It’s official: Evo Japan was a huge success. Mark “MarkMan” Julio has already assured the public that the tournament will be back in 2019. As an observer of the event, I can’t speak for people who were on the ground there — I sadly couldn’t attend this year. However, there was a lot to take away from Evo Japan from the Street Fighter V tournament alone, and the event itself showed us a lot more than we could have ever expected.
Infiltration Is(n’t) Back
I was already proclaiming that Infiltration was back even before his success at Capcom Cup’s last chance qualifier, where he finished second place. He showed how dangerous he was becoming even with his win at Wednesday Night Fights before the event. It was enough that when I was thinking of a list of potential Capcom Cup finalists for this year, he was a no-brainer for me.
This weekend saw him doing everything to prove that correct. He had an amazing tear through the winners bracket of Evo Japan with his newly-minted Menat, mowing down good and bad match-ups. Even falling short against John Takeuchi in Winners Finals showed how strong he was, as his Juri started to catch up to Takeuchi’s Rashid. Making Grand Finals, he kept his streak alive — as he has maintained a perfect 5-0 record in winning Evo titles if he makes Grand Finals.
But it isn’t just his play that has alluded to his return to his former glory. Even in 2016 when I interviewed him at Canada Cup — after his Evo 2016 win, and during his downturn — he seemed to lack the confidence that is typically attributed to Infiltration. However, from December 2017 on, we saw the return of his confident-yet-nonchalant attitude. From joking around with Punk at WNF and pretending he can’t speak English to him, to throwing a little shade in his closing statements at Evo Japan, one thing is clear: Whether Infiltration wants to admit he was gone, in the eyes of the public, he is fully back — if he ever really left at all. And in the eyes of the Capcom Pro Tour hopefuls, their road just became far more difficult.
Vroom Vroom Scree
At Frosty Faustings, I saw alucarD and THE COOL KID93 make top 8 with big-bodied Abigail and shrugged it off. While not to take away anything from the duo, Frosty was not the at the strongest level in terms of competition for the game, with the biggest names being Wolfkrone, Brian_F, and the sole Capcom Cup participant: Punk.
Come Evo Japan with a far deeper talent pool, and we had the same result; two Abigails in top 8, this time in the form of Itabashi Zangief and StormKUBO.
It’s likely up until the beginning of the CPT, the debate will rage on as to whether this character — who was already considered strong in 2017, and received considerable buffs in Season 3 — needs nerfed prior to the start of the season. Given how close we are to that happening, the odds are Capcom will not do so. They came under fire in 2011 for nerfing Sentinel in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 just a month after the game released — something the community derided as a knee-jerk reaction to initial frustration with the character. This is likely something that the development teams at the company will remember, and should hope to avoid.
It’s likely that we will see changes to the character, but that may well wait until the end of the season. Will that do much to stem an influx of Abigail mains? Quite possibly, but I wouldn’t say it’s going to deter existing mains from doing damage. alucarD is a known player of big bodies, and having played Hugo in Ultra Street Fighter IV, this is right in his wheelhouse. The same goes for StormKUBO — the former T. Hawk main — who finally got his chance to shine in his home country using the character. COOL KID looks far more comfortable with the character than his former main Rashid, and will likely still do a great deal of damage if he travels this season. He also used Alex in Season 1, so it’s obvious that he understands the character archetype well.
The biggest question is how necessary nerfs are. Two tournaments seem too early to state this, but on the same token, people were already crying for nerfs to the character in 2017, only to find the exact opposite happened. Despite this, we have yet to see an Abigail win a major event outside of Red Bull Battlegrounds. StormKUBO looked primed over the weekend, prior to Tokido adapting and cutting him short. Itazan knee-jerked off of the character in top 8, and fell to Daigo while using Zangief. Ultimately — at least until changes invariably come — the rest of the world needs to follow Tokido’s example and do our homework against the character.
Out of the Woodwork
With Japanese players having dominated Evo in the United States, we have often heard talk of killers hiding in the shadows of arcades in Japan that were equally if not more dangerous than the ones attending Evo. While we saw no one in Evo Japan top 8 who hadn’t already had their name out there, we finally got a taste in the rest of the bracket.
Powell made waves by putting Evo 2017 champion Tokido into losers bracket in the first round of pools. When he later took on Alex Myers, we saw a stable Cammy player who had some amazing fundamentals but turned on the heat in unique ways. We also had relative unknowns Rinta, Narikun, and Yossan play solidly, and stay within the hunt, either making top 32 or just finishing outside.
Not only this, but there were countries represented in the top 128 that are rarely seen in the deepest portion of brackets at Evo US. Players from Thailand, Russia, Sweden, Australia, and the Philippines were represented by Book, flcl, Brick, bksama, and Jamse respectively, who proved that their scene can hang with anybody else in the world. Names were already out there, such as Tse4444, also had incredible runs that suggested that if they travel more, we could see them near the top of the leaderboard on the Capcom Pro Tour.
This tournament certainly allowed for names we’d never see otherwise to showcase their talents, and made this one of the more exciting tournaments of recent history. Hopefully, this will be motivation enough for players like this to make it to more events, should finances permit.
Some Things Change
It was easy to see a divide between Evo Japan and Evo US, especially looking at the top 8. While many commentators talked about how the event reminded them of earlier Evo tournaments — prior to the explosion in numbers in 2016 — the top 8 festivities were a far cry away from what we saw in Las Vegas.
One thing that you can’t help but notice — because it was so blatant — was the pervasive commercialism that the tournament exhibited. This is something that people quick to buck against the commercialism that comes along with fighting games entering the realm of esports are quick to decry, and something that — amazingly awesome commercial segues from Sajam aside — has not invaded Evo US in such an obvious way quite yet.
But when you step back and think, you have to realize that without sponsors such as Nissin, Evo Japan simply could not happen. Whereas Evo US has always had buy-ins for participants, Japanese events cannot do this due to the fact that Japanese gambling laws would prohibit it, and any event that attempted to do so would be shut down faster than you could say “bodied.”
This is also why there was such a disparity between prize money in Japan, versus prize money in Vegas. While there could’ve possibly been more sponsored money for the prize pool, ultimately Infiltration walked away with only $6,000 for his efforts at the event, whereas Tokido walked away with $35,000 for his win last year in Vegas.
Tournaments that have offered cash prizes in Japan have often paled in comparison to their Western counterparts, with Justin Wong having only won $1,000 for winning Super Battle Opera in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in 2012. What matters more is the prestige, and one thing that Japan had that added to the prestige, and it was again thanks to their sponsors.
Nissin provided red jackets to the champion of each game, emblazoned with both theirs and Evo’s logos, making it a coveted item that only seven people in the world now have. This is something I hope remains exclusive to the Japanese version of the tournament, making it special beyond the prize money and the standard Evo trophies.
Some Things Don’t
What didn’t change was what Tokido said at Evo 2017: “Fighting games are something so great.” It was something obvious in the air in Tokyo, and something that hangs in the air of every tournament you go to.
Players from the West were able to go halfway around the world to a tournament, and find the same common denominator in players from the east. Despite the fact that we see Japanese and Asian players frequently on the circuit nowadays, it takes going to their neck of the woods to see that the same passion and hype we have for the game not only translates well to them, it is innate in their love of the games.
We saw the passion from different disciplines of fighting games — from the hugs shared during ARMS, to Majin Obama’s passionate commentary during Guilty Gear Xrd REV 2. We saw players hang their heads, pump their fists, pop off, grimace, and give evil smirks when they got away with something cheap and cheeky. So often, we talk about the Japanese as robotic players, without much emotion creeping out of them. This is despite seeing players like Tokido display exactly that when he wins, GO1 as a crying mess after losing Canada Cup, or even Fuudo’s elation after winning Evo 2011. Seeing the same passion and joy out of them that we experience in their own tournaments shows just how much we have in common.
This is the biggest takeaway from Evo Japan for me, and a reminder for me of my own observations. Having lived in China for only a few months, I spoke very little Mandarin, and managed to find a local arcade where Street Fighter IV players congregated. Despite language barriers, I found the guys there were not unlike everyone else I had ever played against in laughing, taunting, and enjoying the game while critiquing bad play. Even with me, despite my limited knowledge of Chinese and their lack of English skills, we were able to communicate about my own play through gestures or anything that made sense.
We do this because of our common bond of love for this game. It’s a love that surpasses language, race and culture, and becomes our own culture. And that’s what Evo Japan — and Evo in general — exhibits to me: people forming bonds, friendships, and a sort of family that only comes from such a passion.