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EVO 2K8: Fighting Games Personified
The yearly convention that brings fighting game fans together for three days wows and impresses, and Sports Joystick was there!
August 19, 2008 | 1:39 AM PST

by: Tim Livingston

While some might be surprised to see a fighting games article here on Sports Joystick, it needs to mentioned that while this is a website that is all about sports gaming, there is also room for gaming competitions. This is a competition-based website, both in the games we review and in the competitions we follow, so while this may be a curveball of sorts, it still serves as an example as to what Sports Joystick is all about: competition through gaming.

Sports Joystick headed to Las Vegas on August 8 for the biggest gaming tournament in the world, where the best collide over three days to determine who is best at their respective fighting game disciplines. What started back 12 years ago as a small tournament of a bunch of trash talking fighting game enthusiasts has turned into the premiere competition for those games, and with it comes a history that really shows how this tournament has grown over the last decade. As far as gaming competitions go, this one might be the most heated in gaming history. This...is EVO.

It All Started With 64

It was in 1996 when 64 fans of arguably the greatest fighting game of all time decided that all the smack talking and name calling had to come to an end. It was at this point that an agreement was reached and the tournament was concocted. It was a group of players mostly from California, and when the group descended on the San Francisco Bay Area to battle for the chance to win and have all the bragging rights that anyone would ever want. It was called the Battle of the Bay, and it brought together a small community to show casual fans how to play the game as masters. Alex Valle would defeat John Choi in the Grand Finals playing Street Fighter Alpha 2. The future members of Shoryuken.com, who put on the tournament when they were back in the IRC chat rooms (!!), liked it a lot. The people who came to play in it liked a lot. Fans liked a lot. From there, it blossomed.



Alex Valle's win over John Choi at B3 set the stage for the tournaments to come.


East vs. West in More Ways Than One

When NorCal vs. SoCal wasn't enough for the fighting game community that mostly made up the future Shoryuken.com fighting game contingent, people out east decided to get involved. After The Battle of the Bay (B3) in '96, they had the Boston Brawl (B2) in 1997. While this was supposed to showcase the East Coast players, it ended up being the West Coasters who dominated in the finals of the tournament, taking away the spotlight that was supposed to show the kids from the Right Coast in a positive light, and, hopefully on par with the West Coast contingent. While it didn't at first, it wouldn't be long before the East Coast struck back.

But before the East Coast turned the rivalry up a notch, the international rivalry seeds were sown. California's Alex Valle had shown his prowess in Street Fighter Alpha 3, winning the United States Fighting Game Championships in 1998. This allowed him to get him through to a one-on-one mega match that saw the U.S. Champion take on the champion from Japan. The kid who he would face would be a soft spoken Japanese player named Daigo Umehara. Daigo went through over 10,000 players in Japan to get to this point where he'd be facing the U.S. champion (whereas Valle only went through 62) and in the big picture, this was seen as a test to figure out international superiority. Daigo destroyed Valle's Ryu with his Akuma, and from there, the race to take down "The Beast" was on for California's best. Daigo would dominate over some of the best players in the United States, and this only allowed more people to get involved in the online community, including those on the other side of the country, who had been getting run over by the West Coasters beforehand, but knew that they had a player that could represent them better than anyone else.



Valle vs. Daigo was a dream match.


Eddie Lee was the first major player out of the east to really try and make an impact, and it started with Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Once that rivalry was in place, people started to realize that perhaps there was a little bit more to this thing when he gave legendary West Coaster Valle all he could handle before falling in the 1999 East Coast Championships for Street Fighter Alpha 3. The competition would become more and more heated, and with it, the number of games steadily grew. When the B4 tournament came around in 2000, more was on the line. Thanks to perhaps some growing tension between gamers both domestically in the U.S. (with an East Coast vs. West Coast showdown dominating the B tournaments) and internationally in Japan, an international tournament was set-up to determine who the best fighting game players in the world were, and for U.S. players, only six could go to Japan to face a team of 20 Japanese players for supremacy in four games: Super Turbo, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Street Fighter Alpha 3. The quest to become the best in the world was chronicled in the little-known documentary "Bang the Machine," which followed around the prospective champions who wanted to get a shot at toppling the Japanese players whom they believe did not think highly of the American players. In fact, the documentary itself has a story that might dwarf the actual story of the first ever international gaming competition.

The production company for the movie was having its offices constructed in 2001 for a wide release. Its site? The World Trade Center in New York City. After the events of 9/11, the production team lost not only its offices, but due to a lack of insurance, most of their collateral to get the project completely finished. Its final copy isn't exactly what was intended by the producers, but to date, it's the best example of what goes into preparing for a high-ranking fighting game competition, really getting into the minds of the players and really examining the rivalries that pushed the competition to what was then its apex in the fighting game community. When Japan defeated the U.S. in the competition in Tokyo following B4, it opened up a new door to the worldwide fighting game community, and it would only take a year to see the results.

It would come from Eddie Lee's protégé, Justin Wong in the 2001 tournament, B5. While the Japanese would dominate in SFA3 and SF III: Third Strike as they had in years previous, it was the Marvel vs. Capcom 2 tournament that really would start to dominate the headlines. Wong had shown a different way to play the game, opting for more character assists and juggling combos as opposed to full-out air combos, and with it, changed the scope of the game forever, with his Sentinel and Cable based teams setting up the basis for basically every tournament then-on. He was a 15-year-old kid that had made humongous strides in the most popular fighting game in America, and with it, he helped start the Evolution.

EVOlution

The tournament officially became EVO in 2002, and with it, the tournament became one of the premiere fighting game tournaments in the world, with both U.S. and Japanese players coming in droves to prove superiority. After EVO started, Japan started their own major fighting game tournament: Super Battle Opera, or SBO for short. With it occurring a couple months before EVO, players had a chance to battle each other in a big atmosphere on two continents to show fighting game supremecy. The Japanese were amazing in the Capcom fighters with Daigo leading the way, handily destroying gamers in the Alpha, Super Turbo, Third Strike and the newly added Capcom vs. SNK 2 and Guilty Gear games, whereas U.S. players were able to come back in games like Soul Caliber 2 and Marvel vs. Capcom 2. However, it was the 2004 EVO tournament that put EVO on top for good, and the big match that put the tournament over the top took place in the semi-finals of the Third Strike tournament. It pitted the two young masters of the genre against each other in a match for the ages: Daigo Umehara vs. Justin Wong.

It was the best two-out-of three matches to determine the man who would go onto to face Japanese player KO. The match-up was a classic for the game: Both players used Street Fighter originals who could combo into their Super Arts with relative ease, with Wong using Chun-Li and Daigo using Ken. In the first match, with it tied at one round apiece, Wong had opened up a huge advantage over Daigo, getting Daigo down to literally a sliver of his life bar, where even the block damage from a move could knock him out and give Wong the advantage going into the second match. When Wong decided to get himself in position to use his Super Art to put Daigo down, Daigo did something that had never been done in the history of the game. Using the Parry, which allows a player to block a move and take no damage by flicking the joystick in the direction of the move as opposed to holding it back to block and taking what is called "tick damage," Daigo rapidly parried the FIFTEEN hits of Chun-Li's Super Art when any one of the hits could have knocked him out. With the crowd in an absolute frenzy over what they had just seen, he then countered with his own Super Art, knocking Wong down 1-0 in the best-of-three match, and thanks to the one million + views on Youtube to date of the amazing feat in various incarnations, EVO became the place to be for fighting game fans. Ironically, while Daigo's impressive feat put EVO into the stratosphere, he would get destroyed by KO's Yun, 3-0 in the Grand Final. Nevertheless, EVO had passed fighting game fandom. It had become video game mainstream content, and with it, the most important and most successful tournament ever only got better.



Arcade sticks like these are common amongst tournament players.


That tournament also implemented the "bring your own controller" rule, which allowed competitors to use whatever controller they felt most comfortable with for the tournament games, which ranged from the normal console controllers to the pricey arcade sticks, complete with Capcom button set-ups. Converters allowed players to use their sticks on any system, and it allowed the tournament to grow to the point where players who played at home and didn't get to use the arcade cabinets as often could play on a level playing field. Also, with nine games, it was the most ambitious of the tournaments thus far, and while the number of games had become smaller and smaller over the following years, it allowed players to hone their games to higher levels. Coming into EVO 2K8, six games were ready to take the fighting game world by storm, and, as it always has and always will, it starts with the game that is the sole reason tournaments like EVO exist.
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