We are two weeks away from the biggest fighting game tournament of them all, Evolution Fighting Championship 2016—or as it's more commonly known, EVO. It has grown exponentially year on year since its beginnings, but all signs are pointing towards this one being a really big step forward. Fighting games are in rude health right now and this has allowed for record numbers of entrants for all of the games. And with such growth is going to come some considerable changes.
It was revealed this week that the top eight from Street Fighter V is going to be broadcast on ESPN2 in America. This is a giant step towards the mainstream and there are a few things that EVO is going to need to do to take advantage of such a huge opportunity to push fighting games to a more casual audience. (Some of it, however, comes down to luck.)
No training mode
The training mode stage has been banned from EVO 2016, thank goodness. The Training Stage—or the Grid, as it is more commonly referred to—is a big gray box full of markings that can be used to judge ranges of attacks. Not only does it provide some players with an advantage, it’s also incredibly boring, but because of these useful markings it gets picked all the time if left unchecked. Good riddance.
In pro wrestling, the commentary team is a crucial part of ‘selling’ the action in the ring. They’re there to tell you a story and also make you have all the information you need. In other sports, they’re there to explain what exactly you’re seeing, talking about subtle moments a less trained eye could miss and accurately and concisely explaining why that moment was so damn rad. We can all see energy bars decreasing and big, bold characters beating the hell out of one another, but a great commentary team will be able to add to the action and help newcomers understand the deeper aspects of the game.
It’s looking likely that EVO’s commentary team for the ESPN broadcast will be the duo of long-time FGC stalwarts James Chen and David Graham (aka ultradavid). There couldn’t be a better two for the job, both able to combine a deep knowledge of the game with enough hype to add to the action while ensuring that even the most casual of viewers will understand too. This is going to be one of the most important parts of EVO this year, seeing as someone like my dad could easily stumble across this on TV and need to be fully filled in on what it is.
Have you ever heard of FGC time? It’s basically whatever the local time of any Street Fighter event is, plus around an hour. It varies place to place and is an unreliable way to measure anything. Seriously though, I can count on one hand the number of tournaments I’ve seen run on a perfect schedule. A few weeks back, CEO 2016, an event that was in every other way extremely well-run, had the Street Fighter V top eight go on nearly two hours later than planned. This is because Smash Bros—a game notorious for taking ages to play—ran over. This obviously can’t happen at EVO when you’ve now got an actual slot (7 PM PDT) on an actual TV channel expecting you to start at a precise time. I fully expect them to air on the side of caution and have the SFV top eight much later than usual, with there being quite a gap between that and Smash 4 (which takes place beforehand). We’re all accepting of FGC time and know to expect it. ESPN certainly won’t be.
A spread of characters
There was some chatter going around at Capcom Cup 2015 that if we ended up seeing an Elena v Elena grand final then Ultra Street Fighter IV was fully done, we’d seen it all and thank god Street Fighter V was just around the corner. It didn’t come to pass, but this is something worth noting now that there’s going to be potentially a lot of new eyes on SFV at EVO. For instance, a mirror match with any two characters in the grand final will have a lot of casual viewers wondering why anyone bothers with anybody else. It’s something that is absolutely out of everyone’s control, but worth noting nonetheless.
Much like the situation regarding the Training Stage, Capcom are likely looking at this as the mother of all showcases for their game, and are hoping for a decent range of their roster to be represented in the top eight. A quick look at events around the world this year indicates that they should be alright, but there’s still a chance of a Ken vs Ken face-off in the final.
A marquee final
Have you ever heard of The Ultimate Fighter Finale? Long and short of it, the UFC was on the ropes as a company, threw everything they had into a reality TV show, and during the show’s final episode (which was live on TV rather than PPV for the first time) the two finalists had an absolute stormer of a scrap, right when there were more eyes on the product than ever before.
SFV needs something like the legendary Daigo v Justin Wong moment. Perhaps a great underdog story, sold to us by the commentary team. A great back and forth battle, perhaps with a bracket reset, rather than just a 3-0 domination. Again, impossible to control, but a great, televised grand final will remain with people, and potentially influence SFV's success as a major esport. Let’s hope we don’t get a replay of the stick malfunction drama that took place last year.