Ever since I first became involved with the Fighting Game Community in 2017, attending the Evolution Championship Series has been a goal for me. This year, I finally achieved that goal with the rest of Equinox Gaming. Even though I did not compete this year, EVO was still an eye-opening experience for me regarding how much I still have to learn about fighting games. The weekend was long and tiring but well worth it. Watching the Equinox players compete only added to the intensity. The memories made at my first ever EVO are some that I will remember forever.
Before Evo, the only major FGC event that I had attended was Combo Breaker. This year I attended Combo Breaker with Equinox, while in 2018 I attended with Echo Fox. As a Midwest native, Combo Breaker set the bar high for what a Fighting Game event should be. A great culmination of competition, friendship and Midwestern hospitality. I have a unique perspective having entered into the FGC through the wider industry of esports. I was thrust into working with some of the best competitors fighting games have to offer, something that has not changed since I joined Equinox at the end of 2018.
My first impression of the main venue, after waiting for more than an hour in line to get in, was the size of the event was overwhelming. Everyone knows of EVO as the largest fighting game tournament in the world, but it’s hard to grasp the true scale until you see the venue in person. Even with the massive menagerie of players and games, the venue was surprisingly easy to navigate. I was quickly able to figure out game locations as well as ZOWIE booth where Equinox was often found throughout the weekend.
Unfortunately, I did not have much time to explore because I needed to go find the rest of the team and our competitors who had already begun their pools. Little did I know, I would spend almost all my time on Friday and Saturday at either the Tekken setups, the Street Fighter V area, or at the ZOWIE booth. Though many members of the Equinox stream team competed at EVO as well, I spent the majority of my time photographing and helping our TEKKEN and Street Fighter V competitors. Everyone was able to make it out of their pool early on, though not without some added stress.
The majority of the time, if you see me at an event, I will be wearing an Equinox shirt and carrying a camera following around one of our players. I stay close to the stage during games, trying to find a way to watch the match and still be in a position to snag a good shot if the opportunity arises. The vast majority of the pictures taken are never seen because there are lots of duplicates and some relatively boring pictures compared to what’s available at a large tournament like Evo. It all pays off when you’re able to catch the one truly great photo out of the mix. The best photos from the combined efforts of myself and Timo can be seen at the EQNX at EVO Flickr album.
One of the coolest experiences at Evo was getting a chance to watch fans take on Equinox pros at the ZOWIE booth. While some of the challengers came close to taking down the Equinox competitors, our pros did not hold back when it came to protecting the Equinox wristbands. The intensity picked up even more during day two when almost every remaining Equinox player was competing in later phases of the bracket.
It became a constant scramble between pool stations to watch matches and take a few photos before moving to the next player. I spent so much time in the TEKKEN and Street Fighter area that I never even made it over to the other half of the venue to watch other matches for Smash Bros. or Mortal Kombat. I had to fully rewatch Top 8 for Dragon Ball FighterZ when I returned home only having been able to catch glimpses of one of the most exciting Top 8's of the weekend during the actual tournament.
Luckily, after games finally wrapped for each day, there was plenty of time to relax and hang out with the rest of the team. I got to catch up with the rest of the Equinox family I had not seen since Combo Breaker and meet those who had been unable to attend back in May. I even spent an excessive amount of money on wings while getting dinner on Saturday (seriously, I could get twice as many wings for a third of the price back in Iowa). Even though neither of us were competing, Timo and I got plenty of TEKKEN practice during our downtime. However, the practice may not have been very efficient since it devolved into both of us playing Paul trying to Death Fist the other until someone won.
If I thought the regular EVO venue was impressive, I was not prepared for the Sunday finals arena. A venue that rivaled some of the largest indoor sports arenas from my home state, and it was packed full with people ready to watch some of the best fighting game matches in the world. Over 9,000 competitors across nine different games and only a select few got the opportunity to prove themselves on the main EVO stage. I only ended up attending the Tekken top eight with the rest of the Equinox, but it was amazing to see how everything had come together. While every match was exciting, the display of pure skill and game knowledge during grand finals blew me away. Arslan Ash dominated the tournament and it felt like a special occasion to witness him win his first Evo title.
Overall, EVO was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, none of the Equinox players qualified for a chance to play in the Sunday venue but watching them compete at the highest level was still amazing to watch. I fully expect all of them to continue fighting for a chance in their respective game’s tour championship. Like most major tournaments, Evo renewed my resolve to play fighting games. Only this time, I decided to also pick up Dragon Ball FighterZ and Guilty Gear because what’s the point of being bad at just Tekken when I can be bad at many different games. I cannot wait for the next event I can attend to cheer on my Equinox teammates.
Make sure to follow Tanner "FireWolf" Hinders on Twitter.