken.

Photos courtesy of Kara Leung of Karaface Event Photography.

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5 Comments

  1. Tvz

    A very good documentary on the Evo tournament was made by a french team last year, you can find the first part with English subs here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGfyWsEObNI

    #1 2 years ago
  2. xxJPRACERxx

    WTF?!? I guess I will never understand the appeal of these type of events…

    #2 2 years ago
  3. M. K.

    What’s not to understand here? It’s the same as sports, tv shows etc. You like it, you watch it. You don’t like it, you hate/don’t understand it.

    I’m pretty pumped as always for evo. It has been a long while since I played a Bemu, but I enjoy watching pros a lot.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Digital Bamboo

    Wow, those people look ecstatic. I don’t think I would look that happy if I won 10 grand.

    @2 I don’t get it either. I mean, I don’t like fighting games, but even if there was an event that focused on my favorite games, I still wouldn’t want to sit around and watch other people play them.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. mreko3230

    @2, @4

    I think it’s because we look at it through a narrow lens. We look at it as people standing around watching people play games, when in reality, it has to do more with community, fellowship and the players involved. I think the fact that its an event that is going to feature 9 different fighters and not just one game proves that. Its not like people are just showing up to see players play just Street Fighter or Just Super Smash Bros. From what I’ve seen, the FGC doesn’t seem near as toxic as the Call of Duty Community and they are a hell of of a lot more charitable. I’m not into fighters (I’m terrible at them), but I wouldn’t mind watching this.

    #5 2 years ago

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    Killing Floor 2 has recently got into a bit of trouble with some fans due to a clause in its EULA that gives the developer the right to revoke a user’s license without prior notice. The Killing Floor 2 EULA – just like many others found in modern games, has a section dedicated to cheating […]

  • World of Tanks: 2,000 free tanks and in-game cash to giveaway

    To celebrate the World of Tanks grand finals this weekend we’ve got some great freebies to give away to new players. We have 2,000 PC invite codes to giveaway, with each one offering new accounts a T2 Light Tank, 100 Gold and 1 Days Premium worth around €8.00. All you need to do is enter […]

  • Marvel announces partnership with Telltale, first game due in 2017

    Marvel and Telltale have entered into a partnership that will allow the developer to work on a new game series, due in 2017. Telltale has announced that it has partnered with Marvel Games, Marvel Entertainment’s video games division, for the development of a new game series. No indication was given as to what the new […]

  • Destiny: Bungie is not saying no to a player trading system

    Bungie has not completely ruled out the idea of bringing a trading system to Destiny. Destiny does not offer any way for players to trade items amongst themselves. But ever since the game’s release, players have never stopped asking Bungie to add one in. While the developer does not have a satisfying answer, it’s still […]

  • Destiny: Xur location and inventory for April 24, 25 – MIDA Multi-Tool edition

    The weekend Exotics market run by Xur: Agent of the Nine is now open for business. Destiny’s bizarre vendor, Xur, has arrived at the Tower. Xur is your man if you’re looking for Exotic armour or weapons. Not only that, but he will also let you exchange your old Exotic gear for new, upgraded versions. […]

  • Warcraft movie delayed yet again

    The Warcraft movie will no longer hit theatres in March 2016. The release date of the Warcraft movie has been pushed back by three months. The movie was expected in March 2016, but Legendary Pictures announced yesterday that it is now due on June 10, 2016. No reason was given for the delay. This is […]

  • Destiny: Iron Banner returns on April 28

    Destiny’s Iron Banner PvP event will return this Tuesday. Bungie has announced that the Iron Banner, it’s once-every-few-weeks PvP event, will make a return with next week’s weekly reset. It was initially due this week, but because of the recent Crucible changes that were implemented with patch 1.1.2, Bungie wanted to wait and see. That […]

  • Deus Ex devs take the piss out of Black Ops 3

    Deus Ex developers have been having a bit of a laugh at the expense of Call of Duty’s official Twitter account. You would be forgiven to think that yesterday’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 ‘Ember’ teaser was part of an ad campaign for a Deus Ex game, with all the biohacking, wearable tech, augmentation, […]

  • Bungie weekly update: Commendations begone

    Destiny’s weekly update is here to determine the fate of all those Commendations you’ve been earning in the past few months. Bungie started off this week’s update with a recap of the details revealed during the recent livestream. There wasn’t really anything on this front that they haven’t talked about already. With the exception of […]

  • This GTA 5 trainer lets you play as almost anything and it’s the best thing ever

    Want to play GTA 5 as a monkey, a cat, a fish, a deer or some other non-human thing that we eat or keep as a pet? ScriptHook has you covered. Not only can you play as critters, it change other game values, according to an explanation from PC Gamer. These values include making changes […]

  • EA Sports moves Rory McIlroy PGA TOUR release date to July

    EA Sports has announced Rory McIlroy PGA TOUR will be released in July. Originally announced for June, the golf game will now release the same week as the Open Championship at St. Andrews, on July 14. EA also provided some more color on gameplay features such as the ability to customize the game by borrowing […]

  • Jason Voorhees joins Mortal Kombat X in May, Kombat Pack owners get first dibs

    Jason Voorhees will arrive for Mortal Kombat X players in May, NetherRealm Studios announced today during the latest Kombat Kast. Jason will be shown for the first time on Monday, May 4 during a special Kombat Kast. According to EventHub which watched the livestream, the developer will also show off the character’s move and Variations. […]

  • The Witcher 3: Nvidia heads to Poland for a behind-the-scenes look – video

    A video for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has been released, taking you behind-the-scenes with CD Projekt RED. Nvidia’s GeForce crew went to the firm’s studio in Poland to talk with the game’s executive producer John Mamais, who provides a look at the PC version of the upcoming RPG. CD Projekt, according to the video […]

  • Microsoft notes decline in Xbox unit sales for Q3 FY15 to 1.6 million

    Microsoft reported its Q3 FY15 earnings today, citing growth in Xbox Live usage as one of the contributing factors to the firm’s reported revenue. However, the firm noted a decline in units sales for its Xbox consoles during the quarter. Microsoft Q3 2014 (yoy comparison) Microsoft Q1 fiscal 2015 Microsoft Q2 fiscal 2015 The firm […]

  • Powerplay is a new feature included in the Elite: Dangerous May update

    The next update for Elite: Dangerous is coming next month and it includes a new feature called Powerplay. According to Frontier Developments, Powerplay allows players to participate in an ongoing battle that “enhances every aspect” of the game. Players can become allies with a number of galactic Powers and guide their strategy, pursue objectives in […]

  • Facebook says it’s “too early” to discuss large-scale shipments of Oculus Rift

    Facebook has said it is “too early” to discuss large-scale shipments of Oculus Rift as the VR headset is still in the development stages. Speaking during a call to investors, Facebook CFO David Wehner said the company had nothing to announce regarding the amount of stock it expected to ship. “We have not announced any […]

  • Battlefield Hardline’s first patch and rental server program hits next week

    Battlefield Hardline’s first patch has a release date for both consoles and PC. PC & Console patch and RSP for Consoles coming April 28th. Fixes include TDM spawns and more: http://t.co/BZYJeomPlr pic.twitter.com/27TCiY8hmf — Battlefield (@Battlefield) April 23, 2015 The update will include fixes to Punkbuster, Nvidia DirectX drivers, TDM spawns, contains weapon balance tweaks and […]

  • Modders can now earn money through Steam Workshop starting today with Skyrim

    Valve has introduced a new functionality within Steam Workshop which will allow mod makers to earn money for their creations, starting with Skyrim. The update will allow content such as mods, items, or maps to be sold through Steam Workshop for titles which have the feature enabled. A new “streamlined process for listing” has been […]

  • Play Skyrim for free this weekend on Steam and take 75% off while you’re at it

    Skyrim is free this weekend on Steam providing wanna-be Dragonborns who have procrastinated on wetting their blades with Stormcloak blood the perfect opportunity to give the RPG a try. Head over to Steam and download the game and play for free until April 26 at 1am PDT. The game is also 75% off if you […]

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 “Ember” teaser video released ahead of full reveal

    Activision has released a Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 teaser video titled “Ember” and you can watch it right here. Here’s the video blurb: “In the next 50 years, technological advancements will lead us into a world where only those who risk going too far, will find out how far we can actually go.” […]

  • Dragon Age Keep update includes more customizability and control

    Bioware has updated Dragon Age Keep after listening to community feedback. The update includes more customization and control over heroes, world states, career and more. Players can now customize hero portraits or delete Dragon Age: Inquisition heroes from the Hero section. They can also remove playthrough states from the World State Manager and keep up […]

  • Here’s a look at some Conker community creations in Project Spark

    Conker’s Bug Reunion releases today, and below is a video showing some of the community creations you will be able to download using the creation pack. Project Spark is a free download on Xbox One and Windows 8.1, and you can download the Conker Creation Pack today. It contains 350 assets in order for users […]

  • Rainbow Six: Siege video shines spotlight on the British Counter Terrorist Unit

    Ubisoft has released a Rainbow Six: Siege video which gives you a look at the British Counter Terrorist Unit which features “the best of the Army, Navy, and Air Force.” The firm said that over the next few weeks it will introduce the public to each of the units in the game. Rainbow Six Siege […]

  • Mario Kart 8 DLC and Mewtwo for Super Smash Bros. headline eShop update in North America

    Nintendo has updated the North American end of the eShop with an update and new DLC for Mario Kart 8 and the Mewtwo DLC for Super Smash Bros. Other highlights include Mario Kart DS on Wii U Virtual Console, the continuation of International StreetPass Week and more. Full update is below. Nintendo eShop Mario Kart […]

  • Square Enix host E3 2015 conference this year on June 16

    With Final Fantasy 15, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided on the horizon, it should come as no surprise to learn that Square Enix will be hosting a dedicated E3 2015 conference this year. The presentation will take place Tuesday, June 16 at 9am PDT/12pm EDT/5pm UK. It will be broadcast […]

  • Final Fantasy 4: The After Years 3D remake releasing on Steam next month

    Final Fantasy 4: The After Years has been given a makeover and will be released on Steam of PC next month. You can now pre-order it on Steam and take 10% off for the time being. The game will be released on the digital service May 12 and will include trading cards and achievements. Thanks, […]

  • This Project Cars video shows off the racer’s multiplayer

    Project Cars developer Slightly Mad has released a new video giving you a look at the game’s multiplayer. The game is out next month, and if you would like to refresh yourself on the tracks included,  give this a look. While you are clicking links, here’s the minimum and recommended PC specifications which dropped last […]

  • Looks like Logitech is getting out of OEM mouse production business [Clarification]

    Logitech will no longer produce “low-end” mice, citing a decline in PC accessories. This story has been updated to include a clarification. According to a Reuters report, per MCV, the firm will instead focus on video accessories and streaming music, as its wireless Bluetooth speakers are now its best-selling product rage. This will help offset […]

  • Win! We have 1,000 Heroes of the Storm beta keys to give away

    Must have more MOBA? Win one of our 1,000 Heroes of the Storm beta keys and see if you’re more Blizzard than LoL. Can’t wait for June 2? Of course you can’t. We have 1,000 closed beta keys for Heroes of the Storm to give away this week, allowing you access before Blizzard’s MOBA goes […]

  • Xenoblade Chronicles X Nintendo Direct airs tomorrow, April 24

    A Nintendo Direct devoted entirely to Xenoblade Chronicles X will air this Friday, April 24. The video showcase will start at 11am PDT/2pm EDT/7pm UK. After the showcase, a new Nintendo Treehouse: Live presentation featuring the game will air. This is the second Xenoblace Chronicles X Nintendo Direct, but the first in English. The first […]

  • Blizzard will have 500 game stations set up at gamescom 2015

    Blizzard is heading to gamescom 2015 in August and it will have 500 game stations set up for attendees to get their hands on five of its titles. The developer will be set up in Hall 7 and those who stop by will be able to get hands-on with the latest content for Heroes of […]

  • PS4 price cut to £299 in UK

    Sony has dropped the price of the PS4 in the UK. For a limited time only, you can grab the console for £299.99 from Argos, Game, Tesco and Very. Go to Amazon.co.uk and you’ll get it for £289. You’ve only got until April 28, then it goes back up to £349. Go, go, go. For […]

  • Mad Max: first ever gameplay footage revealed

    Today, we get to finally take our first look at gameplay from Mad Max. Avalanche and Warner Bros. have shown off the first gameplay trailer for Mad Max today. The trailer below offers a look at melee combat, car combat, customisation and much more. Give it a watch below: There are a few new screenshots […]

  • Overlord: Fellowship of Evil has four-player co-op like we figured

    Codemasters has pulled the veil back on the next Overlord game, and its a four-player co-op game called Overlord: Fellowship of Evil. Rhianna Pratchett is back to write the story. The game may be co-op at its core, but it can still be played single-player. Each of the four playable character have strengths and weaknesses, […]

  • Update now available for Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, Pokemon X and Y

    Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire along with Pokemon X and Y are being updated by Nintendo to fix a few bugs and in-game text. There’s also the possibility of a few hacks and exploits being fixed. Per Nintendo Life (via Serebii), both patches are 250-270 blocks in size, and it’s a mandatory update which […]

  • Side-scrolling cover shooter Not a Hero gets a demo

    Not a Hero, the upcoming game from OlliOlli developer Roll7, has received a demo. The demo for Not a Hero was made available today on Steam. In the game, you play as Steve, the campaign manager for BunnyLord. A time-travelling rabbit who’s running for mayor of London. Think this is an absurd premise? This trailer […]