Evolution 2014: Highlights from the Grandest Fighting Game Tournament of the Year

EVO championship series
The Evolution (or Evo) Championship Series brings gamers from around the world together for the largest fighting game tournaments of the year, and every year there are amazing moments that have to be seen. Evo 2014 was no exception, as we saw some the greatest moments in the tournament’s 10+ year history. It was tough to choose only five, but here are my personal highlights of this year’s tournament weekend:

5. X-Mania Running Wild

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the X-Mania team tournament was held for the first time in the United States at Evo. It is a three versus three single elimination tournament that attracts some of the best old-school Super Turbo players ever. Yes, it may seem surprising, but 20 years later, there are still people playing Super Turbo at a high caliber level. The tournament was a lot of fun to watch, but one player, “Mao” of Team M3 from Japan, stole the show. Mao is known for playing as Claw (ie Vega in the USA and Balrog in Japan), one of the strongest characters in the game, a character that some might consider to be “cheap.” Mao played his notoriety up by acting like a late 80s, early 90s pro-wrestling heel, acting over-the-top for the camera, showing off his championship belt that he won in the Tournament of Legends earlier that weekend like he’s Ted DiBiase, and playing so frustratingly well that even his teammates started to boo him. It was all for a good time, though, and while the tension and drama in tournaments makes things very exciting, it was refreshing to see all of the competitors at X-Mania looking like they were having a lot of fun.

This came out within minutes of Mao’s victory in the X-Mania finals.
This came out within minutes of Mao’s victory in the X-Mania finals.

4. The Culling of the Champions

This technically wasn’t a singular moment, but the events of an entire day. On Friday, Ultra Street Fighter IV had their pools, quarter-finals, and semi-finals, to determine who would fight for the championship on Sunday. It was, as noted by former tournament player and famed Street Fighter community member Seth Killian, the bloodiest day in Street Fighter tournament history. No one was safe from elimination. Top players such as USA’s Justin Wong, Japan’s Daigo Umehara, and South Korea’s Sun-woo “Infiltration” Lee, were all eliminated, to the shock of everyone following the tournament. By the end of the day, only one former champion, Keita “Fuudo” Ai, was able to make it to the Top 8. Little did anyone know that the surprises wouldn’t stop there…

3. The Return of the King

I will admit that I had lost interest in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 a while ago. The game wasn’t fun to watch to me, and I almost skipped the entire tournament. Fortunately, though, I decided to check it out anyway, and I’m glad that I did, for I got to witness the return of the king himself, Justin Wong. While he is known as a strong Street Fighter player, he is also well known as a Marvel vs. Capcom player. And while he’s done well in past Evos, he never was able to place first… until this year. His road to the championship was highlighted by his final two matches. In Winner’s Finals, he defeated 2012 champion, Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez, one of the most polarizing players in the tournament scene known for his efficient and frustrating keep-a-way playstyle with his Dormmamu/Dr. Doom/Phoenix team. And finally in Grand Finals, Justin faced and defeated Christopher “ChrisG” Gonzalez, arguably the best Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 player today with his dreaded Morrigan/Dr. Doom/ Vergil team. What makes Justin Wong so exciting to watch? A big part of it is what community members call “Wong Factor,” Justin’s innate knack to pull off clutch plays at crucial moments in time. It has to be seen to be believed:

Justin Wong comes back to defeat Filipino Champ in Winner’s Finals.

2. La Rose Français

The bloodiest day in Street Fighter tournament history wasn’t the end of the surprises for the Ultra Street Fighter IV. The biggest surprise of them all was the crowning of the new champion, Olivier “Luffy” Hay. It was exciting enough that Luffy was able to become the first European and Rose player to reach the Top 8 of an Evo Street Fighter tournament – but, no, Luffy was hungry. He wanted to go all of the way to the top. And he did.

Fighting from the loser’s bracket, Luffy eliminated top players from 2013’s Street Fighter 2nd place winner Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, to 2011 champion Fuudo, to UISA’s favorite, Darryl “SnakeEyez” Lewis, and finally Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi, who many believed was going to take it. Luffy absolutely deserved his win with his fantastic performance, and now many players are re-considering the strength of Rose, even to the point of calling her “overpowered” even though that’s hilariously far from the truth. If anything, the Grand Finals between Luffy and Bonchan has to be watched, as the drama and excitement of of Luffy resetting the bracket and going on to win is one of the greatest comebacks in Evo history. And speaking of comebacks…

[Grand Finals start at 2:24:30]

1. AnimEvo 2014

The BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma tournament generated buzz even before it actually began with developer/publisher Arc System Works and publisher Aksys Games contributing $30,000 to the tournament prize pool, but no one expected to see that it would hold arguably one of the most exciting Grand Finals of the weekend, if not in all of Evo history. I am personally not that familiar with BlazBlue as compared to other fighting games. I played the first two releases, Calamity Trigger and Continuum Shift, but I soon fell behind long before Chrono Phantasma was released. However, even though I went into watching the Grand Finals with so little knowledge, I was still completely invested in what was going on. Major credit has to go to commentators David “Dacidbro” Broweleit and James Xie for both explaining the mechanics and strategies of the game as well as conveying the excitement and hype of the matches. The Grand Finals had Ryo “Dogura” Nozaki (playing Azrael) from the winner’s bracket face Keiji “Garireo” Okamoto (playing Litchi) from the loser’s, in a re-match from the Winner’s Finals that resulted in Dogura sweeping Garireo 3-0. Both competitors fought hard, but Garireo came back to force a resetting of the brackets. Dogura was not discouraged, though, and after several back-and-forth victories, it came down to the final round of the final set to determine the winner. Emotions at this point were running high amongst the players, the crowd, and even the commentators as everyone was on the edge of their seats when Garireo pulled through and finally defeated Dogura. As with all Evo moments, it has to be seen to be fully appreciated:

Video courtesy of http://www.holdbacktoblock.com/

[Grand Finals begin at 1:41:00]

As I stated before, it was hard to pick just five highlights from the entire weekend. I highly suggest you check out twitch.tv/srkevo1, and watch the archived recordings from the weekend. There were many more tournaments that took place, and there are definitely more memorable Evo moments I did not mention. Discuss what your favorite Evo 2014 moments were in the comments below!

Special thanks to the Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cueller, Tom ” Inkblot” Cannon, Tony “Ponder” Cannon, and Shoryuken.com for organizing and running Evo every year, and special thanks to Team Spooky, IPW, Capcom Fighters, and all the other groups that provided video streaming and recordings throughout the event.

About Matt 37 Articles
Matthew Schlotfeldt is a host for the Line Cutters, and resident video game expert. He’s not sure whether that’s something to be proud or ashamed of. He can be reached on Twitter at @PunkBoy412.