10 takeaways from the EVO 2016 lineup reveal

We learned the first key details about EVO 2016 on Tuesday night when tournament organizer Joey “Mr

Photos via Capcom, Warner Bros., and Nintendo | Remix by Jacob Wolf

We learned the first key details about EVO 2016 on Tuesday night when tournament organizer Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar announced the game list and venues—yes, plural—for the annual fighting game extravaganza. Like last year, EVO will feature a nine-game lineup headlined by Super Smash Bros. Melee, Super Smash Bros. for WiiU, and the latest iteration of the Street Fighter series. Unlike last year, the event will be held in two venues: Friday and Saturday action will take place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, while Championship Sunday will be held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Tuesday’s announcement obviously answered many of the basic questions surrounding the event, but it also gave us so much more. Here are ten things that the announcement taught us about the future of EVO and the fighting game community as a whole.

“Go big or go home” isn’t just a catchphrase…

Two weeks ago, Cuellar tweeted that “go big or go home” was the motto for EVO 2016. Cuellar made good on that goal by announcing a move out of hotel ballrooms and into a 125,000-square-foot space at the Las Vegas Convention Center. He surpassed that goal moments later when he announced that Sunday’s finals would be held at the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Events Center. Even a few years ago, who would have thought that the same spotlights that have been focused on the likes of Brock Lesnar and Oscar De La Hoya will shine their light on the Daigo Umeharas and Justin Wongs of the world?

…but the game list doesn’t reflect it.

There was hope that the move to a significantly-larger space would lead to a significantly-larger list of games at the event. Yes, nine tournaments at EVO is a massive undertaking, especially considering the amount of players each one will attract. And yes, most every game imaginable will have some sort of community-organized side tournament at the event. Still, while tournament fields have grown dramatically over the last few years, the game list remains at nine for the third time in four years.

Smash is here to stay…

The Smash community was unsure if there would be room for both the beloved Melee and the brand-new WiiU at EVO 2015. Cuellar milked this suspense for all it was worth, as he announced that WiiU would be at EVO “to the chagrin of other people.” He then listed four other games over the next fifteen minutes before revealing that Melee would be in the lineup as well. This year. Melee and WiiU were the second and third games revealed respectively, with no needling of any fanbases between the announcements. The message was clear: the idea of an EVO without either Smash game was so absurd that it wasn’t even worth joking about.

…but so is almost everything else (for now).

Those who loved last year’s lineup have reason to smile, while those who hated last year’s lineup have reason to frown. Five of the nine games in the EVO 2015 lineup return to the event in 2016. Street Fighter V replaces its predecessor, Ultra Street Fighter IV, and two other games (Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator and Tekken 7: Fated Retribution) are updates to games that were in the 2015 event. All told, only one game (Pokken Tournament) will be brand new to the EVO lineup, and the five games that had their finals on Sunday last year will receive the same honor this year.

Nintendo is warming up to the fighting game community…

It was a simpler time in 2013. There were only six Fast & Furious movies, the Harlem Shake was a thing, and Nintendo was attempting to shut down the Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament at EVO 2013. Now, Nintendo has perhaps not embraced, but at least accepted the competitive scene around its games. The company has sponsored the past two EVOs along with several other prominent Smash tournaments, and that run will almost certainly continue into 2016.

But the biggest plunge the company has made—albeit through its subsidiary, The Pokemon Company—is the announcement of a Pokken Tournament Championship Series, which will include EVO. Whether the series reaches the scale or interest level of the Capcom Pro Tour remains to be seen, but the fact that the company is even trying to build a competitive scene is something that was thought to be impossible in those wacky Fast & Furious 6 days.

…but Pokken Tournament is still a strange gamble.

Pokken Tournament, the strange Tekken-meets-NarutoShippuden game with Pokemon characters, is going to be in Las Vegas. EVO is taking a big risk on the game, but the gameplay should be the least of their concerns. EVO will run the game in LAN mode, which will require the use of two monitors and two WiiU’s for each station. Smaller tournaments can run the game on one WiiU, but doing so will require one player to use the less-than-ideal-for-fighting-games WiiU gamepad. These limitations will make local training a difficult matter, which could negatively impact the game’s showing.

Those issues increase the risk that the game’s competitive viability might not pan out. Whether a game can attract an audience and following among fighting game fans can usually be determined after a game is in the wild, but we’re still two months away from its console release. Who knows how exciting the game will be for players and spectators once players who don’t live near a Pokken arcade machine can get their hands on it.

Community support can still be a difference-maker…

With dwindling player fields and a downward trend in interest, many were ready to read Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 its last rites after EVO 2015. Yet Marvel lives at EVO 2016, thanks in large part to a community-wide effort to reinvigorate the game. Many of the higher-profile efforts have been spearheaded by Hayden “Kinderparty” Griswold, Samantha “Persia” Hancock, and the rest of the Marvelous Essentials team. The team began a bi-weekly podcast, Marvel LIVE, to discuss hot topics and promote tournaments, have set up exhibition matches at several tournaments in the past few months, and, through Persia’s “Marvel Minds” series, have provided detailed analysis videos of top-level play.

…but it can only do so much.

Then there’s curious case of Ultra Street Fighter IV. The game that had the largest field in fighting game tournament history at EVO 2015 is nowhere to be seen this time around. There’s certainly still a demand for the game, but that expected demand wasn’t enough to include Ultra in this year’s plans. Perhaps the game would be a logistical nightmare to run alongside a multi-day SFV tournament. Perhaps with the high amount of crossover between Ultra and SFV players, EVO wanted to give space to a game that would bring in a separate audience. Perhaps someone wanted SFV to not have to compete against an older game for attention. No matter the reasoning, Ultra at EVO 2016 will likely go down as the biggest official tournament that never was.

The bad news is that the fighting game community has reached the big time…

One of the biggest draws of EVO is the ability to watch the best players in just about every fighting game imaginable play their favorite games at the highest level imaginable. A Smash fan gets amazed by an incredible Street Fighter player, who gets blown away by some amazing Killer Instinct player, whose jaw drops when they see someone turn King of Fighters on its head, and so on and so on. Every game has its championship on the same stage, even if it isn’t on Sunday, and every game gets the same spotlight.

The move of EVO’s Sunday finals to an arena setting, whether intentional or not, introduces a level of separation. It creates haves and have nots. Yes, every game will get time on the big stage under the bright lights, but if you’re a player of Pokken, Tekken, Smash WiiU, or Killer Instinct, your stage is a bit smaller and your lights aren’t quite as bright.

…but the good news is that the fighting game community is getting bigger.

Still, the move is a net positive. The best news isn’t that EVO is in a bigger space, but that the number of people who want to enjoy fighting game tournaments has grown enough to where EVO needs a bigger space. Regardless of the lineup or the schedule or anything else, EVO is still a group of people who share a common passion getting together to do what they love to do. The more people who share that passion, the more opportunities they have to form amazing friendships, both within our communities and beyond.iulq1;3ew3

EVO is often called a convention disguised as a tournament, but I believe a more apt comparison is that it’s a big party. You might not like all of the music that will be played, and you might cross paths with that one guy who always rubs you the wrong way. But at the end of the day, it’s still a party. And EVO 2016 is going to be one hell of a blowout.