The Evolution Championship Series 2022 wrapped up last night, capping a weekend full of some of the most fun I’ve ever had watching competitive video gaming. MultiVersus made its EVO debut, despite still being in open beta; some new games were teased or announced; and for a glorious moment, the Twitter gaming community (or at least my corner of it) came together to witness an incredible Street Fighter V grand finals.
I started my EVO weekend watching Skullgirls 2nd Encore. I was dimly aware of the game, only knowing it was a quirky-looking fighting game with a rocky development history. I only tuned in because Dominique “SonicFox” McLean was competing, and they are a treat to watch. It’s always fun with these kinds of tournaments to watch storylines unfold. With Skullgirls, in particular, SonicFox had a teammate in the Top 8 bracket, Jon “dekillsage” Coello.
The two met in the winners final of the double elimination bracket with SonicFox sending dekillsage down to the losers bracket handily with a 3-0 win. From there, dekillsage tore through the losers bracket, made it to the grand finals to face SonicFox again, and beat SonicFox 3-0 to “reset” the bracket, forcing the teammates to play one more match to decide the winner. SonicFox eventually prevailed, beating dekillsage 3-2, hugging his friend and teammate for a match extremely well fought.
EVO’s excitement could not be contained to just the main stage, it also spilled into the commentator’s booth. Have you ever seen a commentator so damned hyped for the reveal of a new Skullgirls character they threw their wig? No?
Well, now you have.
Developers whose games were featured at EVO 2022 took the opportunity to announce new content for their franchises, too. After the conclusion of The King of Fighters XV Top 8, SNK Playmore announced, that after 20 years, a new Fatal Frame had been green-lit.
Bandai Namco teased something regarding Tekken that seemed like a suggestion to tune into the Tekken World Tournament global finals to learn more.
EVO 2022 climaxed in the event’s penultimate tournament, Street Fighter V. (Although I’m sure Guilty Gear Strive had equally impressive moments, it was 1AM ET by the time that tournament started and some folks have jobs in the morning, y’know?) Part of the beauty of EVO is that it’s an international tournament. Players come from all over the world to compete, and each game has a country that dominates the leaderboard. Skullgirls was an American affair. The Dragon Ball FighterZ bracket was almost entirely French, and Street Fighter V was, predictably, filled with Japanese players.
It’s a little gauche, bordering on violent jingoism, to have pride in one’s country, especially as a Black American, but in competitive sports, it’s “America, fuck yeah!” all day. Enter, Derek ”iDom” Ruffin, one of the only two Americans left in the Street Fighter V tournament.
iDom started in the losers bracket, eliminating France’s Mister Crimson 3-1. He then had to face a legend in the Street Fighter and video game community at large — Daigo “The Beast” Umehara. Competitive gaming is a young person’s game; 25 is ancient in esports years. Umehara is 41 years old, and he’s been kicking ass in Street Fighter for more than 20 years. He’s got over six EVO championships and cemented his place in video game history when, during EVO 2004, he beat Justin Wong in Street Fighter III: Third Strike with a move even the most casual video game fan will recognize.
Yeah, he’s that guy, and iDom tore through him as though he were wet tissue paper. If that wasn’t enough, the Street Fighter V tournament boasted another Japanese fighting game community elder statesman, Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi. He, too, fell to iDom. It’s important to note an American has not won a Street Fighter tournament at EVO since 2010, and it looked like iDom might be the one to end the drought. Watching him fight was electrifying. He had this icy calmness to him, able to read and anticipate his opponents’ moves in ways that can best be described as precognition.
He was just completely dialed into the game and his craft as he felled opponent after opponent to reach the grand finals. And as he fought, the excitement spilled over onto Twitter as the gaming community came together, united in a single purpose, to give this man all our energy to win.
Spontaneous collective outbursts like that remind me why gaming is such a fun and rewarding hobby. It’s all of your friends and colleagues coming together, losing our collective minds as a guy we don’t know shows us what it looks like when a game is played at its highest level. The expertise on display, the excitement, the sheer joy of being in a shared mindset like that is unrivaled. And when iDom eventually fell in a heartbreaking 3-2 match after beating Masaki “Kawano” Kawano to reset the bracket, it didn’t matter. iDom played fantastically, he became our American hero, and no loss could take that feeling away.
I do not have any meaningful history with or nostalgia for fighting games, but my god do I love EVO. EVO is good. EVO unites us, and I can’t wait to watch EVO return to Japan in 2023.