Evo, the shorthand name for the prestigious Evolution Championship Series fighting game tournament, will be an in-person event again for the first time since 2019. Evo was just one of many events that had to do things differently because of COVID-19, and even though the upcoming Evo will be at a convention center once again, general manager Rick Thiher tells The Verge that things are just different now.
“The market is not the same as it was when we went on hiatus in respect to COVID,” Thiher said. “Having COVID not really fully passed at this time, that hiatus has created new concerns, new needs, and has really restructured expectations both for the workforce and even the endemic tournament organizers that we work with to help put Evo together.”
There are a lot of challenges to work through for this year’s event, according to Thiher. Potential attendees haven’t been going to events regularly because of the pandemic, so they may not be planning for this one. The costs of putting on an event have gone up. And many of the people who assist with putting on the show have moved on to things like other jobs and starting families, or have just gotten out of the practice of helping out with Evo every year.
For players, it’s about making sure the Evo experience lives up to nostalgia and expectation. “What we’re trying to do is make sure that Evo delivers everything that was important and beloved in the experience in 2018 and 2019 and is pivoting in all the ways necessary to make sure that both that nostalgia and that future expectation actually land,” Thiher said. That means focusing on some of the smaller details like adding attendee lounges and hosting community tournaments for games that may not be included in the event’s core lineup.
“I think all of those small tangible ways to both discover and renew fandom is part of why you go to a convention. If you’re going to go take part in something you love, part of what you’re doing there is to reaffirm that love. We’re just really trying to drill down on that.”
It’s been a turbulent couple of years for Evo. An online-only event was planned in 2020, but it was canceled after sexual assault allegations were brought against Evo’s co-founder and president. In 2021, the event was acquired by Sony and RTS, a venture from Endeavor, in what the groups called “a joint venture esports partnership,” and an online-only event did happen over two weekends that August.
Despite the new corporate ownership, Thiher is committed to making an event that still feels like something that represents what the fighting game community wants. “I sit in a room and say yes and say no and consider myself an active member of the community we’re building the show for. If I can’t exit that room feeling like we’re building a show that I would want to go to or be part of, I know we’ve missed the mark and I don’t want to be part of it.”
Evo will take place from August 5th through the 7th at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. You can check out everything that will be at the show on Evo’s website, and just this week, the event organizers announced a special treat for attendees: they’ll have the opportunity to play the highly-anticipated Street Fighter 6 at Capcom and Sony’s booths.