After a two-year pandemic-induced break the Evolution Championship Series (better known as just Evo), the annual celebration of all things fighting games, is back in Las Vegas this weekend. Thousands of fighting game players and fans will fill the halls and arena at the Mandalay Bay casino to make their attempts at a top 8 finish, get in casual games with people from around the globe, watch panels, browse Artist Alley, and just generally soak up a chance to be offline with the fighting game community again.
In a more normal year, I’d be there myself, maybe not trying for that top 8 finish, more like just trying not to go 0-2 in Street Fighter V or Third Strike. But despite a robust mask and vaccine policy I’m just not feeling like traveling or being in Vegas with the current state of the world. So I’m going to spend my weekend cozy at home streaming a ridiculous amount of content and trying not to feel like I’m missing out too much. If you’d like to join me here’s a quick guide to what the weekend has to offer.
An Evo overview
You may have heard of Evo before, perhaps from the infamous Evo Moment 37 video or from Sony’s acquisition of the tournament series in 2021. If you’re not already a fighting game tournament watcher, here are the basics of how Evo works. There are eight main games featured, which I’ll list below, as well as a huge amount of less official side tournaments. Each game has the same basic structure, you start in a pool of players, everyone on equal footing. Tournaments are double-elimination, meaning you have to lose twice to be out. If you can win several matches in your pool without being eliminated, you move up to the next one, eventually leading to a top 24 bracket, then a top 8, which leads to the grand finals.
Part of the excitement of watching pools is the upsets. The previous champion has to start the same as anyone else, and there’s no guarantee an unknown won’t hand them their first loss, putting them in the loser’s bracket and one game away from losing that top 8 repeat dream.
As you advance deeper into the matches, the level of play becomes more high level and tense, so if you’re less inclined to spend hours watching the safe bet is to catch a top 24 or wait for the top 8 to see the real high-stakes matches play out.
Every game will feature commentary by people who are experts in understanding and explaining the on-screen action. With a few basics under your belt and their patterns, you should be able to keep up even with games you’re not familiar with.
The key to understanding the double-elimination format is everyone starts out in the winner’s bracket. If you lose once you go to the loser’s bracket. Lose from there and you can sit and watch the rest, you’re done. Mathematically this means that when you get to top 8, half will be in the loser’s bracket, half in the winner’s bracket, and the grand finals match will have a winner’s side and a loser’s side.
To win the entire tournament from the loser’s side you need to beat the other player twice, once to send them to loser’s (known as resetting the bracket). Making a loser’s run is no easy task, but a bracket reset always gets the crowd hyped up. They love an underdog, but it also means another set to watch.
If you see an L or a W next to someone’s name on the stream overlay that’s indicating if they’re playing from the winner’s or loser’s bracket. The last thing that’s handy to know is most games are run as first to two, so you have to win two games to beat someone. This generally becomes the first to three wins in top 8.
This year the main featured games at Evo are:
- Street Fighter V: Champion Edition
- Guilty Gear Strive
- Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate
- Tekken 7
- The King Of Fighters XV
- Melty Blood: Type Lumina
- Dragon Ball FighterZ
- Granblue Fantasy: Versus
- Skullgirls: 2nd Encore
All games will be streamed on Twitch starting Friday, August 5 at 10 am Pacific Time. A complete interactive schedule of all the games can be found here. Half the games will have top 8s from the main hall on Saturday. The other four (King of Fighters, Tekken, Street Fighter, and Guilty Gear) will have their top 8 on Sunday in the Mandalay Bay arena.
There are also community-run tournaments for an additional 52 titles, everything from the alternate World War II title Akatsuki Blitzkampf, to barely-a-fighting-game-kinda-like-frisbee-air-hockey Neo Geo classic Windjammers. A list of all 52 games as well as a viewer’s guide summary for each one can be found here, so check that out if you want to dig into the wider range of titles you might not be familiar with.