After a two-year hiatus, SNK’s The King of Fighters series returns to the Evo main stage once again with The King of Fighters XIV. However, the road to Evo 2017 has been rather bittersweet for the community. KOF XIV’s competitive following has, at least in the West, been rather more subdued compared to its predecessor — in spite of the fact that The King of Fighters XIV is, from a gameplay standpoint, arguably the best the series has been since the Ultimate Match version of KOF 2002.
Despite the smaller competitive scene, that doesn’t mean that the players’ passion for the game has diminished in the West. This is especially true in the series’ more traditional strongholds within Mexico, Latin America, as well as the United States. Familiar names dominate competitions in this side of the world, with players such as Arcade Shock’s Reynald Tacsuan, Ramon “Romance” Navarrete, Luis Cha, Eric “Juicebox” Albino, Team Spooky’s Josh “NerdJosh” Jodoin, Raphael “Laban” Ramos, Chris “Hellpockets” Fields, and more.
In addition to these are names more commonly associated with other games. While Evil Geniuses Christopher “NYChrisG” Gonzales competed in The King of Fighters XIII, he seems to have found more success in The King of Fighters XIV, with a recent top 8 finish at CEO 2017. Meanwhile, one of ChrisG’s rivals in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Black Eye’s Nicolas “Kane Blueriver” Gonzales has also done well in KOFXIV, actually qualifying for this year’s The King of Fighters XIV World Championship in Japan.
The King of Fighters XIV however has found more success as a competitive game outside of the West, specifically in China. During The King of Fighters XIV World Championship, most of the top 8 finalists were Chinese players. First and foremost among these is DouyuTV’s Zhoujun “Xiao Hai” Zheng, who arguable be the strongest KOFXIV player in the world at the moment. Another strong Chinese player is PandaTV’s Haojun “Dakou” Su. These two are joined by a host of other top Chinese players from teams such as DouyuTV, HuomaoTV, and PandaTV.
Of course, other countries and regions have strong The King of Fighters XIV representation as well. Japanese player M’, who is arcade hardware company Sanwa Denshi’s first sponsored player, made a name for himself by winning The King of Fighters XIV World Championship. Meanwhile, Korea has also traditionally strong KOF scene, and Evo 2012 King of Fighters XIII champion Kwang-noh “MadKOF” Lee still remains a big threat, and could take it all again if he returns to Las Vegas [and it turns out that he is – Editor]. Meanwhile, Europe also has a strong The King of Fighters XIV scene, with players such as Frionel and Alioune Camara also having strong showings at The King of Fighters XIV World Championship.
All in all, despite the low turnout, the possibility of big name international competitors converging in Las Vegas make The King of Fighters XIV at Evo one of the hypest tournaments yet. The multi-national nature of the KOF competitions at Evo has always energized the crowd — raising the stakes by unifying spectators by country or nation of choice. At times, KOF at Evo feels almost like a World Cup soccer game, where national pride is on the line. With this in mind, The King of Fighters XIV at Evo 2017 may yet show that it’s not the size of the community, but their passion that counts!