eSports has been around since the mid-90s, and it continues to grow exponentially today. One can argue that the most passionate eSports scene is that of fighting games, whose most prestigious tournament is the Evolution Championship Series, or as it’s more commonly called, EVO . Here, the top international players from Japanese, Southeast Asian, European and American players do their damnest to win big in a double elimination bout of games like Ultra Street Fighter IV and other 2D fighting flavours of that particular year.
As EVO 2015 approaches, we can’t deny that some of the best comeback moments and play-by-play over the years stem from this hype-worthy event and other prominent fighting game tournaments such as CEO and South East Asia Major. We have no doubt that EVO 2015 will have its own string of epic moments, and with that in mind, it’s time to recap our 10 best moments in this luminous esports category, in no particular order.
Oh, if you happen to be new to the scene, and if you want to know how a Street Fighter match works (or any 2D fighting game for that matter), check out this piece from PBS Game. Got all that? Good; you’ll now understand the significance of each entry here.
#10: Grappler Got Game (EVO 2014)
What Happened: EVO 2014’s Ultra Street Fighter IV tournament was the closest a grappler character got to the top eight. With the metagame favouring the fast glass cannons (Evil Ryu, Cammy, etc.) and heavy-bodied plasma chuckers like Sagat, one man managed to give that mindset the middle finger: Darryl “SnakeEyez” Lewis.
Through insurmountable odds, SnakeEyez beat every fighter using mostly his Russian bear wrestler main.
Why It Mattered: The best players in the field never blame their tools and work with what they have to make it to the top. Snake Eyez did just that and is not only the top US player, but ranked 4th place in the world Ultra Street Fighter IV standings. With great footsies, adaptability on the fly, and huge character knowledge, it goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to use a top tier character to make it within the top 5. You only need hard work, smart training, and determination.
#9: Taiwan/Korean Throwback (EVO 2010 and EVO 2011)
What Happened: Top US fighting game prodigy Justin Wong casually dismissed rushdown character Adon from Ultra Street Fighter IV as someone not worth getting into. Little did he know that he was going to eat those words thanks to one Bruce “Gamerbee” Hsiang who showed the world how dangerous a supposed worthless character can be in the right hands.
Then in EVO 2011, Korean player Poongko did the impossible: played a perfect round against legendary Street Fighter player Daigo Umehara, also known as “The Beast”. Both players used incredibly offense-heavy characters (Seth for Poongko, Yun for Daigo), but Poongko came out on top because he took a few pages out of Daigo’s winning formula: pull off huge risks and unexpected reactions which earned him 3rd place in the tournament. For the first time in many years, the Beast had been tamed at his own game.
Why It Mattered: Because you should always expect the unexpected. Both Gamerbee and Poongko either used unorthodox characters or risk-heavy play styles to catch opponents off guard.
#8: One Ring Entrance To Rule Them All… (CEO 2015)
What Happened: Who said that this list needed to highlight matches? The CEO event in Florida had a boxing ring as a stage,so it was only a matter of time until contestants put it to good use. And none of them made an entrance so grand as Kenneth “K-Brad” Bradley.
The Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 pro gamer paid tribute to World Wrestling Entertainment legend Stone Cold Steve Austin with his entrance in the Ultra Street Fighter IV tournament, from the broken glass intro, followed by the self-cheers with the two cans of beer, and finally with a Stone Cold Stunner on the announcer.
Why It Mattered: Because it’s not just about the game and the wins, it’s about the community and spirit of camaraderie. Tournaments like CEO and South East Asia Major are huge celebrations of the fighting game community culture. This standout moment proved that it’s alright to have fun along the way while trying to win.
#7: The Streak Begins For Daigo Umehara (Street Fighter Alpha 3 International Finals 1998,San Francisco)
What Happened: A fierce intense rivalry, that’s what. Back in 1998, way before the rivalry between Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong took place, another American pro gamer had beef with Japanese player, Alex Valle. This clash between titans escalated in the 1998 Street Fighter Alpha 3 International Finals, with both players showing off never-seen-before tactics and mixups that they saved up in their finest hour.
Why It Mattered: This is where Daigo Umehara got his start and his reputation. 17 years later, most fighting game pro players aim to be like him, or be better than him in the 2D fighting game circuit. Best of all, it shows that the passion of the fighting game community has slowly built up until it exploded internationally thanks to the advent of live streaming and shoutcasting commentary.
#6: Japan’s Street Fighter III Dominance In Super Battle Opera 2010
What Happened: Super Battle Opera was Japan’s arcade-centric equivalent to EVO, where the highest calibre of players gathered to determine who came out on top. A number of American players have attempted to make their mark in the tournament, but to no avail.
The rivalry escalated to the point of the home team mocking them in public. During SBO 2010’s Street Fighter III: Third Strike tournament, Japanese fighting game legend Kuroda used a low-tier character, Q against Justin Wong’s Chun-Li and Ricky Ortiz’s Ken. To put things in perspective, this is the equivalent of a Mini Cooper trying to outrun a Porsche and a Lamborghini on the Mt. Fuji track.
Kuroda won the match thanks to incredibly skilled parrying and legendary knowledge of the game.
Why It Mattered: Like in #9, always expect the unexpected. To be fair, the American team had a lot of recent fighting games to juggle. But to challenge legendary players like Kuroda in a game that they have trained exclusively, non-stop for, was pretty much asking for it.
#5: BlazBlue Comeback (EVO 2014)
What Happened: EVO 2014 BlazBlue: ChronoPhantasma tournament – top player Keiji “Garireo” Okamoto’s epic come back from the loser’s bracket all the way to the grand finals against the man who knocked him off the winner’s bracket: Ryo “Dogura” Nozaki.
It was an intense battle, but Garireo’s fantastic mix-up and use of Litchi prevailed over the pure raw beatdown of Dogura’s Azrael, a character notorious for heavy damage output. And all it took was a last-minute slip-up from pro gamer Dorabang all dressed up for the occasion.
Why It Mattered: Because this shows that many others follow the old-school rule set by Justin Wong: never give up. No matter the highly-stacked odds and how low you’ve placed in a tournament just a hair away before total elimination.
#4: Super Smash Bros. Frickin’ Melee Celebration (EVO 2013)
What Happened: There was an air of finality to this Super Smash. Bros Melee tournament at EVO 2013, considering that Nintendo forced the EVO organisers to cancel plans to livestream Nintendo’s fighting game.
But there’s a saying: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Too bad Nintendo did not take it to heart, because the tournament was legendary. Players like Mango, Armada, Wobbles, and Dr Pee Pee showed us how exciting a high-level Super Smash Bros. Melee competition could get.
Why It Mattered: It was suppose to be a one-off tournament, but the hype levels for Super Smash Bros. Melee were so high, it made a return in the next EVO, with a guaranteed appearance of Super Smash Bros. Wii U at this year’s EVO. With true support, even the most uncommon games can make an appearance on the grandstand and teach a company like Nintendo that a fighting game has a lot of merit in the eSports scene.
#3: BIONIC ARM! (Final Round XIV, 2011)
What Happened: During the heyday of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, character-killing combos ruled the roost. If you missed your combo string, you might as well have thrown in the towel if your opponent was good at gaining back momentum. Such was the case of Martin “EG Marn” Phan where he missed his chance to finish off Peter “Combofiend” Rosas. Just when you thought the latter’s X-Factor mode (a temporary boost where you can deal more damage than usual) was depleted, Combofiend came back with a sliver of health to proceed in the tournament.
Why It Mattered: Combofiend may have paid his dues being a veteran in Capcom vs. SNK 2 and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, but this match was a comeback for the ages. It’s hard to confirm, but having him use a rarely-played character (the only character alive in two consecutive matches mind you) against a player using already-established top tier characters was a sight to behold. And he did it twice!
Plus, hearing Noel Brown and Ultradavid screaming Bionic Arm mid-commentary was just hype-tastic.
#2: EVO Moment #37 (EVO 2004)
What Happened: Daigo Umehara had many rivals, but none as intense as with Justin Wong. After trading blows, it seemed as if Umehara’s Ken was at a huge disadvantage and on his way to third place. With Wong’s Chun-Li at a quarter life and with one bar of Super Energy to finish him off, it was a no-brainer.
The thing is, Street Fighter III had a parry system where any move that’s parried will not make you take damage and put you in a slight frame advantage. Yes, that includes hits from Super Moves. When Wong went for the offensive, Umehara parried each single blow from Chun-Li’s Super, and then proceeded to finish off a stunned Wong with his own offensive.
Why It Mattered: Because your fight does not need to be the last one in a tournament to be remembered. Sometimes an ace in the hole is all you need.
With one man at the brink of death making a comeback thanks to years of learning the game’s advanced technique and a little confidence, Daigo’s well-deserved win is what makes him a force to be reckoned with.
#1: Singapore headlines EVO 2013
What Happened: In EVO 2012, Street Fighter IV pro, Xian was placed in a bracket full of killers. Naturally, he and his group of Singaporean pro gamers did not make it that far save for one player who placed second in SoulCalibur V.
This made Xian reflect upon himself, travel around the world from Japan to the US to play against the best, and jump in again in EVO 2013. It was no easy feat battling killers like Naoto “Sako” Sako and Seon-Woo “Infiltration” Lee in the top eight, but Xian’s mastery of the most complex character in the game helped him earn his Championship for EVO that year.
Why It Mattered: From Xian’s humble tournament beginnings in 2008, to winning EVO 2013 and continuing to put Singapore on the global eSports map, his journey has been a bumpy one, and an inspiring one.
Southeast Asians can feel proud knowing that with enough determination and dedication, the fighting game pros here can hold their own against what the rest of the world throws at us.