This weekend, the Evolution Championship Series returns to Las Vegas for its twentieth outing. This annual event is the biggest and most important fighting game tournament in the world, with over seven thousand attendees planning to brave the boiling Nevada desert and compete for their shot at eternal glory.
The Evo experience has expanded so much that keeping up with festivities can be difficult. Here’s a primer on every game included at Evo 2018, the pros to watch and their backstories, and the biggest questions about each competitive scene that will likely get answered over the weekend.
- Developer: Arc System Works
- Release Date: January 26, 2018
- Years at Evo: 1
- Total players: 2575
- The big question: SonicFox or GO1?
After climbing the ranks in almost every other game he’s touched, Dominique “SonicFox” McLean has found himself on the Dragon Ball FighterZ throne. Players from all walks have adopted the game thanks to its usage of the mega-popular Dragon Ball Z license, but it was SonicFox who eventually clawed his way to the top of the mountain. His biggest challenger has been Goichi “GO1" Kishida, a veteran Japanese competitor more accustomed to niche fighting games like Melty Blood and Aquapazza. What began as a hotly-contested rivalry has become a one-sided feud in SonicFox’s favor.
That said, neither of these players actually won the high-profile Summit of Power invitational last June. Eduardo “HookGangGod” Deno, a relatively new face in the fighting game community, made a clear case for his strength in the international community by taking home the invitational’s top honors. In a game as popular as Dragon Ball FighterZ, challenges can come from all sides, especially when it comes to Japanese heavyweights like Ryo “Dogura” Nozaki, Shoji “Fenritti” Sho, and Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue. The sheer amount of players taking part in this tournament makes it hard to pick a single favorite, but keep an eye on SonicFox and GO1 as they speed towards the Sunday finals.
Other notable players: Vineeth “ApologyMan” Meka, Jon “dekillsage” Coello, Naoki “moke” Nakayama, Jonathan “Cloud805” Morales, Glyn “Doza” Mendoza, William “Leffen” Hjelte, Reynald Tacsuan, Steve “Supernoon” Carbajal, Juan “BeyondToxin” Contreras, Eddie “brkrdave” Sayles, Derek “Nakkiel” Bruscas, Dawn “Yohosie” Hosie, Chou “superboy” Yamashita
- Developer: Capcom
- Release Date: February 16, 2016
- Years at Evo: 3
- Total players: 2484
- The big question: Can anyone stop the Cammy players?
Every season, one particular Street Fighter V character proves to be an issue in high-level competition. Chun-Li and Nash started out as the strongest characters in the cast (as seen by Evo 2016’s finals bracket), but players soon gravitated towards Guile, Akuma, Balrog, and Abigail as the roster expanded and balance-adjusting patches were released. This season, only one character has become a fixation: Cammy.
Over the past few months, Cammy players have dominated Street Fighter V competitions, including Geon “NL” Sim, Zhuojun “Xiaohai” Zeng, Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue, Naoki “moke” Nakayama, and Hyung-suk “Verloren” Gong. Cammy’s not necessarily overpowered, and her chances are no doubt helped by the general strength of the players who use her, but the emerging Cammy tactics will definitely ruin some players’ standings this weekend.
Other notable players: Atsushi Fujimura, Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi, Daigo Umehara, Du “NuckleDu” Dang, Justin Wong, Kun Xian Ho, Arman “Phenom” Hanjani, Naoto Sako, Li-wei “Oil King” Lin, Keita “Fuudo” Ai, Benjamin “Problem X” Simon, Masato “Bonchan” Takahashi, Naoki “Nemo” Nemoto, Saul “MenaRD” Mena, Yusuke Momochi, Ryo “Dogura” Nozaki, Kanamori “gachikun” Tsunehiro
- Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
- Release Date: March 18, 2015 (Arcades); June 2, 2017 (Home consoles)
- Years at Evo: 4
- Total players: 1538
- The big question: Will South Korea keep a stranglehold on competition?
You can’t talk about Tekken without first detailing South Korean domination. For decades, the small nation has produced some of the greatest Tekken competitors in the world, and nothing has changed in the transition to Tekken 7. Last year’s champion Hyun-jin “JDCR” Kim and his Echo Fox teammate Jin-woo “Saint” Choi enter Evo 2018 as favorites, but they’ve been challenged by fellow Korean competitors like Byeong-mun “Qudans” Son and Sang-hyeon “Jeondding” Jeon at every turn.
But there are always some non-Korean players who have the potential to disrupt the expected results of the Tekken 7 finals. Hoa “Anakin” Luu and Joseph “Joey Fury” Bennett both have what it takes to win one for the United States, not to mention Japanese players like Takumi “Noroma” Hamasaki, Daichi “Nobi” Nakayama, Takehiko “Take” Abe, and Kato “Yuu” Yuji. The lesser-known dark horse competitors here are Fergus McGee, Vincent “Super Akouma” Homan, and Nopparut “BooK” Hempamorn, who represent Ireland, France, and Thailand, respectively.
Tekken 7 was released in Japan two years before getting a worldwide release last year, and since then, the rest of the world has stepped up in a big way. This could be the year that someone unexpected infiltrates Evo 2018’s later rounds if they get lucky with their matchups in pools.
Other notable players: Mu-jung “kkokkoma” Ki, Sun-woong “LowHigh” Youn, Terrelle “Lil Majin” Jackson, Hyun-ho “Rangchu” Jung, Jim-yunh “Dimeback” Jeon, Jimmy Tran, Stephen “Speedkicks” Stafford, Jeannail “Cuddle_core” Carter, Tray “P. Ling” Sherman, Chang-bin “Binchang” Moon, Trung “Trungy” Mai, Andreij “Doujin” Albar, Marquis “Shadow 20z” Jordan, Kana “Tanukana” Tani
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: October 3, 2014
- Years at Evo: 3
- Total players: 1354
- The big question: Is Bayonetta strong enough to grab another championship?
Similar to how Street Fighter V discussion has centered on Cammy’s overall strength, the biggest conversation in the Super Smash Bros. for Wii U community is about Bayonetta. Hailing from the action series of the same name, this artful, flighty witch has become a constant in competition since her addition to the game in 2016.
Bayonetta players, like last year’s Evo champion Saleem “Salem” Young, Gavin “Tweek” Dempsey, and Tamim “Mistake” Omary, have done a number on tournaments throughout the year, and there’s no doubt that Bayonetta is a strong character. But let’s keep this in perspective: those Bayonetta mains have also proven themselves as strong competitors even when they don’t use her. Tournament results show that Final Fantasy’s Cloud, The Legend of Zelda’s Sheik, and Super Mario’s Rosalina can also creep up the ranks, thanks in part to players like Nairoby “Nairo” Quezada, James “VoiD” Makekau-Tyson, and Samuel “Dabuz” Buzby.
Unfortunately, the fighting game community tends to hyper-focus on specific characters, which can be a huge disservice to the players who use them. With Smash Smash Bros. Ultimate coming out this year, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U could see its last hurrah at Evo this year, and its players have the opportunity to put their best foot forward. Bayonetta might just walk away with another crown, but that doesn’t mean the players who use her don’t deserve the gold.
Other notable players: Brian “Cosmos” Kalu, Zack “CaptainZack” Lauth, Rei “komorikiri” Furukawa, Yuta “Abadango” Kawamura, Larry “Larry Lurr” Holland, Matt “Elegant” Fitzpatrick, Jason “ANTi” Bates, Tetsuya “Raito” Ishiguro, Eric “ESAM” Lew, Takuto “Kameme” Ono, Shuto “Shuton” Moriya, Elliot “Ally” Carroza-Oyarce
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: December 3, 2001
- Years at Evo: 7
- Total players: 1351
- The big question: Can the Gods be stopped?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: for over a decade, a handful of players have dominated Super Smash Bros. Melee competition. Hailed as gods, fans expect these players to win just about any tournament they enter, and grand finals typically come down to figuring out which one will walk away champion and which will be runner-up.
These gods—Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, Adam “Armada” Lindgren, Jason “Mew2King Zimmerman, and Joseph “Mang0” Marquez—are still the odds-on favorites to win Super Smash Bros. Melee at Evo 2018, but there has never been a better time for someone new to bring down Olympus. Players like Justin “Plup” McGrath, William “Leffen” Hjelte, Justin “Wizzrobe” Hallett, Jeffrey “Axe” Williamson, and Zachary “SFAT” Cordoni have been a constant thorn in the sides of the Melee deities, and it will be up to them to ensure the Evo title doesn’t go to one of the gods for the sixth year in a row.
Other notable players: Masaya “aMSa” Chikamoto, Zain Naghmi, Johnny “S2J” Kim, Jose “Lucky” Aldama, James “Swedish Delight” Liu, Hugo “HugS” Gonzalez, Kevin “PewPewU” Toy, Weston “Westballz” Dennis, James “Duck” Ma, Dajuan “Shroomed” McDaniel, Mustafa “Ice” Akcakaya, Ryan “La Luna” Coker-Welch, Colin “Colbol” Green
- Developer: Arc System Works
- Release date: May 31, 2018
- Years at Evo: 1
- Total players: 1178
- The big question: Can this young game produce fresh talent?
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is a brand new game that sees characters from the eponymous BlazBlue franchise cross swords, fists, and paws with the Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY universes. The result is a frenetic, anime-inspired fighter that features a number of unique mechanics.
That said, the freshness of the game hasn’t necessarily translated to a rise of new talent. Many of the players finding success in BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle are familiar sights in high-level competition, including BlazBlue players like Jachin “SKD” Harte, Ryuji “DORA_BANG” Utsumi, and Shoji “Fenritti” Sho. Their matches are sure to be exciting, but let’s hope some unknown competitors emerge and kick off some upsets this weekend.
Other notable players: Tsutomu “kubo” Kubota, Jeronte “Fame96” Latham, Jason “Kid Viper” El-Srouji, Hiroyuku “Kyamei” Kamei, Jenson “OmniSScythe” Hibbert, Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue, Kazuyuki “kojiKOG” Koji, Armando “TheArm” Velez, Moke “mokemoti” Moti, Jason “GcYoshi13” Wang, Genki “ABEGEN” Abe, Cody “T-Loc” Coleman, Jona Kim, Julian “Beautifuldude” Franco, Christian “Clim” Lim, Cole “Flux” Tocci
- Developer: Arc System Works
- Release Date: March 30, 2017 (Arcades); May 26, 2017 (Home consoles)
- Years at Evo: 2
- Total players: 629
- The big question: How far will Japan go?
There’s only one Evo prediction that’s safe to make every single year: Japan will absolutely dominate Guilty Gear. Since the introduction of the Xrd series three years ago, only three total finalists have hailed from other nations (Joshua “Zidane” Rodriguez in 2015, then Gyung-woo “TopGaren” Yu and Kyohei “MarlinPie” Lehr in 2016), and they were quickly eliminated as soon as matches moved into the top eight. This year doesn’t look like it’ll be any different.
Japanese attendance at Evo 2018 is a veritable who’s who of Guilty Gear talent, including previous champions Hashimoto Omito and Masahiro “Machabo” Tominaga. And although American players may not win the finals, there are still a few who can make the greats sweat a little this weekend. Hometown fans can expect players like Eli “LostSoul” Rabadad, Jason “Kid Viper” El-Srouji, Keenan “Kizzie Kay” Kizzie, Steve “Mr. K” Shannon, and Jamaal “Ryyudo” Graves to act as spoilers throughout all levels of competition.
If you’re looking for some deep cuts, don’t miss matches featuring a Japanese player named Mocchi. At a special exhibition held in Japan last month, Mocchi defeated Omito by a hair, proving that even the upper echelons of competition need to protect their necks when it comes to Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2 at Evo.
Other notable players: Nage, “FAB” Oshida, Tsutsui “TAKA” Takaaki, Ryota “Kazunoko” Inoue, kedako, Harukuni “Fumo” Suga, Hisatoshi “Rion” Usui, Fukuda “Teresa” Norihiro, Mike “ElvenShadow” Boczar, Bryant “Foo” Beaveridge, Kyohei “MarlinPie” Lehr, Josh “NerdJosh” Jodoin, Genki “ABEGEN” Abe, Peter “daymendou” Liao, Alain “BjornSonOfBear” Kim, Jae-won “Daru I-No” Kim
- Developer: NetherRealm Studios
- Release Date: May 16, 2017
- Years at Evo: 2
- Total players: 363
- The big question: Can Injustice 2 provide one more year of excellence?
With SonicFox shifting most of his focus to Dragon Ball FighterZ and last year’s world champion Ryan “Dragon” Walker having exiled himself from most of the competitive circuit, Injustice 2 could be the most wide-open game in the Evo 2018 lineup. There are some favorite players, but it’s hard to pin down just one with a massive advantage over the others.
Bet on Canadian brothers Matthew “Biohazard” Commandeur and Tim “Honeybee” Commandeur making waves throughout the entire tournament, as well as Tommy Tweedy, Andrew “Semiij” Fontanez, and George “Grr” Foulkes, the champions of major Injustice competitions at Combo Breaker, Community Effort Orlando, and Defend the North, respectively.
The real question with Injustice 2 is how it performs in what is likely its last year at Evo. The game has the fewest competitors and has its finals scheduled earliest in the weekend. Many were surprised to see the game invited back for a second round due to the way the NetherRealm Studios community tends to jump from one game to the other, but with no Mortal Kombat 11 in sight, players have stuck with the DC Comics fighter for another year.
Other notable players: Daris “DR_Gross” Daniel, Alexandre “Hayatei” Dubé-Bilodeau, Brad “Scar” Vaughn, George “Nubcakes” Silva, Curtis “Rewind” McCall, Sayed “Tekken Master” Hashem, Nicolas “whiteBoi” Andersen, Mo “SylverRye” Amaechi, Baraa “Shark Teeth” Aljaadi, Christian “Forever King” Quiles, Denom “A F0xy Grampa” Jones, Jivan “Theo” Karapetian, Leif “Buffalo” Boisvert, Aric “Dab” Dabajae
With so many games and players in one place, Evo 2018 will again spread its events out over a bevy of live streams to make sure everyone at home can keep up with as much of the action as possible. The extensive image below should help you stay informed. Fans who can’t decide which stream to choose should definitely keep an eye on The Jump-Off. This recap broadcast shifts from game to game and match to match in an effort to provide the biggest moments from every tournament on a regular basis.
Evo 2018 will also host a huge number of side tournaments, run by folks in the community who didn’t see their games chosen for the main event. The biggest of these, AnimEvo, will feature competition in games like Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[st], Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, Vampire Savior, Sailor Moon S, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Windjammers, Catherine, and many, many more. Some of these will even see their finals played on stage and broadcast on an official Evo channel.
Separate side tournaments include Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Pokken Tournament DX, Soulcalibur VI, Fighting EX Layer, and Dead or Alive 5: Last Round. In short: if a fighting game exists, you’re sure to find at least two people playing it at Evo 2018.
Ian Walker loves fighting games and writing about them. You can find him on Twitter at @iantothemax.