Fighters Ready, Engage!
Good afternoon dear 1UP Infinite readers! It has been a while since we've committed to a full weekend experience. Four months ago, in fact, with our grand coverage of PAX East in Boston. This time we're traveling a bit farther out than our backyard in the North East. In fact, we are changing timezones and traveling across the country altogether! This weekend, I will be headed to Las Vegas for the first time to attend EVO 2022, the first offline EVO since 2019.
Since the last EVO tournament three years ago, there has been a change of the guard with respected names in the industry like Combo Breaker's Rick "TheHadou" Thiher taking the mantle of EVO's front-line. While I won't be competing at the tournament itself, I'll instead take a closer look at the tournament from the competitors, the booths, the arcade room, and many others. Expect interviews, vlogs, and snippets of what it's like in Las Vegas.
Much like what I attempted to do with Boston, I want to focus on gaming in the local area even if I have to go away from The Strip to do so. The festivities begin tomorrow morning and I'll update everyone throughout each of the days leading up to the coveted Sunday finals. I'm excited to share with everyone my personal experiences and those on behalf of 1UP Infinite! Here's a future table of contents in order of the days as they are lined up.
As before, any important information that deserves its own post will be featured underneath the day in which the breaking news took place. For everyone competing in EVO 2022, have fun, stay cool, and stay safe! Good luck! (Especially to my Kick Punch Block crew, Dynamik Focus, and my dearest friends)
SELECT YOUR FIGHTING STYLE
Don't get opened like a can of Pringles!
- Day 1
- Day 2
- KOF EVO Finals
- Tekken EVO Finals
- Street Fighter V EVO Finals
- Guilty Gear Strive EVO Finals
- Wrap Up
EVO kicked off before we even left the East Coast as severe weather conditions put us in a 50/50 mixup. In English, I wasn't sure if I would arrive in Las Vegas the same night or the following morning. Thankfully, I got there with just enough time to rest and go about the day.
The doors officially open at 8 AM but the line was already filling in as early as a quarter to 7. By 7:30, the line swept around the lobby beyond the food court. It was a beautiful sight to see but strangely I didn't feel the usual tournament vibe. I'll get back to this later, but for now, the best way I can describe it was a type of controlled chaos. The only kind of emotion that can be felt from the preliminary of one of gaming's largest events making a return to offline after three years.
Fortunately, the staff and security were consistent in checking everyone in, following safety regulations, and keeping things orderly. The main reason is that for the first time in recent history, EVO 2022 utilizes the entire convention hall. According to attendees, in the past, EVO only took half of the space, and thinking back on it now, it sounded like an impressive feat to fit so much in a confined space.
As this is my first time attending EVO (and Vegas and the West Coast for that matter), I felt like the extra space was a fantastic decision. There are a lot of attendees currently with a healthy mix of competitors, spectators, cosplayers, and people in the industry. I never felt like I was confined in a tight space and there was ample enough to move around. Contrary to what I initially believed, EVO wasn't just a tournament. It was a tournament and a convention.
Street Fighter 6!
The floor space is split into two halves, the right side being the corporation booths and miscellaneous tournaments. The first order of business was the main feature that caught my eye, which was the Capcom booth. Street Fighter 6 was recently announced a few months ago and Capcom had set the ground running in terms of promotion. Every major event leading up to this point allowed players a hands-on experience with the developing title and EVO was expected to be the "big one" in terms of granting players that opportunity.
There were several set-ups featuring the option to play on fight sticks and controllers, much like how the presentation was whenever Capcom showcased a new fighting game. It felt nostalgic to see this setup as I remember games like Street Fighter x Tekken and Marvel vs Capcom 3 having similar setups. The Street Fighter 6 build featured the core four characters, Ryu, Chun-Li, Luke, and Jamie. Unfortunately, there was no Guile in this build.
Watching the gameplay trailers and footage from other events was one thing. Playing the game live and direct told a totally different story. Street Fighter 6 was of a faster pace than I initially thought, introducing mechanics that flip original mechanics on its head. An example is the "drive system" that the game is centered on. Located underneath the player's health bar, the Drive System is used defensively and offensively. More importantly, EX moves in previous games that used meter now use Drive Meter, meaning the super meter is exclusively used for supers. The game encourages smart aggressive play similar to newer titles but features the classic heavy-hitting visual from the classic games.
I was left thoroughly impressed! The new characters felt right at home in Street Fighter 6 and the newer characters manage to keep up with the competitors. So far, Street Fighter 6 feels like the true sequel to Street Fighter 3 that it sets itself out to be. I even managed to get a picture with some of the staff, including the director, Takayuki Nakayama. Gonna look forward to playing more of the game over the weekend to get a better feel for it.
Indie Games Showcase
Amidst the many shopping booths tailored for players' fight stick and gameplay needs, there was also an indie game section much like the one featured in PAX East. A handful of games were made available to play, paired with their developers who were more than happy to answer questions and inquiries. I'll add on to this list as I play but the two stand-out games I played today were this cool Bushido Blade-inspired game called Die By The Sword and a simple fighter titled Tough Love Arena.
Die By The Sword was a game that not only reminded me of the aforementioned sword fighter but also modern action games. Players fight each other with one-touch-one-kill gameplay, utilizing defensive maneuvers to gain the upper hand. There are three stances, high, mid, and low, with different properties for each one. The stance gameplay reminded me of the Nioh series, where the high stance is slower but powerful, while the low stance is faster but not as potent with range. The game is expected to release sometime in the next month with a preview currently available.
The second game, Tough Love Arena, had a small panel feature during EVO 2022 and it was enough for me to check it out in the booth. This was one of the more unique fighters I've played as it was described to me as a "fighter meant to introduce non-fighters into the genre." It doesn't overwhelm the player with needless mechanics, instead teaching players the fundamentals. You cannot jump by conventional means outside of inputting a command, no crouching, or any special inputs to worry about.
It's a four-button fighter consisting of light, heavy, special, and throw buttons. The gameplay is deceptively simple in a good way, offering a layer of satisfaction for doing combos and learning the inner workings of the game itself while also being forgiving to newcomers. The fact that the game has a dedicated community, including a mizuumi wiki, speaks volumes. The game is currently available on Steam as well as the web browser.
Fighting Game Panels And Announcements
There were also panels to fill in the time before and during tournament matches. One special panel was an exhibition featuring EVO champions Justin Wong and Daigo Umehara, focusing on their fierce rivalry. While they have certainly clashed on more than one occasion, including the famous Evo #37, this exhibition was based on EVO 2009. Not only was it the inaugural year for Street Fighter 4 and modern FGCs as we know them, but it also focused on the grand finals. To this day, it's considered one of the closest sets in EVO history, with Wong using Boxer, a character that few considered "good" at the time.
To emulate the Grand Finals, the competitors played on Ultra Street Fighter 4 using the vanilla Street Fighter 4 make-up. Watching a 13 year old game in the modern era felt like looking in a time capsule. Many details including the execution, chip damage kills, and the overall feel of the game made me come to terms with one thing. Street Fighter 4 is indeed a "retro" game and at this point, I'm not afraid to admit that I am old. Still, it was impressive to see classic Street Fighter (yes I will call SF4 "classic")
The largest panel of the day was the SNK Developer Panel, hosted by developers of various SNK games as the title would suggest. While no major announcements would be made today, SNK had confirmed that there may be a new DLC announcement on Sunday. Cross-platform play is also being added to King of Fighters 15, a new season is announced, and new music including those from The King of Fighters R1 and R2 will be included. A highly requested feature, rollback online netcode, will finally be added to Samurai Shodown in Spring 2023. With Samurai Shodown currently on sale alongside many FGC titles on Steam for EVO 2022 weekend, this is the perfect time to pull the trigger if you've been holding off.
Evening tournament pools began shortly after and the atmosphere was something familiar yet unique. There will be more pools heading into tomorrow so I'll hold off on explaining until then. Overall, Day 1 of EVO 2022 showed me that while it is indeed one of the biggest tournaments of the year, it felt more like a calm inviting vibe to all players and fans of fighting games. It may seem like an oxymoron, but it felt like returning to a familiar environment after such a long time.
Here it is, the big day for over thousands of competitors all around the world; Tournament Day. The fun thing about EVO and other large-scale tournaments is that there's always a tournament going on. The big-name tournaments officially began around Friday evening, leaving the bulk of Day 2 the "main tournament day." 'Smaller tournaments' like Mortal Kombat 11, Granblue Fantasy Versus, and Melty Blood Type Lumina ran until the grand finals today. Any game that wasn't going to be a part of Finals Day also wrapped up accordingly.
I say 'smaller tournament' but each tournament was anything but small. With literally hundreds of matches played out at any given time, it was the staff who brought the heat to counter the Nevada heat. It's always great to see the ones organizing the brackets, placing people in seats and on streams, and ensuring everyone's experience is smooth. EVO is the largest fighting game tournament and with that, contenders of various skill levels are all gathered here. This also meant that EVO 2022 was the land of the upsets.
In Tekken alone, for example, many prominent players and champions were sent to the loser's bracket early or eliminated altogether. There were some I personally knew who managed to pull major upsets, shaking up the brackets to the very core. It's the nature of the competitive beast and it is ultimately the goal of everyone who competes.
EVO 2022 is a different beast altogether. On the first day, I felt like I was at a convention. The second day felt more like a traditional large-scale tournament complete with earlier sentiments. EVO isn't just one thing. It isn't just a convention or a tournament, it blends itself into what it wishes to be at a moment's notice. It also varies depending on who is attending.
Competitors will see it as a high-stakes tournament located in a high-stakes venue named "Sin City." Spectators will see the glam and glitz while also feeling firsthand the intensity the competitors feel. Some have visited just to meet their favorite players and industry people.
The best thing I can say about EVO 2022, much like all tournaments of this caliber, is that anyone can join. Anyone can participate, enter, compete, and plan their path the way they wish. Talking with some of the attendees, both competitors, and spectators, EVO 2022 had answered most of the concerns from 2019. A larger space for players to run casuals with, tons of games and peripherals to try, and seeing intense battles up close.
And so it begins, the coveted EVO Finals. An event so big it needs its own venue and ticket. I've attended large-scale tournaments and seen their finals. I mentioned how much of a different beast EVO 2022 was and nothing expresses this more than this day.
The festivities began early in the morning with The King of Fighters 15. The tale of the tape for this game is that the current meta centers around several key characters. Newcomer B. Jenet from Garou Mark Of The Wolves is one of the best characters in this current patch. Her oppressive gameplay coupled with her ability to play keep away complements her mobility. Kula Diamond is another strong character that benefits from the same advantages. Krohnen is a very strong anchor used to clean up games.
The awesome thing about KOF is that specialists can use their characters as it is a 3-on-3 game. There's a lot of meta gameplay involved before the match even begins. Watching it live and hearing the commentators provide insight to the audience is vastly different than yesterday's comments. Watching high-level gameplay like this does something to players not familiar with the game. Usually, the consensus is the classic "This makes me want to play the game!" It's always a treat to see others get involved with a game due to the lasting impressions it leaves on the audience.
Top 3 featured all competitors from Taiwan, Xiaoheytw, former EVO champion E.T, and ZJZ. In the end, E.T and ZJZ would make the grand finals with a literal mirror match. The three characters I mentioned are undoubtedly the undisputed top tiers of the game, but there were other fan favorites including Kyo, Benimaru, Shermie, Chizuru, and Meitenkun. In the end, ZJZ won it all and the memes came out in full force. Perhaps the next patch will shake things up to the core again and make the low tiers a chance in the spotlight.
Speaking of the spotlight, if there was a contender for "winning EVO," SNK is in a fantastic spot. After announcing the good news on Friday, we were hinted that there may be more news to look out for on Sunday.
Following the grand finals, SNK announced the new DLC team, Team Samurai. Nakoruru returns from King of Fighters 14 joining game mates and newcomers to KOF, Haohmaru, and Darli Dagger. A new season was indeed announced with two highly requested characters, Shingo and Kim, announced. Finally, a new Fatal Fury and Garou game was greenlit, effectively making me a prophet for calling this a week in advance.
MAKE SOME NOISE
Tekken 7 finals began with Tasty Steve and Spag hyping the live crowd with Marksman and Rip on commentary for the stream audience to bring the heat and the hype. I say this with an obvious bias on how much the game means to me, but there's seriously no other game like it. Seeing it live in EVO has always been a goal and the atmosphere is thick with energy.
One major element about this top 8 is the majority are using "2D Characters" or "DLC characters." These two groups of characters are often considered to be a step above the rest, playing a different more optimal level of Tekken than the rest of the cast. The upper echelon of players including Super Akouma and former champions Knee, JeonDDing, and Arslan Ash are included. One of the former Tekken World Tour tournament winners, Rangchu, is also a part of the top 8.
Top 8 begins with Super Akouma vs Khan, an Akuma vs Geese match, and two of the strongest characters in the game arguably. Khan manages to push through to the winner's finals. One of the dark horses of the Top 8, Meo-Il makes their first tournament appearance outside of Asia. To make it to Top 8 as a first tournament is a feat. To play against Knee is a bigger one.
Knee is one of my personal favorite players in the series because he is the opposite of an open book. If there was such an example of a "Tekken specialist," it'd be him. He's also one of the few in top 8 to stick with a non-2D and DLC character as he starts off with Feng. This proves to be a solid decision as he defeats Meo-Il cleanly 2-0 and advances to the winner finals himself. It's now Knee vs Khan.
The loser's bracket is nothing to scoff at. In fact, it's filled with shark-infested waters filled with nothing but sharks. The first match is between TWT champion Rangchu and JeonDDing, one of the best Eddy and Lucky Chloe players in the world. Both players this season had favored Julia, a DLC character who was always a staple since Tekken 3. She is also a character who rewards technical aptitude in the right hands.
So it comes as no surprise that a Julia mirror was imminent. Mirror matches are some of the most stressful matches to deal with in any game, Tekken included. After the first match, Rangchu went with old reliable, the character that won him the Tekken World Tour, Panda.
Unfortunately, his win at TWT was a different time. Julia and many of the killers that exist now didn't exist back then. While giving a valiant effort, JeonDDing eliminated Rangchu.
The next match is against Master Raven specialist Pinya vs one of the favorites to win, Arslan Ash. Known for his aggressive Kasumi, he's switched to Zafina who has worked wonders. Zafina is one of the dominant characters to be released recently as her hotbox on her moves is highly fluid. Maven (Master Raven) however is often considered a wild card character. For a specialist to make Top 8 in their first EVO is not to be laughed at.
With a solid start to take the first round, Pinya's Maven failed to catch up with the slippery Zafina. Despite this, he had a great showing, especially for a niche character.
Speaking of niche characters, the next match between Meo-Il and JeonDDing had the latter bring out his specialty, his Eddy. Eddy may not be anywhere near as good as Julia but he's such a tricky character to play against. This knowledge was something Meo's Geese couldn't keep up with, cinching his place into the final curtain. On the other end of the bracket, Akouma vs Ash. Akuma vs Zafina, is a matchup both players have experience in. Despite a close match, a time over solidified Arslan Ash's place up the bracket. Super Akouma is eliminated and now we finally go to the winner's finals.
Knee vs Khan begins with Feng vs Geese, a fight players have seen earlier. Knee has been commanding the first match by playing hyper-defensive, something Feng is great at. The ever-looming threat of Geese persists, able to steal rounds just as easily.
Khan proved to be a different breed of Geese, able to wise up to Knee's defense. Knee isn't called the "Lord of Tekken" for no reason, however. His ability to adapt is beyond impressive and Knee is bent on finally getting an EVO title in his trophy case.
Despite Khan playing out of his mind, Knee's ambition was enough to propel him into Grand Finals. Can Arslan Ash make his way to GF and repeat the same legendary set that made him a grand champion? The answer to that question lies in how he handles JeonDDing.
So far, a commanding first game forces JeonDDing to reconsider his Eddy choice but ultimately decides to stick to his guns in Game 2. Despite his best efforts and my blatant bias as an Eddy main, JeonDDing ultimately falls short of making it to Loser's Finals. It is now Arslan Ash vs Khan, a Pakistan vs Pakistan losers finals.
The two training partners, friends, and teammates wound up being losers' finals of Tekken 7. Thus, Zafina vs Geese is best 3 out of 5. Having the home field advantage of his own Estate, Khan takes an early lead.
Matchups against your training partner happen to be some of the most grueling fights to come across in tournaments. You're playing against someone who knows you more than anyone knows you, even yourself. With back and forth victories, a large part of the fight happened outside of the gameplay.
Stage selection proves to be a major part of the battle as Arslan prefers wall-less stages to ensure optimal zoning. Khan's Geese likes to get up close and personal, preferring wall stages. Both players played out of their minds but there can only be one winner and that winner was....Khan with a huge upset!
No matter who won, both players had their reasons to fight Knee who was sitting in the grand finals waiting in the wings. I'm certain Arslan wanted to fight Knee for the runback of the EVO 2019 finals. Khan wanted the runback against Knee for sending him to losers and now he has the chance to do so. What's funny about Knee's top 8 run is that all of his matches have been against Geese players. First with Meo-Il, then Khan, and now the run back.
The theme for this year's EVO Top 8 is evasion and no one implemented this more than Knee and Arslan Ash. Feng and Zafina are both very slippery characters and Geese is an absolute powerhouse. Any time they had the life lead against a Geese, they opted to keep our and let the timer run out as well. Why risk letting a character that can easily 100 - 0 you get the chance to mount a comeback?
This gameplay proved successful as this led to Knee's first EVO win in Tekken 7. That's a testament to how deep the competition was during the top 8 as even a dominant player can see victory for the first time in almost 9 years.
As expected, Bandai Namco had its fair share of announcements as well. A new balance update has been announced, bringing new life into the game (and hopefully my character). The TWT Finals return to Amsterdam and the trailer ended with a Tekken 8 tease. The trailer in its entirety can be viewed below.
Take It To The Streets
Immediately following Tekken 7 was Street Fighter 5, featuring a host of fighters from all over the world. Historically these games run 3 out of 5 instead of the 2 out of 3 games. The hype that SF5 brings is second to none, shaping itself to be a fine game in the series after years of a rough start. While I'm not as into this game as I am with Tekken, I am aware of how passionate its players and fans are. Street Fighter brings certain energy out of players regardless if they play or not.
Rather than break down match per match as with Tekken, I'll say one highlight that lived rent-free. Daigo vs Idom in loser's finals. Daigo Umehara is undoubtedly a crowd favorite, being in his first top 8 in a while. For a man who entered his 40s, he has just as much spring in his execution as he did 15-plus years ago.
Then there's Idom, one of the best players in Street Fighter 5 as well as a local native. Not as the United States, but as a New York player. One thing about us is that we always look out for our own. It was honestly the first time all day I cheered as loud as I did. With Gachikun advancing, it's now Idom vs Tokido, back-to-back legendary Street Fighter players in what I consider an amazing loser's run. Tokido also had a killer run of his own, sticking with Urien.
Repeating his last endeavor with fan favorite Daigo, Idom eliminated Tokido with a clean sweep securing his position in the loser's finals. This time, he fights against Rashid specialist Gachikun. Three times is really the charm because Idom once again managed to defeat yet another one of Japan's finest. A former Capcom cup winner against another CapCup winner, both gave it their all but it would be America's last hope to make his way to Grand Finals.
Idom is an amazing player in his own right, but I'll talk about Laura. Since the beginning of SF5's legacy, Laura has always been an aggressive character with about fifty billion mixups on a bad call. Laura forces her opponent to play her game, which is another trait that his grand finals opponent share. Kawano is the man to beat, with a Kolin that can play the same game Laura plays but better in some ways. Despite this. As has been the case for the past hour, Idom clutches and resets the bracket.
Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. Both competitors wanted it and it's impossible to say who wanted it more. It was anyone's game to win and lose. Kawano wins EVO 2022 in Street Fighter 5. This was the beautiful thing about the tournament, the passion of all competitors involved. Idom was the MVP of Street Fighter 5's EVO run and to go through not one, not two, but four of the Japanese strongest without a break is a mental fortitude that only the strongest can build.
This is also why commentators and hosts always tell everyone "give it up for the Top 8 players" because it is not as easy as pressing buttons. It's a mental and physical strain to endure which is why the biggest pop-offs are a result of catharsis. Another form of catharsis is the reaction given to character reveals and news. Capcom had two major announcements, the first was the reveal of newcomer Kimberly. During her gameplay reveal, her fighting style was remarkably similar to Guy's and according to her official bio, she became Guy's student in Bushinryu.
The second announcement was the return of fan-favorite Juri Han, decked out in a motorcycle outfit and even more free-spirited than before. Like other returning characters, her core gameplay seems the same yet her animations are far more fluid. Going back to Street Fighter 6, I really enjoy how the game is coming out from a visual aesthetic. Long-time characters are given a fresh coat of paint to keep up with the energetic youthful characters. It gives me 3rd Strike vibes, which is a great thing to be compared to.
One Community, One Unity
At the top of Guilty Gear Strive finals, Bridget was announced as the first character of Season 2 along with three yet-to-be-revealed characters that will be announced throughout the year and next year. The tournament continued well into midnight, making the entire finals last over 12 hours. While I didn't stick around for Strive, there were several important things to note about Guilty Gear Strive's character reveals. They all followed the same message; everyone deserves to be themselves.
Another highly requested character returning from Guilty Gear XX was Testament, revealed and announced months ago. Much like Bridget being a transgirl, Testament is non-binary, referring to themselves as they/them. With Strive's story focusing more on the characters than the general plot itself, Arc Sys has done an amazing job in developing an all-inclusive game both for its characters and its players.
Bridget's announcement was met with immense excitement, but it was also initially met with a brief discourse. For story reasons, Bridget had always lived a life different from everyone else. In Guilty Gear XX, Bridget struggled with self-identity and existential crises until becoming a bounty hunter was the way to make ends meet. The cool thing about this announcement is that Bridget was immediately playable the day after, leaving a lot of players to play through Bridget's story. It is then revealed that Bridget had made peace with their self-identity, announcing herself as a girl.
Watching Bridget's ending as a non-binary person was enough to get me emotional. To see her peers accept her for who she is and knowing the amount of turmoil Bridget went through since her origin story, I was happy. I was happy to see characters like Bridget and Testament represent me and for the icing on the cake, this reflected itself in the EVO 2022 grand finals with a transgirl winning it all. For her first EVO, Umisho won the tournament with her commanding Happy Chaos and an emotional end to an impressive run and the EVO 2022 championship in its entirety.
That's A Wrap, For Now!
EVO 2022 weekend was something of a success and a swing into the gap that was missing for the past three years. Offline is back and it's a joy to return to familiar territory. I started attending tournaments in 2017 although I've always felt I've been a part of the FGC in my own way.
Even having this opportunity to attend not as a competitor, but as a scribe who tells the tale of the games people compete in, is a humbling experience. News for EVO 2022 wrapped up with an announcement that EVO Japan will return next year in March, meaning that offline returns not just in the United States but worldwide as well. Overall, for my first EVO, first time in Vegas, and my first time covering a fighting game tournament exclusively as Media, the event has been an enjoyable experience.
I want to give a special thanks to the EVO 2022 staff and everyone who made this event possible. Maybe we'll make the runback next year with a larger crew? Maybe I'll actually compete myself. Who knows, but until then, keep fighting and welcome back to offline everyone!