It’s that time of year, ladies and gentlemen. As players from all around the world descend on Las Vegas for the Olympics of fighting games, it’s time for us pundits to break out the crystal ball and predict who will do well at Evo 2017. Swapping places with its big brother Melee, Super Smash Bros for Wii U is getting a Sunday final, acting as the penultimate game of the event. The Smash 4 landscape has certainly changed a great deal since last year’s event, buoyed by more tournaments, higher production values, and more players rising to the top. While a consistent global top 10 has started to coalesce, it is really anyone’s game going into Evo 2017.
The massive influx of non-US players to North American tournaments has been a real shot in the arm for the Smash 4 scene, as hidden bosses and hometown heroes from faraway lands have been able to strut their stuff on the biggest stages. 2GG’s Saga events and the efforts of organizations like MVG have been influential in turning Smash 4 into a global competition over the past year, by getting foreign players to huge tournaments, and by making international events more accessible to a worldwide audience. Top Japanese players like tsu, KEN, Hikaru, T, Shuton and Raito have been able to prove their skills outside of Japan, while English streams of Tokaigi 2017 and Umebura Japan Major have allowed Western audiences a window into the wealth of talent that has yet to make the trip overseas.
Much like in Street Fighter V, the younger generation are really starting to nip at the heels of the Brawl veterans who previously dominated. Players like Echo Fox|MVG|MKLeo, P1|CaptainZack and Marss are becoming regular faces in top 8s, displacing many players who were once certainties to make the final stages of a large event. Factor in compendiums, which give lesser-known players a chance to cause an upset, and you’re guaranteed excitement from the beginning to the end of a major. If you thought pools were dangerous last year, getting to top 64 of some events can be as difficult as winning a regional event. Smash 4 has become no less volatile since last year, so you won’t want to miss any of the action.
Similar to my preview last year, I’m going to focus on eight players you should watch out for, rather than focusing on the same players and storylines that you’re no doubt familiar with. Also like last time, I have divided this list into four US players and four Japanese players to provide some international flavor. None of these players appeared on last year’s list, and none of them are in the Panda Global Rankings top 10, so you’ll probably find someone new that you aren’t aware of.
BSD|Elegant (USA) – It’s Always the Year of Luigi
The best Luigi in the world at the moment and rank 25 on the current PGR, Elegant has risen through the ranks to be one of the kings of SoCal. With regular victories at both Mega Smash Mondays and Wednesday Night Fights, Elegant has started to take names on the national level with high placements at 2GGC: Nairo Saga, 2GGC: Greninja Saga, Genesis 4 and Midwest Mayhem 6. Once he gets a grab, Elegant’s Luigi is absolutely relentless, often racking up 70% from a single opening. If you’re near the ledge, you best beware as one well-placed down air or offstage Luigi Tornado will send you plummeting to your doom.
His improvement over the past few months has been nothing short of astonishing, with the green machine racking up victories over MKLeo, CaptainZack, MVG|Salem and YP|Fatality to name but a few. As long as he holds his nerve in tricky matchups, Elegant could go far in the tournament. Based on current projections, Elegant will easily make it to the second round of pools, with his first real roadblock being Mr. R in the match before semi-finals. Luigi does have it rough against Sheik, but Elegant’s constant practice against SoCal Sheik CLG|VoiD should put him in good stead to fight the Dutch ninja. In any case, expect to see Elegant in top 64, with the potential to go even further in bracket.
Takera (Japan) – Kanto’s World Warrior
As one of Japan’s best Ryu players, along with Kansai’s Chanshu and Kyoto’s Jan, Takera is making his first overseas debut at Evo 2017. Renowned in Kanto for the weekly tournaments he holds at his house where many of his region’s top players train against each other, Takera came to the attention of many through his performance at Umebura Japan Major. Defeating top players like taiheita and Atelier, Takera took seventh place and proved a Ryu to keep on the radar.
Since then, Takera has been venturing to more local events, gaining first place at Toryumon’s weekly event twice and gaining 5th at Umebura 27 last weekend. His Ryu has come on leaps and bounds as a result, with Takera defeating players like MKLeo, KEN, tsu and LG|Abadango at recent events. His movement with Ryu is something to behold, using Focus Attack as a way to weave in and out of situations. He still has difficulty overcoming his demon Kirihara, but his first trip abroad should give him ample time to train his fists.
Based on the current brackets, Takera’s first roadblock is going to be another Rosalina, as he is projected to face RNG|Dabuz in the second round of pools. It will be a trial by fire for the World Warrior, but his experience fighting against Kirihara may give him the advantage to triumph over Dabuz. If he wins that match, Takera will have to fight against 9B in order to get into Top 64. 9B was the man who put Takera into Losers at Umebura Japan Major, so he’s got quite the mountain to climb if he wants to make it into Top 64 on the Winners side.
Locus (Canada) – The Fist of the North
Carrying on from his success at ZeRo Saga at the end of last year, Locus has been a regular face in the top 64 of any tournament he attends in 2017. With top 8 finishes at 2GGC: Civil War, 2GGC: Greninja Saga and DreamHack Austin, Locus has taken up the torch left by Trela as the best North American Ryu. While Takera is known for his amazing movement, Locus is famous for his outstanding pressure game. You are never safe when fighting his Ryu, with one mistake either leading into a True Shoryuken or a spike into the abyss. For his efforts, Locus earned the rank of 22 on the current PGR.
With victories over NRG|Nairo, Mr. R and Shuton, Locus certainly has the ability to take down some of the upper echelon of players. His first major test at Evo will be facing down Abadango in the second round of pools, with the winner qualifying into the Winners side of top 64. The set count is currently 1-0 in Locus’ favor, but Abadango’s pocket full of characters could trip the Canadian Street Fighter up, especially if Bayonetta takes the stage.
Eim (Japan) – The Hidden Ninja
A last minute edition to the Japanese cohort after Shuton had to pull out, Eim has stepped into the fray to take his place. As one of Japan’s best Sheiks and rank 38 on the Japan Power Ranking, this hidden ninja does have the potential to shake up the brackets, should Western players underestimate him.
Hailing from Tohoku, Eim has been a constant presence at Umebura, with his results ranging from 49th to second, as seen at Umebura 26. That landmark run had the Sheik starting in Losers, forcing him to defeat taranito, KEN, Raito and Yuzu to get to Grand Finals. Elsewhere on his Smash 4 resume, Eim has taken sets off of Earth, taiheita and somé, meaning he is most definitely a threat to anyone who might come across him.
His path to top 64 is a tough one, as he is projected to face Salem in round two pools. He’ll have to pull every trick in the book to defeat one of the USA’s best Bayonettas, but his previous sets against ikep may have prepared him for such an opponent. If he loses to Salem, he’ll most likely have to fight JK — yet another Bayonetta — if he wants to make it into top 64.
Samsora (USA) – Long live the Princess
The pride of Louisiana alongside CaptainZack, Samsora’s Peach has been constantly improving since last year. With seventh at Midwest Mayhem 8 and fifth at CEO Dreamland, alongside ninth place finishes at Nairo and Midwest Mayhem Saga, he certainly has the ability to go far within the shark-infested Evo bracket. He’s gained some impressive wins along the way too, defeating the likes of VoiD, Raito, DNG|Kameme, PG|Esam and even fellow doubles partner CaptainZack.
Based on bracket projections, Samsora’s got quite the tough fight in round 2 pools, as he must overcome both eM|Zenyou and 2GG|komorikiri to get to top 64. Peach is a rarely seen character in Smash 4, so the combination of Samsora’s exacting neutral game and lack of match-up knowledge may become crucial in determining his victory. While he is projected to defeat Zenyou’s combo-heavy plumber, komorikiri’s Cloud will prove quite the challenge for Peach, thanks to the swordsman’s great anti-air capabilities and air speed.
ikep (Japan) – Sucker for the Witch
Tied for the best Bayonetta in Japan alongside 9B, ikep is making his first US appearance at Evo. A regular competitor at both Sumbato and Karisuma events, ikep’s Bayonetta will kill you if he manages to land a decent hit. His skill with the Umbra Witch has resulted in him gaining victories over 17 of Japan’s top 50, including players like Shuton, Kameme, 9B, Earth and You3.
He is quite the decorated Bayonetta too, having taken the gold at Umebura 26, the Sumabato Tokaigi Qualifier and Karisuma 11. Despite only starting to compete properly back in March of last year, ikep has quickly risen up the ranks of the Japan Power Ranking, with him currently occupying the 12th place spot.
His path to Top 64 is not an easy one, as he is currently projected to face Mr.R in the second round of pools, with Elegant being his next opponent if he manages to win. Ikep has experience fighting against Eim’s Sheik, but he may not be prepared for the oppressive ledge traps of Mr. R.
Cosmos (USA) – The Dragon Awakes
Arguably the best Corrin in the USA, the youngest player on this list and second on the Texas PR, Cosmos is hoping to make a splash at Evo 2017. With school work and other life commitments taking priority, Cosmos has mainly been training via online events, with him gaining first at both PG Key events for Genesis 4 and Frostbite. When he has been able to enter offline tournaments, his Corrin has managed to defeat players like Elegant, Ally, CaptainZack and Esam to name but a few. His last offline appearance was at Midwest Mayhem 9, which saw him gaining seventh place; an impressive showing after a mixed performance at Nairo Saga.
His path to top 64 is difficult, but not insurmountable. His first major opponent looks to be CaptainZack, followed by EG|Zinoto in order to qualify in Winners for top 64. Cosmos and Zack have traded sets in the past, so their match has the potential to go either way. As for Zinoto, the two fought back at last year’s The Big House, with Cosmos taking it 2-1. However, Zinoto’s region does contain fellow top Corrin Ryuga, so expect the Michigan Diddy to be fully prepared for the match-up.
Edge (Japan) – A Return of a Legend
The majority of the players on this list are new faces to Smash; players who came into the scene upon the release of Smash 4. The final entry on this list is different, being a player who earned his stripes during the Brawl days. Nicknamed “King” by his compatriots and widely regarded as Japan’s best Brawl player, Edge is hoping to regain that title for Smash 4. He only recently returned to regular competition and has quickly shown why he is such a threat. Not only has he shot up the Japan Power Ranking to gain 15th place, he managed to earn 47th on the PGR in just a few short months.
Since his return, he has made regular top 8s at both Sumabato and Karisuma, with his Diddy vanquishing the likes of Ranai, KEN, Earth and 9B. In his first ever trip to the USA for Greninja Saga, he managed to gain 13th place in singles and third in doubles. At Evo, his path to Top 64 is a perilous one, as he is projected to fight Texas Bayonetta AeroLink and then world’s best Ness and fellow Brawl veteran FOW on his way to Finals of round 2 pools. Outside of taranito, Ness is a seldom-seen character in Japan, meaning Edge will have to quickly learn the match-up if he wants to overcome FOW. Should he manage to defeat the Las Vegas native, Edge is projected to fight NRG|Nairo to qualify into top 64. Unlike FOW, Edge has years’ worth of ZSS experience, having battled against Japan’s best Zero Suit Choco several times in both Brawl and Smash 4. Nairo equally has tons of Diddy experience by way of fighting ZeRo, so this match should be a clash of the titans either way.
Additional source: smash.gg