It’s almost that time of year again. The best players from the FGC (fighting game community) and FGC fans converge on Las Vegas for the biggest fighting game event in North America.
The event: Evolution, or more commonly known as EVO.
EVO is a giant today in the FGC today. With EVO 2019 taking place from August 2nd to 4th, fighting game fans already booked their travel plans to Las Vegas or plan to watch the event online on on Twitch. While EVO is a behemoth in video games today, its humble origins go back two decades.
EVO’s humble roots
Founded by Tom and Tony Cannon, Seth Killian, Joey “MrWizard” Cuellar, and a handful of others, these FGC enthusiasts dreamed back in the 90s of a major, grassroots fighting game tournament.
Their vision would be realized several years later. In 2002, the founders pooled $10,000 used that money to host the first Evolution event in a UCLA ballroom. Since then, the event that has exploded in growth in the next 17 years.
Today, the yearly-event is held in Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay, a venue that frequently hosts some of the biggest boxing matches and music concerts. EVO attracts thousands of people to the event, while tens of thousands more go as spectators and cheer on the competitors. What was once a mere $10,000 investment to get the event started back in 2002 now ranges in the millions to finance the event each year.
EVO’s independence and grassroots brand
EVO wasn’t always this big.
Unlike nearly all other major events, EVO doesn’t have a big-name publisher or taken a massive bank loan to fund the event. The event is community run and funded, a fry cry from other esports such as the Overwatch League and Riot Games’ League of Legends World Championships, where gaming conglomerates push tens of millions of dollars into those events yearly.
For the EVO organizers, their community focus gives them a lot of flexibility. Rather than look for the biggest companies that may not know anything about the FGC and esports, EVO can align themselves with brands that have similar goals. Sponsors such as Nintendo, Xbox, Capcom, Red Bull, and Twitch have all hopped onboard EVO, as all of them support EVO’s goals and are great fits for the fighting tournament.
The many aspects that draw people to EVO
Competitors put their skills on the line in games such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Tekken 7, Street Fighter 5, Mortal Kombat 11, and Dragonball Fighter Z. For people not in the thrones of competing, spectators also bring their own consoles to play causally with others or to play lesser-known fighting games.
One of the big draws of the event is the social aspect. Whether or not players compete in one of the tournaments, countless friendships have been forged at EVO. Many players first meet each other online, Discord, or gaming forums like Shoryuken. When these players go to the annual EVO event, they meet their online adversaries face-to-face for the first time and become friends.
Another draw is how the scene is very color-blind and accepts gamers in general. The scene just doesn’t cater to fighting game enthusiasts, but other esport scenes as well. From the Starcraft: Brood War and Starcraft 2 scene – as yours truly comes from, to League of Legends and DoTA 2, the scene welcomes all.
EVO 2019 will host Smash Ultimate’s biggest live tournament up to now, with 3,492 people competing.
As one of the most well-known and respected FGC players, Alex Valle, comments in Polygon, "EVO's tournaments are designed for the masses to play, regardless of race, gender, religious beliefs, any of that stuff, because they’re designed to find who the best players are in the world.”
This extends to the tournaments themselves, where there’s no invite-only barriers and anyone can walk on and enter a tournament. Newcomers can face world champions in the very first round. These new EVO competitors can also make a name for themselves as well in a mere weekend, upsetting highly-ranked players and placing high in their given tournaments.
It’s the close-knit community and openness of the fighting scene that makes the FGC very appealing to many.
With EVO 2019 just around the corner, the esports spotlight will be on EVO and Las Vegas. If you’re a gamer and love fighting games, the only question is, “will you be going to Las Vegas or watching it online on Twitch?”