In 2002, 40 kids got together in Sunnyvale, California to smash each other’s faces in Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Started by Tom Cannon under the name “Battle of the Bay,” that little gathering would shortly grow into the world’s largest fighting game tournament. Now called Evo, the event takes place in glittering Las Vegas. And while the games have changed over the years, the spirit and sense of awe have remained auspiciously consistent.
Evo represents everything good about the fighting game community. It’s comprehensive, self-constructed, openly passionate, and carries a strong tradition. It’s a rowdy tournament taken straight from the arcades and played out on the biggest stage, with commentators who aren’t afraid to express their appreciation for the games and players as the wild crowd roars in the background.
Perhaps the best thing about Evo is its approachability. Its joy is so infectious you don’t have to be anything close to an expert in fighting games to enjoy it. To show just how easy it is to fall in love with Evo, we’ve gathered some of the greatest moments from tournaments past in preparation for this week’s edition of the biggest fighting game event of the year.
Demon Hyo finds perfection
You have to love these ancient stories of EVO’s past, either inscribed in rose-colored forum threads or grainy off-screen videos. That’s where Brandon “Demon Hyo” Deshields’ Marvel vs. Capcom 2 perfect is laid in state, a grainy YouTube capture of a crappy standard-definition TV, forever preserved in its 2007 glory.
Hyo puts the first round away pretty cleanly, but his most resonant efforts come in the second, when his opponent fails to register a single hit. If you want to know what embarrassment is, it’s losing all three life-bars to the same character. You gotta love how the crowd starts to chant when they realize they’re about to witness a perfect.
Duc does it in style
Fighting games can imitate art when a seasoned veteran like Duc “DucVader” Do holds off a seemingly endless barrage of attacks to steal a win in the first round—and then unleashes some of the most technically sound fighting game play you’ll ever see.
Again, this is one of those sets that gets passed around the scene like borrowed knowledge, but you don’t need a lot of context for the standard of their play. It’s like poetry in motion.
John Choi defends his turf
Patriotic spirit has always permeated Evo. Americans have often struggled against East Asian counterparts at the Japanese-developed brand of fighting games, so when John Choi took down Ryo “BAS” Yoshida in Capcom vs. SNK 2 it was, appropriately, one of the biggest moments to date for the domestic scene.
The Hakan comeback
Most of the world’s best players traditionally find one character they click with and ride that character to either victory or defeat. So when a player switches his character and it works, it always makes for some great drama. That’s what happens here, where Lee “Infiltration” Sun Woo switches into unorthodox and rarely seen character Hakan to spark a huge comeback against PR Balrog. Chalk this one up as a victory for the innovators.
The greatest round of Smash Bros. ever fought
Videos like this will convince just about anyone of the potential for Smash Bros. players to impress on the big stage. In the clip, Jeffrey “Axe” Williamson’’s Pikachu absolutely dismantling Otto “Silent Wolf” Bisno’s Fox.
At its best, high-level Smash Bros. can pick so much momentum it actually begins to resemble a polygonal action movie, a captivating cinematic experience.
The match that will make you want to buy a King of Fighters game
Spending some time with this epic clash between Hee San Woo and Reynald Tacsuan will make you want to learn more about King of Fighters. Watch Woo come all the way back to reset the bracket at the 2013 grand finals, watch how Reynald reacts, and try not to bite your nails off when it all ends.
This is undoubtedly some of the clutchest play you’ll ever see in fighting games.
Justin Wong does a barrel roll
Stories don’t get much easier to tell than this. Christopher “Chris G” Gonzalez is the dominant player in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, at times appearing so strong that his triumph seems inevitable. His character choices make for games that often lack excitement, and as such he has been labeled a villain.
Opposing him is Justin Wong, a veteran of years of fighting game competitions who himself once held the position Gonzalez now occupies. Wong plays exciting characters regardless of their place in the meta, and the crowd is ready to see him reclaim his throne. If only they knew.
PR Balrog catches the bird
What do you do when facing an impossible situation? If you’re Eduardo “PR Balrog” Perez, the answer is simple: You win.
Or at least, you win the round before ultimately falling in the set. Still, there may never be a more unexpected and exciting victory than the one Perez managed to find during this grand final set with Jay “Viscant” Snyder.
The one true Evo moment
You’ve probably seen this one before. Justin Wong has Daigo Umehara on the ropes at the Street Fighter III: Third Strike finals back in 2004. At the brink of his health bar, Umehara manages to perfectly parry what would have been the winning attack from Justin, and snatch the victory with an utterly soul-destroying counter attack.
It’s the video game equivalent of a Norse war saga. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, it’s still hard to look away.