Evo: A look at another face of esports
This weekend, there isn’t a lot in the way of Dota or CSGO to keep you entertained, and with the Overwatch circus already packed up and on their way to the next sales pitch that’s all of esports gone dark, right? Wrong. In Las Vegas, tucked between the gaudy casinos and totally organic PUBG invitationals that are definitely esports there is an event called the Evolution Championship Series, or Evo for short, that is as esports as esports gets, sort of.
For those not in the know, Evo is essentially a massive LAN party for the fighting game community, or FGC as it’s known. There are many people online who love to debate if all the games at Evo are technically fighting games, and therefore part of the FGC, but equally there are many people who will debate the value of vaccines for children, or whether the earth is flat. That comparison should tell you how helpful and up-to-date those people are, and what their place in esports might be in the future…
More than 7,000 competitors
Over the course of three days, eight different games will complete an open bracket system, in one venue, with more than 7,000 competitors being narrowed down to eight champions. The prize money is not impressive, in contrast to a CSGO Major, let alone The International, and the way the money is structured depends to some extent on how many turn up to play.
Simply put, if 300 people enter a tournament, the total prize pool for that tournament will be $3000 ($300 x 10), paying out $1800 to first place (60% of $3000), $600 to second place (20% of $3000), and $300 to third place (10% of $3000), and so on. More entrants means more money, and some developers will beef up the pot too, for headlines and the chance to sell a few more copies of whatever it is that they are flogging this year.
In absolute terms, the largest prize pool Evo has seen was just over $100k, for last year’s Street Fighter V championship, and the winning player took home $50k or so. That’s not a bad payday, but compared with the average payout at a major CSGO event it looks a bit paltry, and like everything in esports, it pales in comparison to the way The International prize pool works, and looks. Still, money isn’t everything, and Evo is absolute proof of that fact.
Passion over pay
The passion of the fans at this event is on a different level than many of those who are new to the scene may have experienced in the past. Where Blizzard’s ‘richest league in esports’ struggles to break 150k viewers despite buckets of money being poured into Overwatch, Evo has seen that number tune in for major finals on multiple occasion. You might argue it’s not fair to compare the lowest weeks of OWL with a final at Evo, of course, and I’d agree. Given the investment in OWL they should never, ever be in the same ballpark, regardless of phase.
This year, the final day will give prominence to Street Fighter again, as well as the new Dragon Ball title, which has a strong scene with a very definite favourite in Goichi ‘GO1’ Kishida, former god of Melty Blood, and current dominant force in Dragon Ball. However, there is a man in GO1’s way that is attempting to do the impossible, and compete at the top level in two games simultaneously.
That man is William ‘Leffen’ Hjelte, one of the top five players in Super Smash Bros Melee and top 15 in the aforementioned Dragon Ball FighterZ, to give it its full name. There have been other multigame threats at this event before, but what Leffen is trying to do is leagues harder than has been seen before, with Melee the most technically challenging fighting game at the event, and possibly of all time.
Return of the Beast
Leffen’s challenge is made all the more onerous by the fact he’s never actually won Evo before, for any game, but the man representing TSM has learned a lot playing DBZ and will feel confident in his ability coming in. There may be questions about his stamina after three days of play (Leffen plays the most demanding character in Melee, Fox, while most of his main competition have much easier characters to use on a technical level), but in terms of ability the Swede has all the tools to make history.
The main event is sure to be Street Fighter though, and the return of a legend. All eyes should be on Daigo Umehara, AKA ‘The Beast’, as he seeks his fifth title in that game series, having taken wins in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010. If he makes it a fifth in 2018, with a fifteen year career at the pinnacle of the game, the Japanese legend will secure himself a place in the all-time pantheon of esports, if he’s not there already, and his legacy will be intrinsically tied to Evo.
Whatever the outcome, though, Sunday will see eight champions crowned, with eight dreams coming true, in a tournament that remembers esports in 2003. If the Overwatch League died tomorrow, it would be missed, but people would go back to their FPS of choice, and that will be the case for many years to come. Evo is part of the esports landscape, and a perfect example of the organic growth that got us to where we are today. Built on love, and not money.