Evolution Championship Series 2016 saw over 14,000 competitors making it the largest fighting game tournament of all time. It will hold this title until next year at EVO 2017 which will most likely see even more competitors. Esports are real, they are rapidly growing, and they are hyper competitive.

EVO has been around now for 20 years, formally called the Battle by the Bay, and renamed to its current title in 2002. In 1996 the tournaments saw 40 players compete in Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2. In 2009 over 1,000 people participated in the Street Fight Fighter IV tournament alone (there were 5 other games that year as well), and in 2016 the tournament hosted over 14,000 participants spanning 9 games, over 5,000 of which played the inaugural year of Street Fighter V.

This year, the last day of the EVO weekend was held at the Mandalay Event Center which has a capacity of 12,000 people and is widely known for hosting UFC fights. The remaining 8 players for Mortal Kombat XL, Guilty Gear Xrd –REVELATOR-, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Street Fighter V competed on  a stage in the shape of the EVO logo in the middle of the large event center. Instead of awkwardly jumping up to the stage with their fighting sticks like in the past, the fighters walked out of a tunnel to the stage with a camera following them, just like a UFC or boxing match. The top 8 Street Fighter V match ups were aired on ESPN 2 which produced the event like a real athletic championship. EVO is the real deal.

The best way to describe EVO and fighting video game tournaments is to compare the esport to golf. These fighters play tournaments all year long, but there are majors that receive the most attention and bigger winning pots. Then there is the Masters, the biggest and most sought after event. EVO is the Masters. The best players in the world, practice and dedicate their life to theses games to compete against the worlds best at major tournaments.

I am far from a fighting game expert and have only played them a handful of times. My two close friends are avid fighting game players and keep up with the fighting game community (FGC). I watched EVO 2012 – 2015 with them and this year with one of them while messaging the other throughout the weekend about the fights. I remember watching back in 2012 surprised to see how many people were playing these games, how much money the winners received, and that the best players are sponsored and travel to tournaments year round, making a living playing fighting games. At first I thought that was unwarranted but as I continued to watch I experienced all of the same emotions and excitement that come with watching traditional competitive sports. They are professionals.

I had the multiple EVO streams on in the back ground all weekend but I really focused on the top 8 for Street Fighter V. Street Fighter, regardless of what version is being played, always draws the most competitors and viewers, making it the headliner for the weekend. I watched the Twitch stream of the event and had the ESPN 2 broadcast on my phone. I was curious to see the production and how ESPN was going to air the event.

The first thing I noticed during the ESPN broadcast was how professional it looked. The Twitch stream of EVO has become more professional every year I have watched in regards to its production value. But ESPN  can take it to another level with its unlimited resources and experience.

I then noticed the familiar faces I have seen on EVO, YouTube, and various places with the FGC. Mike Ross and Seth Killian were the commentators for the event, and Gootecks was the sideline reporter. It was cool to see them on such a big stage doing what they have been doing for years but now for ESPN, an established and successful TV channel. I am a casual fan of the FGC, but I felt proud for those guys. I was proud for how far the FGC has come and that the dedication from those three guys was being rewarded.

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The ESPN broadcast was well produced and it looked like a traditional sporting event. There were side line interviews, pre-taped interviews with the fighters, replays, informative graphics, shots of family members in the crowd, panning shots of the arena,  it looked and felt official.

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The top 8 were intense matches to watch and Infiltration came back from losers brackets to win in the grand finals. He is obviously one of the best, if not the best (he is ranked number 1 in the world) at Street Fighter V winning 4 out of 5 Street Fighter V events this year, including the biggest tournament in history. He finished his night when asked by Gootecks how he was able to come back and beat the player who defeated him and put him in the loser bracket, he replied in english (he is South Korean) “download complete.” The crowd and Gootecks went crazy with emotion and reacted like they just heard some gnarly trash talk. Apparently that is a FGC thing and I had to get clarification from my friends what the trash talk meant, and I still don’t fully understand it. I am not even close to understanding fighting games and their trash talk, but that doesn’t alter my enjoyment of this growing tournament. EVO is dope.

Results:

Street Fighter V (5,102 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Seon-woo Lee (South Korea) RZR|Infiltration Nash
2nd Keita Ai (Japan) RZR|Fuudo R. Mika
3rd Atsushi Fujimura (Japan) Yukadon Nash
4th Goichi Kishida (Japan) HM|Go1 Chun-Li
5th Joe Egami (Japan) MOV Chun-Li
5th Joe Ciaramelli (U.S.) LI Joe Nash
7th Naoki Nemoto (Japan) AW|Nemo Vega
7th Hiroyuki Nagata (Japan) HM|Eita Ken

 

 Super Smash Bros. Melee (2,350 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Juan Debiedma (U.S.) Liquid|Hungrybox Jigglypuff
2nd Adam Lindgren (Sweden) [A]|Armada Peach, Fox
3rd Justin McGrath (U.S.) PG|Plup Sheik, Fox
4th Joseph Marquez (U.S.) C9|Mango Falco, Fox
5th Jason Zimmerman (U.S.) FOX|Mew2King Marth, Sheik
5th Johnny Kim (U.S.) Tempo|S2J Captain Falcon
7th Kevin Toy (U.S.) CLG|PewPewU Marth
7th Weston Dennis (U.S.) G2|Westballz Falco, Fox

 

 Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- (903 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Masahiro Tominaga (Japan) Machaboo Sin
2nd Omito Hashimoto (Japan) Omito Johnny
3rd Hisatoshi Usui (Japan) Rion Ky
4th Takahiro Kitano (Japan) Nakamura Millia
5th Ryota Inoue (Japan) GGP|Kazunoko Raven
5th Kenichi Ogawa (Japan) Ogawa Zato-1
7th Gyung-woo Yu (South Korea) TopGaren Zato-1
7th Kyohei Lehr (U.S.) PG|MarlinPie Zato-1

 

 Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (770 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Christopher Gonzalez (U.S.) NYChrisG Morrigan/Doctor Doom/Vergil
2nd Nicolás González (Cuba) KaneBlueRiver Hulk/Sentinel/Haggar
3rd Armando Mejia (U.S.) BT|Angelic Wolverine/Dormammu/Shuma-Gorath, Dormammu/Vergil/Shuma-Gorath
4th Kevin Barrios (U.S.) NB|DualKevin Deadpool/Dante/Hawkeye
5th Juan Corona (U.S.) Priest Magneto/M.O.D.O.K/Doctor Doom, M.O.D.O.K/Dormammu/Doctor Doom
5th Vineeth Meka (U.S.) ApologyMan Firebrand/Doctor Doom/Super-Skrull
7th Justin Wong (U.S.) EG|Justin Wong Wolverine/Storm/Akuma, Vergil/Storm/Akuma
7th Luis Cervantes (U.S.) Paradigm Arthur/Rocket Raccoon/Haggar, Haggar/Dormammu/Doctor Doom, Haggar/Doctor Doom/Rocket Raccoon

 

 Mortal Kombat XL (707 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Dominique McLean (U.S.) cR|SonicFox Erron Black (Gunslinger), Alien (Acidic), Cassie Cage (Hollywood), Jason (Unstoppable)
2nd Sayed Hashim Ahmed (Bahrain) PLG|Tekken Master Kotal Kahn (War God, Blood God), D’Vorah (Swarm Queen)
3rd Brad Vaughn (U.S.) PG|Scar Sonya Blade (Demolition)
4th Ryan DeDomenico (U.S.) EVB|Big D Ermac (Mystic, Spectral)
5th Alexandre Dubé-Bilodeau (Canada) Orbit.MTL|Hayatei Takeda (Ronin, Lasher)
5th Ryan Gonzalez (U.S.) cR|Wound Cowboy Shinnok (Bone Shaper)
7th Michael Lerma (U.S.) YOMI|Michaelangelo Quan Chi (Summoner)
7th Ryan Walker (U.S.) EVB|Dragon Alien (Acidic, Tarkatan)

 

 Killer Instinct (540 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Darnell Waller (U.S.) F3|Sleep Arbiter, Gargos
2nd Kenneth Armas (U.S.) UA|Bass Spinal, Jago, Cinder
3rd Jamill Boykin (U.S.) BH|SeaDragon Aria, Hisako
4th Nicholas Iovene (U.S.) Circa|Nicky Fulgore
5th Jacob Runsewe (U.S.) RL|Runex Omen, Rash
5th Paul Ramos (U.S.) Paul B Sabrewulf, Hisako
7th Josue Herrera (U.S.) BH|Grief Sadira, Aria
7th Angel Gonzalez (U.S.) GnarlyFeats Orchid, Rash

 

 Pokkén Tournament (1,165 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Tonosama (Japan) Tonosama Braixen, Sceptile
2nd Kazunori Ageta (Japan) Buntan Suicune
3rd Willie Barr (U.S.) Swillo Mewtwo
4th Masami Sato (Japan) Potetin Mewtwo, Pikachu Libre, Weavile, Chandelure
5th James Rosseel (U.S.) RvL|Bosshog Garchomp
5th Christian Patierno (U.S.) Circa|Suicune Master Suicune
7th Thomas Mclaurin (U.S.) Thulius Mewtwo
7th Kazuyuki Koji (Japan) KojiKOG Charizard

 

 Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (2,637 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Elliot Carroza-Oyarce (Canada) Ally Mario
2nd Takuto Ono (Japan) Kamemushi Mega Man, Cloud, Yoshi
3rd Gonzalo Barrios (Cuba) TSM|ZeRo Diddy Kong, Sheik
4th James Makekau-Tyson (U.S.) CLG|VoiD Sheik
5th Ryuto Hayashi (Japan) Ranai Villager
5th Yuta Kawamura (Japan) Abadango Mewtwo, Rosalina & Luma
7th Samuel Buzby (U.S.) dT|Dabuz Rosalina & Luma
7th Larry Holland (U.S.) eLv|Larry Lurr Fox, Donkey Kong

 

 Tekken 7: Fated Retribution (543 total participants)
Place Player Alias Character(s)
1st Jin-woo Choi (South Korea) Saint Jack-7
2nd Jae-min Bae (South Korea) Knee Bryan, Akuma, Heihachi
3rd Chung-gon Lee (South Korea) Secret|Poongko Akuma
4th Anthony Jaimes (U.S.) GeeseMaster Feng
5th Jung-joong Joo (South Korea) Narakhof Claudio
5th Nakayama Daichi (Japan) Yamasa|Nobi Dragunov
7th Stephen Stafford (U.S.) Circa|Speedkicks Hwoarang, Lars
7th Aoki Takehiko (Japan) Take Bryan

 

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