I made a proclamation last year that EVO 2017 would see more total tournament participants than ever before. I was wrong as 10,000 total participants competed at this year’s EVO compared to the 14,000 that made up last year tournaments. Regardless of the decrease in total number of entrants, EVO was ultra-competitive resulting in the highest level of play and performance proving yet again that fighting games are great.

This year some changes were made to the game lineup spurring some controversy in which games were selected. Pokken, Mortal Kombat, and Killer Instinct did not return this year being replaced by Injustice 2, Blaze Blue, and King of Fighters XIV. Tekken 7 was finally released in North America last month allowing more players to get their hands on the game which led to a massive jump in entrants surpassing 1,200 (compared to the 500 plus in 2016).

I didn’t tune into EVO until Sunday so I missed all of the pools and the top 8 finals for King of Fighters, Injustice, Guilty Gear, and Injustice. Attending a Weezer concert the night before and watching the Bellator fights on Friday night prevented me from getting the full EVO weekend streaming experience, but I was still able to consume the main course meal with the top 8 of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Blaze Blue, Tekken 7, Smash 4, and Street Fighter V.

Smash 4 aired on ESPN U (and on some Disney Channel) and Street Fighter aired on ESPN 2 again this year (without Mike Ross). The broadcasts were presented like a traditional sporting event complete with green room shots, a camera following the fighter entering the arena, side line reporters, and replays. Even though esports are becoming more accepted by the major sporting networks, it will take a long time before I get used to watching video games on cable TV.

I don’t know what else to say about EVO 2017 other than it was just as dope as it always has been since its current iteration took form in 2002. The event has become more corporate as it has increased in size which allows the fighters to perform at a cool venue such as Mandalay Bay Arena, but it also has led to dudes in suits who have never played a video game in their life run the show. Similar to last year, when Cammy was used during SFV top eight, the player was forced to change her costume to something less revealing. Early in the SFV proceedings this year Cammy was used with her original costume and when she won the match, her celebration animation which shows her skimpy outfit it all of its glory was cutoff on ESPN. For the next match a producer forced the player to use a black mini shirt costume.

I also notice latter during the stream (I mainly watched the Twitch stream with the ESPN one on in the background), a producer removed a water bottle from the table, probably to avoid an accidental shot of it which would conflict with their advertisers.

The ESPN commentary was helmed by Seth Killian and Tasty Steve, and it was noticeably more dumbed down than the James Chen and Sajam led commentary on the Twitch stream. Killian and Steve still provided professional and informed commentary, but I doubt the forced UFC comparisons and common knowledge term explanations were their ideas.

Nationalism played a peculiar role in the ESPN and Twitch streams for every top 8 that had an American in it. I understand that nationalism will likely never go away and it makes people root for someone based on what piece of dirt they were born on, but it was weird to see commentators outwardly root for American competitors. I am in the minority in thinking this question should be asked, but why are American finalist given so much attention? The focus should be on the completive play and who has the best skills, not what symbol is on the flag next to their name.

I am still far from a fighting game expert, but it doesn’t take a FGC veteran to appreciate the hard to obtain skills that were displayed last night. There is such a strong energy around EVO and other major tournaments like Capcom Cup that a nonfighting game player like myself is drawn to them. One of my favorite things to do is watch live music as the atmosphere surrounding a group full of people singing along to the same song creates a rare positive vibe. On Saturday night when I looked around seeing a couple thousand people singing the lyrics to Buddy Holly, I felt that unique feeling of being a part of a large group of people who share an interest with the same intensity.

That same idea applies to the FGC especially at EVO. A 12,000 seat arena at near capacity of fans cheering and reacting to the world’s best Street Fighter players face off is goose bump inducing. After Tokido came back from the losers bracket to  finally win a Street Fighter tournament at EVO after 8 years of trying, emotions were at an all-time high. When asked by gootecks if there was anything or anyone he wanted to give a shout out to, Tokido responded “just one thing I wanna say, fighting games, is something so great.” The crowd then cheered together chanting “TO-KID-O, TO-KID-O, TO-KID-O,” sending commentator James Chen into a fit of tears.

That right there sums up EVO. If I ever heard or saw a NBA of NFL broadcaster cry after the championship I would scoff and call it manufactured emotion. But the emotion Chen showed at that vulnerable moment is as real as it gets. The love and dedication towards EVO and fighting game tournaments is still genuine and led by the pioneers of the FGC like Chen. I hope it stays that way.

Fighting games are great.