EVO 2014: The World’s Greatest Evo Recap

Click here for my beginner’s guide to Evo 2014 and the FGC.

Evo 2014 | Feel the hype.

Evo 2014 | Feel the hype. (PHOTO BY DAVID ZHOU | POLYGON)

So, Evo 2014 is over. It was mostly amazing. I’ve decided to give grades to things that stood out most to me. These grades are objectively correct.

A++++   Justin Wong winning Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

Easily the best part of Evo 2014 was Justin Wong winning his seventh individual Evo title, giving him sole ownership of the “Most Evo Titles” belt. His Top 8 victories over past champs Flocker and Filipino Champ and consensus “Best Marvel Player” ChrisG were things of mastery.

The most emotional moment, other than the Grand Finals win, was easily the final moment of Winner’s Finals versus Filipino Champ.

It was game five in a best-of-five series. With time winding down, Champ was able to take advantage of a couple Justin miscues, giving himself a 2-1 character advantage with Dark Phoenix really making it more akin to a 3-1 advantage. But Justin had Akuma, a “top-class anchor character.”

In the blink of an eye, Justin nailed Phoenix with a fireball, transforming her into Dark Phoenix, an ultra powerful version of the original with a limited lifespan. After treading water for a moment, Champ went all-in, calling Doctor Doom in for the assist and sending the ultra-powerful Dark Phoenix in for the deathblow. But Justin was ready.

With nerves of steel and a read bordering on clairvoyance, Justin unleashed a brilliant counter with Akuma, catching Dark Phoenix AND Doctor Doom with an X-Factor Messatsu-Goshoryu.

The crowd exploded, and announcers Yipes and Skisonic could scarcely believe what they’d just witnessed, resorting to yelling “Justin Wong!” several times in disbelief. Back home, Kris and I jumped out of our chairs at that finish. It was amazing.

Justin Wong is good, but it just seemed very unlikely to see him pull in another title. After all, he’s no spring chicken, and his competition now is stiffer than ever before.

But, there’s a thing the FGC describes as the “Wong Factor,” and you can never count it out. Congrats to Justin Wong. Great series, great tournament. Well done.

A+++++++++   Justin Wong’s Barrel Roll celebration

Wait – I just realized that THIS is the greatest Evo moment ever. Words cannot do this moment justice. Just…….it was amazing.

A+   Mango taking Smash for the second year in a row

I’m not the world’s biggest Smash Bros. fan, but I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize Mango’s repeat as Evo champ. He seemed completely in control all tournament long, and when the curtain came down, there was not a doubt as to who the best SSBM player in the world is. Good job, Mango.

A++   Garireo’s Blazblue triumph

If not for Justin Wong’s heroics, Garireo’s (pronounced Galileo) victory would have gone down as the greatest moment of Evo. The grit, emotion, and tenacity on display was incredible. This match is one for the ages.

After losing 0-3 to Dogura in Winners Finals, Garireo won Loser’s Finals only to find himself facing the Azrael giant again.

In Grand Finals, despite the tightness of the first set, it seemed clear that Dogura was the stronger player and would soon be crowned champ. But, Garireo focused and pulled out an incredible victory at the very end of game five, earning a bracket reset and one more chance at victory.

The second set revealed a resurgent Dogura. The Azrael warrior dominated the first two games, at which point it seemed like the magic dust had finally run out for Garireo. I remember texting my buddy Kris, saying: “Garireo is great, but Dogura is amazing.” I didn’t have much hope for Garireo.

But that didn’t matter because, reaching into the depths of his soul, Garireo found the will to not give up, to keep fighting, to continue to believe.

He ground out gutsy victories in games three and four, setting up a decisive game five. But Dogura wasn’t going down without a fight.

As with all great players, Dogura fought until his last breath, and game five seemed quite possible to go in either player’s favor. But in the end, Garireo pulled out a….it almost seems unfair to call it an “unlikely” victory. “Miraculous” seems more appropriate.

By my troth, Garireo pulled out a miraculous comeback victory and etched his place in Evo lore forever. Throw in the wonderful commentary and this set is one of the best ever.

F – – –   Daigo and Infiltration getting knocked out before Top 8

Going into Evo, I couldn’t wait to see two of the greatest Street Fighter champs flex their muscle. After winning Dreamhack 2013 and several impressive FT10 (first to 10) matches against former Evo champs Xian and Infiltration, six-time Evo champ Daigo Umehara was my pick to dominate.

On the other hand, I really wanted to see two-time Evo champ and recent Dreamhack and CEO 2014 champ Infiltration show us definitively that he is indeed one of the all-time greats. For my money, the dream Grand Finals would’ve been Daigo v Infiltration.

But guess what happened – Daigo lost in top-64, and Infiltration lost one round later in top-32. Waaa waaaaaaaa. As if that weren’t lame enough, other top players like PR Balrog, Justin Wong, Tokido, Chris G, K-Brad, Xian and Ryan Hart were also eliminated in top-32 or earlier.

As Top 16 played out, I threw my support behind Adon giant, Gamerbee. Then he lost, setting up one of the most lackluster Street Fighter Top 8’s ever. Speaking of which….

F+   The quality of USF4 Top 8

I don’t mean to be overly critical of any of the players who made Top 8, but that series of matches was really boring and anti-climactic. Admittedly, I’m no expert, but much of the gameplay didn’t seem up to usual Evo standards of hype, with traditional powerhouses like Sako, Momochi, Fuudo and Bonchan exhibiting somewhat linear strategies that just weren’t creative or adaptable enough to truly challenge for the title.

Sadly, Louffy’s championship seemed to be as much a product of others’ inability to adapt as truly being the best player, winning Grand Finals easily thanks to Bonchan’s relentless fireball game that simply gave Louffy a spectacular number of Super meters.

In the end, Louffy, though extremely solid, seemed thoroughly untested, and one couldn’t help but think that any number of eliminated players might’ve given him a better fight.

Still, I give USF4 Top 8 an “F +” instead of just an “F” because American Snake Eyez almost did the impossible, nearly scaling the wall to Grand Finals behind his incomparable Zangief. Alas, he couldn’t make the dream a reality, and thus we were left with nothing but what-ifs. Maybe next year. Make it happen, Snake Eyez!

D – –   Ultra Street Fighter 4 being the headline game

In the wake of such a disappointing Top 8 and such poor finishes from top players, I’ve wracked my brain trying to figure out what happened. After watching Daigo and Infiltration’s knock-out matches, it seems clear that both simply had bad tournaments. If they were the only underachievers, I would simply chalk it up to them having coincidental bad days.

But with several notable powerhouses getting knocked out early, I can’t help but think it was a bad idea to make Ultra Street Fighter 4 Evo’s flagship game. Only released one month before the tournament, players had little time to experiment with new characters and figure out the subtleties of the new game. So, the competition seemed more a test of “new game knowledge” than actual player skill.

The obvious counter argument would be that many of the Top 8 players were using characters they’ve used since the earliest days of Street Fighter 4, so it is hard to say USF4 was the problem when players like Fuudo and Ricky Ortiz still made Top 8 using players they’ve mained for years now. Heck, Fuudo won Evo 2011 behind the power of Fei Long. How can I say that USF4 wasn’t a test of actual player skill when many Top 8 finishers were using the same characters they’ve used for years?

Luffy won USF4 with an original Playstation 1 controller. Bigtime.

Louffy won USF4 with an original Playstation 1 controller. Bigtime. (PHOTO BY DAVID ZHOU | POLYGON)

I have to admit, it doesn’t seem that USF4’s newness was entirely to blame for lack of star power. In actuality, early player eliminations were likely to do simply with the fact that this year’s tournament was the biggest Street Fighter tournament ever. It stands to reason that with players having to endure more competition than ever before, a larger number of upsets were to be expected whether tournament organizers used USF4 or Super SF4:AE.

Still, the point is, if organizers had used SSF4:AE instead of USF4, nobody would be able to point to the newness of the game and say placings were skewed. Had Evo 2014 featured SSF4:AE, everyone would’ve accepted the standings as indicative of thorough mastery of an established game, and then everyone would’ve turned their attention fully to mastering USF4 for Evo 2015.

Of course, all this is easy for me to say, sitting here typing in my armchair, not being involved in tournament planning. I imagine tournament organizers were eager to have a new title to attract new participants, and I’m sure that sponsor Capcom was “happy” to have people buy their new game. So, while I think SSF4:AE would’ve been the wiser choice, I know that using USF4 might’ve had financial ramifications too.

Whatever – I still give that choice a D – – ………

B+   Commentating

Fighting game commentators get a bad rap. Sadly, the bad rap is deserved, as more often than not, commentators are just players who are disqualified or who are waiting for their match to come up. They aren’t really at the event to commentate; rather they just want to get on the mic, give some shout-outs and have fun. Which is fine, except that most are really annoying, some are offensive, and still some just sound like chipmunks. Regardless, I tend to like commentators. Even the worst bring a little excitement to a match, and they usually end up saying something educational. So, I don’t come down too hard on the guys “in the booth.”

Having said that, I think this year’s commentators were a mixed bag, with some performing excellently, others being completely mediocre, and then others being Yipes and Skisonic. My favorite commentators ended up being James Xie & David Broweleit of BlazBlue and that one guy with the great voice who called Killer Instinct (sorry, can’t find his name anywhere). These guys really took the entire experience up a notch; would that I could hear more like them all the time.

The crowd joins Ricky Ortiz in raising the roof. Cool stuff.

The crowd joins Ricky Ortiz in raising the roof. Cool stuff. (PHOTO BY DAVID ZHOU | POLYGON)

As for the others, the Street Fighter crew (James Chen, Seth Killian, David Graham and Christian Sutton) was really solid while the guys who commentated the KoFXIII Top 8 were rather lackadaisical. Also rather dull were the fellows who called SSBM. I didn’t watch Injustice or Tekken Tag, so I can’t comment on those, but with luck, they weren’t moribund.

That leaves the UMvC3 crew. Yipes and Skisonic.

Yipes was 100% more tolerable than last year. Last year, his commentary was so urban and so “street” that I could barely watch. Plus, he made random references to athletes that, regardless of whether they made sense or not, just didn’t really feel like they belonged in commentary for a fighting game.

This year, Yipes was street as ever, but with two subtle improvements that made him much less grating. First, he didn’t make lots of inane references to NBA players. I remember hearing one, but that’s it. And second, he just seemed more skilled at analysis,  providing some really good insights that weren’t there last year. With those minor changes, he ended up being one of the most fun guys to listen to. How can the viewer not have fun when his commentator is saying stuff like:

“I’m so excited in my pantalones.” Tmi, Yipes. Tmi. Also:

Where are they, the Alamo? Anyway, this year, I found myself delighted by Yipes and his zany calls. Of course, my favorite commentator of all time is Zhieeep, so clearly I like the ridiculous guys. Speaking of ridiculous guys….

I have to say something about Skisonic. I noticed something very interesting about this guy after watching a couple replays. Compare the following pics:

Oh no, I hope nobody sees me lest my rep be tarnished!

My name is Christian Sutton, professional Street Fighter caster.

What up home fries?! I gots ma dreds and teh match it about to start fo rizzle!!

AND MA NAME IS SKISONIC! Holla at ya boy home fries! I gots ma dreds and teh match it about to start up in he-ah!!

Apparently, the Evo staff decided to “brand” each game of the tournament, making some very pro and others very urban. It’s amazing to see the transformation of Christian Sutton into Skisonic and back depending on what he’s commentating. I mean, for Street Fighter, he looks like someone working at Express. Then, for UMvC3, he wears fake dreds, a weird hat, and he changes the way he talks and moves, giving Yipes dap and so forth, fully at home with his bad self.  It’s like he’s not even the same guy!! I never realized it was the same guy until I noticed the twitter links under the names. Unbelievable.

Anyway, I have no idea why UMvC3 is presented as really urban while USF4 is presented as super corporate, but it delights me to see Mr. Skisonic flip back and forth. I’ve heard of TV personalities, but I’ve never heard of TV multiple-personalities, which is basically what Christian Sutton/Skisonic is. I have no idea what your game is Skisonic, but don’t change a thing.

Overall, I felt like this was the best commentating yet. There is room to improve, but it’s getting better all the time. 

  Game selection 

This year’s Evo featured 8 different titles including new titles Killer Instinct and BlazBlue: Chronophantasma. It was a great lineup, but I missed seeing titles like Mortal Kombat 9, Persona 4 Arena and Street Fighter X Tekken on the mainstage.

Thankfully, there were more side tournaments than ever this year, including a P4A tourney with a $1,000 prize donated by game publisher Atlus.

Thus begins another fun element of Evo – tracking down videos after the fact. What I mean is, most of the side tournaments weren’t streamed, and if they were, they were very difficult to locate for folks not in the know. Thankfully, videos of side tournament Top 8’s usually end up on YouTube, and it becomes something of a scavenger hunt trying to find them all.

If you decide you want to try to watch film of every tournament held at Evo, check out this page at Eventhubs.com. It lists winners of every game including every side tournament. Now go find videos and enjoy the full breadth of Evo’s game selection.

C –   Stream quality on my TV

One of the coolest things about Evo this year was getting to watch UMvC3 and USF4 Top 8s with my buddies. With the Twitch app on my X360, we were able to comfortably sit back and view all the action on 50” of HD goodness. However, at that size, even Twitch’s “High” video quality suffered rather heavily, often becoming pixelated and blurry.

So, while the video quality on my big TV was on the poor side, it was cool getting to stream everything to my living room. Hopefully this will be even better next year – I want to give this an A rating!!

???   Marn

I’m not exactly sure why, but seeing Marn at Evo 2014 was really enjoyable. I guess it’s because, as a former Evo champ in one of my favorite games (Tatsunoko vs Capcom, 2010), Marn holds a special place in my heart. He doesn’t seem very involved with the FGC these days, and he’s roundly despised in forums (for things that happened years ago), but he clearly still has massive game as evidenced by his Top 8 finish in UMvC3.

Watching him come back into power this year felt a little like seeing Rocky get back into the ring in Rocky Balboa. He doesn’t have all his former powers, but he shows clear signs of greatness.

I suppose that, despite his indiscretions and poor attitude, Marn is something of a sympathetic character to me. Much like Justin Wong was once the villain and is now beloved, time has made Marn feel like someone to root for, not against. I want Marn to overcome his past. I want Marn to place Top 8. I want the prodigal son to come home and do what he does best – play fighting games at a really high level. Do it, Marn. Do it for me. Do it for yourself. Do it for the FGC. Win. Win! WIN!! And have fun, too.

A   Xian vs Snake Eyez

I would be completely negligent if I didn’t mention this fight that electrified the USF4 Top 32 and sent Evo 2013 champ Xian into the Loser’s Bracket. I didn’t see it live, but my friend Kris did, and apparently it was extremely, utterly, thoroughly and completely hype. Good job to those guys for putting on a show.

S   My research and collation of every single Evo champ ever into a spreadsheet so that I can provide the following information:

Since 2002, Evo has featured:

38 – different games (including variants)
60 – different winners
13 – players that have won multiple Evo titles including:
Justin Wong – 7
Daigo Umehara – 6
Carl White (Perfect Legend) – 3
Shinya Ohnuki (Nuki) – 3
Christopher Villarreal (Crow) – 2
Hajime Taniguchi (Tokido) – 2
John Choi  2
Joseph Marquez (Mango) – 2
Kenji Obata – 2
Ryan Hart – 2
Ryo Yoshida – 2
Seon-woo Lee (Infiltration) – 2
Yosuke Ito (Kindevu) – 2
2 –players that have won titles on games created by different developers: Carl White (DoA4 – Tecmo, MK9 – NetherRealm) and Daigo Umehara (GG:XX – ArcSys and Street Fighter series – Capcom). All other multiple winners have won on games created by one single developer.
2 – players with two titles in one year. Daigo Umehara did it twice, winning both GG:XX and SSF2T in 2003 and 2004. John Choi won CvS2 and SSF2T in 2008.
13 – the number of years between Justin Wong’s first title and his most recent UMvC3 title.

That’s it. Evo 2014 is in the bag. Did I miss any big moments? Please let me know in the comments. Until next year, stay salty.

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